How do we respond to Jeremiah Johnson, Loren Sanford and Kris Vallatton, who have publicly apologised for getting it wrong in prophesying a second presidential term for Trump? And perhaps others I’m not aware of?
We forgive them! Anyone who humbles themselves to apologise ought to be forgiven, just as God forgives us. We pray that, in the aftermath and unravelling of all that happened this past week, indeed this past year, others will come forward.
To respond to these apologies by putting the false prophesy into context and to ask some questions, is not to be unloving. To discern why and how prophesies of such magnitude can go wrong is not “throwing them under the bus.” To evaluate what they, and we, can learn from what happened is not recriminatory in any way.
In our world of hyper sensitivity, insecurity and broken identity, to evaluate, and even disagree, is mostly taken personally. Tragic! What Robert Bly called The Sibling Society. There is no recrimination or rejection in reflecting on the apologies. It is, in fact, to hold the prophets, and each other, accountable. That is truly loving them. To “speak the truth in love” is to grow to maturity, saving us from permanent infancy (Ephesians 4:14-15).
Context of The Prophecies
6 January 2021 will infamously go down in US history as a failed insurrection by Trump supporters. No, it was not perpetrated by Antifa. The more we see the video clips and research of what really happened, with the unfolding fallout, the more we will see how huge it is in significance, symbolism and shame. The culmination and unmasking of the real character of Trump and his presidency of American Christian Nationalism (explained here).
The false prophesies and the apologies must be seen in that light. Johnson and Sanford apologised the day after (not before) the violent attempt to stop confirmation of Biden as President-Elect, targeting VP Mike Pence to hang him, because he said he wouldn’t overturn the election results as Trump wanted. Kris Vallotton apologised on 7 November 2020, then removed his post by advise of fellow prophets, then reuploaded it on 9 January 2021.
All this while other prophets are hardening their hearts, continuing to believe the devil (meaning Democrats) stole the election. Even telling the other prophets not to apologise!
Reality is what we run into when we are wrong. To be hard-headed is to not face reality and be adjusted by it. Johnson, Sanford and Vallotton have yeilded. Will the others face what really happened or remain in denial? Will they see how their prophesies were in service of the spirit that inspired Trump and his supporters to keep him in power “no matter what”?
This is the seriousness of the context of these wrong prophecies. They were not spoken in a vacuum. Neither were they simply personal or local church prophecies. They were national prophecies of national determination and destiny – with international ramifications.
The rest of the world looks on in shock. And wonders how and why Christians (actually, fundamentalist charismatic evangelicals) can get into such political prophesying and nationalistic deception. The rioting protestors invaded the Capitol under the waving flags of “Jesus” and “Trump” and the national flag, which were prominent in all of Trump’s rallies throughout his presidency. God’s credibility is at stake. The Church’s witness is weakened.
This is no small thing. Therefore, though we forgive, the apologies raise questions.
Questions to Consider
What is really being apologised for?
How well do they understand what has gone wrong? Why and how they went wrong? What is behind it? What are the root(s) that allowed them to falsely prophesy at national level?
What was/is the effect/damage of their wrongdoing on others, on the nation? To what extent did their wrong prophecies inspire what happened on Capitol Hill? What is the damage to Christian credibility and witness, both nationally and internationally?
Do they understand and own that? I.e. is there “godly sorrow that leads to true repentance” or “worldly sorrow that brings death”? (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)? Therefore, with the apology, is there repentance, metanoia, a turning away from by a change of mind and direction? If so, what do “the fruits of that repentance” look like?
Have they held themselves accountable with their internal team? Or have they subjected themselves to external respected credible leaders (untainted by any wrong prophesying regarding Trump) to hold them accountable? To correct and discipline where needed?
Most importantly, what can they, and all of us, learn from this?
What actually is prophecy… biblical prophetic ministry? It’s nature, function, practice?
What is the difference between true and false prophets? Or true prophets who “get it wrong” once in a while?
Is there a difference between Old and New Testament prophecy and prophesying? If so, what continues in the New Testament, and what is discontinued, or changes?
We can go on. I can’t answer all of these questions here – I list them to challenge you to think, pray and search the scriptures like the Berean Christians (Acts 17:11). I plan on writing a more comprehensive piece on A Re-examination of Biblical Prophetic Ministry in Contemporary Context.
I will give an orientation on prophecy, then brief comments on some of the questions in response to the apologies given.
Orientation re Prophetic Ministry
Prophecy is inspired speech. Biblically, to prophesy is to speak by the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. The source of inspiration, however, can also be one’s own spirit (ideas, imagination, emotions, interests). Or another (evil) spirit. This raises the nature of inspiration and the steps involved in prophesying, which I cannot elaborate on here.
Essentially, biblical prophecy is to speak God’s mind/truth/will on a matter, to a person, church, or nation. It takes the form primarily of “forth-telling” and on occasion “fore-telling”. Its common mode is to tell forth (reveal and proclaim) God’s mind/truth. What God is saying and doing at this time in/to this person, situation, church, or nation.
God sometimes reveals future events/happenings which prophets predict. But if they do not take place there are consequences for that prophet, as in this case under discussion. “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD? If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).
The primary purpose of prophecy is to comfort, encourage and build up (God’s) people (1Corinthians 14:3). But it also has other purposes: to confront wrongdoing, expose hidden sin, correct error by speaking God’s truth, give direction, and to predict. Normally the latter functions are for more mature and reliable practitioners of prophetic ministry.
Biblically speaking, “the prophetic” is the flow of the Holy Spirit in all the enabling grace-gifts that the Spirit manifests through us by inspiration. Thus 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, words of knowledge, wisdom, faith, discerning of spirits, healings, prophesy, tongues, etc, are all prophetic ministry. And all God’s people in the new covenant of the outpoured Gift of the Holy Spirit can prophesy (Numbers 11:29, Ezekiel 36:26-27, Acts 2:17).
Thus prophetic ministry is not for the specially anointed or gifted. We all manifest The Gift of the Spirit via various manifestations of enabling graces. We are humble servants and instruments of grace, not owners of the gift(s) that we share, as in “I am a Prophet”.
Jesus fulfilled the “Offices” of Prophet, Priest and King (capital P, P, K), which God worked through under the Old Covenant. The ascended Christ now gives “grace” (Ephesians 4:7-11) to followers to express his offices, as in his ministry (not ours) of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor-teacher (small a, p, e, p-t). They are functional descriptions, not positions, titles, offices. Jesus expressly taught his followers against the use of titles (Matthew 23:5-12), because it’s the way the world does leadership. It feeds ego. We find identity in titles and ministry, and become demigods that lord it over others (Mark 10:42-45).
If we take a person as a “Prophet”, the implication is they’re infallible, they have “plenary inspiration” like the Old Testament prophets. If the Old Testament prophets got it wrong their failure was fatal, they were stoned (not with marijuana!). In exercising Christ’s prophetic ministry, however, we humbly and openly acknowledge that we only “know in part, prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9).
Therefore, we do not say, “God says…”, “Thus says the Lord”. Because, if we get it wrong, it’s God’s fault – he said it through me! And God cannot be wrong! No, we prophesy, not God. We take responsibility for what we say and how we say it, because “the spirit of the prophet is subject to the control of the prophet” (1 Corinthians 14:32). Using disclaimer language like “I sense the Lord is saying…”, “I feel the Spirit is doing…”, leaves the door open to be wrong. In that way we invite testing and evaluation as Paul teaches (1 Corinthians 14:29). We hold ourselves accountable to be corrected by leaders.
There are “levels” of prophecy and accountability. Giving someone “a word” is personal prophesy. Or prophesy in/to a home church. Or to/for a local congregation, a city, a nation, including international prophetic words and ministry. The move from personal through local church to national means higher levels of accountability and judgement, because more people and constituencies are affected, for better or worse. And if we get it wrong at any level, we apologise to that level at that level. National voices are subject to public national evaluation and accountability, whether they like it or not.
Therefore, discernment and accountability of prophetic words and ministry is not only needed, but required in both Old and New Testament. Here are two references.
In Deuteronomy 13 Moses teaches: do not be dazzled by the manifestations and power of dreams, signs and wonders through which the word of the prophet is spoken. Rather discern the content and intent of the word of prophesy, whether it is consistent with the faith of Yahweh revealed in Torah – fulfilled by The Prophet greater than Moses, who will give the Messianic Torah (Deuteronomy 18:18-19). Or, does it subvert, undermine and draw you away from God’s revealed word to other ideas and beliefs, into idolatry? It is scary and challenging to realise that God actually allows false prophets/prophecies, in order to test us, to see if we really love God, or other gods (Deuteronomy 13:4).
Besides Paul’s instruction to “carefully weigh” prophecies (1 Corinthians 14:29), John says, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out” (1 John 4:1).
Discernment, arguably, is our greatest need in this post-truth ideological world of lies and conspiracies. We stand or fall by our training in discernment of truth and error, or lack thereof (Hebrews 5:14). The disappearance of the moral knowledge to distinguish good and evil, right and wrong, is plunging our world into profound darkness, preparing people for “the lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-11); i.e. the numerous lies and untruths that many will and do believe, “because they refuse to love the truth and so be saved.” The spirit of prophecy is the testimony (truth, teachings) of Jesus. If we are truly his disciples (disciplined learners), we will love, study and obey his teachings, then will know the truth that liberates.
Reflecting on the Apologies
Anyway, back to responding to the apologies! A few comments.
First, there is – as indicated above – a difference between false prophets who routinely prophesy falsely, and true prophets who might “get it wrong” on occasion.
Second, I find the apologies a mixed bag of confession with reasons, explanations and interpretations that reveal underlying theological AND ideological paradigms governing their thinking and praxis of prophecy.
Thus the self-reflection on why and how Johnson, Sanford and Vallotton “missed it” is key. Because, to remind us, this was national prophecy of a determinative event that did not happen. To his credit, Sanford says he got it wrong because he was emotionally caught up with the other prophets prophesying Trump’s second term. He didn’t hear God properly for himself. Citing Jeremiah 23:30 (God says, “the prophets steal from one another words supposedly from me”), Sanford says his insecurities and need to belong was the cause.
He says “another element of how I got it wrong: The tendency we have to hear what we want to hear. Strong desire and strong opinions play a huge role in distorting the words we believe we hear, if we allow that to happen.” Referring to his “strong negative opinion of the Democratic Party played a role”. This is closer to the deeper causes that not only make us vulnerable, but actually pre-condition us to “get it wrong”… our underlying worldview.
The extent of our ideological conditioning (e.g. as Democrat or Republican), from mild to extreme, determines how we see and respond to life. It interacts with our theological paradigms (biblical interpretation). Both are determinative in making us vulnerable, or not, to getting it wrong, or to even be used by another (evil) spirit. Rightly understood, theology is not ideology. But theology can be – is often – used ideologically, i.e. in service of socio-political group interests over against “the other” group. Christian nationalism is a classic example. Ideologies reflect the spiritual principalities and powers behind them.
For example, in Matthew 16, Peter had pure revelation from the Holy Spirit of who Jesus was/is, God’s Messiah/King. Then the King explained he would suffer and die in Jerusalem. Peter responded, “No ways! That will never happen! We need to defeat our enemies and set up the Kingdom in Jerusalem and reign.” Jesus rebuked him: “Satan, get behind me! You speak from your own vested interests, not from God’s plan and purposes that I’ve just explained to you”. One breath God’s Spirit, the next breath evil spirit. How so? Could it be that Peter’s ideological interests, and mixed theological paradigms, had so conditioned his view of the President and his MAGA kingdom, that he got it wrong?
Sanford cited Jeremiah 23:30, being stirred up by what the other prophets were wrongly prophesying. The context says more: how much of “getting it wrong” was motivated by their own mindset, like Peter (“delusions of their own minds”, v.26. “prophesying from their own imagination… following their own spirit”, Ezekiel 13:3)? Or worse: was it “reckless lies” (v.32) that “filled (the people) with false hopes” (v.16)? That even “strengthened the hands of evildoers” (v.14) leading to the shame of Capitol Hill, where five people were killed.
So, the ideological context of Jeremiah 23 is important. In Jeremiah 6:14 the prophets don’t address the root corruption, but “dress the wound lightly” by prophesying “peace, peace” to the king, princes and people, “no harm will come to you” (23:17). Typical prophecy in ideological service of those in power, saying what they want to hear in order to stay in power. I.e. they are “court prophets”.
What the “wilderness prophets” like Jeremiah (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, etc) refer to – regarding the false prophecies, and indeed, court prophets – is their proximity to power. Their ideological conditioning through loyalty to and support of power. Their uncritical laying on hands and blessing the kings and princes. Little or no healthy distance to “unblind” them for relative objectivity, for critical engagement with the powers.
And, biblically, behind every earthly ruler/government is a spiritual principality and power. The interaction between these “gods of the nations” and the earthly rulers and their people, is little understood. As they become corrupt, seeking to incarnate themselves in the nation through idolatry, ideology, injustice, corruption, God judges them (Psalm 82).
Sanford also referred to 1 Kings 22, how God allowed a “lying spirit” to be put in the mouth of 400 prophets to say what the King wanted to hear: “You will win”. God allowed it to carry out judgement on King Ahab. Only Michaiah – 1 in 400 – “heard” right and courageously prophesied truth. How can a prophet be vulnerable to a “lying spirit” in his/her mouth?
Is it because of an ideological environment built on lying? Read the context of Ahab’s kingship. Bad character in leadership, as in President Trump’s pathological lying, releases and gives permission to a spirit of lying at all levels of leadership, society and the nation. Is this partly why and how the prophets were vulnerable to prophecy the lie of Trump’s second term? Is the fruit of this lying spirit seen in the deception of lies believed to be truth and truth seen as lies? And in the election debacle where half the voters believe it was fraudulently stolen? And that Antifa invaded Capitol Hill?
Lastly, a word on theological paradigms. In brief, the following underlying theologies need to be examined as possibly at work in why and how the prophets got it wrong.
Dispensationalism, with its Israel theology – Christian Zionism and support for Israel.
Restorationism, with its “Apostles & Prophets” theology and practice of prophetic ministry.
Spiritual Warfare teaching of bind and loosing, proclaiming, declaring, commanding, fighting in the heavenlies, pulling down powers, and so on.
Reconstructionism, with its Seven Mountains teaching to Christianise nations, contributing to the rise of Trumpism. It’s a skewed understanding and practice of Church-State relationship.
These seriously “mixed seed” theologies are part of the problem. Jesus’ worldview of the Kingdom of God, in terms of what he taught and practiced, and how his first followers interpreted and lived it, is so different to the above. The theology of the Kingdom, correctly understood, addresses answers these theological paradigms.
God help us all.
God have mercy on us all.