Some Thoughts on the “failed” Prophecies concerning Donald Trump and the 2020 Election9
What are we to make of the many “failed prophecies” of Trump’s election to a second term? That was the question asked of me on Friday by a religion reporter from the New York Times. Her article should be published sometime this week. There are several things that I said in response.
First, why is everyone making such a big deal of this? No one prophesies with 100% accuracy. The apostle Paul said that in this present age we prophesy “in part” (1 Cor. 13:9), not in whole. No one sees things comprehensively or with perfect accuracy. Let’s remember that prophecy is almost always a mixture of infallible divine revelation and fallible human interpretation and application. That is why Paul commands us to “test” or “weigh” or “judge” or “assess” all prophetic utterances to determine what in them is true and from God and what is false and the fruit of our fallen minds (1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Thess. 5:19-21).
Second, we need to stop evaluating contemporary congregational prophecy by the standards of the Old Covenant. We live in the age of the New Covenant where prophecy operates at a lower level of authority. I devote an entire chapter in my book, Understanding Spiritual Gifts: A Comprehensive Guide (Zondervan) to explaining the differences between OT prophecy and NT prophecy.
Third, consider the difference between how the Old Covenant calls on us to respond to failed prophecies and how the New Covenant Scriptures do. What is said in the New Testament about how to respond to those whose words are determined to be less than fully accurate? We know that Paul commanded the church not to “despise” prophetic utterances but to “weigh” (1 Cor. 14:29) and to “test” prophetic words (1 Thess. 5:20–21). But what is said should be done if such words turn out on assessment to be false? Nothing, other than to “hold fast” to what is good in any prophetic utterance and to “abstain” from anything that is false or misleading. The people who delivered such words are not rebuked. They are not disciplined. They are not excommunicated. And neither are they called “false prophets”! The terminology of “false prophet” is reserved exclusively in the New Testament for the non-Christian, the unregenerate man or woman who denies the fundamental truths of the faith, in particular the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ.
What I’m suggesting is that not everyone who prophesied “falsely” is necessarily a “false prophet.” One can misinterpret a revelation from God and perhaps misapply it to God’s people but not for that reason stand in jeopardy of death or even church discipline. If New Testament prophecy was always as inerrant and infallible as Old Testament prophecy, one would expect some measure of parallel in our response to and treatment of it. I’m simply saying that the New Testament speaks loudly when, instead, there is complete and utter silence about how to deal with someone in the new covenant who speaks with less than perfect accuracy.
Fourth, I suspect that what happens is something like this. A person feels a strong desire for Trump’s re-election and concludes that this “human desire” is in fact a “divine decree.” There is a tendency for many to move immediately from what they “wish” would happen to the conclusion that this is what God “wills” to happen. They transform their own political preferences into prophetic promises, thoroughly persuaded that it was God who equates the two.
Often the emotional euphoria of a deeply held heartfelt conviction feels like what happens when God truly does reveal something to the human heart. To discern or differentiate between our own beliefs, desires, hopes, and expectations, on the one hand, and Spirit-imparted revelatory words, on the others, is not easy. I suspect that in the case of most of these who “prophesied” of Trump’s victory they have collapsed the two or have simply assumed that the former is actually the latter.
Fifth, let’s be brutally honest and equally humble and simply say that contrary to what many prophets said that God said is wrong. God didn’t say it. If God had revealed that Trump would be re-elected, Trump would have been re-elected. The fact that Trump wasn’t re-elected is all the proof I need to conclude that God never said he would be. The prophets simply interpreted their own thoughts, desires, and preferences as the voice of the Spirit. And they were wrong. Is that so difficult to admit?
Sixth, the worst-case scenario is that some of these individuals knew what their audiences and supporters wanted to hear and capitulated to those expectations. Prophesying under pressure imposed by others is extremely dangerous and will serve only to bring reproach on the legitimate expression of prophetic ministry as set forth in the New Testament.
Seventh, and finally, many (most?) of these prophetic individuals are not embedded in a local church or subject to the oversight and accountability provided by qualified Elders. They are independent ministries that are all too often subject to no one but themselves. If they do have a “board” of some sort or a designated group of “advisors,” they are typically composed of like-minded individuals who all too readily endorse virtually anything said or written by the minister, or they are intimidated into silence by the “prophet’s” public fame and influential platform. Not wanting to lose relational proximity to the “prophet” or forfeit access to his/her inner circle, they refrain from bringing biblical and/or common-sense insight and criticism to bear on the word that is spoken.
Before any “minister” or “prophetic voice” speaks into weighty and highly consequential matters of a public or political nature, they should humbly bring the issue to the Elders of their local church for careful and prayerful consideration and discernment. “Lone Ranger” prophetic ministry is a recipe for disaster. The collective wisdom and response of those whom the Holy Spirit has raised up to lead and shepherd the flock of God (Acts 20:28-32) are absolutely essential for the credibility and integrity of any and all prophetic ministry today.