Friday, August 04, 2006

In the Nick of Time

Contemporary Christian evangelicalism has had a poor prophetic record if my sampling of it is anything to go by, just as bad as the Jehovah’s Witnesses in fact. If you like long shot odds then betting on the fulfillment of “prophecy” is the game for you. So folks, here’s the form so far on “prophecies” that have come to my notice:

1. The Mt Carmel prophecies affirming 1975 as a “significant” year.
2. That revival would sweep the southern part of England, as did the hurricane of 1987.
3. That this or that person would be healed from terminal cancer (and never did).
4. That there would be Christian revival shortly after Princess Di’s death.
5. The Spring Harvest prophecy that Westminster Chapel would be the center of a great revival in 1996.
6. That the millennium bug would be the precursor of Global collapse in the year 2000.
7. That Southern England would experience a devastating Earthquake.
8. That “big things” would be happening in the UK shortly after the July 2005 Benny Hinn rally in Norwich.

As a rule these often highly public “prophecies” are quietly dropped and anyone with a retentive memory is the enemy of those who support the ministries who put out these "prophecies". I haven’t particularly gone out of my way to seek out duff prophecies – they found me rather than I found them. So how many more are out there hiding themselves away in shame? I daren’t Google “Kansas City Prophet” for fear of what I might find. However, things are looking up. Before I could say “Kansas City Prophet” I got news of a “right on” prophecy. In the August 2006 edition of “Christianity” magazine ex-Christian rock musician Ian “Ishmael” Smale, now a children’s worker, tells a fascinating story of meeting at the end of the 70s some then unknown Irish musicians in a Brighton pub. Ian takes up the story:

“They were saying God had showed them they were going to be very big. They had scriptures and prophecies, but I looked round and there was nobody else in that pub. But they obviously got the prophecies right”

Really? Trouble is, I don’t follow rock music closely, so without cribbing off the Internet I haven’t got a clue about this group. Ian says that the lead singer was called “Bono”. I think that even if I met Bono I wouldn’t know him from Old Nick


helsalata said...

Now a discussion about prophesy is an interesting one. We are told that we should "eagerly desire" it as a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 14:39) and yet some of the things that people have been convinced are words from God have quite obviously not been. Or have they? If a promise of revival or the second coming or blessing is predicted, who can tell the knock on effects that that might have? ONly God can see the outcome. Does that mean that the prophesy was misheard? Or that it's all a load of baloney? We should eagerly seek to prophesy and yet the consequences of "mishearing" or "getting it wrong" are people pointing the finger and laughing. Should those people stay silent, test the prophesy a little more rigidly or just go straight ahead?
Is God teaching lessons about humility through not fulfilling prophesy? Is he testing obedience? It's a subject that fascinates me and I would love to see a little more opportunity to discover the prophetic at NCBC. Maybe even hearing a word of God through you Tim?

joolian said...

Norwich City FC have barely won a game since Benny Hinn appeared at Carrow Road. That cannot be a conicidence.

Timothy V Reeves said...

Mishearing prophecy, tests of obedience, not desiring prophecy enough, tests of humility, and especially conditional prophecies, all of which may be applicable in particular cases, are easily used as conceptual artifacts to systematically shore up what my anecdotal evidence suggests is the systematic failure of precognitive prophecies.

It is well known in philosophical circles that when our ideas come off badly in a confrontation with experience, it is all too easy to patch then up with all sorts of ancillary explanations so as to protect bad ideas from that confrontation. The human mind is capable of creating explanations of such plasticity that they fit round any retrospective experience whatsoever, and we especially notice this when human ideas are under threat.

Are we, then, in danger of so modifying and emptying the meaning of precognitive prophecy using conceptual artifacts by which so called “prophecies” can easily evade the test of getting it right? Given that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have made predictions that have gone awry can we then criticise them for shape shifting their theology in order to protect it?

An interesting case is the prophecy of Caiaphas in John 11:49ff. Without the interpretative framing of the Biblical information here, we would be hard put to it to identify Caiaphas utterance as a prophecy at all. His utterance is probably consistent with his political acumen, motives and training. Therefore, of itself, it is difficult to distinguish it in any way as special. In fact given the chaotic complexity of the created order and an absence of any accompanying macro disturbances of nature, such as turning water into wine, then a prophecy like Ciaiphas easily blends into the background pattern of normalcy. So how then do we identify prophecy? .

Without probing this subject too deeply I think we can at least learn from this that framing information has an important role in identifying prophecy. In today’s church culture, the framing information that informs the average Gnostic Christian that a prophecy is being delivered is derived from a blend of cultural motifs such as the religious language and style used, the person it comes from, whether that person is considered to have Gnostic insight and reputation, whether that person is correctly networked into to the local Christian culture, and above all a subtle embedded dualist philosophy is applied which makes a sharp distinction between “God’s work” and an ‘also ran’ catch all category. Basically it’s whom you know not what you know. The reason for this may be because, as Helen has hinted, simply “getting right” may not be considered a necessary property of precognitive prophecy. Given the underlying set of assumptions and expectations that many contemporary Gnostic Christains have can we trust them to identify true prophecy?

Because of spurious framing criteria, frankly, I think we can completely forget about people like myself, and many others outside the Gnostic social network, ever having a chance of an utterance being identified as a prophecy, even if by grace we should be deigned as channels. So confident am I of this that I can turn it into a prophecy, so here is my prophecy. “I prophesy that this prophecy will not be generally identified as a prophecy.”

All in all there seems to be a subtle embedded gnosto-dualist philosophy abroad in Christendom which attempts to disenfranchise the rank and file Christian of the Promise of Acts 2:39. The Bible makes it quite clear that without exception all Christains, repeat all Christains, have the anointing whether those Christains find themselves to be in orthodox, conservative, liberal or Gnostic circles (I John 2:20&27).

On the poor fortunes of Norwich FC: Some TV evangelists have sent out holy water to bless so perhaps Benny should have provided some holy water for Norwich FC. Accordingly, as some superstitious foot club managers have done, Benny should have urinated on the four corners of the pitch when he came. I’m sure Benny’s holy water would be far more effective than that of some pagan hard living, hard drinking FC manager. On the other hand when I attended Benny’s rally I found that his ministry, to use hallowed language straight out of the AV Bible, p*ss*th me off some much that the pitch has probably had enough urine on it already. (PS to Helen: “cr*p” is NOT in the AV)

helsalata said...

You are describing "doublethink"- an Orwellian process of simultaneously believing a prophesy will come to pass and at the same time disregarding the same prophesy, without consiously being aware that either process is going on in your head. I'm sure that this process is necessary for any date specific prophetic word but prophesy usually takes the form of some nebulous picture (in my experience). "God has given me a picture of a crossroads and we need to think and pray carefully before we proceed" is sufficiently woolly to sum up a situation but not offer a solution. It confirms what is known and reinforces what is already known about asking God's help for making decisions.

Maybe James needs to run "How to" sessions for us novices at NCBC in how to receive and communicate the prophetic. I think that in those training sessions we might also need instruction on receiving and acting on the words given. It would appear that both are essential in this process.

Ben F. Foster Esq. (c) said...

best i heard was Benny Hinn prophesying Fidel Castrado will die before 2000 and would be ousted from leaderhsip before that... and the physical manifestation of Jesus would appear on stage in his 1996 tour.

i love Christians

Timothy V Reeves said...


… And I’m not just talking about Ben’s handsome and youthful looking visage in the portrait above …. Thanks for dropping in Ben. Benny Hinn’s prophetic faux pas are a study in themselves! ….

Some points for Helen to chew on:

1. Are you, Helen, expressing the old worries about precognitive knowledge disturbing the very future that is the subject of that knowledge? Well, there is a way round this. A precognitive perception can include enough “key properties” of a future event to enable one to identify it when it crops, but not enough detail for us to construct in advance exactly how, what or when the event is going to happen – think of Is 53 and Mat 24 for example. It’s a bit like a Google search: If you use enough key words you can lock on to a narrow band of pages and yet you would be unable to construct the content of these pages in advance.

2. The Biblical model of prophecy, however, seems to be more general than just this precognitive stuff, as Helen’s example suggests - an example that has more to do with interpreting and reacting to a current issue. Even so, in my books the “keyword concept” metaphor still holds here; - a conjunction of similar properties locks the “prophecy” on to the circumstances to which it is applied.

3. Interesting to note the framing information Helen gives: “God has given me a picture…” Framing information is controversial. We have the “Thus says the Lord…” frames of the OT, but it is not clear to me that this is also true of the NT which, typically of its non canonical format, just assumes things are up and running. Also note that in Helen’s example prophecy is received via a kind of Divine telepathy – is this the only way to source prophecy? My feeling is that if God is God then He can arrange for the issue of prophetic “key concepts” from all sorts sources - Caiaphas for example.

3. Like an ambiguous search enquiry, a particular prophecy may have fuzzy edges; what about those “dual application” prophesies in the NT? . Another application of “Search, reject and select”! I might make a programmer out of Helen yet.

5. I am sure a little bit of study, as Helen suggests, would repay. However, it is my opinion and experience that prophecy is happening now, and prophetic “key concepts” are embedded here and there in the fabric of reality and we have no way of stopping them – after all, God inhabits the interstices of reality. I don’t accept that we have to “move into” prophecy as some Gnostic Christains suggest – what they mean, of course, is that they won’t recognize prophecy until it is framed in the way they want it framed. For myself I am keeping out of the frame!