Paul and the Progressive’s Perspective on Prophecy

One of the disturbing realities that we, as believers in the church face, is the invasion of “progressive Christianity.”  And it is not just into liberal churches where this theological poison is found, but increasingly into so-called evangelical churches. “Progressive (I prefer “regressive”) Christianity” not only is bringing in several New Age ideas and practices, but it is raising doubts in peoples’ minds about most every doctrinal area that we hold onto as basic to our faith. Now, we have neither the space or the inclination to discuss this subject in this article, but mention it because, not surprisingly, the “progressives” also cast aside biblical prophecy as irrelevant and unimportant to “real life.” Unfortunately, that position is not new, but this “progressive” form is reinforcing that position in the minds of church leaders and those in the pews. But, let’s not listen to some “progressive” pastor on this matter, but rather to a Christ-chosen apostle; in this case, the Apostle Paul.

(1) Biblical prophecy was part of Paul’s basic theology course for new believers.

When we look back at Paul’s journeys in the Book of Acts, we note that he went to Thessalonica on his second trip. It was unfortunate for him that the environment there became so hostile that he had to flee Thessalonica after being there just 3 or 4 weeks. Yet, in spite of his brief stay there, biblical prophecy was a key element in his theological training of these new believers. If prophecy was truly irrelevant, then Paul somehow did not get the memo. In First Thessalonians, he taught them about the Rapture event and the coming Day of the Lord. In Second Thessalonians, he reminded them of truths related to the Antichrist and certain other end time events. But we need to observe what he also said in that context of prophetic teaching.

Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well….” (1 Thess. 5:1-2)

“Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?” (2 Thess. 2:5)

Paul, other apostles and Jesus Himself would weave prophetic truths through their messages because those truths were not irrelevant, but were a key ingredient in helping God’s people live sanctified lives; in helping them prioritize life better; and helping them develop a correct world view. Far from being peripheral theology and out of touch with “real life”, all these understood that God’s prophetic word brings wonderful support to the life of the follower of Jesus Christ. And because that is the case, teaching biblical prophecy was seen as a foundational theological area. And nowhere in scripture does that change!

(2) Biblical prophecy understood and applied brings a believer to an important level of spiritual maturity.  As the Apostle Paul was under house arrest in Rome, he shared with the saints at Philippi something of his philosophy of life. And it is quickly seen how prophetic truths played an important role in forming his thinking.

…I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are PERFECT, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you…brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.”  (Philippians 3:12-17)

As we look at the details of his worldview, there are four truths that stand out to me. First, Paul realized that Jesus had purposes for his life, as He does for each of us as well (he was “laid hold of” by Jesus Christ). His life had great significance. This reality, which included truth about the future, gave to Paul a single-minded focus for living his life. God did indeed have a “wonderful plan” for his life which energized the way he did life. And while none of us are apostles, we are here in this world at this time because Christ has a purpose for our lives. Second, as he lived his purposeful life, he refused to look back on past failures (like killing and imprisoning Christians) or even on past successes. Looking back has the effect on hindering present progress (like a runner who never looks behind him in his race because that will cause him to break stride). Causing believers to look back is one of Satan’s most effective ploys in keeping Christians from living well for Christ (2 Cor. 2:5-11).

Third, the Apostle’s focus was on the future, namely on two events. First, the “prize” that he spoke of is yet another reminder that Paul lived with a certain focus on the coming Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 3:10-4:5). His future accountability to Jesus Christ, and the eternal results of that time of evaluation was one of the great motivations in his life (2 Cor. 5:10-16). The other event mentioned here was the Rapture, the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” He expected Jesus to come at any moment and this had a powerful effect on the way he lived. These future events were consistently part of his worldview as he lived for Christ here and now. Apparently, these prophetic truths are not so irrelevant after all. 

And fourth, this worldview of Paul is a mark of Christian maturity. There is a notable level of spiritual maturity in those who understand and live according to this perspective. The word “perfect” in 3:15, carries with it the idea of maturity, not perfection. Biblical prophecy really is an important part of Christian maturity because he helps develop the two-world view (living in this world with an eye on the world to come). This two-world view is what characterized each and every individual mentioned in Hebrews 11, the chapter on great people of the faith. They lived as strangers and pilgrims in this world and did so with an eye on what God had in store for them in the future when He would bring to fruition His grand purposes for believing mankind. Paul was distressed by those who “set their minds on earthly things” (3:19), which is the one-world view which characterizes “progressive Christianity.” My guess is that the Apostle’s distress level would be greatly elevated today as he viewed the one-world emphasis so prevalent in the church.

(3) Biblical prophecy brings a passion for living.  It is worth noting that Paul speaks of our heavenly citizenship, our transformation and the Lord’s appearing (3:20), and this brings a kind of energy (“eagerly wait”) to our lives. Such a view assists the believer in not being overwhelmed by the trials, dangers, disappointments and concerns of this life.  This view actually aids us in living much better.

It really is a sad thing when Christian leaders dismiss biblical prophetic truth as unimportant and not worthy of one’s time and attention. What wonderful assurance the prophetic word gives to His people, and for “progressive” leaders and others to deny that to believers borders on the criminal.