“Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.” – Isaiah 43:19, The Message
A generation of prophets cries out. They are, in appearance, humble; in sustenance, meager; in approach, gruff. Do you hear them?
Americanized evangelicals – those for whom Christianity has as much to do with attaining the “blessed life” (more commonly known as the “American Dream”) as it does following Christ – don’t know what to make of them. Clearly they have something to offer. But we approach with caution, skepticism, and, at times, outright fear or resentment.
Some call them “emerging” or “next” or “future.” Others say “Emergent” or “new” or “Spirit-led.” Critics describe them as know-nothing idealists or do-nothing demagogues. Often they are relegated to subculture ghettoes (an unfortunate redundancy) of ministry “departments” or labeled paternalistically as “urban” or “Gen X” or “millennial” or “postmodern” or “youth” and/or “young adult.”
Like The Baptist of old, their cry resonates and convicts: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.” Do you hear them?
The kingdom they proclaim defies evangelical niceties. They trade tailored suits for weather-worn camel skins, upscale cuisine for locusts and honey, gated communities for wilderness cave dwellings, and luxury rides for calloused and blistered feet. Their cause is justice for the vulnerable, love for the lonely, healing for the weak, mercy for the powerful, grace for the lowly, holiness without judgment, and righteousness in both pulpit and pew. The keys to this Kingdom unlock the gates of Hell itself.
The sin they expose resides as much within the “white washed tombs” of our houses of worship and “broods of vipers” with ecclesiastical titles as it does the heart of everyman. They do not, in themselves, offer salvation. But they herald the One who does.
They wrestle with complexity and embrace uncertainty and yet trust completely Him whose shoes they are unfit to untie. Do you hear them?
They speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. If Christians are those who’ve been “born again,” they are prenatal caregivers who nurture the pre-born and minimize high-risk birth conditions. When complications arise, they do neo-natal intensive care real well.
Their message meets a mixed reception because their eternal Kingdom disrupts and threatens that which is temporary. “If you have two coats,” they say, “give one away. Don’t collect more taxes than are required. Don’t extort money or accuse people falsely. Be content with your pay, and respect what doesn’t belong to you.” (Luke 3:10-14, 19-20 paraphrased.)
Some hear and repent. Many remain indifferent, and others, infuriated. But the One who matters most meets them in the water. “Baptize me,” He requests as fulfillment of that which was foretold. Do you hear what He hears?
The resistance at times causes the prophets to doubt. Rejection, persecution, and imprisonment demoralize and frustrate. Still, the King of kings reassures them. They glimpse the fulfillment of the truth they proclaim as the Kingdom invades their space and invites transcendence.
Those who pay the supreme price do so at the hands of disgruntled listeners who fail to hear the message. But their sacrifice represents the highest honor in this Kingdom. Though the King of kings meets us on our terms, they live life on His.
Let those who have ears, hear. (Matthew 11:15, paraphrased.)