Tuesday, May 28, 2019

How Do Some Christians Tolerate Failed Prophecy?

            My previous blog, written in the form of a public letter to Dr. Paul Dhinakaran about his failed prophecy, elicited interesting responses. Intriguingly, a few well-meaning Christians were not as critical as I was about that failed prophecy.

            Some urged me to wait for a longer time. The prophecy, they contended, would be fulfilled if only we were to give it more time.

            Others pointed out a few prophecies from the Bible that were supposedly erroneous and used those prophecies to validate this failed prophecy. 

            My understanding of the term prophecy is defined by this verse, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21, NIV, Emphasis Mine).

            Furthermore, my understanding of God complicates my position on (any failed) prophecy. As a classical theist, I subscribe to a position that God is the absolutely metaphysically ultimate reality and HE is immutable or changeless. Hence, God must be impassible (HE cannot be affected by anything external in the created order).   

            A word of caution would serve us well before we proceed any further. We should be unambiguously clear that our stand on prophecy does not determine our salvation. In other words, we could be poles apart on our comprehension of the gift of prophecy in the local church; yet, I believe our growth in Christ could be unimpeded.

            So we come back to our question, how do some Christians tolerate failed prophecy?

            Wayne Grudem’s exemplary work on Systematic Theology offers an interesting perspective. He begins by defining prophecy as “telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind.” Do note that Grudem does not define the gift of prophecy as “predicting the future” or as “proclaiming a word from the Lord.”

            He goes on to add that the terms prophet and prophecy were used of ordinary Christians, who spoke not with absolute divine authority but simply to report something that God had laid on their hearts or brought to their minds.

            This ordinary gift of prophecy had a lesser authority than the Bible in the New Testament and even less than that of recognized Bible teaching in the early church. Grudem refers to the prophecy referred in Acts 21:4, Acts 21:10-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, and 1 Corinthians 14: 29-38, as a case in point. 

            Furthermore, in the New Testament, prophets from the local church spoke with less authority than the New Testament apostles or the Scripture. Nowhere does the New Testament command us to “obey the words of the Lord through your prophets.” So Grudem comes to the conclusion that the prophecies of today need not necessarily be construed as “the words of God.”

            The Charismatic churches accord much importance to prophecies today. Grudem refers to the Charismatic teachers who believe that contemporary prophecy is not equal to Scripture in authority. Grudem writes, “Though some will speak of prophecy as being the “word of God” for today, there is almost uniform testimony from all sections of the charismatic movement that prophecy is imperfect and impure, and will contain elements that are not to be obeyed or trusted. For example, Bruce Yocum, the author of a widely used charismatic book on prophecy, writes, “Prophecy can be impure — our own thoughts or ideas can get mixed into the message we receive — whether we receive the words directly or only receive a sense of the message.”

            However, complications arise when contemporary prophets preface their prophecies with the common Old Testament phrase, “Thus says the Lord.” Grudem asserts that even though it gives an impression that the words that follow this phrase are God’s very words, the charismatic spokesmen would not want to claim it for every part of their prophecies.

            So those Christians who hold to a similar position (as cited above) could tolerate a failed prophecy. Whereas Christians who believe that prophecies are the very words of God, especially if it is prefaced by phrases similar to “Thus says the Lord…” cannot tolerate a failed prophecy.

            But whatever be our position on the contentious topic of prophecy; even if we believe in Cessationism (the doctrine that spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing ceased with the apostolic age.), please note that we can agree to disagree and yet, remain as brothers and sisters in Christ.


Wayne Grudem’s quotes are taken from his work Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Inter-Varsity Press, England.

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