Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, we talked about a set of predictions made by Greg Locke, an especially cringey right-wing evangelical pastor. He drew upon evangelicals’ rich history of prophecy to make a bunch of predictions — none of which came to pass. And thanks to the way evangelicals engage with false prophecies and false prophets, he won’t face any consequences for the failure of all of his prophecies! Today, let me show you why Christians — and evangelicals in particular — love prophecy, and why in turn they can’t deal with false prophecy at all.
A Quick Tour of Prophecy in Christianity.
A prophecy is either a prediction about the future or the exposure of a hidden truth. In either case, Christians believe that only their god could possibly have revealed that knowledge to the person conveying it. So either case represents a divine miracle.
Most of the time, people think of prophecy as predictions about the future. That’s the sense of the word that we’ll be using today, for the most part.
Usually, these sorts of prophecies predict events that are extremely unlikely to happen on their own — like a huge natural disaster that nobody else saw coming.
The person delivering the prophecy is not usually called a prophet unless they do an awful lot of it. Indeed, there’s lots of Christians who make a very good living making up prophecies and relaying them to their gullible, wide-eyed followers. One also sees prophets who use other titles for themselves, like how Kat Kerr styles herself a revelator. But it means the same thing.
A prophecy that happens as predicted is called a fulfilled prophecy. One that doesn’t is called a false prophecy. Usually, a prophecy fails when a predicted date for it passes without incident.
Most prophets are smart enough to avoid predicting exact dates for this stuff. Alas, ambitious ones can’t resist the attention that comes with date-setting.
Why Evangelicals Love Prophecy.
Prophecy is a unique, self-authenticating feature of the Bible. [. . .] If prophecy can be trusted, then the rest of Scripture can be trusted.
Often, prophecies take inspiration from Bible verses — especially those in the Bible’s Book of Revelation, which many Christians mistakenly think describes a vision about the future end of the world. As a result, lots of Christians study their own tribe’s take on prophecy. Many try to shoehorn current events into the prophecies in the Bible, like deciding that a particular myth predicted Donald Trump’s election or the creation of modern-day Israel. Others rely on visions they claim to receive in dreams or during prayer.
Christians think that fulfilled prophecies are miracles — just like magic healing and speaking in tongues. Thus, prophecies represent evidence for the validity of their claims. So obviously, fulfilled prophecies mean their religion must be the real deal. After all, only a real god could make something that wacky happen!
As such, a lot of Christians lean very hard on fulfilled prophecies in their sales pitches. This link explains a lot more about the strategies involved and the talking points they think are most effective.
That said, I know of not one single scare-quotes “prophecy” I’d ever consider supernatural in nature. Most of the prophecies I’ve ever seen were very obvious grabs for attention, money, and power.
Prophecy: Bible Stuff About False Prophets.
What are false prophets like?
False prophets may look innocent, but they’re really predatory. They say things that the flocks want to hear. (Matthew 7:15; 2 Timothy 4:3)
False prophets can be very convincing. Don’t worry though! Jesus Power will prevent “the elect” (TRUE CHRISTIANS™) from getting fooled. Maybe. Probably. (Matthew 24:24; 2 Cor 11:13-15)
The flocks like false prophets and enjoy listening to them. (Luke 6:26; 2 Timothy 4:3-4)
False prophets offer their divinations for money. What poseurs! (Micah 3:11)
Yahweh uses false prophets to test the flocks to see if they really like him. I mean, like, reeeeeeeally LIKE-like him. He’s so adorkably insecure! (Deuteronomy 13:3)
How will Christians know if a prophet is true or false?
False prophets bring destruction upon themselves. (2 Peter 2:1)
Their predictions don’t come true. Also, the prophet will exhort the flocks to do off-limits things. (Deuteronomy 13:1-5)
False prophets breed confusion rather than peace. (1 Cor 14:33)
The flocks will adore what a false prophet has to say. (Luke 6:26; 2 Timothy 4:3-4 again)
False prophets don’t expose the sinfulness of the flocks like they should. Hey, maybe that’s why the flocks like false prophets so much! (Lamentations 2:14)
What should believers do with false prophets?
Don’t listen to them. (Jeremiah 23:16)
Yahweh’s “hand will be against” false prophets. No false prophet may ever be granted any position of power nor even be allowed into Israel. (Ezekiel 13:9)
PURGE THEM. PURGE THEM TO MURDERDEATH. (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, also 18:20)
I guess build a lake of fire to throw them into..? (Revelation 19:20)
However, I didn’t list these Bible verses for any reason except to lay out the parameters offered by the Bible. Let’s suffer no illusions here:
Evangelicals Do Not Care What the Bible Says.
In their whole lives, evangelicals have never cared about what the Bible actually says. That assessment particularly and especially includes those sola scriptura snobs.
Even evangelicals who think they diligently study the Bible rarely actually do more than indoctrinate themselves further. As just one example, I was extremely faithful and diligent in Bible study — and I still learned way more about the Bible and its contents after deconverting than I ever knew while I was still a believer.
When an evangelical spewing prophecy comes before an evangelical audience, the flocks evaluate that prophet according to two parameters only:
- How well does this person’s words fit in with my already-existing beliefs?
- And how much do I personally like those words?
That’s why evangelicals tend to ferociously defend their favorite false prophets and to excuse everything they do.
In a lot of ways, evangelicals’ attitude toward false prophets really defies even their own holy book. That’s because their affection relates to the Deeper Magic of authoritarianism that undergirds evangelicalism.
Why Evangelicals Protect False Prophets.
As you might guess, then, evangelicals have a lot of trouble processing and coping with false prophecies — ones that do not come true as promised.
Their immediate impulse is always going to be to deny that the prophecy actually failed. They’ll rewrite history completely, or try to mangle what the prophecy actually predicted or play word games with what they said/wrote, or even pretend that the prophecy was totally gonna happen, but y’all, y’all, see, y’all, their god decided at the last moment to hold back his wrath (thanks to the prayers of his TRUE CHRISTIAN™ followers, usually)! Hooray Team Jesus! See? He’s real because the prophecy didn’t come true!
False prophets go to these cowardly, dishonest lengths because if the prophecy flat-out failed, that means:
- Their status as a prophet might get called into question, or
- People might start doubting all their other claims.
And luckily for them, evangelical flocks tend overwhelmingly to be happy to help their false prophets evade every single consequence for making false prophecies!
Evangelicals go to the wall for their false prophets, just as they do all of their worst, most hypocritical leaders.
First, they want to protect themselves from looking too closely at the fact that they believed a false prophet. I mean, that implies that they ain’t Jesus-ing correctly!
Second, they want to protect their tribe’s overall reputation. They know that people mock false prophets — mockery which very much includes the evangelicals who bought into those false predictions.
How Prophecy Fits Into Evangelicals’ Beliefs.
When someone holds beliefs that do not tether to reality in any way, they become a wingnut. They can’t use reality to test or manage the belief, so they stop bothering to try. Instead, they use only subjective means. They either never learn adequate critical-thinking skills, or else they refuse to use what skills they have on the belief system itself.
As a result, they lack any objective ways to evaluate any claims they encounter. All they can do instead is try to fit this piece into their existing puzzle. If it fits, they accept it.
It goes without saying that wingnuts can and do reject out of hand any claim that pushes back against their beliefs or says they’re wrong about anything. Evangelical wingnuts have evolved a number of ways to handle those unpleasant surprises.
I’m describing the Problem of Wingnuts here.
Prophecy and the Problem of Wingnuts.
So if you ever wondered why one wingnut cannot convince another wingnut holding a competing belief that their wingnutty belief is the correct one, and why nobody in Reality-Land can convince a wingnut of anything, this is why. Without sleight-of-hand like emotional manipulation, Christians have never found any way to win those arguments.
And that fact really starts to matter when we get into obviously completely whackadoo beliefs like prophecies, especially if those prophecies involve the Endtimes. No two TRUE CHRISTIANS™ agree on much of anything when it comes to competing Endtimes prophecies.
Just as one example, check out this incredibly cringey 2009 paper by Thomas Ice, the executive director of, I kid you not, Liberty University’s “Pre-Trib Research Center.” (Explanation of terms.) Ice’s conclusion: his own wingnutty beliefs are correct while the other wingnutty beliefs are incorrect. Surprising!
Why Wingnut Beliefs Only Spiral Into More Extremist Territory.
But by the same token, any puzzle piece that extends their beliefs into more fantastical territory will likely be accepted. That’s easy to do. Pushing a wingnut into worse wingnuttery can be done with a single phrase like the cloud has moved, which in the 1990s almost dragged half the young adults in my church into a cult in Waco.
So wingnuts can’t pull back on the wingnut throttle. They literally lack any processes or mechanisms that would allow them to accurately tell if one of their beliefs is built upon an error somehow. They can only open it further forward — spiraling themselves further and further into beliefs that just get more and more fantastical.
It’s a problem, all right. And like all the other capital-P Problems in Christianity, like the Problem of Hell and the Problem of Evil, it tramples Christians’ claims about their god and religion.
So any “prophet” that wingnuts accept must be one who both flatters the flocks and says stuff that fits into their existing (wingnutty) belief system.
NEXT UP: LSP! Then, we dive into all the methods that Greg Locke used to evade the consequences of his false prophecies.
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(Last thoughts: That screechy, pink-haired old lady with the anger-management problem, Kat Kerr, uses the title of Revelator. Her constant explosive rage makes her a wonder to behold. Also: Do not worry. Sooner or later, we’re coming back to this Thomas Ice guy and his paper. I thought he was a pretentious, fundie-homeschooled teenager till I thought to look him up right quick. BTW, who else was today years old when they found out that Liberty’s got a “Pre-Trib Research Center?” OMG.)