Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Formative vs. Summative Prophecy

There is a psychological dynamic among much of American Christianity that pushes us to want to "call sin sin," to "call out the sinner," to "speak truth to power." But my observation is that much of this dynamic is a pronouncement of judgment, much like Jonah at Ninevah. In other words, it is not proclamation for change. It is just enjoyable venting.

There is something about this dynamic that seems inevitably self-satisfying and low on the moral development scale. We enjoy it. It makes us feel good. It's like a kind of gossip on steriods that we (self-servingly) justify because it looks a little like some prophecy in the Bible.

But truly Christian prophecy is prophecy for change and is as different from this sort of child-level telling off as what God had in mind for Nineveh differed from what Jonah had in mind. God will one day pronounce a summative judgment on all flesh, a final verdict. But especially for Arminians, almost all prophecy on this side of eternity must at least be hopeful formative prophecy, prophecy that longs for change in those to whom we speak.

Perhaps this is the best way to distinguish between the kind of judging we are not to do as believers (e.g., Matt. 7:1) and the kind of judging we must do (e.g., 1 Cor. 5). God is the Judge. He will make the summative verdict. Our judgments, on the other hand, must work toward redemption.

The problem as always is our rationalizations in the face of a lack of self-knowledge. We enjoy pointing out other people's sins and sin ourselves in the process. These are very simple psychological phenomenon and nothing spiritual at all.

There is a vast difference between the rather child-level, psychologically based drive to tell others what to do and where to go (calling sin, sin) and preaching for the redemption of souls and bodies. There is a significant difference between the prophetic drive to stand up for the oppressed that we see in Old Testament prophets and Jesus and the more Jonah-like drive to see the demise of those whose personal sins we want to see God punish today. Christian preaching is not oriented around punishment but around redemption.


Pastor Phil said...

Great Post. Thanks for thoughts on Arminian grace and prophetic utterance.

Of course the complicating dynamic is that if we "prophesy" out of our frustrations, judgments, and self righteous inclinations we stand among the false prophets who spoke from their own hearts. Kind of a creepy thought methinks.

Rev. Paul said...

So if the prophet's job is to give "prophecy for change," what is the difference between the role/office of the prophet and the pastor-teacher? I don't expect a full answer here. I mostly brought it up because I was considering this issue for my Congregational Leadership Integration Paper.

Pastor Rob Henderson said...

I like the post because it helps me differentiate why I have tended to preach the way I do.

As a small time local church pastor I have struggled with the "hell-fire & brimstone" kind of preaching I grew up hearing in campmeetings and revivals. And I don't seem to do it very well, anyway. I agree wholeheartedly with "formative prophecy" and believe that it best fits the local church needs. As I approach each sermon I am striving to guide people into the deeper image of Christ. In my view, "formative prophecy" works best in the local church.

I am always saddened to see so many Christians who like the "summative prophecy" and the pronouncements of punishment on those who oppose our way of thinking. It seems to me that this kind of prophecy constantly preached in a local church arena (especially) kills the Spirit and treats the congregation (or certain members) like enemy combatants.

"Formative prophecy" is truly the message of grace that our churches and our culture need to hear.

Ken Schenck said...

Paul one big difference I sense between prophets and teachers is that the prophets bring new revelation while the teachers unpack old.