This year has changed me. I say this in all earnestness and with no dramatic intent, but this year really has changed me. I am not the same person I was, and my calling has shifted too.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when the change occurred. Perhaps it was a series of events. It began when conservative evangelicals began to endorse a presidential candidate whose rhetoric, lifestyle, and priorities resembled nothing of Christ, but much of the fool as described in Proverbs.

I watched Christians use dubious biblical interpretations and downright bad theology in an “ends justify the means” kind of ethic. I watched those same Christians bend over backwards to prove that this man, who possessed no discernible fruit of the Spirit, was a Christian. I watched Christians remain silent as the man they put in office continued to lie, name call, belittle, and slander. And I watched conservative Christians take up the mantra “Do not judge” in lock-step with the liberals they used to deride, as if Jesus’ words were intended to silence sound judgment. This wasn’t just hypocrisy. This was a forsaking of basic Christian doctrine and our primary citizenship in the Kingdom of God. And it changed me.

I struggled to articulate the impact of this experience, until I ran across an essay by author Jonathan Martin in which he describes our present historical moment as an “apocalypse.” Apocalypse is a word we sometimes confuse with “armageddon” but it refers to an “unveiling,” and for me, that was the word I was looking for. This year, I was able to see with a clarity I hadn’t before.

Martin further explains, “These are the days when the hearts of men and women in America are being revealed,” and as this apocalypse unfolded in evangelicalism, this is what I saw: the faux-faithfulness of pragmatism, in place of cruciform obedience; moral relativism in place of biblical truth; personal security pitted against Christ-like compassion; and the true spiritual character of our leaders. Once I saw this, I became “disillusioned” in the very best sense of the word. God had pulled back the curtain of my illusions to show me our true spiritual state.

Each of these failures deserves serious attention, but there is one more failure I want to focus on here: evangelicalism’s prophetic bankruptcy. At a time when our country has utterly lost its moral center, this could have been our moment. Rather than negotiate with evil, we could have rejected worldly notions of “good” in a show of prophetic imagination. Instead, we accepted the terms the world set for us. We chose short-term gains over long-term credibility, and traded our birthright for porridge.

A sweeping number of evangelicals contributed to this prophetic forfeiture, but there have been some notable exceptions. Russell Moore, for example, has leveraged his influence in the Southern Baptist Convention to challenge idols of nationalism and vestiges of racism in his tradition. Moore is committed to the SBC, but he is also clear-eyed about its shortcomings.

Brueggemann’s Creative Word

In addition to Moore, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann is an essential perspective for correcting our prophetic deficit. Brueggemann’s book The Prophetic Imagination is probably his best-known work, but he also wrote a lesser-known book which is just as important, called The Creative Word: Canon as a Model for Biblical Education. In this book, Brueggemann makes the case that the Biblical canon is a “clue to education,” and he pays particular attention to the three sections of Old Testament literature— Torah, prophets, and wisdom—as pedagogical models.

Brueggemann begins with the authoritative character of the Torah, which is symbolic of our doctrinal foundations, those fixed truths which shape who we are as a people. Torah represents a category of teaching that is, in Brueggemann’s words, “not debatable.”

Torah is an essential pedagogical paradigm, but Brueggemann also warns, “If a community educates only in the Torah, it may also do a disservice to its members. It may nourish them to fixity, to stability that becomes rigidity” (40). This caveat naturally leads to the second major section of the Old Testament, which is the prophets. Whereas the Torah constitutes unchanging truth, the prophets challenge errant interpretations of Torah. He describes their relationship as “delicate,” since “there are aspects of continuity and discontinuity; both appeal to the consensus and a shattering of consensus” (51).

To be clear, Brueggemann does not believe the prophets undermine the Torah. God’s truth, as embodied in the Torah, is never to be contested, so there is an important continuity between them. However, our interpretations and applications of God’s truth certainly warrant critique, a service not only performed by the Old Testament prophets, but Jesus himself. Quite often, the prophets were divine pruning shears, clipping away the weeds of false teaching which had grown up around God’s truth.

That is why, for Brueggemann, the prophets were not merely social activists. They were disrupters. The prophets did not claim new revelation, but they did set about the task of nurturing the “poetic imagination” by questioning the truthfulness of the popular imagination, and challenging the status quo.

This, for Brueggemann, continues to be the task of Christian leaders today. If we want to teach in a manner that is actually “biblical,” then the shape of the canon is a blueprint. We must pass down the fixed truths of “Torah,” while also disrupting the false interpretations and moral blind spots which have grown up around them. It’s a hard tension to navigate, but it is how we remain faithful to God and His Word.

Ever since I first read The Creative Word several years ago, I have thought about this tension a lot. It has helped me understand my calling as a writer and teacher, as well as the broader witness of the church. One of the convictions I have come to, is that “prophetic disruption” is not simply a matter of speaking hard or unpopular truths. I think what makes a message truly prophetic is its audience. When a conservative pastor preaches about modest dress to his pious congregation, this is not prophecy. And when a progressive evangelical tweets about care for the poor and oppressed to his sympathetic followers, this is not necessarily prophecy either.

Prophecy is disruptive.

More often, prophecy disrupts the particular audience God has given you, the audience that trusts you, follows you, and considers you an authoritative voice. (This is exactly what Moore did, for example.) If you are attempting to disrupt some other audience “out there,” then you are more likely shouting to the wind, or toppling straw men. But if you are stepping on the toes of your closest followers, then you are probably more in line with the prophetic tradition.

In my own context, my audience is mostly female, and in the world of evangelical women’s ministry, the status quo is “positive and encouraging.” Messages for women are big on self-help, “being enough”, and speaking affirmation. This is an all but unspoken standard, and for years I followed it. I didn’t want to lose followers by talking about controversial subjects. Instead I opted for a manicured Instagram profile and inspiring quotes on my Facebook page. People like positive, so that was what I wrote.

But this year I realized the prophetic impotence of self-help messages. Encouragement does have its place, but as I considered the state of women’s ministry and the disciples we were making, I realized something: knowing you are “beautiful” will not embolden you to acts of true courage. At its heart, these messages are fundamentally about us, which means they are powerless to resist a narcissistic culture.

This has been a sobering realization for me. It forced me to ask whether I was contributing to the formation of women who would actually take up Jesus’ cross and follow him. Or, was I nurturing a generation of women who felt great about themselves, but were totally unequipped to lay down their lives out of love for God and neighbor. Those are the questions that have been keeping me up at night.

This is the challenge facing evangelical women. The pressure to be nice competes with the calling to be prophetic. But women are not the only ones facing this struggle. For every article about making money with your blog, or having a better marriage, we need leaders who are leveraging their authority with their particular audience to call people to rugged faithfulness. We need teachers who are targeting the idols of people-pleasing and politics and worldly success, and helping us to be the actual people of God. And we need pastors engaged in the kind of spiritual formation that resists cultural influence, and prepares believers for loving self-sacrifice.

Last year Brueggemann summarized our prophetic failing this way: “I believe the crisis in the U.S. church has almost nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has everything to do with giving up on the faith and discipline of our Christian baptism and settling for a common, generic, U.S. identity that is part patriotism, part consumerism, part violence, and part affluence” (A Way Other Than Our Own, p. 3)

Both in women’s ministry and “American Christianity,” we are witnessing the fruit of inadequate spiritual formation. When our spiritual formation winks at, or embraces, cultural idols, we will produce individuals who are totally unable to resist the culture. That is why we are in dire need of prophetic leaders with the courage and clarity to name our adulterous loves. It’s hard work, and humble work (since ranting should not be confused with prophetic teaching), but we need it now as much as ever.

That’s what this year taught me. And I hope I never forget it.

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Posted by Sharon Hodde Miller

Sharon is an author, speaker, pastor’s wife and mom. She holds a PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has written for Christianity Today magazine, Her.meneutics, The Exchange, The Gospel Project, Propel, Gifted for Leadership, and more. She blogs at, and her first book releases in the Fall of 2017.


  1. “When our spiritual formation winks at, or embraces, cultural idols, we will produce individuals who are totally unable to resist the culture. That is why we are in dire need of prophetic leaders with the courage and clarity to name our adulterous loves.”

    Very true. And yet, it’s not so much a prophetic failure as it is an even more elementary failing, a priestly failure. The breakdown of a true churchly culture with habits and rhythms that instruct us by teaching and by practice in the ways of the Faith is a breakdown of the priestly character of the church. The prophetic ministry can scarcely call us back to the ways of the holy people we are set apart to be when we do not even know those ways.


    1. Good point regarding the church’s loss of priestly character. I stopped attending church a couple of years back. But I feel like the church left me, not the other way around. In my view, evangelicals has devolved into a social club for middle-class whites in traditionalist family structures who have a high psychological need for certainty. The church should be pointing people to Christ, and away from their self-righteousness and self-pity. But churches increasingly seemed to be indulging people’s more atavistic tendencies. By the time I left, racism, misogyny, and homophobia all seemed to be on the rise.

      I now participate in a running club on Sunday mornings. Unsurprisingly, about half of the members of the running club are dechurched evangelicals like me. Most of us are creative-class professionals who just didn’t see ourselves as fitting into the new “brownshirt” culture that’s overtaken most evangelical churches.


      1. Its not that easy, bob; you left a body that needed your vision no matter how much it hurt you. Mark 8. R. Lillo


        1. The mere fact that an organization claims the mantle of being a church does not make it so. I don’t see most evangelical churches as any more legitimate in their churchly claims than the KKK.


      2. “In my view, evangelicals has devolved into a social club for middle-class whites in traditionalist family structures who have a high psychological need for certainty”

        That isn’t just your view but even the churches that so obviously tick all of those boxes still proclaim the gospel. They have something of infinite worth that the surrounding culture doesn’t have.


        1. I know the Gospel. I don’t like sitting through church on a weekly basis and having to pick it out amongst a conservative variant of the social gospel. Besides, I also don’t like going to church with people who view me as their cultural enemies.


          1. Fair enough. I still prefer going to church with the risk of meeting a whole lot of people who view me as their cultural enemy.

  2. Brilliant. This so resonates with me. I am grateful for this piece and your discernment.


  3. This is really good — challenging and inspiring. I totally see your point about the “I am enough” culture — I even poked a little fun at it in the ONE Babylon Bee article I had published! :-) — yet I also see that that itself is a reaction to a Christianity that was telling women they weren’t good enough Christians if they weren’t missionaries like Elisabeth Elliot or dynamic world-changers or supermoms. Knowing we are loved by God just as we are without the need to strive and compare, and recognizing that incarnational living may very well involve “just” looking after our children and doing our laundry, can be really important spiritual formation in and of itself. It can devolve into a mutual admiration society, for sure, but I think at heart it’s a response to a legalistic viewpoint that needed to be called out. I suppose there is always the tendency for the pendulum to swing to the extreme, no matter what.


  4. “At its heart, these messages are fundamentally about us, which means they are powerless to resist a narcissistic culture.” Although my book is written to a general audience (not to women in particular), that is exactly why I wrote my own book – about how the positive thinking movement damaged Christianity in subtle ways.


  5. Well said.


  6. LeighAnn MacDonald February 9, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    I was torn about for whom I would vote. I did not like either candidate and needed to choose the less of the two evils, if you will. That is where after much reading and listening I came to the conclusion that since our culture has been overtaken by evil and the next President was going to appoint a Supreme Court judge, that would have an impact on the direction our country/culture would take for the next generation. I prayed for wisdom, my choice was made when Rev. Franklin Graham backed Donald Trump. I voted for President Trump after I stood in the voting booth and literally prayed that God’s will be done. That He would put the person in the White House that He wanted. Many of us who voted for President Trump didn’t do it with glee, but, after much prayer. For whom did you vote and why?


    1. I voted for a third party, because our political duopoly is contrived and wholly corrupt.


      1. In other words, you voted in favour of a victory for Hillary Clinton.


        1. A person who votes their conscience for one is not voting for another. This is an old chestnut that is having less effect as the US electoral system continues to indoctrinate their people that there are only two choices. One has to swallow so much harder to vote for the indigestible bipolar choices. It is a supreme act of patriotism to vote outside the lines. If enough do vote elsewhere, it may very well be the only hope of meaningful change.


          1. We are three months past the election. It’s over.

            Meanwhile Steve Bannon has been raised to a high position in the White House, the National Security Advisor (Flynn) likely broke the law by speaking to the Russians, perhaps by accepting money from them in 2015, and lying about it to the Vice President and the American public. My question to all our principled people is what are they saying today, about stuff that happened today? Are they expressing any concern? Information for parents of disabled children just disappeared from the Dept. of Education website. Drug companies will now be allowed to sell drugs which haven’t completed the trials which would prove them to be effective (safe, but not necessarily effective) and so on. Will the evangelical community sit back while all this takes place and simply wait for the next election, or will it express its concerns about the issues happening today? I’m done talking about the election. Let’s pay attention and move on.

      2. What I want to say to my evangelical friends who say, “I didn’t vote for Trump or Clinton is,” what have you done since? We’re 3 months past that. Were you appalled when Bannon rose to be a chief advisor, or when Sessions was nominated for attorney general– a man who has worked against Martin Luther King’s signature accomplishment in the Voting Rights Act? Are you concerned about the lack of plan to provide health care, or the fact that information for parents of special needs kids just disappeared from the Dept. of Education website? Saying, “the other side is just as bad,” doesn’t do anything for the victims of today’s decisions.

        We aren’t still contesting the election. The question is what are you doing and saying now. And if you just aren’t paying attention — well, that seems irresponsible to me. You knew Trump was a flawed candidate — now is the time to voice your concerns.


  7. […] Evangelicals and the Loss of Prophetic Imagination […]


  8. […] must read this article from Mere Orthodoxy: Evangelicals and the Loss of Prophetic Imagination. It begins about politics, but please keep reading for deeper insights into the general loss of […]


  9. Dr. Todd Collier February 10, 2017 at 9:09 am

    What irritates me about all of these “Evangelicals totes missed the boat” articles is that they assume a vacuum. Yes, there were Evangelical Christians who made fools of themselves trying to paint Trump as the new messiah (just as leftist Christians did for another president 8 years ago.) But most of us saw a choice between two deeply unsettling candidates, the worst choices in the past century. I chose Trump only after much prayer and study and returning to the basic priorities of “Life” and “liberty.” The left represents death – period. The right may represent “oppression” but at least life and the Gospel can grow there.


    1. “The left represent death – period. The right…”
      This is a false dichotomy. There are many options. On some issues, I can be VERY left-wing and still be within sound Christian doctrine. On other issues, I can be VERY right-wing.

      Yes, our election system is rigged to force this dichotomy. But if everyone who felt like you voted for a third party, we’d have actual discourse on issues in America instead of 90% finger-pointing/mud-slinging.


      1. Your position on left-wing vs. right-wing is irrelevant. The only thing relevant in the voting booth were the two choices being offered at that moment in time. That was when each voter chose abortion, or not, chose the Bill of Rights, or not, chose the Little Sisters of the Poor, or not, chose . . . . To talk about whether you are still “within sound Christian doctrine” has no bearing on the election whatsoever.


        1. I’m not aware of any jurisdiction in which there were only two choices on the ballot.


        2. Or chose a wall or not, another war or not, more gun violence or not. That a government who has promised evangelicals that it will curtail abortions but has never done anything about it will suddenly change?… Or not. No, your election was not black and white.


          1. How about this reality… a Supreme Court ruling on abortion does not fix the problem…at all. First it pushes the decision to the states and secondly it doesn’t take care of the root; and that is people’s hearts. So even the sincere choice based on abortion is a mere empty gesture… Sorry, but evangelicals voting for the “anti-abortion” choice sold their souls for something that isn’t going to work in the long run and their moral witness is gone too. There were lots of other options including not voting at all. Nobody the world over should be expected to give an ear to any I-voted-for-DT american evangelicals bleating about morals or character. What an awful, bordering on the irrational, trade-off…

    2. The powerful Gospel could not have grown under Ceasar Clinton? R. L.


    3. I agree. Worse choices. Had to go with the right though.


    4. I wonder how many more months we are going to spend talking about the election and defending our votes 3 months ago — while time moves on and Trump and his cabinet are making decisions right now that are huge. If we knew he was a flawed candidate, seems we should be paying very careful attention, and calling him out when needed. Today information for families with disabled children disappeared from the Dept. of Education website. Flynn, the President’s National Security Advisor has been found to have lied to Pence and the American public about his conversation with the Russians before the inauguration. He may have accepted money illegally from them in 2015. I don’t care what Hillary or Obama may or may not have done — these are the issues now. I hope American evangelicals aren’t found to be completely mute in the next few years because they chose not to pay any attention.


      1. You’re so certain those are the issues. Information on a website. A conversation between the NSA director and the vice president, either ignoring the troubling questions that arise from how we found out about those conversations, or simply digesting what the Washington Post tells us is troubling about it, and repeating it back to us. Partisan hacks in the media, 93% of which are Democrats, tell us these are the issues. Why should we believe them? Would we trust a media comprised of 93% Republicans? It would be unrecognizable but just as untrustworthy. In the spirit of frankness and not insult, I can tell you that I’ve read your comments and deemed you someone that doesn’t know much about the world. And that’s OK. Scripture doesn’t exactly teach that “worldly affairs” should be high on our priority list.

        The real issues are these: debt, medical monopolies, warmongering, control of pipeline routes, drugs, immigration, inflation, automation, entrenched bureaucracies, and above all else, a rising secularism and decadence that ignores the root cause of our decline–the West’s rejection of the holy God that blessed them in the first place, making all our squabbling about political issues a mere rearranging of the deck chairs.

        God forbid evangelicals should “speak up” about Mike Flynn and the Russians, and further damage our witness among the knowledgeable and intelligent.


        1. You don’t know where I work or how widely I read.
          I agree with some of what you’ve written in your second paragraph, not mentioning those things doesn’t mean I’m not aware. I mentioned a few items that are newsworthy. Things that could be affected while they are being debated, or the moment they were done.
          My concern is that evangelicals have a list — like yours, of things they choose to be concerned about. Meanwhile, other issues arise. At the very least, I think they should be asking their Congressional representatives to investigate connections between the Trump administration and Russia, before, during and after the election. Right now their “witness” is that for the most part they don’t know, and don’t care. They aren’t paying attention.


          1. The only reason for anyone, evangelical or otherwise, to ask their Congressional representatives to investigate connections between the Trump administration and Russia, is that they’ve decided the ongoing Democrat Party sore-loser “Russia did it” narrative is valid. It also reveals a naivety about the relationships between our government, transnational corporations, and foreign governments, a naivety required for this story to register. The real story is not Flynn and not what he told or did not tell Pence, but the fact that our own intelligence community took him out. Maybe other evangelicals are aware of that. Maybe they’re really the ones paying attention.

            Maybe their “witness”, using sarcastic-quotes since we’re talking about politics and media narratives rather than Christ, is that they happen to know this fixation on Russia is an establishment lie, aided by elements in the intelligence community and explained by a poorly-reasoned, toothless intelligence report, utterly lacking specifics. I read that in its entirety; yet another time-consuming exercise in trusting the media and the gov’t only to discover that they lied to me again.

            But let’s consider those evangelicals who you say don’t care. Who haven’t read the official explanations for Russia’s involvement, yet don’t care either way whether Russia obtained either the DNC or Podesta email troves. Why should they care? It’s a fact the US does these kinds of things, to a larger extent than Russia. China does it, Israel does it, Canada does it, the Saudis do it, so why hypocritically condemn a foreign government for doing exactly what ours does? Speaking of the Saudis, if HRC won the election, do you suppose the press would be interested in their heavy financial contributions not just to the Clinton Foundation, but also her campaign? Or would leaked phone conversations be pouring out of her White House? Or would Obama have left her landmines to deal with prior to leaving office, such as he did with Trump by deliberately provoking Russia in order to ruin Trump’s goal of better Russo-American relations?

            All truth is God’s truth, and I’m not sure of anything other than Him, but in my neglect of Scripture reading, prayer, and true witnessing, I’ve learned a lot about worldly affairs. It’s my opinion that there are no Christians that are faithfully serving God while also maintaining enough knowledge about worldly affairs to offer informed opinions. The lies are too big and too complex nowadays, and the liars have too much control over how information is disseminated. Which is why this article is foolish, my comments are foolish, your comments are foolish. Navel-gazing stupidity, all of it.

            The American Christians that have it right, IMO, are the ones that don’t pay much attention, recognize that Trump isn’t a Christian, but also see he’s a patriot that doesn’t have an express distaste for them or their faith. And that’s good enough for them. With such wicked rulers as we’ve had, what more do you want?

          2. I am dumbfounded. This morning we wake to reports that the Trump campaign had repeated contact with Russian intelligence up to the election. Repeated contact. Not with Russian diplomats, but with their intelligence service. And this is about Democratic sore losers? I’m out. I simply can’t fathom. . .

          3. And what is the source of these reports? Has it crossed your mind to wonder why it’s coming from intel agents talking to the press? When does that happen in our country? And not even the Times said the contacts knew they were Russian intelligence. Again, if it’s true. There is no longer any reason to believe reports about Trump and his campaign unless you can see the evidence yourself. Condemn them for the tweets, the broken promises, the disarray. But the mainstream media can’t be relied on to show what’s worthy of our ire.

          4. It’s my opinion that there are no Christians that are faithfully serving God while also maintaining enough knowledge about worldly affairs to offer informed opinions… Which is why this article is foolish, my comments are foolish, your comments are foolish. Navel-gazing stupidity, all of it.

            Except for you, of course. You have all the answers, don’t you. And I’m sure you’ve never made foolish comments before.

          5. “there are no Christians”… “my comments are foolish”

            Was I not clear? You quoted me saying exactly that. And yes, with it comes arrogance. God save me. I used to serve Him. Now I read news…mainstream news, alternative news, foreign news, voraciously. Even this admission, which may appear at first glance to be humble, is tainted with arrogance.

  10. So well written. This year changed me as well… for many of the same reasons as you. Thank you!


  11. Once I was certain which way this post was going I quit reading. If the author cannot understand why Christians supported Trump she isn’t worth reading. In a binary election in which either winner will have a major influence over such fundamentals as the Bill of Rights, most especially religious freedom, or in which the winner will either support Planned Parenthood or not, or in which the winner will nominate a strict constructionist to the Supreme Court, or–I could go on, but the point is made. For the most fundamental reasons no Christian could vote for Hillary Clinton, and in full recognition that not to vote is, in effect, to vote for the winner, the only way Christians could take a stand against Clinton (which they had to do) was to vote for Trump.


    1. I once had a professor stop reading an assignment I submitted after only a page and a half. I kinda lost respect for that teacher. I think that others will have less respect for your commentary for the same reason.


    2. So it made no sense to stand against Trump and all, or much, of what he represented, or represents? R. Lillo


    3. You know, regardless of whether you voted for Trump for the reasons you did, I hope you are continuing to pay attention. Today information for parents of disabled kids disappeared from the Dept. of Education website. Flynn, the National Security Advisor lied to Pence about his conversation with the Russians, which would have been illegal before the inauguration. He might have accepted money from them in 2015 too, also illegal. I hope evangelicals can look beyond just a few issues to see the whole picture and raise their voices.


  12. While I certainly agree that the church must have a prophetic voice in society, I do not believe that this article shows the way forward in how to have that voice. The appeal to Brueggemann is especially problematic in this regard. His contention that the prophets “did not claim new revelation” is especially problematic, because that is exactly what the prophets were claiming. They were those “to whom the word of the Lord came.” Furthermore, Brueggemann’s emphasis on the “poetic imagination” or the “prophetic imagination” does nothing to model truly prophetic responsibility. When I teach the prophetic books, I always include a lecture on the “The Myth of the Prophetic Imagination.” The prophets were not, as Brueggemann claims, imaginative prognosticators who were especially discerning in being able to read the political climate. Rather, they were those to whom the word of the Lord came in overpowering revelation. Indeed, the false prophets who were condemned in Scripture were considered to be false prophets precisely because they prophesied out of their own imaginations. The concept of the prophetic imagination simply becomes a way of allowing modern-day would-be prophets to read their own political ideologies into their so-called prophetic pronouncements, rather than delivering a message consonant with that which is embodied in Scripture. We do indeed need to be prophetic, but not in such a way that we simply end up preaching our own political judgments.


    1. I agree concerning your misgivings about the tendency of some to use “prophetic imagination” to justify their political pet projects. The Religious Right and the Religious Left both do this.

      That said, I think Brueggemann has it right concerning the conduct of the OT prophets. After all, Brueggemann is not saying that the prophets were merely imaginative prognosticators. You seem to be drawing a false dichotomy between scenarios where the content of the prophecy originates entirely with the prophet and scenarios where the content of the prophecy originates entirely apart from the prophet. It’s actually some combination of the two.

      The eschatological purpose of the OT prophecies is to point us to Christ, who fulfilled those prophecies. So, I’m usually a bit wary of those who seek to draw political conclusions from the prophetic books without considering that the post-Incarnation eschatological analog of Israel is the Christian church. Thus, if the prophecies have a modern-day application, it is to how we should conduct ourselves as Christians within a church community, not about what politicians should be doing in places like Ottawa, Washington, London, Tokyo, and Brussels.


      1. Hi hoosier_bob. I think we are pretty much agreed with regard to your first and third paragraphs (though I would argue that at least the Religious Right has more scriptural justification with regard to their pet projects).

        But I’m still going to maintain that Brueggemann is quite deficient in his concept of the prophetic imagination. Again, when I teach a prophetic book, especially Jeremiah, I spend an entire lecture calling attention to the inadequacies of Brueggemann’s construal. He does indeed chalk up the prophetic message, ad nauseum, to a “bold act of discernment” on the part of the prophet. As opposed to the book of Jeremiah itself, in which the Lord, and the word of the Lord, are the “stars of the show,” for Brueggemann, it is the prophet’s keen discernment of the political situation. This is the very reason why the author of this article was able to note that the prophets “did not claim new revelation.” He does occasionally pay lip service to the idea that the message might be from God, but his emphasis on the idea of prophetic discernment of the situation is way out of proportion to the emphasis in the book that Jeremiah’s prophecies did not originate with himself, but rather from the overpowering word of the Lord that came to him. For example, at one point Brueggemann remarks, “What amazes one is the bold capacity to make connections between evident religious perversion and happenings in the historical processes that are interpreted as punishment.” But Jeremiah did not need any “bold capacity to make connections,” or the ability to “interpret” historical processes as punishment. The testimony of the text is that the word from the Lord already communicated this to the prophet explicitly. I appreciate your concern with regard to an unnecessary dichotomy, and I do believe there is room for the prophet to take that message and present it in the prophet’s own oral/literary style; but I do not see anything in the text that would argue that the prophets came up with their messages on account of their acute discernment.

        So, again, the problem here is that the emphasis on the “prophetic imagination” simply serves to cause modern-day would-be prophets to interpret their own pet causes with the word of the Lord. There is a prophetic function to be carried out by the church today; but it must be one that is firmly rooted in revelation. “To the word and to the testimony” (Isa 8:20).


  13. I share some of the disillusionment that the writer talked about even though I have experienced this disillusionment years before Trump’s election. It isn’t too difficult to see that the beliefs and pursuits of many fellow American Christians are being compromised by competing loyalties to ideologies, national pride, race, and other centers around which groups form. Each of these loyalties have as one of their carrots self-exaltation. And thus, when we allow other loyalties to cause us to compromise our following Jesus, we start to resemble the pharisee from the parable of the two men praying. And it is because of that, many conservative American Christians have allowed their loyalties to comprise an important practical side of their faith because to do otherwise means that we would have to acknowledge that there exists secular prophets.

    How the writer describes the role of a prophet as being one who disturbs is pretty close to how Noam Chomsky views intellectuals. He sees their duties as being that of an OT prophet who warns rulers and society about their sins and the outcomes of those sins. But how many Christians would listen to that message as taught by him vs how many Christians would listen to one of their own say the same thing? And right there is one of the main reasons why so many Christians unconditionally follow and support a person like Donal Trump.


  14. […] interested in semper reformanda. Challenging other traditions is easy; challenging your own can be a lot harder […]


  15. […] This prophetic ecumenism is helpful at two levels: it shows us Rutledge is aware of the strengths and weaknesses of both her own tradition and others, and more challengingly, it provides a model for anyone—presumably including Reformation Protestants—seriously interested in semper reformanda. Challenging other traditions is easy; challenging your own can be a lot harder. […]


  16. Thank you, thank you… I’ve about given up hope with general american evangelicalism, but now and then a voice pops up crying in the wilderness… and I have a little hope that not all have driven themselves off the cliff.


  17. […] An interview with Sharon Hodde-Miller about what it means to have a true prophetic voice in contemporary settings. See her article in Mere Orthodoxy: […]


  18. […] why and how evangelical women choose to attend seminary. She recently wrote a thought provoking piece for Mere Orthodoxy about our collective loss of “prophetic imagination” and the temptation for female […]


  19. My heart pounds reading this article. It resonates with so much of what I want to say, or wanted to say but found no place to say it among my American friends. My grief of it all was watching evangelical leaders whom I may not have agreed with over many things, but whom I respected and valued for their gravitas and their integrity… and then to see them swallow whole so many things this candidate has done and said, AND continues to do and say, without even choking on the bones, has caused me to have to work to avoid giving way to cynicism.

    Sharon, thanks. I’ve read some of the answers here on the page and see that some people think it’s about the elections. it is not. It’s about the hypocrisy of the evangelical church leaders who have decided to turn their gaze away rather than address issues which are deeply troubling.


  20. […] and the Loss of Prophetic Imagination, in Mere Orthodoxy [online], retrieved 19 September 2019 from, and Dr Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary (2018, 20 April, Political […]


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