[This blog post is part of series on metamodernism and awesomeness. If you don’t know what metamodernism is, read this first otherwise you may be left in the dark. I’m developing some thoughts here, and reactions are more than welcome.]
Pete is an Adventist. Pete believes in prophecy. Pete believes in the prophetic task of the end-time church. Pete believes that the Bible and Ellen White predict future events. Pete thinks prophecy is awesome.
Pete could never be an Adventist. Pete knows that prophecy is a fallacy. Pete knows there is no end-time church. Pete knows that the prophetic parts of the Bible about history were obviously written after the fact. Pete knows that other prophetic parts were simply socio-religious critique. Pete thinks prophecy is awesome.
Pete has both of these identities, and neither. Pete is metamodern.
The Prophetic Church
The Adventist church has always positioned itself as prophetic – as church based on vision, and a church with vision. In this, as far as I have always understood, we have said three things: we value prophecy very highly, we identify ourselves as part of prophecy, and we assume that we ourselves fulfil the role of prophets.
Prophecy is a difficult topic. Luke lets Jesus say ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town’. But prophets also have a hard time in general. They are driven by a Godly urging, but society is generally less than happy to hear their message.
Let’s consider prophecy for a moment. Prophecy defies categorisation and stands outside of usual communication. The prophet speaks, but conveys a message from God. The people that should hear the message sometimes listen, but most often do not. Many times the message focusses on future generations and not on the audience themselves. Thus, the source of the communication in prophecy is not necessarily the one speaking, and the audience is not always the one listening.
All in all, prophecy stands with one foot in the present and one in the future. ‘That is, prophecy points forward in time to an expectant future whilst firmly grounded in a present moment.’ [Gibbons] It is by its very nature paradoxical.
The prophet, as Luke suggests, has always been a contested figure. This has not changed much through the years. The value of the prophetical medium, authority and message, however, has shifted with the winds of time.
Prophecy in Recent Times
While in ancient times the idea of prophecy fit perfectly into the worldview of the audience, since the Enlightenment prophetic knowledge has become very hard to defend. Since then prophecy has been seen as a very strange idea that has never really fit into a mode of thinking. Modernity could not deal with it, it was too metaphysical, too up in the air, too non-scientific. Prophecy is just not empirically reasonable, so it could never fit into an age of reason.
On the other hand, as a tool, it was perfectly suited for the modern age. It was a wonderful tool to expound huge meta-narratives. Especially if you can show that one part of prophecy actually happened; that gives authority to all the prophecies of that prophet. Prophecy – if the medium itself is acceptable to the listener – creates metaphysical facts that cannot be counter-facted. And so prophecy sells big pictures to audiences based on a very firm footing: it comes straight from God himself.
This usefulness as a tool is exactly how prophecy has functioned in Adventism for the last 160 years. As a church based on prophecy, situated in prophecy, and fulfilling prophecy, Adventism has a vision for itself, the world and the universe. No one can disagree, because it is divine truth, straight from the Man himself – that is, as long as you are willing to accept that such a thing as prophecy exists.
Post-modernity also couldn’t deal with prophecy. Not because of a scientific, critical doubt of the medium; it was perfectly acceptable that someone might think that a thing such as prophecy might exist. It was fine if someone self-identified as a prophet. The problem was the source and function of prophecy. The problem was that a prophet claimed to speak an unalterable message of truth straight from God. That’s a truth claim, and no self-respecting postmodern person likes those. Even worse was that the message is generally focussed on meta-narratives, and those are even more dodgy.
Now, in our post-postmodern age, prophecy has changed once again. Let’s look at an example.
In 2014 The Lego Movie came out. This movie revolves around a minifig Emmet Brickowoski, and a prophecy. Emmet is a very ordinary guy, but when he finds the mythical ‘Piece of Resistance,’ people become convinced that he is the ‘Special.’ This is because there is a prophecy:
One day a talented lass or fellow,
a Special one with face of yellow,
will make the Piece of Resistance found
from its hiding refuge underground.
And with a noble army at the helm,
this Master Builder will thwart the Kragle and save the realm,
and be the greatest, most interesting, most important person of all times.
All this is true, because it rhymes.
Emmet does not exactly fit this bill, and later in the movie he is even accused of ‘ruining the prophecy’ because he is not special enough.
After a while it turns out the the prophecy was just made up. The prophet, at once sincere and ironic, says:
The reason I made up the prophecy was because I knew that whoever found the Piece could become the Special. Because the only thing anyone needs to be special is to believe that you can be. I know that sounds like a cat poster, but it’s true. Look at what you did when you believed you were special. You just need to believe it some more.
The prophet is more interested in the act of prophecy than in the message. He claims that simply by prophesying, he has created the Special. Through his act of prophecy he changed the world. Ironically, the prophet admits how cheesy this sounds, yet at the same time he is sincere in this.
In the final showdown, Emmet and the other forces of good face the evil Lord Business and his minions. Even though it has been made apparent, from the prophet’s own mouth, that the prophecy is not true, Emmet ultimately saves the day because of it. He tells Lord Business:
You don’t have to be the bad guy. You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe. And you are capable of amazing things. Because you are the Special. And so am I. And so is everyone. The prophecy is made up, but it’s also true. It’s about all of us. Right now, it’s about you, and you still can change everything.
Emmet knows the prophecy is made up, but that does not mean that the prophecy is not true. Sceptically, he knows that the prophecy is not really prophecy, but still sees the hope that the prophecy brings.
So what does this example mean for church?
Firstly, prophecy fits quite perfectly in metamodernism. As I said before, prophecy stands in the here and now, while also looking forward to the hopeful future. Prophecy is what metamodern people so desperately need, a paradoxical focus to oscillate between. Both temporarily (now and future) and attitudinally, sceptical reluctance and hopeful possibility. Emmet knows he is not special, but still believes in the Special. He convinces Lord Business that he is special, based on a prophecy that was made up but also true.
The two parts of prophecy, ’not yet’ and a ‘yet to come’, give a metamodern person what they thrive on: oscillation. Oscillation which the metamodernist manifesto recognises ‘to be the natural order of the world’ [Metamodernist // Manifesto, #1]. Prophecy allows for hope in something yet to come and at the same time disappointment at the ‘not yet’.
But besides being a medium that is naturally suited to the metamodern need for oscillation, prophecy has a certain power. The power of prophecy is not the modernist’s idea that if the prophecy happens that proves the author’s credibility. The power of prophecy is inherent to the medium.
Alison Gibbons writes ‘I hesitantly prophesise that the act of dreaming might just be more important than whether or not those dreams come true.’ [Gibbons] In other words, by prophesying you do something that is ultimately more important than the prophecy itself. The act of prophecy is more important than the message. By prophesying, you change the world, not because your prophecies happen, but because your act of prophesying happened.
In The Lego Movie, the prophet changes the world with his prophecy. Not because he had the gift of prophecy, but because he gifted a prophecy to the world. In the act of prophesying, the prophet changed the world.
The Adventist church is good at prophecy, but mainly at prophecy from a modernist point-of-view. Adventism focusses meta-narratives and authority, and this needs some tweaking. If we want to be a church that meets contemporary culture, we need to remain a prophetic church, of prophecy and prophets. We also need to allow for scepticism and reluctance. We need to realise that the value of prophecy is not in its trueness, but in its existence.
And so Adventists need to speak up against injustice, even if we know it won’t help. We need to keep our doors open, even when it might not be safe. We need help the hungry, even though there will be more hungry tomorrow. We need to create hope, even though everything is hopeless.
A prophetic church is one that prophesies. Not to tell the future, not even for the message itself. We need a church that prophesies because prophecy creates hope. A church that prophesies because prophecy is awesome.
One thought on “Awesome prophecy”
I LOVE this piece. The connections from the paradox of religious activity to metamodernism and to the secular treatment of prophecy by Alison Gibbons are great.