"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Prophetic from the Center

Some time back I wrote a post about a message given by Dr. D. A. Carson at the 2007 Gospel Coalition conference. In that post was a lengthy quote from Dr. Carson, including the following statement: "It is easy to sound prophetic from the margins. What is urgently needed is to be prophetic from the center." I have been thinking about this statement and what it means to be "prophetic from the center."

If you read the entire quote, I think it is obvious what is meant by "from the center" versus "from the margins." The margins are those peripheral issues, on both the left and the right, that engross so many people. These are issues like environmentalism, social justice, gay marriage, prayer in schools, music styles in worship, etc. The center are those issues that are essential to Christian faith, including the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the atonement, the resurrection, i.e. what "takes Christians from lostness, condemnation, alienation from God all the way through conversion, and discipleship, to the consummation, to resurrection bodies and the new heaven and the new earth."

The question, I think, is what does it mean to be "prophetic?" What it does not mean is that Christians should join the Jeane Dixon fan club. Biblical prophets sometimes made predictions about the future, like:

Micah 5:2
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days

Micah here prophesies that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem. Clearly this is "predictive" and is one of the things prophets did in the Bible. But prophets did at least two other things in the Bible, both of which were more common than prediction.

One was that the prophets pointed out the sinful condition of the people. For example:

Micah 7:2-3
The godly has perished from the earth,
and there is no one upright among mankind;
they all lie in wait for blood,
and each hunts the other with a net.
Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well;
the prince and the judge ask for a bribe,
and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul;
thus they weave it together.

When we are prophetic in this sense from the margins, it is easy because it most often takes the form of condemnation. It is a means to lift ourselves above those on whom we pronounce judgment. This is the Pharisees - clean on the outside but full of death on the inside. Our condemnation falls on any who have not cleaned the outside, regardless of the state of their heart.

We carry picket signs that say, "God hates fags" without acknowledging that God also hates the self-righteous. We maintain our ritual, but have forgotten love, forgiveness, and mercy. Jesus in contrast does not put out the smoking flax or break the bruised reed. How do we behave around those of weak faith who are struggling? If we are prophetic from the margins, most often we will shun them.

To be prophetic from the center is much harder in no small part because it requires humility. John the Baptist called the Pharisess a brood of vipers, but also said he was not fit to tie the sandal of the Messiah. He proclaimed that Jesus must increase while he (John) decreased.

To be prophetic from the center means we have to first acknowledge that we need the gospel as much as anyone else even now. It means that we have to acknowledge that we do not live up to God's standard even now. Like Paul we need to be truthful that we have not attained, but that we are pressing on. To be prophetic from the center requires a balance of boldness and humility.
But prophets in the Bible also proclaimed God's mercy and lovingkindness, like:
Micah 7:18-19
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities under foot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea
To be prophetic in this sense from the margins is the prosperity gospel. God wants you to have your best life now. God wants you to be healthy and have a two car garage. God does not want you to suffer, for you are more than conquerors in Christ. You need to claim your healing, money, possessions and have faith that God will deliver.

Less extreme is to say that while things may not always go your way, you will always sense the presence of God. If you are faithful to follow God's plan for your life, you will always have a smile on your face. Both of these are easy because people will respond.

But being prophetic from the center is to say your best life is not yet here. The kingdom breaks into this age, but is not fully realized yet. We still have struggles and difficulties. Like Jesus we continue on for the joy set before us. Per Paul we recognize that death as the last enemy has not yet been destroyed, but will be. Love we are told bears, believes, hopes and endures. All of these indicate an element of tension, struggle, and difficulty.

This message is not as immediately attractive. Telling people to hold onto a Savior who will deliver some day is not as appealling as telling them God is like Santa Claus bestowing gifts on those who are nice. But it is real and many people who have been through difficulty will find in the gospel the truth. Yes, this life is hard, but even so God is good.

This is why Paul says we are to be pitied if the resurrection is not true, because our hope, our joy, our anchor is on what is to come, not on the now. We live now and we show the kingdom now and we try to make things better now. Believers before Jesus stood with their arm stretched out pointing to the future.

We now stand with both arms outstretched pointed to the past (the cross) and the future (the resurrection). We do so also to die figuratively and literally for the cause of Christ. Some being prophetic from the margins will condemn us as compromising with the world, calling us gluttons and winos. Some being prophetic from the margins will say we are from some hick town and not sophisticated or educated. Some being prophetic from the margins will say that we could deliver ourselves from suffering if we had more faith.

We are to love them all, and pray for them to be forgiven even as they stone us. Who knows who will be holding their coats as we die.

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Blogger Chris said...

An excellent, thought-provoking post!

How do I know it was excellent? I felt convicted. More than my feelings, however, I *knew* that I did not live up to the standard against which we all ought to be measuring ourselves.

I think the Reformed camp falls too quickly into being prophetic from the margins, often. (At least, since I have come to Reformed doctrine, I feel as though *I* often do.) We feel we have cornered the market on proper doctrine as best we can this side of glory. When we encounter others who are quite likely being just as marginal as ourselves, we loudly denounce their doctrine while praising ours. (At best...at worst, we launch into attacks and questions regarding others' sanity on a more personal nature.)

May I find far more humility, seeing as how I err in plenty of areas, myself. May I love my brothers as I ought, or at least, do so more than I am now. Please, Father, give me the grace to be prophetic from the center.

1:26 AM EDT  
Blogger Even So... said...

Indeed...you are striking the right note here Eddie...

10:57 AM EDT  
Blogger Even So... said...

In saying that I am asking that you keep playing this tune for a little while, please...

10:58 AM EDT  

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