Blogging Prophets

 

Editor’s Note: The following article is written by Dr. Bill Fleming, Jr. Dr. Fleming is the director of Pastoral Studies at New Life Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. He is a minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. He is the author of Mapping the Christian Life (Rev/press, Biloxi, Miss.) and blogs at drbillfleming.blogspot.com. Used with his permission, Dr. Fleming’s article first appeared at http://drbillfleming.blogspot.com/2012/07/blogging-prophets.html/.


Last Spring I wrote a blog called: “Blogging as a Spiritual discipline.” I have had a lot of thoughts about it since.

Blogs have assumed an important role in our society. They give thoughts that would otherwise be unsaid a place to be heard.

But blogging forces us to ask– should all thoughts be heard? Is blogging good for the world, or simply a form of mental exhibitionism?

I believe blogging has been a good thing for our society—a very good thing. At its worst, it’s a good way to blow off steam. At its best, it is a modern expression of prophecy. I am convinced that if Elijah were alive today, he would have a blog.

The prophets of the Old Testament were men and women who spoke in public places what they believed to be the Word of the Lord. They were not foretellers of the future, but forth-tellers of God’s Word, inspired to speak His interpretation of the times. Though the penalty for speaking falsely was severe, they spoke boldly. The people listened because they knew that a crazy voice in the wilderness might just be telling the truth.

New Testament prophecy was different. There were no penalties for being wrong, but instead people were encouraged to speak in bunches of two or three, and the rest of the church would judge true prophecy from false. (1 Corinthians 12:29-31) Prophets were respected in the church, being included among the elders of the people. (Acts 13:1)

There is a point of view which argues that prophecy no longer happens. Personally I find this view weak, both Biblically, historically, and experientially. Prophecy is still with us, serving essentially the same function today that it always has–as a corrector to the times, encouraging and rebuking the church towards God’s plan and away from error and division. It does not necessarily come from people with great intellectual insights or greater education, but from those who are in tune with the Spirit of God. Our education often serves only to reinforce our prejudices instead of drawing us deeper to God. So today, just like yesterday, we should be alert to prophecy coming from unlikely sources.

One prerequisite for being a prophet is that you cannot keep your opinions to yourself. A person who keeps his mouth shut can never be a prophet.

Throughout history, God has inspired individuals who have inspired us to look at eternal truths. They have given us new perspectives, challenged us to think in new ways, and shown us a vision of our times through the light of the Spirit. Unlike the Old Testament prophets, every word they speak is not correct, but even so God uses them. They are people who are not afraid to speak their mind–which in some cases and to some degree also happens to be the mind of Christ.

The only people who can speak God’s opinion are those who are unafraid to speak their own. A prophet cannot be timid or shy. They must speak up. They cannot be afraid of disagreement or controversy–rather, they should expect that most of what they say will be resented and ill-received. If they are wrong, they can be corrected by others – but only by people who are also willing to speak. We cannot correct by silence. We have to speak out.

Unfortunately, instead of encouraging people to speak their thoughts, feelings, and opinions, we have discouraged people from speaking at all. We have encouraged “civil”–that is, noncontroversial–, conversations full of platitudes and qualifiers, devoid of feeling or passion, offending no one but saying nothing. We have squelched robust conversation for fear of offense or error, resulting in the suppression of both error and the truth. For fear of speaking wrong, we say nothing at all. False prophets are a problem, but the lack of any prophet is worse.

Blogging, tweeting, commenting, and talking is vitally important if we are to hear God’s voice. Without it, things may be more peaceful. But with it, we might just hear the voice of God. But if we say nothing, the world will continue in darkness and ignorance, because we did not bother to say the truth.

I blog because I believe God wants me to speak my own opinion. I encourage others to blog for the same reason. We need people who are willing to stir the pot and keep the fire on, if our church and society are ever going to get better.

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  1. Eric Wm. Ruschky says:

    I know Dr. Fleming and respect him. Nevertheless, there is a reason why I do not blog (other than not knowing how to), or tweet, or facebook, and why I rarely submit comments such as this one. Dr. Fleming says the following: “I blog because I believe God wants me to speak my own opinion.” With all due respect to Dr. Fleming, opinions are like noses—everybody has one, and I don’t care to hear other people’s opinions about a lot of things—indeed, about most things. I really do not care to read postings about where someone is, or what that person had for breakfast.
    Old Testament prophets did not speak their opinions, but God’s “opinion.” I want to hear God’s opinion.

     
  2. Tim Phillips says:

    Does Dr. Fleming take exceptions to WCF at 1:1 and 1:6, since he seems to suggest that the position of the Divines is “weak”?

     
  3. Daniel Stephens says:

    Before the cessation debate begins in earnest I want to suggest that there are two definitions of prophetic speech at work here.
    1. An oracle from God to his people given through the means of a prophet.
    2. Challenging/foreshadowing speech consonant with the Bible given by a man/woman.

    The first definition is morally binding and 100% true–because it comes directly from God. The second is true and binding insofar as it conforms with scripture.

    Dr. Flemming said that he is not working with definition #1 in regards to blogging, “Throughout history, God has inspired individuals who have inspired us to look at eternal truths. They have given us new perspectives, challenged us to think in new ways, and shown us a vision of our times through the light of the Spirit. Unlike the Old Testament prophets, every word they speak is not correct, but even so God uses them.”

    So perhaps the discussion can begin with the question of whether blogging can faithfully and effectively fulfill definition #2.

     
    • Tim Phillips says:

      Daniel, my question is a simple one that I would prefer not side-stepping by introducing different categories. Certainly, those different categories exist, as even the Puritans recognized (e.g., William Perkins’ The Art of Prophesying is about the practice of preaching). Nevertheless, if we are considering the authoritative proclamation of God’s word to fall under this rubric, then we would need to consider a few things:
      1) This is not open to “everyone” (as are forms of social media) unless we want to jettison our understanding (also confessional) that the preaching of the word is to be done by men set part for that office;
      2) The preaching of the word in corporate worship is clearly distinct (also confessional) from the practice of blogging, tweeting, talking, etc.
      3) The issue of what existed in the NT church during the apostolic period does not preclude the closing of the canon and the cessation of prophecy, a position which our confession embraces and which Dr. Fleming considers to be un-biblical, non-historical, and “weak.”

      It seems clear to me (and I may be wrong) that Dr. Fleming is taking a position that, while it may partake of certain elements in your point # 2, certainly blurs the lines between your points # 1 and # 2. Hence, I would like to have my original question answered and have that point established before we move to your question.

       
      • Daniel F. Wells says:

        Samuel Ruherford, a Westminster Divine, had some strange views regarding prophecy. Indeed, the Reformed tradition is, overall, cessationist. But there are exceptions.

         
        • Tim Phillips says:

          So did John Knox, apparently. And Luther thought the world was about to end and he was an apocalyptic figure who was about to bring this about. Indeed, we could scan through church history and find individuals who held to a variety of “peculiar” positions. But we are not bound by what certain individuals may or may not have held to, sometimes mediated to us through anecdotal evidence; rather, it is what Scriptures teach and what we have taken vows to agree to confess.

           
      • Daniel Stephens says:

        *note* I realize I’m talking to men older, wiser, and who have devoted more time to this issue than I have. I’ve tried to reflect that in my writing and if I haven’t, I apologize.

        Tim,
        The definitions of prophecy I gave were what I thought were present in the article. I think he uses both definitions. I didn’t include preaching because I didn’t see that in his article. I agree with you that preaching is important to understanding prophecy (and vice versa) and that Dr. Flemming equivocated on prophecy. In the beginning he is talking about people who received verbal plenary inspiration directly from God and were charged to speak that to people unaltered. By the end of his article he speaks of the prophet speaking his thoughts feelings and opinions. The definition he is using has changed from the biblical usage to the more modern usage.

        I was hoping to sidestep that issue and see if his last 5 paragraphs could stand on their own (the earlier paragraphs can’t support because of the equivocation). I also agree with you that what is expressed in the article is a problem as far as the confession is concerned.

        Chuck,
        I think he uses prophets it at least two different ways and that is what is causing the friction. More to the point, I think he sees an evolution of the prophetic office over time such that its fundamental nature is changed (bloggers aren’t delivering authoritative revelation, but that was the central task of Isaiah). Whereas others would say that the prophetic office ended and a new office was inaugurated in the New Covenant and though it follows in the footsteps of the prophets, this new office is not that of the prophet.

        We might be able to make headway by saying that a speech or writing is prophetic in the sense that it is reminiscent of OT prophesy, instead of identifying the writer as a prophet. But then it shares a place with preaching, an issue Tim has already raised.

        Anyway, all of this to say: I do think there are problems in the article, but I also think there is something worth thinking about and discussing in the final 5 paragraphs.

         
  4. […] Life (Rev/press, Biloxi, Miss.) and blogs at drbillfleming.blogspot.com.  This version appeared on ARPTalk and is used with their […]

     
  5. Gentlemen,

    Bill and I have been friends since about 1978. We often disagree; however, I weigh what he says carefully because he is cut so differently from what I am. His life experiences are very different from mine. Intellectually and emotionally, we approach issues from opposite angels. Therefore, I read his blog in an attempt to fathom his perspective.

    I invited Bill to post his article on ARPTalk. I think he has something to say – something important.

    1. He uses the term “prophets” not in the sense of forthtelling the future. He uses the term “prophet” in the sense of warning of God’s judgments of sin.

    2. His article is a call for the prophetic voice to be embrace by us.

    3. He sees the blog as an appropriate venue for the prophet’s message.

    4. He says the prophet’s message is to be judged on the basis of truth – truth told on the basis of facts and truth told in obedience to and representation of the Word of God written, the Bible.

    I says “Amen!” to Bill “faltering and stammering” efforts. He is bold. I like the way he says it better than what others don’t say. I always know where Bill stands – even when I disagree with him. Both of us will say at the end of the day, “Let the words of the Bible judge us!”

    Bill, have I missed something?

    Regards,

    Chuck Wilson
    ARPTalk

     
    • Tim Phillips says:

      Chuck, I am aware that he makes the distinction between “forth-telling” and “foretelling.” That is not the issue. The “forth-telling” of Isaiah is still part of Holy Scripture. When he rebukes and warns of God’s judgment, is that not God’s holy revelation too? To compare that with blogging trivializes the Scriptures, imo. And what has been written the article above would actually conflict with 2 Peter 1:20-21 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

      I, for one, have no delusions of grandeur and hopefully no hidden hubris about comparing my own puny efforts at blogging with prophecy. Blogs (and similar media) may be useful in some ways, such as instructing or exhorting, and if this is all that the original article was saying, I am fine with that. But it’s not like similar media has not previously existed. I don’t see the Reformers or Puritans, for instance, thinking that their written works were on par with Scripture. Just because we have the ability to write something that can be read by a great number of people, it does not give us the right to hang a prophetic mantle around our necks. We need to be very wary of the warnings of James 3:1 here.

       

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