Most of us, regardless of religious preferences, are familiar enough with the term prophet, although I suspect many of us would care nothing for real one. No, I do not mean those you see on television or who casually place the word before there names. No, rather, I mean to imply the prophet is the one who is hated, disparaged, and the one who makes those around him or her irrational in their attempt to maintain the status quo.
The prophet is one who, seeing the ills of the world, takes up the cause to offer something of a correction. Perhaps this prophet is one who does so intentionally or with some grand, religious motivation. Perhaps this prophet is one who would rather work alone, avoiding an extra-natural reasoning or force, but simply relying upon the gift of life and our shared humanity as reason enough to bring about something better.
When I think of prophets, I do not necessarily think of religious people. After all, Isaiah had no real love for the religious rituals or the Temple cult. Jeremiah, a priest himself, showed little desire to obey such observances. I have argued before that Jesus, at least in the Gospel of Mark, felt God had abandoned Israel so he, like others before him, took the wrath of God in himself to bring about a better world. Lucan, an ancient Roman poet, casts upon Cato the Younger a similar mindset. Both Jesus and Cato the Younger were very much prophets because they spoke truth against the injustices of the day and in the face of absentee gods, continued to move forward.
Today, we are surrounded by a multitude of voices, cackling about us in vanity. Many promise the answers, others promise wealth, but all promise the status quo. Do not question, their passivity shouts. Do not fear. Do not doubt. Stay blind. These are not prophetic movements. Wealth, fame, and glory are not hallmarks of prophetic movements. Rather, what prophets show us is that we are undone as a society, either in our religious cult or our political empire. Something about us is not in line with the principles we espouse -- or, perhaps, our principles should be adjusted.
There is also the theologian. The theologian converses with us about God. There is such a thing as the prophetic theologian, to be sure. After all, a theologian is not a divine office but one we have somewhat created out of need. We need someone to speak to us about God. The theologian, hardly the classroom professor you have in your mind's eye at the moment, is one who like the prophet calls us to understand that we are undone before God (or our principles).
A theologian or a prophet, I would argue against Augustine and others, does not necessarily have to hold to an orthodox Christian belief in order to stand as they rightly are. After all, these are our words and we can apply it to whom we choose. A theologian must know about our beliefs. A prophet must know something is not right. I do not believe God is limited in how he speaks or through whom he speaks. God, according to Jewish Scriptures, has used what we would deem pagans and other forms of unbelievers, perhaps even non-believers, to bring about something better, even a fuller truth, for his people. We equally know because of John 14-16, the Holy Spirit is given to guide us into all truth but are warned in John 3 that it is not up to us to restrict the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps this is why I, as a Christian, am spiritually and intellectually fond of the so-called New Atheists, agnostics, science, and critical scholarship. As I have written before, challenges to my faith have increased my faith. I believe we are all moved forward through progress, regardless the point of origin. I believe we need to find those who are challenging us and listen to them. For instance, Dr. Robert Cargill, is such a one who prophetically engages as a theologian.
Perhaps he would not like these terms, however if he shows us how we are undone while conversing daily about God, what better words are there? What else would you call his latest post?
If there was such a category as "rising theologian" or "theologian to watch in 2014" Cargill should be nominated. Why? Cargill serves as consulting producer on Bible Secrets Revealed, engages in social media via Facebook, Twitter, and his blog as well as speaking to the issues of the poorness in Christianity from a position many of us would appreciate.
Christianity (and all of the religious world) needs people like Cargill if it is going to continue to progress. As a devoted and orthodox Christian who disagrees with Cargill from time to time, I believe he has more to show us than the regular, run of the mill, Christian theologian. He is not afraid to ask the questions we need to ask. Further, he can stand on a position grounded in biblical knowledge, and show us just how wrong we are (say, on issues like gay marriage). Finally, people like Cargill make us truly examine our faith -- and it is only the examined faith worth believing.
This year, challenge yourself to find those who confront you in your faith. We are not called to lead lives as Christians without confrontation. We are not called to believe without question. After all, we have books (Job, for one) based on the premise that sometimes God is using our soul as the pot in a cosmic poker game. This deserves questions. Let those who question lead us in questioning. Only then may we find a better answer.
Prophets and theologians aren't always those people you like.