Strange Fire and False Prophecy: Liberty University’s Foray into “The Trump Prophecies”
In Leviticus 10:1-2, Levitical priests Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, offered God “strange” fire on the Lord’s altars. As a result of their unholy offering, the fire consumed them. Pastor John MacArthur uses this story in his book Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship to launch a broad critique of charismatic worship. While the scope of his cessationist argument goes too far for comfort, this story reminds us not to get swept up in innovative worship that lacks divine direction.
Similarly, Scripture has a lot to say about false prophets. According to Deuteronomy 18:22, it behooves a prophet’s audience to test his words, “If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.” Micah 3:11 also clues us in to the motivation behind many false prophecies: financial gain. “Its rulers give judgement for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the Lord and say, ‘Surely the Lord is with us! No harm shall come upon us.”
False prophetic activity is not unique to the Old Testament. 2 Peter 2:1-3 warns Christians of those who would be false prophets and teachers, “who will secretly bring in destructive opinions…Even so, many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced against them long ago, has not been idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” Part of the call of the Christian life is discernment. As a Church, we’re instructed, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
These verses have been on my mind the past few days in light of the Christian Post’s recent article, “Liberty University Cinema Dept. Producing Feature Film, ‘The Trump Prophecy.’” According to the article:
Liberty University students and faculty are helping produce an 85-minute feature film that will be shown in over 1,000 theatres nationwide highlighting one man’s “Trump prophecy” and a movement of prayer that led up to the election of President Donald Trump. The film, titled “The Trump Prophecy,” will be shown at select cinemas nationwide on Oct. 2 and Oct. 4 and is a production led and funded by producer Rick Eldridge and his Charlotte-based ReelWorks Studios, which also helped produce the 2015 documentary based on the book Four Blood Moons by megachurch Pastor John Hagee. About 56 Liberty University students and several staff members from the Virginia Christian school’s cinematic arts department will also work on the project as part of the department’s spring semester film project. The film focuses on the prophecy of a retired Florida firefighter named Mark Taylor, who claims that God told him in April 2011 that Trump would one day become president. Although Taylor initially thought that meant that Trump would become president in 2012, the prophecy was ultimately fulfilled in November 2016. Taylor’s prophetic claim was described in his 2017 book, The Trump Prophecies: The Astonishing True Story of the Man Who Saw Tomorrow… and What He Says Is Coming Next. With a budget of about $2 million, the movie claims to show viewers how a movement of prayer helped pave the way for the election of the 45th president of the United States. “I hope it reflects an understanding that when people come together in prayer, how valuable that is not only for the people that are praying but for what they are praying for,” the film’s director, Stephan Schultze, the executive director of Liberty University Cinematic Arts Department, told The Christian Post on Tuesday. “They have come together in the recognition that those prayers have value and build community and build a strong bond that allows for a president like Donald Trump to be elected. It created a bond within the Christian community.”
Aside from the clear partisan motives for producing such a film, the school’s decision to support this movie is sad because of the obvious lack of discernment required to endorse a production of this caliber. That, in turn, discloses a troubling trajectory.
It is important to clarify the exact scope of my critique here. My issue in this article is not with the many Christians who voted for our current president. The 2016 presidential campaign was a remarkably tough decision for many fellow Christians. While I did not make the same choice that the majority of Evangelicals did, I can certainly understand their reasoning, even though I cannot endorse it, would be just as theologically problematic if Trump was someone I agreed with politically.
By way of further caveats, let me also clarify that Liberty University is a great school. I completed my undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies there from 2011-2014 and my Master of Divinity from 2014 until last month. Out of all Liberty’s features, the most outstanding is the faculty— wonderful teachers, excellent scholars, and godly individuals. In fact, what makes the decision to sponsor “The Trump Prophecy” so baffling to me is that there are so many brilliant and discerning faculty there, whom one would expect to have been consulted. Yet it appears they were not. My critique of Liberty is aimed at the administrative decision to produce a film like this, not at the many faculty members I have come to know and love. It is not an attack against Liberty University as a whole, but a focused rebuke of what is frankly a theologically unsound decision.
There are numerous problems here. First is the very identification of Mark Taylor’s political prediction as a “prophecy.” Taylor did not actually begin speaking about his “prophecy” until Trump was already an ascending political figure in the 2016 election, despite supposedly receiving the prophecy much earlier. While it is true that many people discounted President Trump’s chances of actually winning the election, there are plenty of non-prophetic political predictors, like professor Allan Lichtman.
The second problem is that the Taylor hoopla entirely misconstrues what biblical prophecy is. The overwhelming majority of prophetic portions of Scripture have to do with forthtelling—that is, enforcing and maintaining the people’s covenant responsibilities— like a medium might do with a crystal ball. Beyond that, foretelling tends to have two major purposes: Messianic prophecy that anticipates Christ, and eschatology. By contrast, Mark Taylor is using foretelling as a means to manipulate Christians to vote for a particular candidate he supports. This is highly dangerous. Taylor’s “prophecy” is not redemptive in a biblical manner. His argument is that Trump and Israel will be able to provide a spiritual victory, staving off anti-Christian forces. Such a view of Trump suggests that his faith is primarily a political one: for Taylor, God’s will has to be accomplished through the political sphere. In the shadow of the Moral Majority, it is hard to take this argument seriously; America’s moral and spiritual decline continues rapidly under the Trump presidency.
The truth conveyed by biblical prophecy is decidedly unpopular. Take Jeremiah as an example. He was mocked and derided by the Israelites while bearing his message (Jer 20:7). Taylor, however, flatters his listeners with superficial narratives and conspiracy theories; consider his ties to false teachers and charlatans like Jim Bakker. For example, “I believe what happened on November 8 is the enemy has literally sent out a frequency and it agitated and took control, basically, of those who have their DNA that was turned over to the enemy. That’s what’s happening. The Illuminati, the Freemasons, all these people, their main goal is to change the DNA of man and they’re doing it through these frequencies.” In lieu of conveying the Word of God to the Church, Taylor traffics in as scare tactics and conversation stoppers to exploit Christians into supporting particular political figures.
By claiming a special revelation from God about contemporary politics, Taylor commits three notable sins. First, he negates the point of Scripture—where Christians should turn to receive guidance. Second, he demonizes his opposition. If you disagree with him, it is because you are on the enemy’s side and/or your DNA has been changed by a high frequency wave to make you antagonistic. (One can’t help being reminded of Scientology’s characterization of dissenters as “suppressive persons.”) Third, this kind of “charismania” takes the Lord’s name in vain by making it a rubber stamp for a political agenda.
And even beyond his blatantly false prophecy, Taylor’s entire theology is premised on nationalism. If patriotism is a virtue, and detachment or disloyalty are vices of deprivation, nationalism is a vice of excess. It is the elevation of one’s own country at the expense of every other nation. One symptom of nationalism includes thinking that your country has a unique role in God’s plan. Notice the bolded parts of Taylor’s prophecy which exhibit nationalist tendencies:
The Spirit of God says I’ve chosen this man Donald Trump for such a time as this. For as Benjamin Netanyahu is to Israel, so shall this man be to the United States of America, for I will use this man to bring honor, respect and restoration to America. America will be respected once again as the most powerful, prosperous nation on Earth other than Israel. The dollar will be the strongest it has ever been in the history of the United States and will once again be the currency by which all others are judged. The Spirit of God says the enemy will quake and shake, and fear this man I have anointed. They will even quake and shake when he announces he is running for President. It will be like the shot heard across the world. Then you will say what shall we do now? This man knows all our tricks and schemes. We’ve been robbing America for decades. What should we do to stop this? The Spirit says, ha, no one shall stop this that I have started, for the enemy has stolen from America for decades and it stops now. For I will use this man to reap the harvest that the United States has sown for and plunder from the enemy what he has stolen, and return it back sevenfold to the United States. The enemy will say, ‘Israel, Israel, what about Israel?’ Israel will be protected by America once again. The Spirit says yes, America will once again stand hand in hand with Israel and the two shall be as one, for the ties between Israel and America will be stronger than ever and Israel will flourish like never before. The Spirit of God says I will protect America and Israel, for this next President will be a man of his word. When he speaks the world will listen and know that there is something greater in him than all the others before him. This man’s word is his bond and the world and America will know this, and the enemy will fear this, for this man will be fearless. The Spirit says when the financial harvest begins so shall the parallel in the spiritual for America. The Spirit of God says in this next election they will spend billions to keep this president out. It will be like money down the toilet. Let them waste their money, for where it comes from is being used by evil forces at work, but they will not succeed. This next election will be a clean sweep for the man that I have chosen. They will say things about this man, the enemy, but it will not affect him and they will say it rolls off of him like a duck. For even as the feathers of a duck protect it, so shall my feathers protect this next president. Even mainstream news media will be captivated by this man and the abilities that I gift to him and they will even begin to agree with him, says the Spirit.
Notice also how Taylor’s theology overemphasizes Israel at the expense of the Church. In fact, his prophecy says nothing about God’s covenant people (the Church). It only pertains to two secularized nations. In God’s plan of salvation, Israel has a very specific role: for all nations to be blessed through them (Gen 22:18). Yet this purpose is fulfilled in Christ, who establishes a New Covenant where (Gal 3:28), “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” The Gospel is not primarily about any ethnicity or nation-state. Yet Taylor’s false gospel is sadly fixated on America and Israel.
The decision by Liberty to be involved in a film which bolsters such a misleading—and indeed, misled—figure like Mark Taylor is shameful. He’s a false prophet who needs to repent and be saved from his current path. Tragically, Liberty is putting politics over theology by contributing to his delinquency, rather than offering biblical reproof. Both Liberty and Taylor need to put down the strange fire, repent, and seek the true work of the Spirit which comes through Scripture and the Church.