Tag Archives | prophecy

Spirit Prophecy | Roger Stronstad

Roger StronstadThe phrase “filled with the Holy Spirit” in the Pentecost narrative, and throughout Luke-Acts, always describes a specific, though potentially repetitive, act of prophetic inspiration.

—Roger Stronstad. The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke: Trajectories from the Old Testament to Luke-Acts. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: BakerAcademic, 1984, 2012, 61.

The Prophetic Faith | Martin Buber

The cover of Buber's The Prophetic FaithBuber is best known for his philosophical gem, I and Thou. He was also an biblical interpreter who translated the entire Hebrew Bible into German. Although published before his translation work began, The Prophetic Faith demonstrates his broad and deep knowledge of the scriptures.

The Prophetic Faith begins with the Song of Deborah before moving backwards through Joshua’s covenant renewal ceremony to Sinai. Buber pays close attention to God’s name and the way at which YHVH and Israel became linked as expressed in the phrase, “YHVH God of Israel” (19).

From this point of origin, Buber traces the prophetic faith through the major movements of Israel’s life: the Assyrian threat, the Babylonian exile, and the return. Buber paints the prophetic faith as vivid and always engaged with the eternal Thou.

We are fortunate that Princeton University Press has just reissued this work. The Prophetic Faith is an inspiring look at the heart of Israel’s relationship with their God.

Buber, Martin. The Prophetic Faith. Translated by Jon D. Levenson. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.

The Prophets | Abraham J. Heschel

The cover of Heschel's The ProphetsThe Hebrew prophets are fascinating. They were an important part of Israel’s life, yet they often spoke of their rulers in very unflattering terms. When national life turned sour, the prophets were there to interpret geopolitical events from God’s perspective.

History to us is the record of human experience; to the prophet it is a record of God’s experience. (219)

In other words:

Prophecy, then, may be described as exegesis of existence from a divine perspective. (xxvii)

Abraham Heschel’s lengthy study on the prophets is poetic and insightful. The first half of the book is a survey of the various prophets and the main themes that consumed them. If you have ever struggled with reading the prophets, these chapters are a goldmine of information and inspiration.

The second half of the book is concerned with the prophets themselves. How is it that humans can speak for God? The answer centres on Heschel’s idea of God’s pathos. For Heschel, the Holy One of Israel, Maker of heaven and earth, is utterly transcendent. God never reveals himself to humans. Instead, he reveals his pathos.

The pathos of God is his heart of God for man, which takes on various forms such as “love and anger, grief and joy, mercy and wrath” (618). This is what the prophet engages when he or she encounters God. From the perspective of a prophet:

God’s presence is my first thought; His unity and transcendence, my second; His concern and involvement (justice and compassion), my third. (619)

Prophets are so in touch with God, they are able to sympathize with God’s pathos. Matters which may seem small to humans such as imbalanced scales take on cosmic importance when viewed through God’s justice.

The prophets are so moved by their encounters with God that they can seem unhinged to the rest of the world. Unlike the diviners of other contemporary cultures, however, they are not mad. The Hebrew prophets did not lose themselves in some sort of mystical absorption into the divine. Prophets (like Habakkuk, for example) can engage God in dialogue. They bring their own lives into the prophetic process.

I need to challenge Heschel on one point. He insists that the prophets never encounter the transcendent God. Instead, they encounter God-towards-man, or God’s pathos. “Revelation means, not that God makes Himself known, but that He makes His will known” (620). From a Christian perspective, the miracle of the incarnation is precisely that God has made Himself known in Jesus. In a very real sense, Jesus is the pathos of God made flesh.

Heschel’s comprehensive study of the Hebrew Prophets deserves continued engagement today.

—Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: HarperCollins, 2001).

Dune | Frank Herbert

The cover of Herbert's DuneDune is one of those epic stories that science fiction fans have to read at some point in their life. Like Asimov’s Foundation series and Clarke’s 2001, this story has staying power.

You can approach the story from a variety of angles.

  • It’s a ecological tale (written in 1965!) about the desire to work with a planet’s environment to create a healthy future.
  • It’s a political tale about the endless subterfuge employed by the power-brokers of the world.
  • It’s a religious tale about the results of spirituality on a culture.
  • It’s a philosophical tale about determinism and destiny.
  • It’s an action adventure story (with a dash of mystery) set in a fully realized alternate universe.

It’s simply engaging on every level.

Fortunately, Herbert went on to write a number of follow-up novels. Other authors have continued after him to write in his world. I’ll be able to take plenty of trips back to Arrakis.

—Frank Herbert, Dune (New York: Berkley Books, 1965).

Prophetic Preaching | Walter Brueggemann

Prophetic proclamation is an attempt to imagine the world as though YHWH—the creator of the world, the deliverer of Israel, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whom we Christians come to name as Father, Son, and Spirit—were a real character and an effective agent in the world.

—Walter Brueggemann, The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013), 2.

Who Killed Jesus? | John Dominic Crossan

The cover of Crossan's Who Killed JesusThis book infuriated me.

I should start by explaining why I read it. Crossan has a deep understanding of the historical circumstances of first century Palestine. Throughout this book there were a number of nuggets drawn from Josephus, Philo, and elsewhere that shed real light on New Testament circumstances.

Now on to the frustration.

Here’s Crossan’s argument in a nutshell: the passion didn’t happen. Theologians mined the Old Testament for ideas following the death of Jesus—a way to intellectually process what happened. They found texts like Psalm 2 and interpreted the significance of Jesus’ death through that lens. Since the common folk couldn’t understand such sophisticated theology, they invented stories that spread to confirm their hermeneutic. The passion is prophecy converted into a narrative fiction.

Crossan arrived at this conclusion through some clever redaction criticism. He finds the earliest stratum of the passion story embedded in the the Gospel of Peter (what he calls the “Cross Narrative”). Other sources include Q, Matthew, Mark, Luke-Acts, and John. He determines which story came first and which source is dependent on the others on order to play the differences between the narratives off each other.

Crossan’s next step is reflected in the subtitle. The creators of such a grand fib need to be exposed and held responsible for the role their story played in the persecution of the Jewish people throughout history. At the heart of the Christian faith there’s a lie that has harmed countless Jews.

However explicable its origins, defensible its invectives, and understandable its motives among Christians fighting for survival, [the passion narrative’s] repetition has now become the longest lie, and, for our own integrity, we Christians must at last name it as such. (152)

There are so many ways to respond to this. Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Crossan discounts the very idea of predictive prophecy as ancient superstition. Once you take this step, it’s easier to jump to prophecy-turned-story-telling.
  2. Crossan’s redaction criticism (which forms the foundation of his argument) is a castle of cards. He piles hypothesis upon hypothesis upon hypothesis to get to his conclusion. Surely at some point in the process it becomes more rational to take a more literal reading of the gospels. There are simpler ways to explain discrepancies between the accounts.
  3. Crossan takes what historical accounts (besides the gospels) tells him of first century Palestine then assumes that every event must fit that mold. Therefore, nothing unusual can happen. For example, crucified victims were not usually given a decent burial. Therefore, the story of Jesus’ burial must be a fiction. By this logic, nothing unusual can ever happen!
  4. Even if you agree with his argument on the passion being prophecy turned into story, you cannot blame those storytellers for the horrible acts perpetrated against the Jewish people centuries later. This actually shifts blame from those who committed the atrocities to a minuscule minority of persecuted Christians with no hand in the later violence.

I’ll stop my rant. It’s time to put Who Killed Jesus? back up on the shelf.

—John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus: Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus. (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.

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