Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Untimely Prophets

Preaching on the prophetic discourse in Matthew 24 this past weekend, I was reminded that prophetic preaching is not so in vogue these days.  We have survived the “prophetic voices” of the Lindseys, Kirbans, LaHayes, and more recently the Campings, and are not so inclined to listen to those who have seemingly cracked the code or created impressive time charts.  And that is good.  How they have done these things in the face of Matthew 24:36 is rather mystifying. But prophets are still needed, and prophetic preaching is more necessary than we realize.  Ours may very well be the “days of Noah” Jesus warned about. We may be so consumed with present activities we are oblivious to how God is actually moving.

What is needed are different kinds of prophetic voices—prophets less obsessed with calculation; more consumed with preaching a message of vigilance. Prophets less concerned with the times; more concerned with untimeliness.  Nearly ten years ago, Os Guinness, in his Prophetic Untimeliness,  challenged us to become “untimely prophets”, prophets who speak the word of the Lord, interpret events from the perspective of faith, and fearlessly declare how we must then live. 

Untimely is an interesting description, but his illustrations help flesh it out. Untimely prophets are ill-timed and inconvenient because they declare what the world is not so inclined to want to hear. They discern the times and have the courage to repudiate powerful interests and fashion. They look something like Winston Churchill. Because he was an historian, he was enabled to at the same time be a visionary (what’s called the Janus Effect-the more one can see in the past, the more one can see into the future).  But very few were willing to listen to his premonitions, his prophetic voice, and so the 1930’s were his “wilderness years”.  Though he warned of the mounting menace of Hitler (something he could see because of his reading of European history), and though he declared that Hitler must be checked, hardly anyone listened.  The nations were “lulled into oblivion” before the rapidly growing power of Nazi Germany.  His words were timely, yet untimely for the culture he lived in.  It was that way with Noah.  It may be for emerging prophets today. 

But in an age where the church is becoming increasingly captive to culture, untimely prophets are needed more than ever.  Guinness warns in his book that they, however, must prepare to pay a price.  The first is maladjustment.  Prophets who choose to be faithful will increasingly find their message is out of sync, irrelevant (though he also warns that those focused on being relevant to the times ultimately become irrelevant). The second price is impatience.  Prophets who face an increasingly godless and corrupt culture will feel the frustration of God’s delay, God’s bringing to fulfillment His kingdom. The third cost is a sense of failure.  They will not necessarily amass a crowd nor sell a lot of books.

The good news is that our failure may very well be His success, and our setbacks will be His turning point.  Timely words.  Future prophets who redeem the time will do so by being untimely.

  • Critofer
    7:31 PM, 18 March 2012

    nooooo no podcast. bad, bad ctuomper!! ^^*sigh*But look.. there’s a little penguin!! What does he want to tell us? d de.. debi I don’t know what he wants anyways, enjoy installing Mandriva on your new toy!(doh! I’m completely useless and talking just plain rubbish today sorry hun! )byyeeeee

  • Aki
    8:18 PM, 7 September 2012

    Jul27 Richard: I understand exctaly what you mean about the entrepreneur bringing new life. However, as Ben noted, that is usually personality that is the source of the new life, not a new influx of the Holy Spirit. The personality based leadership will be a bright flame for a while, but it usually doesn’t last long. A leader (NOT necessarily the pastor) truly invested in his/her congregation will help the congregation mature into a greater connection to Jesus through the Holy Spirit.As long as we continually look to others to provide our spiritual maturity (and thus it is not ours, and not mature), the Church will continue to struggle.I infer from your comment that you are in a mainstream liturgical church. While it can be stale, sometimes, I suspect that all are not bringing it truly to Jesus, but merely going through the motions. An entrepreneurial leader won’t change that (again, unless they are truly invested in the people they lead), they’ll just change the lighting.I suspect that all the denominations (not all the congregations) are suffering from some of this malaise, hence the emerging church movement, which is an attempt (one that is fraught with eternal danger) to revitalize denominations and churches in the same way as an entrepreneurial leader would.Somehow, the faithful will negotiate through this, we just need to keeping surrendering to Jesus.

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