The Aesthetics of Prophecy by Toby J. Sumpter

The spiritual gift of prophecy is one of the unique features of Christian art that the Church continually misses out on Sumpter argues. How do we regain this gift moving forward?

Beauty is all the rage. You can’t get three sentences in modern theology without tripping over words like “aesthetics” and “beauty” and “Christianity and the arts.” And in many ways this is a welcome shift. The several-century Christian retreat from the arts seems in many ways on its way to a full reversal. Francis Schaeffer has begotten many godchildren, and they are busy exploring, engaging, and perhaps most hearteningly, creating.

But for all the promising signs of an incarnational Christianity, an orthodox faith robustly celebrated for the senses, I’m still worried about the sell-out potential.

Don’t get me wrong: I have no desire to be the skeptic for the sake of being skeptical. There’s nothing innately virtuous about being a cynic. And I know there are plenty of faithful, courageous believers producing beauty in the world of the arts: from film to poetry to interior design to theater to photography to the culinary arts. I know there are many committed Christian men and women pouring out their hearts in praise to their Maker.

At the same time, I suspect that we are still, on the whole, missing one of the unique features of Christian art — if I dare use the phrase. And this is what I’m calling the aesthetics of prophecy.
First, biblically speaking, we should understand that a prophet is fundamentallya friend of God. Prophets are not first and foremost entranced mystics or socially awkward desert dwellers or future-telling locust eaters. Prophets are close friends of God. God speaks to them, and tells them what he’s planning. And like a good friend, God wants to know what they think.


God tells Abraham about what he’s planning with Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham pleads with God to remember the lives of the righteous (Genesis 18). God tells Moses that he will destroy Israel and start over with Moses, and Moses insists that this would be terrible PR for the God of the Exodus (Exodus 33).

Prophets have access to God’s presence. They witness the deliberations of God, as Micaiah did, when the Lord had determined to get Ahab killed (1 Kings 22). Prophets speak on God’s behalf and speak to God on other people’s behalf. Because prophets are close friends with God, they can speak for him. And because prophets are close friends with God, they can speak to him for others.

And so, in the first instance, when I speak of the aesthetics of prophecy, I simply mean an aesthetic derived from this loyalty and intimacy with the God of the universe. Christians have been given the Holy Spirit and the word of God in Scripture so that we might share this friendship with the Father and the Son.

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