The Rough Edges of Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, and Constantine

In his last chapter, “Toward a New City Commons,” Hunter takes Jer. 29:4-7 as his key text, wherein the Jews in exile were told to seek the peace of the city they would inhabit for a time.

“Clearly it would have been justifiable for the Jews to be hostile to their captors. It also would have been natural enough for them to withdraw from engaging the world around them. By the same token, it would have been easy for them to simply assimilate with the culture that surrounded them. Any of these three options made sense in human terms. But God was calling them to something different — not to be defensive against, isolated from, or absorbed into the dominant culture, but to be faithfully present within it” (p. 277).

Yea, and amen to that. But what happened then?

“Then was the king exceeding glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God. And the king commanded, and they brought those men which had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions, them, their children, and their wives; and the lions had the mastery of them, and brake all their bones in pieces or ever they came at the bottom of the den. Then king Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end. He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions. So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian” (Dan. 6:23-28).

Okay, so Darius, like Constantine, had a few rough edges. Come to think of it, Nebuchaddnezzar had a few rough edges too.

“Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon” (Dan. 2:28-30).

I would counsel extreme caution. Do you see the sorts of excesses that faithful presence can lead to? I mean, political opponents, and their wives and children, fed to ravenous lions? Theological critics, who were simply publishing their honest opinions about Daniel’s God in respectable and refereed theological journals, getting cut into pieces and their houses made into dunghills? I mean, this is a dangerous business, this faithful presence stuff. You have to watch your step constantly. If you are too faithful, you might win, and that would set the cat among the pigeons.

Hunter is calling in this chapter for a “new city commons.” In order to have that commons, you must have a new city. What is the nature of Hunter’s new city? Well, according to Hunter’s description, it is a pluralistic one.

“What is ‘new’ in the new city commons? Against the dominant liberal modernist notion that the public sphere is constituted by a diversity of autonomous and unencumbered individuals, in this view there is a recognition that public diversity — whose focal metaphor is the city — is also defined collectively by multiple traditions and communities. Needless to say, some of these are very different from, if not hostile to, the community of Christian believers. But even where there is disagreement, tension, and conflict, there is also a recognition that there are common goods that communities of Christians, drawing on the resources of their tradition, must still hold up, pursue, work at, foster, and practice. In short, commitment to the new city commons is a commitment of the community of faith to the highest ideals and practices of human flourishing in a pluralistic world” (p. 279, emphasis his).

This is simply amazing. In short, instead of individual-based pluralism, we now have community-based pluralism. But the theological name for pluralism is polytheism. Instead of household baals, Hunter wants us to configure the new city commons in such a way as to accommodate the baals of every shire and valley. But how can Christians make principled peace with any other gods? Jesus is Lord, and His claims are total. Our assigned task was to take every thought captive, right?, and to throw down every high thing that sets itself against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:5). Isn’t that what we were told to do?

The Bible describes a new city, and a new city commons, but it is nothing like this. There are no other gods in it, for starters.

“And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it” (Rev. 21:23-24).

Why is this book so popular in our circles? We don’t have to read any further. This book has been well received because, at the end of the day, Hunter lets us off the hook. And we conservative Christians love nothing more than getting us a little bit of being let off the hook.

 

 

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