Thursday, June 22, 2006

Moralism, Character Studies, and Daring to be a Daniel

In my last post I used the oft-employed sermon title “Dare to be a Daniel” as an example of moralistic preaching. Let me explain....

When reading the Old Testament, the temptation arises to try to relate directly to the biblical characters in order to make the passage relevant to our lives today. “Daniel didn't back down in the face of pagan adversity,” we think to ourselves, “and therefore the message of this text is that I shouldn't back down either.”

This hermeneutic is perfectly illustrated by the lyrics and cover art of Keith Green's album No Compromise. The cover depicts an ancient scene in which a multitude of people is bowing before a pagan ruler, with one courageous man in their midst standing upright in defiance. The lyric says, “No empty words, no white lies, no token prayers, no compromise.”

Now please do not misunderstand me. I’m not saying that Old Testament characters like Daniel provide no examples for us to aspire to. What I am saying, though, is that drawing the line directly from them to ourselves is a misguided and dangerous method for devotional reading, hermeneutics, and (especially) Christian preaching.

The fact is that Daniel, brave though he may have been at times, was still a fallen prophet. Moreover, his ministry of pointing Israel to the soon-to-be-realized deliverance from captivity resulted in a return to the same Mosaic economy that was powerless to prevent their exile in the first place.

The “line,” therefore, must be drawn from Daniel, through Christ, and then to us. When we read the prophet from this side of the cross and empty tomb, we realize that he applies to our current situation because he both points to, and demonstrates the need for, the true “Prophet whom the Lord God would raise up from among his brethren” (Acts 3:22; cf. Deut. 18:15), the very Prophet who was “not without honor save in his own country” (Mark 6:4), and who alone among the children of men stood tall amid the onslaught of the serpent’s temptations (Matt. 4:1ff; cf. Gen. 3:1ff). The Lord Jesus Christ, not Daniel, is the One who dared not compromise, but chose rather to be obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

When the central Figure in all of Scripture is marginalized or altogether forgotten, all the hearer is left with is the courageous example of a fallen man in a sermon that could just as easily have been preached in a synagogue, mosque, or Promise Keepers convention.