Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 06/05/2010 by Chad Vandervalk.
Recommended. Worthy reminder of the Church's prophetic task seen through the lens of the Old Testament.
It is really too bad that Christians tend to be so bad at reading the Old Testament properly. There are some who view it, especially the prophets, as some kind of code book which will give us a very clear outline of how things will turn out in our world today. There are others who think this way of reading the prophets is misguided - rightly so - but this leads them to simply flip right past these valuable books because they really don’t know what to do with them.
Michael Williams, a professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, recognised the loss that this causes to the church, and has written a great little book, The Prophet and his Message: Reading Old Testament Prophecy Today, to introduce who the prophets were, and how studying them can benefit the church today. Williams does not survey each prophetic book, but rather outlines what a prophet is and does.
The book is split up into 6 chapters where Williams outlines:
- What a prophet is not
- What a prophet is
- What a prophet does
- The prophetic role of Israel
- The consummate Prophet: Jesus Christ
- The prophetic role of the Church
Williams defines a prophet, at root, as a representative.
[A prophet] represents God, the community of which he is a part, and, of course, himself in ways that are unique to this special office he occupies.
This is not a simple as it sounds, however, as the representative functions are all-encompassing.
A prophet never entirely ceases to represent God, his community, and himself, and he never entirely ceases to do this verbally, behaviourally, and affectively.
Using these categories of representation, Williams examines how Israel functioned as a prophetic community, namely how those who were freed from Egypt performed the role of a prophet to the rest of the nations. Israel, as a nation, fulfilled this role when Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, came as the consummate prophet.
We have seen a consistent pattern throughout the Old Testament that finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. From the individual prophets to the nation of Israel to the One who fulfills this redemptive revelation perfectly, the prophetic functions of representation have been carried out in exactly the same way.
If we, as the Church, are unified in Christ and continue his work in the world while we wait for his return, we are called to be a new prophetic community, being representatives of God and our community. This is a huge task, but something we have been powerfully equipped to do.
The church's prophetic task is enormous and extremely difficult...Yet the divine assurance [the OT prophets] received has also been given to us: "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matt. 28:20) The Spirit of the perfect prophet, the Holy Spirit, indwells every believer and provides us with the understanding, the resources, and the power to fulfill our prophetic calling.
At this time there are so many people outlining what the role of the church is, or should be. We are trying to figure out how to engage in the mission of God, how to be the community of Christ, how to live as God's people. While Williams' book is repetitive at times as he follows a certain structure with every chapter, he helpfully opens up the prophetic role of the church. This is a very readable and well-articulated discussion of a large part of the scriptures which tends to be ignored and/or misinterpreted.