PROPHECY PAST AND PRESENT
Prophecy Past and Present by Clifford Hill
EAGLE (Inter Publishing Service), Guildford. 1995
pp xiii + 337 £12.99
ISBN: 0 86347 170 6
Dr Clifford Hill is the editor of Prophecy Today magazine. Prophecy Past and Present was first published in 1989 and this is a revised and updated edition, subtitled 'An Exploration of the Prophetic Ministry in the Bible and the Church Today'. The book is divided into three parts: 'Prophecy in Ancient Israel', 'Prophecy in the Early Church', and 'Prophecy Today'. There are seventeen chapters which are helpfully sub-divided so that although Prophecy Past and Present is quite a large book, one need not get lost in it. In addition, Dr Hill's fluent style combine with a clear structure to make his book a considerably easier read than its size and subject might suggest.
The book is marked by a spirit of reverence for God and of love for his Word. There is recognition of the need to exercise careful discernment and an emphasis upon spiritual maturity through prayerfulness. Much is to be gained from Dr Hill's overviews of the Scriptural material. Chapter four, 'The Method of the Prophet' and chapters seven and eight, 'The Prophet at Prayer', and 'The Message of the Prophets' are truly edifying. The description of the hope of the Old Testament prophets in chapter six, the overview of Old Testament to New Testament changes in chapter nine, and the summary of Jesus' teaching in chapter ten, all contain very helpful material.
There are, however, a number of criticisms which can be levelled at the book. Given that Dr Hill is aiming at the serious reader and that he is undoubtedly familiar with recent debates about the nature of biblical prophecy, it is disappointing that he deliberately refrains from interacting with the works of other scholars. The selected bibliography has no mention of David Hill, David Aune, Wayne Grudem, or others whose contribution must at least be assessed before pronouncing as definitely as Dr Hill does upon these difficult subjects.
The sub-theme of the stifling of the church's natural and Spirit-given spontaneity by the growth of institutionalism is presented in either-or and hero-villain categories that are unhelpful (pp. 4, 253-69, 273, 285-6) . The reading of history is tendentious: ' ... from the fourth to the nineteenth century there was no major movement of openness to the Holy Spirit, to prophetic revelation, or to the exercise of spiritual gifts' (p.2). And the teasing sketch, in chapter fifteen, of 'Contemporary Practice' is built upon generalisation, even though the specific identifications of Paul Cain as a false prophet (pp.288-9) and Hal Lindsey as a false teacher (pp.293-4) are long overdue.
The single biggest criticism, however, of a book which will nonetheless bring much benefit to the careful reader, relates to its central thesis. Dr Hill defines prophecy as 'revealed truth that comes directly from God' and the prophet as 'the mouthpiece of God'. He sees Old Testament, New Testament, and contemporary prophets as standing in the same line: they receive and they deliver 'divine revelation'. (pp.3-5, 13, 20, 181, 268). He dismisses, rather than refutes, those who would point out the uniqueness of apostolic authority and their revelatory calling, the sufficiency of Scripture, and the particularity of the NT prophets' task.
Early in his book Dr Hill writes, 'In a world of violence, of rapid social, economic and political change, when man's grasp of technology outstrips his wisdom in using it, there is a desperate need for divine guidance that could literally mean the difference between the annihilation of mankind and man's salvation'. He is surely right in this. What is needed, however, is not that we should hear new words from God, but rather that we should hear more carefully and obey more consistently what God has already said, once for all, in Scripture.