preaching and prophecy

There has been something of a tendency among some to equate prophecy and preaching or evangelism.

Two prominent Sydney Anglicans, Phillip Jensen and Kel Richards, make a passing comment indicating that they approve of this equation in this talk (something like 160MB which could’ve been a 6MB MP3 file had they been more considerate). Ironically they talk about how “reformed charismatics” must either redefine “reformed” or “charismatic,” and then proceed to redefine “prophecy”!

The comments themselves arise at about 20:48 into the recording. Basically, the exchange is as follows:

Philip: The spirit of prophecy, says the book of revelation, is the testimony of Jesus.
Kel: Right, so if I tell people about Jesus I’m prophesying.
Philip: Yes, in a sense. That’s right. That’s why old men, young men, all who are in the Christ, we’re all now prophets because we speak of Jesus. And so I’m very keen for people to prophesies because I want them to preach about Jesus.

Some problems with this approach:

  • They base this entire “theory” of NT prophecy on Rev 19:10 and Acts 2, and fails to even mention numerous other passages which tend to undermine his argument, nor do they attempt to place Rev 19:10 within its context and expound it accordingly, rather they simply use it as a “proof text.”
  • Their appeal to Acts 2:17-18 as implying that every Christian has the gift of prophecy is misleading, and fails to deal with Paul’s explicit assertion that only some have the gift of prophecy. Paul’s discussion of gifts clearly and explicitly notes that the gifts are shared out amongst believers, so whatever Paul means by “the gift of prophecy” is not shared by all christians. As such, what Paul and Philip Jensen/Kel Richards talk about are clearly different things!
  • Jensen and Richards fail to acknowledge that a significant part of the idea of biblical prophecy is the revelatory aspect. This fails to note that all recorded speech explicitly labeled as prophecy in the NT (and OT) involves direct revelation from God, not merely exposition of the Scriptures or even the gospel. I think Wayne Grudem’s definition of what Paul means by “prophecy” is helpful (as reported by Don Carson):

    prophecy is the reception and subsequent transmission of spontaneous, divinely originating revelation.

Another point to note is that the NT use of “prophecy” language is quite diverse, and different authors appear to use the terminology in different ways. In Acts 2, for example, Peter uses the quotation from Joel to explain the phenomenon whereby many disciples began speaking in tongues.

I will state my understanding briefly. The gift of prophecy, as explained by Paul in 1Cor 12-14, refers to a God-given gift whereby some christians receive and convey directly revealed information from God. It is clear that this prophecy is not accorded equivalent authority with the Scriptures, but that it goes beyond mere exposition of Scripture or explanation of the gospel. Furthermore, I can see no biblical reason why this gift should not be in operation today, although, like almost all other gifts, it is open to misunderstanding and abuse.

2 responses to “preaching and prophecy”

  1. Gordon Cheng

    I think Wayne Grudem’s definition of what Paul means by “prophecy” is helpful (as reported by Don Carson): “prophecy is the reception and subsequent transmission of spontaneous, divinely originating revelation.”

    This definition necessarily includes accurate expository preaching, doesn’t it? I receive “spontaneous, divinely originating revelation” when I read the Bible. I prophesy whenever I teach that revelation accurately (“subsequent transmission”).

    So although I’m sympathetic to your concerns, and think Grudem’s definition is consistent with Scripture, it overstates the case to see Jensen and Richards as “redefining” the term. Maybe they’ve tightened it too far, is all I’d want to say.

  2. martin

    That all depends on how you understand spontaneous. My impression from both Carson and Grudem, not to mention others such as Forbes, is that the “spontaneous” refers to fresh revelation given in the moment, not the apprehension or even a new understanding of existing revelation. The former is the feature of all examples of speech labelled “prophecy” in the Bible. There are no examples of expository preaching in the Bible which are described as prophecy.

    So no, the definition does exclude expository preaching. At least when I use it, and as far as I can tell, when it is used in the Bible.

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