27 August 2015
Against the flow: the inspiration of Daniel
John Lennox. Photo by John Cairns
Danny Webster chats with Professor John Lennox about his recently published book Against The Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism.
DW: What motivated you to write a book about Daniel?
John: Daniel was brought up for the first 16 years of his life in a monotheistic culture and then suddenly he was removed from Jerusalem and placed in a pagan culture in Babylon, where he had to learn a new language and new laws. Everything was utterly different and the place was full of polytheism. Now, we live in a situation where many people have been brought up in a vaguely monotheistic culture, they haven't moved geographically, but the culture has changed around them, and it's become very like the Babylonian culture in certain respects. We think of Babylon as full of idols, and it was, but when you investigate their worldview, the idols were actually products, the gods were products of the material things.
Daniel didn't just preserve his faith and his devotion to God, but he kept witnessing publically to that. That's the thing that impresses me most. He rose to very high office, he ran the empire of Babylon and then the empire of Medo-Persia without compromising his public faith in God. Now that takes some doing. We're in a society where there's a strong attempt to privatise faith in God, so I'm using this as an opportunity to explain why I think that's a very bad idea.
So, Daniel learned the language and literature of the Babylonians. As Christians today, what is the equivalent we should be learning?
Well, we need to understand our culture. You get this in the New Testament as well when Paul went to Athens, which was at the heart of culture, university culture, and philosophy and so on in the ancient world. He had obviously read their books because he could quote them. In other words, he loved the people enough to understand where they were coming from and build bridges, explaining where it was that Christianity paralleled with what they already believed and pointing out the differences.
Daniel managed to maintain his holiness in very difficult situations. What resolutions should Christians be making for their own holiness today?
Daniel accepted the education –he had no choice –and he was given a pagan name, they tried to make him indistinguishable to everybody else. But he decided that he didn't have to bow down to the polytheistic worldview behind it, so he decided in his heart that he was going to obey God. For Daniel, God was the highest value. He wasn't prepared to compromise at that deep level, and that, of course, was the secret to his whole life. Our highest values determine how we react in situations.
What sort of relationship should Christians have with the government?
That's not an easy question. Daniel clearly rose to a very high official position and was regarded very well by his colleagues, except for the jealous ones, but the emperors trusted him with the nation. At the same time he honoured God, so when the Medo-Persian state enacted a law that says you can't pray to your God and you must pray to Darius, Daniel publically kept on praying and took the consequences. Now that's very interesting, he's a very powerful man, he could have stirred up riots and so on, but he did not allow the state to affect his relationship with God because his relationship with God was of higher value. God delivered him from the penalty that time, but there's no guarantee that God will always deliver us from consequences. This attitude is also seen in the New Testament. The apostles were stopped by the legal authorities and they said: "You've got to judge this, but we can't stop."
By being fairly accommodating of the world he was living in, did Daniel partake of 'faithful compromise'?
Daniel was told by the prophet Jeremiah to seek the peace of Babylon, and of course you have to make a call on what you protest against and what you don't protest against. The question for us is not an easy one. We have to ask: "What is faithfulness to God in our situation?". I think Daniel decided to follow God. My own maxim is that the basic Christian confession that Jesus Christ is Lord should be the test of all situations, but we can decide which situations are the most important.