BUIES CREEK – Can Christians maintain their faithfulness in a post-Christian America? It’s the question Barry Jones, associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Campbell University, raised Monday during the Campbell University Divinity School’s annual Prevatte Biblical Studies Lecture Series in Butler Chapel.
First, consider that Protestant Christians no longer make up the majority of the U.S. population, that the fastest-growing classification for how people in the U.S. identify their religious affiliation is “no religious affiliation,” and that the U.S. has become the most religiously diverse nation in the world, Jones said. Such shifts have led religious commentators from across all spectrums to refer to the current era of U.S. history as the period of post-Christian America, Jones said.
Given this new period of post-Christian America, Jones asked: “Is it possible to live under the temporary reign of the competing empires of our day and still remain faithful to the ultimate sovereignty of God?”
Of course you can, Jones said, but it “requires great spiritual discipline.” A model for that “great spiritual discipline” can be found in the Bible throughout the book of Daniel, which records how Daniel and the Jewish people lived in exile in Babylon; how Daniel survived the lion’s den and interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream; how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego survived a fiery furnace; and how the Jews were persecuted by Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
“The stories of Daniel and his community provide models of faithfulness while living increasingly on the margins of power,” Jones said. “It serves a concrete example for Christians of how a religious community can have both a distinct identity and a public witness as a minority faith in a pluralistic age.”
Over three sessions Monday, in a lecture series he titled “Faithful Living in Times of Trial: Studies in the Book of Daniel,” Jones broke down all 12 chapters of Daniel in detail. He also provided four overarching disciplines that today’s Christians can learn from the book of Daniel in order to live faithfully in a community in which they are a religious minority:
- Worship. “I think the one place that brings together for us the desire to worship God, to examine ourselves and to declare our dependence upon and loyalty to Christ is the act of approaching the Lord’s Table,” Jones said. “It is an act of supreme worship. It invites us to self-examination. . . . What if we lived each day as people who set their hearts to keep themselves fit to approach the Lord’s Table? . . . . It is possible to serve in courts of the empire and remain faithful and loyal to God.”
- Wisdom. “Worship provides the faithful with a source of wisdom in relating to the powers of the world,” Jones said. “This wisdom allows the faithful to stand before rules with courage and confidence and to speak truth to power. It gives them the understanding that their times are in God’s hands and that all human authorities stand under the judgment of God’s genuine rule. . . . The church is to be in the world not of the world because it is to be ahead of the world in seeking to live in the kingdom of God that has been revealed but is still being realized. We are not to be behind the times or with the times so much as ahead of the times.”
- Witness. “The gift of the Jews is that they have taught the world the importance of refusing to worship that which is less than God. . . ,” Jones said. “[The three Jewish youths who were thrown into the fiery furnace] acknowledge that though God is able to deliver, God does not always do so. If he does, he does, but if he doesn’t, they will not worship other gods. God is worshiped because God is to be worshipped. They did not serve God for the hope of deliverance. They served God for God’s sake, and not for a reward, neither for the promise of deliverance from death nor resurrection after death. They are an example to disciples of Christ of taking up their cross and following. . . . This is far from easy, however. It requires faith. It requires discipline. It requires formation in a worshipping community that is shaped by the Torah. And most of all it requires the direct assistance of God.”
- Telling stories of those who embody the ideals of faith. “We learn faithfulness by following in the footsteps of the saints . . . ,” Jones said. “The book of Daniel combined the stories of the exiles with the visions of persecution in order to show that the ability to resist oppression is nurtured and developed over the long arc of the exile through prayer, worship, Torah obedience, Scripture study and preserving the sacred language of Hebrew.”
About the Prevatte Biblical Studies Lecture Series: E.J. and Amaretta Prevatte established the E.J. and Amaretta Prevatte Biblical Studies Lecture Series in 1985 to provide a forum in which “renowned Biblical scholars [can] share their wisdom” through an “in-depth study of the Bible that the ordinary degree work [does] not provide.” E.J. Prevatte practiced law for more than 60 years in the Southport, N.C., area. He received both his B.S. in business and government and his law degree from Wake Forest University. His wife, Amaretta, graduated from Appalachian State University.
About Barry Jones: Barry Jones is the associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Campbell University. His research interests include how Israel’s response to its exile can inform the church today and the leadership lessons from the post-exilic prophets. His research publications include the article “The One and the Many: A Strategy for Teaching the Twelve Prophets” in the 2009 volume of the journal Perspectives in Religious Studies and an article on the book of Zephaniah in “The New Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible.” Before joining Campbell in 2000, Jones was a religion professor at Mars Hill College. He completed his undergraduate work at Campbell, his Master of Divinity at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. at Duke University.
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