What is the prophetic?
Recently I was asked what I meant by the “prophetic”. A difficult question for me. My Christian journey began in a Charismatic church that had a particular understanding of the “prophetic”. Although it was a bitter-sweet experience I believe God used it to teach me alot of things about God. For one, God is “real” in Charismatic churches. God isn’t an abstraction. Neither is God described as the “Ground of Being” or as the conclusion to a syllogism. God is usually described as being “here” in the Charismatic church. But one of the most profound things I learned in that context was that God “speaks” to the people of God. That God has something to “say” to us. I don’t want to get into any cessationist arguments I just want bear witness to my understanding of the prophetic.
The prophetic was first introduced to me as God’s “speaking” to the people. The prophetic is God saying something through the presence of the Holy Spirit to those that bear God’s name. Of course I moved out of the Charismatic context. I still go back from time to time to remember where I came from. I still keep one foot in that particular Christian world. It don’t consider it an “upward” move for me. More like a lateral move. Stepping into another web of understanding in regards the prophetic. The web expanded as I began to study Old Testament scholars like Walter Brueggeman who offers us this definition of the prophetic as he reflects on the career of the Hebrew Prophets and ultimately Jesus Christ:
“The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.” (from The Prophetic Imagination, p. 13)
It is this understanding of the prophetic that I began to understand and appreciate more prophetic voices like Martin Luther King Jr., Diettrich Bonhoffer, Martin Luther, Sojourner Truth, John Howard Yoder, and many many other prophetic voices that presented Christ’s body with an alternative consciousness and perspective. Some of these people were pastors, preachers, liberators, theologians, and all of them were trouble-makers in their own way. Which seems to go with the terrain of being prophetic. It is easy to be labled a trouble-maker when you begin to present something out of the box…especially when you are saying that the box has been too small. The prophetic can be scary at times. It is telling those that reside comfortably in the box that we are actually in a big room. The prophetic says get out of the box.
One of the things that has captured my imagination in regards the prophetic has been the hebrew word for “prophet”. Before I get lambasted about my Hebrew let me warn you…most of my learning on these matters has been quite Gramscian. My seminary training has been mostly on my toilet. So forgive me for the roughness in which I articulate this stuff. Kittel describes the word “prophet” or the Hebrew word “nabi” as having multilayered descriptions. One of those descriptions is that of a “bubbling up”. Ecstatic speech inspired by God’s manifest presence. A prophet is one who bubbles up ecstatic speech inspired by God. It is a speaking after God after one has come near to God’s manifest presence. I know this is beginning to sound kooky. But I will conclude with where I am now with this weird thing called the “prophetic”.
The prophetic seems to me to be about being intoxicated with God’s passion and love for the world. God’s love and passion from the biblical narrative seems to be about God repairing a broken fallen world (tikkun olam). And no…I am not into Kabbalah. I just find something powerful about the vision thatGod is repairing the world. When reading the Hebrew Prophets I see individuals captured and literally possessed by God’s vision of redemption and restoration of broken individuals, people, social and political orders.
The prophetic is about being caught up and intoxicated with God’s passion and love for the world we live in.