Book Review: The Gospel According to Daniel
Author: Bryan Chapell
Bryan Chapell: Gospel Coalition
Disclaimer: I am required by the FCC to inform you that I received a free (e-copy) of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. There you go.
The Gospel According to Daniel is Bryan Chapell's attempt to help us understand the Old Testament book of Daniel from a Christian point of view. So we might wonder what does the book of Daniel have to say to Christians living in the 2000's? How does this book instruct us and inform us for 'better' Christian living?
A better question, probably, is how is Jesus visible in the book of Daniel? What types of Jesus do we see? Does Jesus make any appearances in the book itself? Do we see any passages that are quoted or later alluded to in the New Testament? How did New Testament authors interpret the passages? How did Jesus interpret Daniel? (Ironically, Chapell says Jesus only references Daniel once (Matthew 24:15-16) and he seems to totally forget Jesus' most significant allusion to Daniel in Matthew 26:64!; see page 194.) By the time the end of the book rolls around, and it doesn't take long for that to happen, I'm just not convinced that I got enough of that. It seems to me that every chapter is interpreted in light of eternal consequences, or 'salvation', instead of in light of, say, Jeremiah 29 (Chapell does make reference to Jeremiah on a few occasions but only once to Jeremiah 29 on page 114. I think the book would have been much better if it had served to show us how the book of Daniel–who as a person was clearly reading Jeremiah's prophecy (9:1-2)–functioned as a commentary or as 'parables' on Jeremiah 29. Which is not to say that Jeremiah is mere parable as opposed to 'real' history.)
I'm not arguing that there is anything necessarily wrong with looking forward–indeed, much of the latter part of Daniel's book does look forward (n some way)–but we do not look forward or interpret Scripture at the expense of the present–all Scripture, wrote Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 serves to help us live right here, right now. That is, future hope might provide us with a nice escape every now and again, but we are not living in the future, we are living in the now. Daniel's words were, it seems to me, written to help people live in the now, not the not yet. I am certain that Daniel talks about salvation in some sense of the word, but salvation, even in the New Testament, is not merely about the future. Frankly, I don't think it is fair to reduce Daniel's book to a mere How to Get Saved Tract–and at times, that is exactly how The Gospel According to Daniel reads.
One aspect of the book that I did happen to find especially compelling was Chapell's emphasis on grace. For example:
The power of grace to stimulate love for God is the ultimate reasons we preach redemptive interpretations of Scripture. (10)
This is a fine example of the thing I like about the book and the thing I hate about the book and it is especially frustrating–and many authors/preachers from the so-called Reformed camp write in just such a way as if the only thing the Scripture is teaching us is the black and white of something (very narrowly) called salvation. On the other hand Chapell is at his best when he writes things like, "Despair dies when we know our failures are not greater than the grace of God" (10). This is brilliant precisely because it addresses right here, right now. We do not despair the future when we despair; instead we despair the present. Knowing how God's grace affects me right here, right now, right where I am sitting or standing or weeping or contemplating suicide is what eliminates despair–not the mere hope of a better life in some otherworldly dimension or time. When I am suffering, frankly, I do not want to hear how God is 'preparing me for a greater work in the future' (p 19) because frankly that has no meaning–since the future doesn't exist. All that matters is right how so, preacher, tell me how God's grace is working for me right now. (For example: "The question we face–the matter of faith we are being challenged to consider–is whether the eternal rewards are real enough to weigh against earthly risk. That is what the life of Daniel is really meant to confirm: that God is able and willing to provide what is best for his people for eternity" (23). This seems to me escapist and not quite here and now based. Rather, if Daniel's background is Jeremiah, and I think it is, it seems that God is concerned about how we, his people, live against the backdrop of a pagan society and bring his Kingdom to bear on said culture and society.)
Now on to a couple of complaints and a couple of praises about the book.
First, I disliked the length of the chapters and the overall flow of the book. Frankly the chapters were just too long and cumbersome. I think Chapell or his editors should have insisted on breaking up some of the chapters into at least two parts. Since the book did not purport to be a deeply exegetical book, it was difficult to maintain Chapell's thoughts–especially as he moved into the latter half of the book (Daniel 7-12). Those chapters are thick and meaty and terrifically complex. Chapell's readers would have been better served if his comments and/or applications had been condensed into shorter chapters thus making his ideas easier to consume and easier to commit to memory.
Second, I know it's a preacher thing, but I have to say that the anecdotes in the book just bother me. I never fail to be amazed at authors who have a story from their life or ministry or whatever that fits so easily with the point they are trying to make–and Chapell has a boatload of them. Sometimes he doesn't tell them so well. As someone who works with children every day who have physical and cognitive limitations, I found his story on page 208-209 about his brother to be not a little heartless. I'm sure he didn't mean it to be heartless, but some editing of the story–without his predictable commentary–would have been helpful and made his point better.
Third, there are times in the book when I think Chapell's application simply has nothing to do with the text he is exposing his readers to. A perfect example of this is found in chapter 5 and Chapell's handling of the story of the 'writing on the wall.' Without spelling out my complaint, and thus spoiling the reading, suffice it to say that in my opinion this chapter really missed the mark. Briefly, "Mene, Tekel, Peres is not ultimately the handwriting against Belshazzar; it is the handwriting of God for us" (105). I do not agree with this, and I do not believe Chapell spelled out his position well enough to convince me.
Now, a couple of the better points of the book.
First, I appreciated that Chapell doesn't make any attempt to pin down dates and times: "We should not get hung up on the puzzles of timing that we miss the clear proclamation of grace in Daniel's vision" (166). I think this is right. Too many authors on Daniel (or on any apocalyptic book) get hung up on the small stuff and miss the big picture. Thankfully, and to his credit, Chapell–although I sensed he leans in a dispensationalist direction–didn't make this the focal point of this book. I appreciated that he deferred judgment in these areas and kept to the big picture (even if I happen to think he misses the main objective of Daniel's book.)
Second, for all of my complaints about certain aspects of the exegetical process (application) and theological overtones (Reformed) I did find that Chapell consistently kept our attention on God: "This can be our great confidence, too, when we express faith that tragedy does not mean God has vanished, danger does not indicate that he has failed, and difficulty does not imply that he is weak. God is in control" (56). And statements like this are scattered throughout the book and this is a good and powerful reminder that regardless of who is in charge, God's purposes and plans, for the present and future, will not ultimately fail. This is a powerful sermon and one that permeated the book.
Gospel is Good News. The Good News is what God has done in Jesus and is doing right now, right here in this world to bring about his plans, his purposes, and his Kingdom. Ultimately it is Jesus who is God's representative who will make these things happen. I think Chapell was trying to get this message out in the book, but I think he fell a little short. I wish he had been more explicit on how God's Kingdom and the 'your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven' prayer are happening and how Daniel's Gospel demonstrates this, but ultimately I was left wanting.