OUR SIXTH DANIEL OF THE YEAR, PHIL JOHNSON, IS remarkable not only for his 15 years of perseverance with Intelligent Design in the face of snide attacks, but his good humor in refuting them. Some people who would like to stand for Christ become irate, even despairing, but the Bible gives us confidence-in part, by showing how believers have been a harassed minority before, and how God was faithful.
Past circumstances were often far more difficult than those we now face. The last chapter of 2 Chronicles, for example, tells how the Babylonians 2,600 years ago "broke down the wall of Jerusalem." Israelites had lived in a land where every aspect of life was to point them to the holiness of one God who reigned above all. Suddenly, they found themselves exiled to Babylon: instant culture shock.
Babylonia then was a land of many gods where almost anything was allowed as long as it did not interfere with obeying and paying tribute to the king. Some Israelites probably sequestered themselves as much as they could from Babylonian civilization. But the book of Daniel describes how he and a few other young men enrolled in a three-year course designed to leave them with an MBA-Master of Babylonian Arts. It also describes how Daniel came to prominence when God gave him the grace to comprehend and interpret a dream of King Nebuchadnezzar.
Training and grace were related. Providentially, Daniel had gained the understanding of Babylonian culture (and its devotion to mountains) that he needed to communicate powerfully the essence of the dream. He told the king of a great statue broken into pieces by a stone cut from a mountain by no human hand. That stone then "became a great mountain and filled the whole earth." Daniel then explained that the powerful stone came not from a mere mountain god but from "the God of heaven [who] will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed." Nebuchadnezzar, in turn, gained a vision of the mightiness of this God and told Daniel, "Truly your God is God of gods and Lord of kings."
Nebuchadnezzar gave Daniel authority, and the Israelite in succeeding decades was in and out of power. He spoke forthrightly to Nebuchadnezzar by telling his patron that he would become insane for seven years. Forgotten by a different king, Daniel came back just in time to predict the kingdom's imminent fall. Later, conspirators used Daniel's regular prayer habits against him in a way that led to his being thrown to lions. God then delivered Daniel and so impressed a third king, Darius, that the monarch recognized "the God of Daniel" as "the living God, enduring forever."
That's the highlight reel of seven Daniel decades: Much of the time, perhaps, those in power ignored him. Patient Daniel, faithful to biblical understanding but comprehending Babylon, is a role model for Christians who want to work in the dominant culture of America but not be of it. Daniel's life was not easy-at least twice it almost ended prematurely-and he spent his entire career among people of different beliefs. But he challenged those beliefs by standing for God decade after decade, and we can do the same. He had to be bilingual and bicultural, and so should we be.
We know that not only from the example of Daniel, but from God's command. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, "Thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 'Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.... Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare'" (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
To understand and apply Jeremiah's teaching, we need to understand that in his day Babylon was not the symbol of everything wicked that it had become by the time John wrote the book of Revelation. In Jeremiah's time some Babylonians were probably good neighbors, trading gardening tips-and that's how life is in America today. Our situation is different in one respect: America, unlike Babylonia, started out on a biblical base (with plenty of sin mixed in, of course). But now the parallels are great, and so are the opportunities: That was a good time for gutsy Daniels, and so is ours.