In his book, Surprised by the Voice of God, Jack Deere presents an important point: do not forget about the work of the Holy Spirit. Because many Christian churches and educational institutions decide to not be “charismatic” or “Pentecostal” they often neglect the work of the Holy Spirit. Yet, one should often be reminded that the Holy Spirit is one of three parts of the triune God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Neither is more important than the other.
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Deere’s book is an attempt to reignite recognition of the work and activity of the Holy Spirit. Deere believes that evangelicals need to “hear the voice of God.” However, some people might disagree with Deere, stating that he provides too “charismatic” of an approach to Scripture or that he presents a model he believes everyone should follow.
Thus, a close evangelical examination of Deere’s book is needed and will be provided on this blog during the next two weeks.
First, a look at what Deere means by “voice of God” and of “revelation” is needed.
Deere defines revelation as “a secret God has made known. When God ‘reveals’ something, he is showing us something we could not know, or did not know, through natural means” (p. 56). Deere’s definition of revelation should be under the category of “special revelation” which “refers to God’s acts and objects of disclosure which are limited in space and time and are directed to various designated individuals.”[ref]Glenn Kreider, “An Evangelical Doctrine of Revelation,” unpublished class notes for ST101 (Dallas Theological Seminary, Summer Semester, 2004), 1.[/ref]
Why would Deere define revelation this way?
Deere claims that the book of Acts is a model for what the life of a Christian should look like. The way the early apostles experienced the Holy Spirit in the first century church should be the same way that modern day Christians experience the Holy Spirit. According to Deere, modern Christians should regularly hear the revelatory “voice of God” in visions, dreams, words of knowledge, and miracles.
Taking this point further, Deere believes that the Holy Spirit started an “age of revelation” in which many people would be prophets (p. 56). This is contrary to the formal “office of the prophet” in the Old Testament where only a few people would be considered prophets. Dulles explains it this way,
The coming of the Holy Spirit inaugurated an age of revelation. Instead of having only a few prophets in each generation, now ‘your sons and daughters will prophesy.’ Visions and dreams were now normal for the people of God. There were no longer age, economic, or gender restrictions on the Holy Spirit’s revelatory ministry. He was to inspire both sons and daughters, along with male and female servants, to prophesy and to understand revelatory phenomena (p. 56).
Based on this Deere claims (and evangelicals might assume) that modern prophets are present and active in the world today. Furthermore, I contend that a prophet operating in today’s world must adhere to the same criteria discussed in both the Old and New Testaments (this criteria will be discussed in a later blog post).
Deere’s Alteration of the Term “Prophet”
Deere makes a subtle but significant alteration to the criteria that defines what a “prophet” is.
This small alteration is important to note because it is how he defines and attempts to justify his belief of modern day prophets. As many as four times (if not more), Deere states that a prophet in modern times should be evaluated by the fruit of his ministry, not his accuracy.[ref]See pages 68, 208, 325, 327[/ref]
Here are a few examples of Deere’s claim:
- “Some people think one missed or failed prediction makes a person a false prophet. The Bible, though, doesn’t call someone a false prophet for simply missing a prediction. In the Scripture, false prophets are those who contradict the teaching and predictions of true prophets and attempt to lead people away from God and his Word” (p. 68).
- Deere affirms that “people frequently say that the major text of a prophet is whether or not his predictions come true” however Deere says he doesn’t “think this is necessarily the best test” (p. 325).
- Further clarifying his belief Deere explains, “I am not saying fulfillment is not a test of prophetic words. I am simply saying that is not necessarily the best test of whether or not the Lord has spoken these words” (p. 327).
In Deere’s argument, he points to Matthew 7:16, 18 as a text that shows in an authoritative way (as if Jesus’ words are more authoritative than other inspired Scripture) that the true measure of a prophet is his fruit. Here is the section Matt. 7:16, 18 is found in, quoted in whole in order to preserve accuracy.
Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, you can identify people by their actions. (Matt. 7:15-20)
Based on this verse, Deere claims that the best way to evaluate a prophet or someone who has God’s word revealed to him on a regular basis is if he produces good fruit. (I must admit that Deere presents plenty of stories to show good fruit being brought because of God’s words of revelation.) Fruit, according to Deere is any good effect among the believing community such as love, joy, peace, or patience (p. 327). However, there are important elements to look at related to Deere’s claim that you measure whether or not someone is a prophet because he or she is bearing good fruit. That will be explored in my next post.
Question: What are your thoughts about Deere’s alternation of the term “prophet” and his belief that prophets exist today?