How non-supernatural Christians define prophecy.

How non-supernaturalist Christians confuse the gift of exhortation with the gift of prophecy.

In the scriptures, a prophet is a person who hears God and shares his messages with others. Anyone can hear God, so anyone can become a prophet, and since every Christian has the Holy Spirit within them, Christians especially can become prophets. It’s kind of our birthright. Ac 2.17-18

However. In popular Christian culture, particularly among Christians who have their doubts or fears about miracles and the supernatural, “prophecy” has been redefined. To these folks, prophecy still totally refers to sharing God’s messages with others. But as for hearing that message directly from God… well that’s not part of their understanding. Either ’cause they insist God doesn’t do that anymore, or ’cause they seriously downplay anything supernatural about the way Christians get God’s messages.

So to them, a “prophet” is anyone who shares God’s truths. They read ’em in the bible, preach the bible, and voilĂ  they’re a prophet. Or they heard these truths from another preacher, shared ’em with others, and that makes ’em a prophet too. Basically every Christian preacher and teacher is a prophet.

To some, what especially makes ’em a prophet is the message. If they radically stand up for God, over and against a culture which doesn’t care about him, or wants to water him down into something inoffensive and powerless, that’s what makes ’em prophets: They’re hardcore. Prophets aren’t just any teachers, but teachers of revolution. Of revival. Of profound, God-seeking change.

To others, the active ingredient is their effectiveness. ’Cause loads of Christians preach radical change. But if these preachers’ messages actually get people to radically change, they must have a gift!—and, they presume, it’s the gift of prophecy. God granted them the power for their words to make a difference. God made ’em really good public speakers, like Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. Isn’t that all prophecy is?

What these alternate definitions have in common is that exhortation makes the prophet. If you preach God’s message—maybe radically, maybe effectively—you’re a prophet.

Why I have a problem with these alternate definitions: Prophets don’t act that way in the bible. They heard God. Samuel’s first prophecy wasn’t radical change but judgment, and it clearly didn’t convict Eli to change his behavior.

1 Samuel 3.10-18 KWL
10 The LORD came, stood, and called, same as usual: “Samuel. Samuel.”
Samuel said, “Speak. Your slave hears you.”
11 The LORD told Samuel, “Look, I’m doing a work in Israel which everyone will hear of.
Their two ears will turn red with shame.
12 On that day, I do to Eli everything I said about his house, start to finish:
13 I told Eli when I judged his house for always, for its corruption.
He already knows: His sons made themselves unholy, and he didn’t stop them.
14 So I promised Eli’s house: Can it make atonement for always,
with a mere sacrifice and offering for Eli’s house’s sin?”
15 Samuel lay down till morning. He opened the door of the LORD’s house.
Samuel was afraid to present the vision to Eli.
16 Eli called Samuel, and said, “Samuel my son.” Samuel said, “Look at me.”
17 Eli said, “What was the word to you? Please don’t hide from me.
God do it to you, and do it again, if you hide the word from me—
all the word he told you.”
18 Samuel told Eli the whole message, and hid from him nothing.
Eli said, “He’s the LORD. He does what’s good in his eyes.”

Yeah, I know; various Christians will insist all the meanings and definitions of miracles and prophecy and revelation got changed between bible times and today, or between Old Testament times and New. It’s rubbish, but popular rubbish. Samuel was identified a prophet because Samuel heard God. Not because of what he said and how he said it. Solely because of how he got what he said.

If your “prophecy” isn’t the product of hearing God, ’tain’t prophecy.

Hearing God unawares.

As you know, everyone can hear God. Clearly not everyone is listening, but they could, if they bothered to try. They’re just not always gonna bother to try. Those Christians who insist God stopped talking, or who think the continuationists have gotta be wrong about how God does it, are gonna resist listening to God in any of the ways supernaturalists recommend. (Kinda sad how their willingness to hear God is hindered by antagonism and spite, but it does stand to reason.)

So how do they figure they hear God? They expect they get “inspired” to preach what he wants ’em to. It’s much like how an artist gets an idea to paint something, or a writer comes up with a clever turn of phrase. The assumption is certain clever ideas, way cleverer than the stuff they could’ve created on their own, must’ve come from God. And sometimes they do: There’s absolutely no reason God can’t drop an idea in our heads. I would say he frequently does just that.

I’d also say the reason he frequently does it, is ’cause people aren’t listening for his voice in any other way. They’re listening to themselves, to the many voices inside their own minds. Most of which are them; one of which is the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit’s voice has what they consider the best idea—something which appeals to them most—then they listen to God. The rest of the time they’ll go with their own favorite ideas. Sometimes because they’re not all that sure what God sounds like; they’ve projected so much of themselves upon him, they can no longer tell. Other times because they don’t expect his voice to be in them at all, so they’re not even trying.

And I’d also say he frequently does it because it works. If you’re not listening for God’s voice in your head, you’re just gonna assume all the voices are your own. The most appealing voice wins. And every so often, just by the law of averages, the Spirit’s gonna have the most appealing voice. Even in totally depraved individuals: Sometimes his goals and ours are gonna coincide. Sometimes his message is gonna get in there regardless. It’s why even pagans can say something profound from time to time.

It’s no substitute for really seeking God’s voice. God shouldn’t have to use us in spite of ourselves! If you wanna be a prophet, listen. If those ideas which pop into your head check out through the usual ways we confirm prophecy, great!—keep listening for those.

But just because those ideas might appeal to lots of people, is no guarantee they’re God-ideas. Sometimes public acclaim means just the opposite.

2 Timothy 4.3-4 KWL
3 Time will come when people won’t put up with solid teaching.
Instead, those with this infection will collect teachers to listen to who stroke their ears.
4 They’ll abandon listening to truth, and chase myths.

There are plenty of popular public speakers who don’t preach God at all. Plenty of messages exhorting radical, revolutionary change. Plenty of messages from hardcore individuals. Plenty of persuasive speakers who can get the masses to follow ’em. Doesn’t make ’em prophets. Fake prophets maybe. Effective fake prophets, sure.

But again: It’s not the messenger, the message, or the effectiveness of the message or messenger. It’s whether the message came from the Holy Spirit. It’s whether the messenger has the sort of relationship with God where they heed the Spirit. That defines prophecy. Nothing else. Certainly not the definitions of people who won’t heed the Spirit.