A generation ago, a friend, Al Krass, wrote a telling book: Evangelizing Neo-pagan North America. Given the chaos of our current political, cultural, and social scene, and the numerous persons who are prominent in it who profess themselves to be identified with the Christian church, … I find myself asking the question: Can neo-pagan North America dis-evangelize the church? I wonder what is the center of the lives of these persons? What is their ultimate authority? What is their creative source? What is their guiding line? What is their final goal?

That is a huge question, and defies simplistic answers. After all, in this democratic system of government, to be involved, one has to declare oneself as a Democrat, Republican, or Independent (basically) to vote, or to run for office. The question still lurks out there: where is my ultimate loyalty. Is it to the political party? To some economic source, or political action committee? Or, … is it to the values of God’s new creation in Jesus Christ? i.e., the teachings of Jesus and the apostles?

This is not at all a new tension. Go all the way back to the prophet Daniel in the Old Testament scriptures. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon had taken Juda captive, and as was the practice of conquerors, the instructed his armies to bring back some of the people, who could be useful to his court in Babylon: some of the royal family and of nobility, “youth without blemish, and of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace.”

The whole of the book of Daniel is a lesson in political survival. Daniel and his three friends were so skillful in their tasks that they became very useful to Nebuchadnezzar, and he wanted to reward them with all the ‘perks’ of palace life in fancy food, and other indulgences common to the sensate life of royalty. But, … these who now had proven themselves fit to stand before the king chose to be faithful to who they were, i.e., Israelites formed by the law of Moses. They insisted on a very simple diet, and a commendable lifestyle and in doing their work with excellence.

Two things resulted: 1) they rose in the esteem of Nebuchadnezzar, and 2) that esteem created intense (political) jealousy among the Babylonians in the court, and their conspiracies against Daniel, and the three other Hebrews. All the while, even when such practice was outlawed, Daniel knelt and prayed three times a day toward Jerusalem. This tension, then, is the context of the well-known stories of the three young Hebrews in the fiery furnace, and of Daniel in the lions’ den—political conspiracies to make them look seditious in the eyes of Nebuchadnezzar.

Ah! But God vindicated them and gave the emperor a sense of awe at YHWH’s (Israel’s God’s) power. Three lessons about not being dis-evangelized in the politics of neo-pagan North America, from these four political captives: 1) they knew who they were, and that this present scene is not my ultimate home, though it is the place of my incarnation; 2) that they did their ministry in that court so that it was only explainable by God and God’s power; and, 3) to discern the idols of the culture.

Only with such a lesson can we be salt and light in what is often a destructive culture of darkness. Each of those of us who are followers of Christ, and each Christian community need to reclaim this calling day by day so that we don’t become part of the neo-pagan context in which we live. As the old gospel song puts it: “Dare to be a Daniel.”

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About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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