Friday, September 07, 2012
Prophets, Priests and Kings: Israelite offices and resume categories for American pastors
In 1984 David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates published the book Please Understand Me. This book sold a few copies. Refining the ancient Hellenistic concept of the four temperaments Keirsey took Isabel Myers's temperament types into four temperaments as formulated by Ernst Kretschmer. Hippocrates' ideas have come a long way.
Please Understand Me became a best-seller and numerous spin-offs were formulated for things ranging from professional assessment to ... spiritual gifts. Now Keirsey's work prior to codifying ideas that turned into this best-seller included spending a good deal of time in his work as a psychologist assessing what we would now probably describe as "at risk youth". That's to say he was looking to find out how to keep young people from becoming future criminals and temperament assessment, to this end, may have been a useful way of assessing which types of lads might one day end up in the slammer and how best to intervene before they became recurring wards of the state.
By the 1980s Pentecostalism and charismatic Christianity were becoming the norm in the United States. While in the 1950s the beginning of the Latter Rain kicked off it was in the 1960s the Charismatic movement proper begin. David du Plessis shared practices and ideas of Pentecostal pneumatology with mainline Protestants, Anglicans and Catholics. By the 1970s the Charismatic movement was expanding. By the 1980s and 1990s charismatic and Pentecostal churches were, arguably, the mainstream of American Christian spirituality. By the mid-1990s questionaires and books on assessing spiritual gifts were making the rounds. I remember this because I saw some of them. There were tests that could establish what your spiritual gift "probably" was. I noticed that the materials that attempted to make this assessment bore a striking similarity to Keirsey's work.
Whereas in a Keirsey test you might be told you were an ENFJ or an INFP in this alternative you might be said to be a pastor with priestly gifts and if we throw in a few other things like The Five Love Languages you can add stuff to that. We've gonoe past the point of discussing what prophets, priests and kings actually did and a fourth category of functionary within the Mosaic legal system the tribal judge or elder is completely eliminated from this judicial/spiritual taxonomy (excepting those who say heads of households somehow function in this way).
But as the three big categories go we're still not talking about offices fulfilled by Christ so much as codes or eumphemisms for skill sets that can be put on resumes. As sometime lurker and commenter Headless Unicorn Guy might put it, here we were presented with Keirsey's temperament assessment matrix .... BUT CHRISTIAN. (TM)
Now here we are into the 21st century and it would seem that twenty years after Pentecostals began to replicate Keirsey's use of ideas from early 20th century psychological ideas derived from Carl Jung our comrades the neo-Calvinists, not to be outdone, have developed their own version of a Keirsey assessment matrix of a sort. Now it would not be a big deal for many Christians to consider whether they are sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, or melancholic but that all comes off as too medieval or Hellenistic for some Christians who would rather not use those categories (even though, arguably, they have a certain accuracy and usefulness to them). It can be easier and more pious-looking to go with categories such as prophet, priest and king.
It's important to note that these are more or less Christianized variations on temperament/gift assessment and establish that through at least some examples before attempting to illustrate that this is not a particularly accurate or clear way of discussing those roles. Yes, it is recognized within this fad that people may display a variety of gifts to a variety of levels and that's commendable as far as it goes. I think we can demonstrate from an actual examination of biblical texts, however, that the fundamental nature of some of the categories "prophet", "priest" and "king" are not exactly a great fit with what we can see in the texts themselves. I may be a Protestant but I'm going to say at the outset that there's a good chunk that some Protestants call "prophetic" with respect to pastors that is wrong and that the Catholics and Orthodox (and likely Anglicans) are right to say there are lots of things pastors do that are priestly roles. Ergo, they've got priests because they remember what the weight of biblical evidence actually indicates about the pastoral role.
But first let's turn to a case study of how prophet, priest and king have been employed as categories of discussing pastoral roles or functions.