We Need More Prophetic Voices

It seems that in each generation, especially the really dark ones, God raises up a prophetic voice to speak into them. It may be a handful of voices, or perhaps just one, but God will not leave us without a witness. Because of their important role, no wonder Moses could pray, “I wish that all God’s people were prophets” (Num. 11:29).

One recent prophetic voice was Francis Schaeffer. I have just re-read Schaeffer’s Death in the City which is based on lectures given at Wheaton College back in 1968. Wow – powerful, prophetic and soul-stirring stuff. If you still have a copy, pull it off the shelves, blow off the dust, and be challenged and blessed once again.

It is based mainly on Jeremiah and the opening chapters of Romans. It deals with the “lostness” of modern man, and what our attitude to this should be. Modern man is alone in the universe, says Schaeffer. “What marks our own generation? It is the fact that modern man thinks there is nobody home in the universe. Nobody to love man, nobody to comfort him, even while he seeks desperately to find comfort in the limited, finite, horizontal relationships of life.”

With the death of God in modern times comes the death of man, and the death of culture. Like Jeremiah, it was something which deeply grieved Schaeffer: “Do not take this lightly! It is a horrible thing for a man like myself to look back and see my country and my culture go down the drain in my own lifetime.”

Like Jeremiah, we must weep over a culture bent on self-destruction. And we must also weep for God’s people who have gone astray. Jeremiah’s “attitude must be ours: we must weep over the church as it has turned away and weep over the culture that has followed it.”

If God’s people were judged in Old Testament times, can we expect anything less? “Those people were going off into the Babylonian captivity not just for military reasons or economic reasons. God, as a holy God, judged them as they had turned away from Him. He will do the same in our generation.”

In both cases there has been a clear rejection of God and the knowledge of God. Where does that put us in the divine scheme of things? It resulted in judgment for Israel and it surely must do so for us as well. In Jeremiah’s day the people presumed upon the grace of God. We must not do so today:

“Our generation needs to be told that man cannot disregard God, that a culture like ours that has had such light and then has deliberately turned away stands under God’s judgment. God is a God of grace, but the other side of the coin of grace is judgment. If God is there, if God is holy (and we need a holy God or we have no absolutes), there must be judgment.”

Schaeffer rightly notes that in such a situation, we best not plead for justice: “I must say that when I pray for my country and my culture, I do not pray for God’s justice. I can only plead for His mercy. If we had the justice of God, we would not have peace. We would have a situation like Jeremiah’s. How dare we pray for justice upon our culture when we have so deliberately turned from God and His revelation? Why should God bless us?”

How then is the gospel to be presented in such a culture as this? I think Schaeffer was correct to say that it is quite unhelpful today telling people the good news of the gospel without first clearly letting them know the bad news. He draws upon Jer 1:9-10: “Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant’.”

“Notice the order,” says Schaeffer. “First, there was to be a strong negative message – and then the positive one. But the negative message was primary.” He says that if he had just an hour on a train to tell someone the gospel, he would do it this way:

“I would spend forty-five or fifty minutes on the negative, to show him his real dilemma – to show him that he is more dead than even he thinks he is…Then I would take ten or fifteen minutes to tell him the gospel…Unless he understands what is wrong, he will not be ready to listen to and understand the positive.”

He draws upon the first several chapters of Romans to show us our condition without God: we are all lost. So what do we do? Using Jer. 6:14 he says, “With love we must face squarely the fact that our culture really is under the judgment of God. We must not heal the sickness lightly. We must emphasize the reality. We must proclaim the message with tears and give it with love.”

Schaeffer implored the students at Wheaton to get the father heart of God on all this. Do we weep for the lost like Jeremiah did? Do we pronounce the just deserts of God, yet do so with tears in our eyes? Sadly most of us do not. “There is a loss of missionary drive.”

We have lost our concern for the lost. Why? Because “we have lost the sense of the lostness of the lost,” and “we have also lost compassion.” We say we believe in a biblical worldview, but we really live quite differently. We affirm the supernatural, but live as if we are simply naturalists.

Having the right beliefs must be matched by the right actions and attitudes. In Jeremiah’s time, the people said the right words, and had all the religious trappings, but their hearts were far from God. Are we really all that different today?

We need to have the same heart that Jeremiah did. And doing so will not make things easy. It is a heavy burden to carry. Indeed, it will result in much grief, and much discouragement. But that is ever the way it is: “And you say, how can a man of God be discouraged? Anybody who asks that has never been in the midst of the battle; he understands nothing about a real struggle for God.”

Speaking of Jer 20:14-18 he says, “There is no contradiction here. It is possible to be faithful to God and yet be overwhelmed with discouragement as we face the world. In fact, if we are never overwhelmed, I wonder if we are fighting the battle with compassion and reality.”

This was the heartfelt plea he gave to those students 40 years ago. I wonder how much of it sunk in. I wonder how much of it took root. The same can be asked of today’s believers. What do we make of Schaeffer’s words? Do we take them as the words of a prophet, showing forth the heart of God, or do they mean nothing to us?

I must say, rereading this book after first reading it nearly four decades ago, the words impacted me now much more than they did then. I greatly appreciated Schaeffer then, especially for his apologetic method. But I appreciate him even more now for his soft and humble heart, broken for the lost, and reflecting the heart of God.

He had the right mix: a love for God, a love for truth, and a love for people. He can teach us all a lot.

[1276 words]

20 Replies to “We Need More Prophetic Voices”

  1. Hi Bill,

    It was interesting to hear Schaeffer’s take on presenting the gospel in contrast to the modern day conventions.
    I first came across the concept of presenting a negative before the positive thrust of the gospel in the teaching of NZ cum US evangelist Ray Comfort.
    Comfort’s approach to evangelism involves bringing a person face to face with their sinfulness through presenting some of the Ten Commandments and asking if they had kept them and whether they would go to heaven if God judges people according to that standard.

    Comfort suggests that many of the well-known evangelists in bygone eras, including Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley and I think George Whitefield, all employed similar approaches in evangelism, with Wesley even going as far as saying “Preach ninety per cent Law, ten per cent grace.”

    I have found this approach to be good in my own evangelistic activities and I was interested to see that Schaeffer – whom you have highlighted as a prophetic voice – had joined the chorus of encouraging Christians to make sure sinners know what God is offering to save them from…

    Regards,
    Yarran Johnston

  2. Thanks Yarran

    You could certainly add Jonathan Edwards to that list. In fact, going simply by the book of Roman, you could add Paul as well!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  3. C.S. Lewis, talking about the Christian message, said: “…It does not begin in comfort; it begins in dismay…and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay. In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end. If you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth – only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.”

    David Skinner, UK

  4. Definitely agree that Paul seems to have taken that approach in Romans Bill. And yes I think I overlooked Edwards, but it certainly seems to have been the tried and true approach to sharing the gospel, given the figures that employed it
    Yarran Johnston

  5. With the prophets of old it was the willingness to bring the hard message (judgment) first that then qualified them to bring the message of release and blessing.
    It was as if the message of judgment and destruction was so horrific and unpalatable that it was always seasoned with the promise of grace. A sort of breathing out and then a breathing in. A prophet who only brings forth words of blessing prosperity wealth and favor is no prophet by biblical standards.
    Most modern prophets qualifications come from others of the same sort as they all enter in agreement with each other You scratch my back and Ill scratch yours and we will all get on famously.
    There is nothing coming down from heaven!only from each other.
    Rob Withall

  6. Bill, I wonder if there is any way to find out who was at Wheaton to hear Schaeffer, and what has become of them?

    Would that give us a clue as to the impact of his words and heart, to see how the hearers have lived their lives since?

    John Angelico

  7. Thanks John

    Good idea. There is probably a Wheaton alumni page on Facebook where one could ask, and hopefully quickly get some responses.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  8. Last night at my Church a former associate of Billy Graham’s talked about the need for churches to stop being Christian clubs and to become more missional to the surrounding culture. He noted that over the centuries the church – as such – has built up walls and these needed to be broken down. I think many see the Church speaking with a pathetic voice when it needs to speak with a prophetic voice; to speak as Schaeffer said many times over and over in his books ‘with tears’ and point out the sin that prevails and to then point them to Christ. To quote a title of one of his best books HOW THEN SHOULD WE LIVE – as lights on a hill that can never be put out, trusting in God.
    Wayne Pelling

  9. It is a terrible irony that the liberals insist on being centered in justice and that they ignore their time of judgment when they will get justice, unless they repent. It seems to me that they should be singled out for prayer.
    Stan Fishley

  10. Bill — Many thanks for the article. It is a stirring reminder of our situation and our call as professing bible believing Christians. Schaeffer was certainly a prophet for our time. It is a question whether we will heed the prophet or carry on our own way.
    Trevor Grace

  11. Bill, another excellent article, but where does that leave us? Where it talks about us weeping for the lost, I have to admit that I have NEVER wept for the lost, I certainly do have a concern for people who are unsaved and I pray regularly for them but apart from that I have to admit total failure. I am always ready to give a reason for the faith and hope that I have and I have no problem sprinkling that with eternal condemnation but my question is this: we pray and ask God to make our lives like that of Jesus, we pray for the work of God to be of positive effect in our lives, we pray and ask God to clean us out of all unrighteousness, we see the work of God in our lives in these areas, we see the demons driven out and lives changed but I have to admit that I have never personally met someone who says that they weep for the lost. I have met many Christians who are good and fearless witnesses of our Lord and who are always looking for an opportunity to witness and bring the gospel to the unsaved but what is missing? Is it because we as humans cannot see the human heart like Jesus does and as we are told wept in his love and despair? I do not have an answer to this dilemma!
    Steve Davis

  12. Thanks Steve

    I am not sure if I have actually shed tears for the lost either. But the point may be less to do with actual tears than with the state of our hearts. I often tell others that we need to ask father God for his heart. We need to ask him to put his concerns in our heart, so that we love what he loves, hate what he hates, grieve over what he grieves over, etc. It is not a matter of emotions so much as seeking to draw near to God enough so that what pains him pains us, what delights him delights us, etc.

    And it sounds that you are doing all the right things, and that your heart is in the right place. We all need to stay on our knees and stay tender and broken before Him. Keep up the good work.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  13. Thanks for that Bill, it’s funny you know but last night I got home from work and my wife was telling me that a lovely lady she works with lost her husband on Saturday night. He was at home and just dropped dead on the floor from a massive heart attack. The first thing that comes into my mind when I hear things like this is ” I wonder if that poor man knew Jesus, then I say to myself, “what if he did not?” Then I felt a pang of sadness as I imagined him being here and then in a matter of seconds, he is meeting God as judge, that is pretty bloody frightening. I could not help but think of what might be going through his mind as he realises now, that he is lost for eternity! My 14 year old son was standing listening to the conversation and I turned to him and said “That is why you must always be ready in Christ as you do not know when you will be called, take a good lesson from this.” He looked at me and you could see that he was thinking about what I said to him!
    Steve Davis

  14. if we have 5,000 in our congregation we are seen as a success. If we have 50, well then…..

    If we have a full music ensemble that get people jumping up and down we are seen as a success. if we have a quiet music expression, well then……

    I am sure you get my drift. Who decides success or otherwise? I guarantee we would have a different perspective if a few God ordained prophets came round and told it like it is.

    Whatever the size, I have a feeling the message would be similar to the one the Laodicean church got.

    The impression I have is “why do we need prophets, we have a pastor” who is all things to all men and does the prophecying when he preaches.

    Leonard Ravenhill said to be effective as a prophet you first have to be totally rejected by the church. In other words out of death will come life.

    I think I know a real modern day prophet. His name is Bill Muehlenberg. I can’t see him getting much traction in most churches today as he doesn’t preach the make me happy gospel.

    Roger Marks

  15. Thanks Roger

    I like what Tozer once said to a friend: “I have preached myself off of every Bible Conference platform in the country!”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  16. Please pray for the world church – to wash our shame;
    And for an world Christian movement ‘ let ’s empty the orphanages ‘
    And for pouring out the Holy Spirit on the Muslim countries;
    And for Israel – to place God on first place not the promised land;
    And for Bulgaria – my country-to repent and to glorify God with good deeds;
    And for me-not to disappoint my Lord!
    Thank you!
    Be blessed!
    Zenitsa Tsoneva

  17. I like so much what I red!
    Thank you!
    God bless you to continue your work!
    You can help with your words.
    But I will continue to be disappointed and crushed until we continue to speak and speak and nothing changes.
    Until when we will be only lonely speakers?
    The world will see the evidence of God’s ?xistence when see our love and unity,our sacrifice and purity.
    I have ever ask myself-if we are Christians why then we have orphanages?
    And I know the answer!
    I pray more than 20 years for the world Church-to rise from the death and hope that our God Who will help us to move this mountain-of our sin and the change will come at last.
    We need to be practical,acting and I’m convinced that we must begin with the orphans.
    We have received a Spirit of adoption and a command to make the same what we see from our Teacher!
    I have a request-please pray for this and if God inspires you-write for this again and again!
    God bless you!
    Please,excuse my mistakes and my Bulgarian punctuation!
    Zenitsa Tsoneva

  18. I feel blessed to have come across your blog. I am not familiar at all with Schaeffer, but intend to become so, as much of what you write here connects with me at a very deep level.

    Thank you

    God bless you
    Mercedes Underwood

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