his latest blog post over at The Blazing Center. The post is titled "How the Heck Does Modern Day Prophecy Work?" and the reason I appreciate the post is not that I am a Charismatic and want to know the best way to hear from the Lord. I am decidedly un-Charismatic and already know how to hear from the Lord (hint: the Spirit working through the Word). The reason I appreciate the post is that it is absolutely clear, and to a fault. I say to a fault because the post makes plain the agonizingly obvious problems with a form of prophecy in a protestant context that insists on retaining the principles of sola scriptura.
"Prophecy Is Not New Revelation About God"
Altrogge is trying to be balanced. He insists, in order to safeguard sola scriptura, that "Prophecy is never, ever, ever new revelation about God." Commendable. But what is it, then? Altrogge: "[M]odern day prophecy is God-given insight into specific circumstances which could not be known otherwise and which in turn enables a person to bring God’s word to bear on those circumstances."
Notice that he says it is not new revelation about God. But it must be new revelation from God. As I understand it, men like Wayne Grudem don't even like using words like "revelation" to refer to these "insights," (he insisted on this, repeatedly, in a public debate with Richard Gaffin some years ago) and one could certainly understand why. In a protestant, sola scriptura context, if you say that you've received new revelations from God, you're going to get punched in the nose by Martin Luther (with every other non-Anabaptist, Marcionite, or Montanist standing in line behind him). If you try to stop them by saying, "No, no, no... I did receive a new revelation from God, but it wasn't about Him, it was about me," they're still probably not going to pull their punches. Altrogge is being careful, but not careful enough. And even if I try to be charitable and say, "Okay, it's not 'revelation,' I'll just call it 'insight' for the sake of discussion," this doesn't seem to help things much. After all, he's still hearing new words that were "not known otherwise" (how is this not Ἀποκάλυψις?) from a God who has already given his moral will and committed it absolutely and infallibly in the writings of the Apostles and Prophets. The maneuvers in place here to safeguard sola scriptura are absolutely inadequate.
What's The Point?
But even the practical results of this sort of attempted half-measure prophecy end up being impractically unhelpful. He gives the example of a woman who had a vision, and the vision ended up showing Altrogge, during a particularly difficult and tumultuous period, that "God will lead us one step at a time exactly where we need to go." Now, I am happy that Altrogge found something helpful or edifying on a personal level from this, but I am absolutely confused how someone would not learn the same principle from Scripture? Or from common experience? This woman did not need to come to them with the authority of God behind her for them to know that God doesn't tell us everything we need to know at once. The Bible says "thy word is a lamp unto my feet," not that it is a lamp unto "the road that leads ever onward." My point here is not to demean this person or the value that hearing this had for Altrogge, but simply to say that if this is the best that "modern day prophecy" can do for the church, then it would be better to just learn Scripture better (reading Deut. 29:29 ought to do the job) or pick up Poor Richard's Almanac once in a while. He even seems to understand this in a later section of his post when he says, "I don’t make major life decisions based on prophecy, I make major life decisions based upon the Bible." What good is a prophecy that you can't even take seriously? I mean, seriously!
"Prophecy Is Not Infallible"
Elsewhere, he speaks of the fact that prophecy is not infallible. He says that "If a person prophesies something which contradicts the clear revelation of God’s word I immediately discard it as false." That's a great principle. But what about prophecies that don't clearly contradict God's word? I remember clear as day, I had a friend who played for me a cassette tape of a recording from his church. In this recording, a "prophet" was speaking a prophecy over my friend and his wife. Their marriage was on the rocks. She had cheated on him, he had tried and tried to repair their marriage for years, and they needed encouragement. I listened to the audio of this prophecy, and this man, claiming to speak for God, told them that God was going to draw them back together and that God was going to repair their marriage and use her to minister to women all over the world. It has been 12 years since that prophecy. They are divorced, he is remarried, living on the opposite side of the country from his ex-wife, and she is carrying on a decade-plus long affair with a married man. The prophecy could not have been more wrong. He is remarried. Their marriage is over. In Israel they would have thrown rocks at that "prophet" until his brain stopped telling lies. What good is simply holding a prophecy up to Scripture in order to decide if it is true or not? Here's the answer: It isn't. Simply not contradicting Scripture is not the same thing as speaking truth on behalf of God.
Another problem with this principle that prophecy is not infallible is in the principle itself. Just say it out loud: "Prophecy is not infallible." The principle is not "We don't always know, perfectly whether God is speaking in a particular instance." The principle is that "prophecy is not infallible." Think about it: "Words from God can be wrong." And then he does the same thing I have heard Wayne Grudem say: that Agabus made a false prophecy in Acts 21:10-12. This is a nightmarishly uncharitable reading of Agabus' prophecy. It is far more charitable to understand Agabus' words as being a conditional prophecy (of which there is certainly precedent in Scripture) and not a wrong prophecy from a true prophet (of which there is certainly no precedent in Scripture).
Another problem with this principle is that it posits Agabus as using this newer form of "fallible prophecy" before the Apostolic era of spiritual gifts has ended. Even Altrogge sees a difference between prophecy "back then" and "modern day prophecy." And yet he is treating Agabus, in his failed prophecy, as if he were a modern prophet coming up to someone after church for a word of "insight." Agabus is called "a prophet," not merely an average Christian who sometimes gets a bit of insight here and there. As mentioned before, for a prophet to prophecy wrongly would have meant getting stoned (and not in the Bob Dylan sense of the word). We know when the food laws were done away with (Acts 10), but when does Altrogge (or Grudem for that matter) think the bar for prophecy was dropped so embarrassingly low?
I like Altrogge. I read his blog. I prayed for him during his transition from being a pastor. I care about him and respect him. But let's face it: this modified form of prophecy that has been toned down to conform with sola scriptura is an inadequate half-measure. It neither benefits the church, has precedent in Scripture, nor safeguards the sufficiency of Scripture. In fact, in order to establish its own precedent it has to say that God can inspire wrong prophecy.