Once, after hearing a very gracious, gentle, nuanced pastor preach a particularly bold sermon warning against false teachers, I commented to him, “It’s good to see a vertebrate in the pulpit.” To my surprise, he replied, not skipping a beat, “I call it having evantesticles.” (He also knew that puns are my love language.)
This virtue—whatever you want to call it—is in short supply. And while it’s tempting to use a more polite term for it than the one above, to do so would be to prove my own point. We lack Christian men in positions of influence doing what only men, parts and all, can do. This is manifest whether one looks to the home, the pulpit, the county board, or the Twitters.
I am not saying we need more abusive, faux-masculine, lumbersexual, macho alpha males going around grunting, starting controversies, demeaning women, and just plain being jerks. But in our flight from this empty shell of masculinity we’ve run into the arms of effeminacy. We find ourselves in an age where a pastor is free to persist unrepentantly in pornography, gluttony, or neglect of family, so long as he is “authentic” about his shortcomings, while to speak a slightly sharp rebuke in a online debate over doctrinal issues of life and death can result in exile from the Christian cool table. Mimicking Carnegie more than Christ, we care more about making friends and influencing people than fearing God and keeping his commandments (Ecc. 12:13). What we need, in evangelicalism and beyond, are men with chests. Says Lewis:
“In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” (The Abolition of Man)Tweet
Well, speaking of geldings, one biblical example of this type of godly masculinity is the prophet Daniel—a true man’s man who, ironically, might have been a eunuch.
Dare to Be a Daniel
“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego. But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.” (Daniel 1:1-8)
Those of us who grew up hearing “dare to be a Daniel” sermons tend to envision the young exile in all the the regalia of any other Old Testament comic book hero, cape and all. Through Daniel’s faith and obedience, after all, God toppled kingdoms, converted kings, and stopped lions’ mouths. But these mental snapshots make us forget just how benign Daniel’s circumstances as a newcomer in Babylon would have appeared from the outside.
At the beginning of the book bearing his name, Daniel was a bright, young scholar in the Chaldean Ivy League, with his tuition paid by the empire’s dubious Judean exchange student program. While he carried the trauma of his refugee past, he was also on the fast track to become an upper-echelon, overeducated millennial and Babylonian cultural influencer. True, pagan Babylon had spurned any Judeo-Christian commitments; to be a Jew was to be socially, politically, and economically “out.” But Daniel, along with all the other football players and cheerleaders at the king’s table, had the chance to be “in.”
If we’re thinking biblically at this point, we’ll notice two things: first, that Daniel’s position is startlingly similar to that of many young adults experiencing early success in ministry and Christian leadership, and second, that this position is far more precarious than it is enviable.
The danger for Daniel already brewing in the setup of the story is due to the fact that status and privilege lull us into sinful apathy. Once “in,” we’ll do whatever we can do to stay there, lest we fall out of favor with the socio-political gatekeepers. To borrow from Cotton Mather, although faithfulness gives rise to prosperity, the daughter often devours the mother. Our enemy knows this and thus seeks to undermine Christian culture not by poisoning but pampering us. Satan, majoring in the arts of subtlety and seduction, is the master of what B. H. Liddell Hart called the indirect approach, resorting to full-frontal assaults only when necessary. This is why false teachers, while sometimes insisting on asceticism (Colossians 2:18), more often have “hearts trained in greed” (2 Peter 2:14).
But Daniel, unlike so many of the young males who staff our ministries and institutions, knew the playbook. He knew that what held true for those who take the king’s coin held true for the king’s cutlets. He saw that to every morsel of royal food a string was attached, and buried in every bite was a hook. He had likely committed Solomon’s words to memory: “When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food” (Proverbs 23:1-3).
As his great act of resistance, Daniel didn’t put together a petition, podcast, or PAC, though these are worthy ventures. His daring deed was just to order the salad—a step of civil disobedience so banal that it has spun off a cottage industry of purpose-driven diet books.
Faithfulness Without the Pyrotechnics
Daniel’s ordinary act of faithfulness was a real risk, but it was one cleverly disguised in plain sight. There was no capital campaign, and no stunt doubles were required. And there were no pyrotechnics at least until chapter 3.
In standing against the king, it’s true that Daniel stared death in the face. But he also faced the sorts of things we tend to fear daily: demotion, loss of opportunity, ridicule, exclusion. The king may or may not have sent him to the gallows, but Daniel certainly would have been canceled from the next Young, Restless, and Sumerian conference. Yet he chose the bed of greens over the book deal. He wasn’t mean or ornery about it. But Daniel knew: “Better is the little of the righteous than the abundance of many wicked” (Proverbs 15:16).
Our lives need to take this shape. To bring it home: the problem with our own obedience is that we haven’t yet resisted to the point of shedding blood—that is, our own (Hebrews 12:4). Endemic to the church is our tendency to assume we’ll be faithful in some indefinite, future crisis. Someday when it’s all on the line, we’ll be bold, we reason. By the grace of God, we all pray that we’d be willing to take a bullet to the head for the gospel. But when obedience looks less momentous than martyrdom—saying no to the king’s meat or opting out of the sensitivity training—we need just as much grace. Because for some of us, being excluded from the cool crowd is as close to death as we’ve been lately.
The Paradox of Persuasion
But there’s a miraculous irony in the story. Daniel kept his seat at the table, at least for a while (1:19-20). He and his friends were promoted. It was a reward for which Daniel and his friends were trained by their faithfulness. By trading their influence for obedience, they made themselves worthy of the former. Guarding themselves against the love of men, they found favor in the eyes of the onlooking world.
The reason we have so many evangelical company men controlling the conversation today is that we’ve missed out on the profound paradox of persuasion. The reality is that, when it comes to making friends and influencing people, the real influencers in the life of the church are men and women who, in a humble and godly way, don’t give a damn what the world thinks. History doesn’t remember those who went with the flow, and no one respects a coward. Yet not a single prophet or reformer was appreciated in his day. If God gives us any voice at all in our culture, it will be from the cruciform platform of ordinary acts of faithfulness, from dishes and diapers to street evangelism and closing on Sunday. To be heard, we must say that to which no one will listen. Like Daniel, we must bury our seeds of influence in the ground to see any cultural fruit. We must die to the world to win it.
This sort of unsexy obedience is the great need of the hour. And it is the type of obedience for which God indeed gives great grace. By taking our eyes off of influence, we ready ourselves to receive it. By bearing the cross, we invite the crown, following in the victory train of our Lord. And once we are willing to bear the reproach of men, we will again have men with chests—or, you know, other parts.