The theological ethics of contemporary prophetic acts

Randall Kevin Bush, Marquette University


When biblical scholars, theologians, and ethicists have sought to describe the nature of prophetic calls and prophetic activity, much of their source material has been the biblical scriptures and historical documents from the early church. But are there persons in our contemporary world whose actions and proclamations can be considered analogous to that of the prophetic figures of the canonical scriptures? Many scholars would close the period of prophetic activity around the sixth century BCE, thereby ruling out the possibility of such figures appearing in our modern times. Yet from the point of view of theological ethics, something more needs to be said on this subject. In this dissertation, the question of whether contemporary prophetic acts are possible will be explored by using the following process. First, the category of prophetism will be surveyed from the perspective of biblical and sociological scholarship. This overview will focus on describing the nature of the prophetic role and the variables involved in ascribing prophetic authority. Second, paradigmatic prophetic acts will be highlighted, primarily gleaned from acts attributed to the prophet Jeremiah. By understanding the rhetorical quality of these prophetic examples, a working definition of authentic prophetic acts will be proposed that can then be applied to contemporary examples. Third, the work of theologian Paul Tillich will be considered in relation to his theology of culture and his understanding of how prophetism involves moments of kairos . Fourth, theological ethicist William Schweiker's work on moral and hermeneutical realism will be surveyed in order to glean helpful categories when considering the ethics of contemporary prophetic activity. Fifth, two examples of possible contemporary prophetic acts will be proposed, specifically the 1955 refusal of Rosa Parks to surrender her seat while on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1963 writing of "Letter from Birmingham Jail." Through this process of discerning the theological ethics associated with prophetism, a response will be formulated to the question about the criteria for, and viability of, authentic prophetic activity in the modern/postmodern context.

Recommended Citation

Bush, Randall Kevin, "The theological ethics of contemporary prophetic acts" (2003). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3093136.