Sojourners magazine and Sojourners online publication sit at the intersection of faith, politics, and culture. Our coverage goes beyond the trending headlines to uncover and explore in depth the hidden injustices in the world around us. Our call to prophetic interrogation means we seek the truth as informed by our biblical roots.
Apparently it is not enough to address obvious injustices, one must now uncover hidden injustice, too. Designating one’s organization or the people in it prophetic interrogators is audacious because they have not been called to perform prophetic interrogation. The term is an old term used to describe a rhetorical device in the Bible whereupon the ACTUAL prophets speak words to the nation Israel (or other nations as designated by God) to question them either actually or rhetorically. Here are a couple of descriptions of what the term prophetic interrogation means.
THE INTERROGATION — while its legitimate use is to ask a question — is also used to affirm or deny with great emphasis. Affirmative interrogations usually have no or not in connection with the verb. Example. — “Is not God in the height of the heavens?” Job 22:12. Examples of a negative. — “Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once?” Isa.66:8. “Can the rush grow up without mire?” Job 8:11.
From the book Minor Prophets Part 2, by Michael H. Floyd,
Prophets would often provoke their audience with accusatory or confrontational questions (e.g., Isaiah 7:13, 22:1b, 16; Jeremiah 4:30; Ezekiel 18:2, 25, 29; cf. Psalm 50:16, 53:3), and inferential questioning would serve as one way of pursuing this rhetorical strategy (e.g., Amos 3:8; Isaiah 50:7-9). In prophetic discourse inferential questioning usually serves to foster an assessment of some claim about the nature of Yahweh’s involvement in human affairs (—-> prophecy).
I hope the reader can see why it is audacious (brash, arrogant) to designate one’s self a prophet called by God to interrogate entire nations, systems, or organizations. First, prophetic interrogation as seen in the Bible always points back to God.
Secondly, God calls prophets, one does not designation one’s self as a prophet (in NT times, a pastor). Third, the willingness to call one’s self prophetic interrogators reveals an even more symptomatic problem. I mentioned that Sojourners is a social justice organization that ‘intersects where faith, politics and culture meet’. The church is called to share the Gospel, period, not entertain politics and culture. However, social justice organizations often lose their singular focus and dilute or even do away with Gospel proclamation. See this paper published in Britain in 2005 titled, Exploring ethos? Discourses of `charity’ in the provision of emergency services for homeless people. The author John May compared three systems of generosity, and took a particular interest in the reasons why individuals and organisations become involved in the task of caring for, or serving, homeless people.
We Christians know that loving our neighbor is our response to the saving grace Jesus bestowed on us and our desire to nurture, help, and serve as a logical and an emotional response to that grace. Sometimes this perplexes secular people, and so the thrust of the paper was to compare charity work among “Christian caritas, secular humanism, and postsecular charity.” Mr May writes of Christians engaged in social justice,
The Christian ethical impulse to charity is most clearly displayed in the reforming zeal of evangelicals in the 19th century. Underpinned by the great evangelical revival which began at the end of the 18th century, a widespread depth of religious faith became a motivating factor for the establishment of a far-reaching charitable network, three quarters of which, according to Heasman, was evangelical Christian in nature. As Owen (1965) suggests, “So unwearied in well-doing were certain groups of Bible Christians that in the public mind the word ‘philanthropist’ became all but synonymous with ‘evangelical’, and ‘philanthropy’ was applied to the good works that appeals most to evangelical tastes” (page 93).
…These outpourings of 19th-century Christian charity relied on an overtly evangelical underpinning of action. Charitable activity was essentially entwined with an urgency to convert people to Christian ways of living. As the impacts of the evangelical revival waned, Christian theology became increasingly liberalised, undermining the link between social welfare and salvation. [emphasis mine]
…Another, related dilemma, relates to the intersection of faith and political worldview. Some Christians view their caritas through an individualist political lens – believing that social problems result from an individual’s failures, so the emphasis is on individual conversion as a means of over-coming personal failure (Steinfels, 2001). Others see poverty as caused by unjust social, economic, and political structures and life circumstances largely beyond the control of individuals. Christian charity in this context not only provides personal strength for these individuals, but also presents a ‘prophetic interrogation’ (Wallis, 2001) of social injustice more generally.
That is the problem with organizations that focus on social injustice to the exclusion of the Gospel. The historical trend went like this:
- serving others in social welfare as a Gospel response, conversion in mind
- crusading for social justice to rectify the symptoms that caused the person to need the welfare in the first place
- to speak for God in interrogating entire nations or systems as to why the injustice exists.
Each step in this trend removes the Gospel from center focus and elevates the people performing the service to exalted positions they do not warrant.
My message today: watch out for the term “prophetic interrogation.” Add it to your list of terms like anointing and the others that do not mean what the speaker thinks it means.