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Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism by John C. Lennox

January 4, 2016

ATFRemember the song ‘Dare to be a Daniel’? This book uses the story of Daniel to encourage Christians to speak up and to resist secular society.

The fact that it is endorsed by Rick Warren didn’t endear it to me.

The author is a scientist, not an Old Testament scholar and it shows. He doesn’t accept the majority view that Daniel was written in the Maccabean period, in the middle of the 2nd century BCE and argues that it was written during the events which it described, between 605 to 530 BCE.

He points out that: Babylon was a spectacular city, in a completely different category from anything a young man from Judah could ever have seen or even imagined. It was in fact the largest city in the world at the time…. Babylon was far more than a religious centre. It was a commercial and intellectual hub as well. Many of its temples had substantial libraries; and there were centres devoted to the study of law, astronomy and astrology, architecture, engineering, medicine, and art. In modern terms, it was a thriving university city.

He distinguishes ‘genuine’ Christians from others. It seems to me that a ‘genuine’ Christian is one that he agrees with, following a particular brand of Christianity. He doesn’t think these genuine Christians engage in violence – I wonder whether he accords the same distinction for Muslims: Peter, had taken a wild sweep with a sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Jesus had told Peter to put his sword away, and healed the ear. One might just be forgiven for observing that using swords, or any other physical force, to defend Jesus and his kingdom has the effect of cutting off ears, one way or another: violence remains one of the main reasons why many people will not listen to Christ’s message.

He envisages an imaginary conversation between Daniel’s men and Babylonian youth which is full of anachronisms: Mishael reckons that his parents read Isaiah; one says that he is a scientist and talks about epistemology. He regards gods as products of human imagination.

The author uses the story of Daniel in a contrived and laboured way to criticise all that he doesn’t like in our modern world such as abortion and the abolition of school prayers. He sees post-modernism as anti-Christian, the product of a secularised society: At the heart of postmodernism lies a patent self-contradiction. It expects us to accept, as absolute truth, that there are no absolute truths. We should note this common, fatally flawed characteristic of relativistic thinking: it tries to exclude itself from its own pronouncements. The fact is that no one can live without a concept of absolute truth. If you do not believe this, try convincing a bank manager that the red figures he sees on his computer under your account number are not absolute values.

Indeed, in the ordinary practical business of life, people tend to be relativists only in those areas that they consider to be matters of opinion rather than matters of fact. All of us act as if we believe that clocks and watches tell us the truth about the time. We are not pluralists about whether London is the capital of England, or whether 2+2=4. The New Atheists are not postmodern when it comes to proclaiming the truth of atheism, and denying the existence of God.

The point I am making deserves emphasis. It is far too glib to say that someone is a relativist, for the simple reason that no one is a relativist in all areas. Indeed, in most areas, everyone turns out to be an absolutist.

What he calls ‘the secularlist agenda’ redefines words and concepts: some words tend to fall foul of political correctness: truth, commandment, dogma, faith, conscience, morality, sin, chastity, charity, justice, authority, husband, wife; whereas a host of other words and concepts take centre-stage: rights, non­discrimination, choice, gender equality, plurality, cultural diversity.

Well, I happen to like much of this agenda and think that it flows from what I regard as ‘genuine Christianity.’

Absolutely nowhere does he take account that Ashpenaz was anything more than the ‘chief of eunuchs’. He is unaware of the possible relationship, implied in the Hebrew, that he had a sexual relationship with Daniel. That would unsettle his blinkered assumptions.

He either misunderstands or misrepresents the thoughts of some scientists.

I did like it when he pointed out that Daniel did not protest as an observer outside the system: he protested as a participant…..far from leading him to run away from society and responsibility, the revelation he had of the future led him to live a very full professional life at the highest levels of administration in the empire. Daniel’s understanding of God did not lead to his developing a ghetto mentality but to taking a full and prominent part in the life of Babylon.

That Nebuchadnezzar’s throne possibly had living lions chained to it was quite awesome.

On the strange dream: It is interesting to note in passing that the transition from the Greek to the Roman empire corresponds with the shift from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, thus lending a certain appropriateness of the metals to the respective empires that they symbolize.’… The metals, with their different relative strengths and highlight the fact that empires differ in both relative value and strength. Babylon, the head of gold, had an aura of splendour, was not as strong and efficient as Rome would be, the kingdom of iron. Each system had its strengths and weaknesses, its advantages and disadvantages…. As the phrase used of the stone indicates cut out by no human hand – the kingdom of God is a supernatural kingdom (see Hebrews 9:11) that replaces all world empires and brought into existence from outside by the power of God.

Yet throughout history it has been all too common for people professing Christianity to think that the system of government happened to be in power in their nation in their era was not less than the kingdom of God on earth.

Empires aren’t always bad: Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman — we can see that each of them contributed positively and not just negatively to human flourishing. We owe much to them: art and architecture, mathematics, medicine, music, literature, law and philosophy, engineering and road building. If we live in a part of the world where there has be improvement in the way in which its citizens are treated, we should certainly be grateful. For instance, in England it wasn’t all that lo ago when you could be hanged for stealing a sheep, or deported to the other side of the world for stealing a shilling. Children are longer forced to work in the mines, where they would be liable to pneumoconiosis before they reached twenty years old. And slavery no longer permitted. But still today child labour, child soldiers and slavery of all kinds are blemishes on the face of civilization only that, but the twentieth century, instead of ushering in a world order of peace and prosperity as many had hoped, saw bloodshed than all the centuries that preceded it.

We rightly worry if the government seeks to interfere with the judiciary but Nebuchadnezzar forced his judges to worship his idol – a sign of totalitarianism.

The three young men who were cast into the furnace would have been tempted to compromise so as to keep their influence in the corridors of power. Many are so temped today.

He sees Daniel as a warning aganst totalitarian regimes: Many of the worst atrocities that the world has known were (and still) committed by highly intelligent people in whose hands are levers of political power – witness Nazi Germany. It should not escape our attention that one of their main targets was the nation that gave birth to Daniel. Nor should we ignore the fact that the twentieth centuary was the bloodiest in history, with millions perishing to satisfy animal lust for power in dictatorships of both right and left. The regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot are beyond comprehension. At the hands of such beasts many millions perished: Christians, and of other faiths and none.

Rather like Norman Tebbit’s cricket test, what matters is not so much city we live in but what city we live for; how to live in “Babylon” without “Babylon” living in you.

 Lennox believes in a literal, vertical ascension.

The author seems to think that pop music is dangerous because the words creep into our minds without our thinking.

I had to look up ‘canebrake’ = a thick, dense growth of sugarcane.

A few blemishes from which this work suffers.
(1) Alexander was not unaware of Daniel’s prophecy about him; he learned of it at Jerusalem (Josephus, Antiq., bk 11, Ch 8, para 5).
(2) The author has sadly fallen into the common trap of using a Biblical chronology which is based upon the flawed canon of the pagan Ptolemy instead of the inspired Canon of Holy Scripture, and as one error leads to others his eschatology owes more to Darby and Dallas than it does to the Bible. If he will but find a copy of Rev. Martin Anstey’s 1913 work “The Romance of Bible Chronology” (as he surely will somewhere upon the groaning shelves of Oxford’s libraries) and construct for himself therefrom a table of significant dates, he will find that Cyrus issued his decree to rebuild Jerusalem in Anno Hominis 3589 (c. 452 BC), whence Daniel’s seventy sevens count down and land precisely upon the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, all need for great gaps between the sixty-ninth and seventieth years (an interval already far longer than all the rest of the prophecy put together) is eliminated at a stroke, and the other eschatological prophecies of scripture appear immediately in a wholly different – and much more preterist – light.

*Some of Lennox’s points are defended more with eloquence than with evidence. In his discussion of choice and predestination, he makes much of the the difference between the ESV and KJV renditions of Revelation 13:8, saying that “the exact wording of the verse just cited is “written from [not ‘before’] the foundation of the world.” He conveniently neglects to address pertinent matters like: the King James wording also connects “from the foundation” with the Lamb slain, not the writing in the book; the reference to names in a book found in Exodus do not automatically prove it is the same book; “from the foundation” and “before the foundation” of the earth, whatever their differences, still refer to placing someone in a certain category before they have taken action or made choices [surely a significant fact in a discussion of predestination].

*Another example is the declaration that a prophecy that Alexander the Great shall “do as he wills” [Daniel 11:3] shows that “God’s relationship to the historical process leaves Alexander, and others mentioned subsequently, free to act as responsible moral beings.” The weakness of this argument is found in Exodus 7 and 8, where we are told that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and that Pharaoh hardened his own heart; one must also consider Proverbs 21:1, “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it withersoever he will.” The issue is not so simply resolved.

*”What makes the story of their faith remarkable is that they did not simply continue their private devotion to God that they had developed in their homeland; they maintained a high-public profile witness in a pluralistic society that became increasingly antagonistic to their faith. That is why their story has such a powerful message for us today.

*The story of Daniel and his friends is a clarion call to our generation to be courageous; not to lose our nerve and allow the expression of our faith to be diluted and squeezed out of the public space and thus rendered spineless and ineffective.”

*”Tolerance asserts the right to have convictions, to make judgments about right and wrong, which differ from those of others. Tolerance does not demand that we accept the opinions, beliefs, and lifestyles of others, but only that we learn to live without forcing them to line up with us. . . . The new tolerance, however, is completely different. It seizes on the idea of offence and holds that I must not ever offend anyone else by expressing disapproval of any aspect of his or her behaviour or ideas. . . . To put it another way: the old tolerance accepted the existence of other views while disagreeing with them; the new tolerance insists on accepting the views themselves and not merely their existence.”

*”Daniel’s story is one of extraordinary faith in God lived out at the pinnacle of executive power in the full glare of public life. . . . In this book we shall try to learn something about what it was that gave that ancient foursome the strength and conviction to be prepared, often at great risk, to swim against the flow in their society and give unequivocal, courageous public expression to what they believed.”

*“It is … increasingly difficult to avoid the marginalization that results from stepping out of the politically correct line.”

* What makes the story of their faith remarkable is that they did not simply continue their private devotion to God that they had developed in their homeland; they maintained a high-public profile witness in a pluralistic society that became increasingly antagonistic to their faith. That is why their story has such a powerful message for us today.

*”God is in ultimate control of history; but this does not eliminate, bypass, or otherwise invalidate human responsibility to seek and reach out for God.”

*”Although he (Daniel) lived in the world, he did not live for it. It was in another world that he invested his life, and it is there that he now enjoys his inheritance. It goes without saying that one would be a fool to live for another world if that world did not exist. That really would be seriously delusional. On the other hand, if it does exist, not to invest one’s life in it would be equally delusional, would it not? ”

*”At the heart of postmodernism lies a patent self-contradiction. It expects us to accept, as absolute truth, that there are no absolute truths…The fact is that no one can live without a concept of absolute truth.”

*”We are capable of making choices. Denying ultimate accountability devalues me as a human being, because if what I do doesn’t really matter then I don’t matter either.”

*”In order to combat our anxieties and prepare ourselves to give an answer to those who will ask, we are first and foremost to set Christ apart in our hearts as Lord. Indeed, how can there be conviction and power in our evangelism if it is not so?”

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