Luke tried to prepare us for it: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17). Yet in the time since he wrote these words, somehow we Christians came to distrust much prophecy. Whether because of the excesses of the charismatic movement, or the Left Behind franchise, or the overly political aims of mainline Protestants, today when someone claims to be speaking “prophetically,” we ask: Whose visions? Which dreams?

We are wise to check any claim to prophecy against Scripture and church teaching. But I wonder if our mistrust has led us to reject prophetic words we desperately need to hear. (It wouldn’t be the first time God’s people did so.) In his book The Prophetic Imagination, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann reminds us what prophets are for:

The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us. … Prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate despair so that new futures can be believed in and embraced by us.

In other words, prophets speak a word of judgment and of hope, reminding us of the future promised to us. A future in which pain and death itself are vanquished, for “God himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21:3). Prophets don’t conjure new realities; rather, they call us back to Reality himself.

This issue of CT features several people we believe may offer prophetic words for today’s church. Russell Moore leads the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public-policy arm of the 15.7-million-member Southern Baptist Convention. As such, his prophetic platform is quite large, extending to the Vatican and the White House. There, he has spoken truth to power on immigration, marriage, freedom of conscience, and, most recently, structural racism. Whether he can lead US evangelicals as a “prophetic minority” without being co-opted by party allegiances is a central question animating Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s in-depth profile.

Likewise, one reason we asked Duke scholar Christena Cleveland to be our newest print columnist is because she speaks words of judgment and of hope on racial reconciliation. She and Reformed pastor Thabiti Anyabwile together attest to the enduring witness of the black church. And Kim Kuo, wife of the late White House leader David Kuo, offers a prophetic word of warning about assisted suicide.

“It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination,” says Brueggemann. We hope this issue of CT helps you to imagine, and to hope for, the future that awaits the people of God.

Follow Katelyn Beaty on Twitter @KatelynBeaty

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