Not too long ago, if you were a disciple of Jesus, you found yourself in the majority, at the center of cultural influence, and well respected. Now everything has changed. You now find yourself in the minority, on the fringes of cultural impact, and viewed as odd, weird, and perhaps dangerous. You are in a different world than what your parents experienced growing up.
The story of Daniel intersects with our lives as we find ourselves living in the cultural shift of a post-Christian society that is increasingly hostile towards our beliefs and way of life.
Daniel 1 begins with the summary of how Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, laid siege to Jerusalem, conquered Israel, and ransacked the house of God. Also, Nebuchadnezzar deported the brightest and most physically fit Jewish young adults back to Babylon, including Daniel and three friends.
These young, displaced exiles were immersed in a culture that was utterly antagonist to their own culture. They ate the best Babylonian food and drank the finest wine. For three years, the young Israelites were educated in Babylonian beliefs and ideas. They even had their Israelite names replaced with Babylonian names that related to foreign gods. This three-year training program’s purpose was to immerse the Jewish young people into Babylonian culture, thereby removing all traces of their belief in God and their Jewish way of life.
Daniel and his friends faced an incredible challenge: How do they as exiles survive the culture and remain faithful to God?
We Are Exiles in Babylon
As I mentioned in my last post, the Biblical metaphor of exile accurately represents our relationship to the cultural moment that we live in.
Although you and I have not been dragged off to the physical location known as Babylon, we are nevertheless living in Babylon.
In the Old Testament Babylon was a powerful empire in Mesopotamia. In the New Testament, Babylon is used to describe a hostile culture in rebellion to Jesus’ Kingdom and followers (see “Babylon the Great” in Revelation 16-18).
As followers of Jesus, we find ourselves living in a post-Christian culture that is increasingly hostile to the ways of Jesus, and whose values and beliefs are counter to own. Like Daniel, we face an incredible challenge: How do we, as exiles, survive the culture and remain faithful to God?
Two Wrong Ways to Respond to Our Culture
As we seek to remain faithful to God and extend His Kingdom upon the earth, we must avoid the following possible responses to living in our culture.
Some Christians insist that we must remove ourselves from the culture so that we are not wrongly influenced and tempted to fall away from God. Naturally, we must resist temptation (Matthew 26:41) and not “love the world” (1 John 2:15). However, in seeking to construct our spiritual bunkers or build our “Christian Ghettos,” we have little or no opportunity to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13), to be a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14), or to influence our culture as God has mandated us to (Genesis 1:28).
Jesus did not withdraw from the culture; rather, he engaged the culture in love, compassion, grace, and truth.
I don’t believe that most of us are persuaded to retreat from culture.
However, I am highly concerned that many of us will choose the opposite response of being tempted to blend in and go with the flow of culture.
When believers attempt to fuse the way of Jesus with the ways of culture, they eventually disappear. They get sucked up in the cultural vortex and disappear from church and community, stop consistently living the life of Jesus, and embrace theological and moral liberalism.
When we choose syncretism in response to our culture, we fail to shape our culture, and instead, the soft powers of Babylon reshape us.
Two Types of Power: Soft and Hard
As I write this, I am drinking amazing coffee in a beautiful craft coffee house surrounded by several groups of college students studying for their exams, two men wearing suits having a business meeting, a young man and women enjoying one another, and a group of girls with their Bibles open talking about the Scriptures. I am not concerned about facing severe persecution or the authorities storming the coffee house and arresting me for my faith in Jesus.
Hard power utilizes a coercive approach to control you and exert its power of you. Believers in many parts of the world face the horrible effects of hard power through persecution, suffering, and martyrdom.
Soft power exercises lure, appeal and attraction to shape the preferences of others.
Soft power is more indirect than hard power; yet, I believe it is more powerful and dangerous.
In today’s Babylon, I don’t fear that hard power is going to force me to be a quick meal for a hungry lion or throw me into a fiery furnace turned to extra hot. Instead, this Babylon seeks to coax us with the soft powers of technology, consumerism, progressive reforms, etc. to erase our dependence upon God, to delete the truth of Jesus from our convictions, and persuade us to elevate ourselves in the place of the Most High. Soft power wants me to live for the “new highest good” of personal happiness, fulfilling my desires, and living for my freedom.
A Biblical Response to Our Culture
The question remains: how do we, as exiles, engage our culture, overcome its soft power, and stay faithful to God?
I believe the answer is the same as it has always been throughout the scripture – by becoming a creative minority.
We’ll explore this topic in greater detail in my next post, but for now let me close by quoting Jon Tyson:
“A Creative Minority is a Christian community in a web of stubbornly loyal relationships, knotted together in a living network of persons who are committed to practicing the way of Jesus together for the renewal of the world.”