VanDrunen illustrates howa two-kingdoms modelremains faithful to Scripture andinforms an active yet critical Christian engagement with culture.
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About the Author
David VanDrunen (PhD, Loyola University Chicago) is the Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido, California.
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Christianity, Culture, and the Two Kingdoms
IN PERHAPS THE MOST FAMOUS BOOK ever written on the topic of Christianity and culture, H. Richard Niebuhr stated: "It is helpful to remember that the question of Christianity and civilization is by no means a new one; that Christian perplexity in this area has been perennial, and that the problem has been an enduring one through all the Christian centuries." You have begun reading another in a long line of books that deal with this perplexing and perennial topic. I have written such a volume for two primary reasons.
First, the issue of Christianity and culture is one of immense importance and relevance. If you are a serious Christian, you probably think about the Christianity and culture question on a regular basis, whether you realize it or not. Every time you reflect upon what your faith has to do with your job, your schoolwork, your political views, the books you read, or the movies you see, you confront the problem of Christianity and culture. When you consider what responsibilities your church might have with respect to contemporary political controversies or economic development, you again come face-to-face with the Christianity and culture issue. It is no accident that so many of the greatest minds in the history of the Christian church have wrestled with this problem and that so many books have been written about it. Just think how much time, energy, and passion topics like religion and modern science or faith and politics generate in the Christian community. Even so, this subject is about much more than simply these overtly "cultural" topics. Developing a coherent view of Christianity and culture demands wrestling with some of the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith. A faithful biblical theology of Christianity and culture depends upon a proper view of creation, providence, the image of God, sin, the work of Christ, salvation, the church, and eschatology. Therefore I write this book to address not a narrow issue but one that confronts us with the fundamentals of Christian faith and life. This project thus has a very personal dimension for me — it has been an exercise in expressing and defending many things that are most precious to me as a believer in Christ.
Second, I write this book out of a growing conviction that contemporary conversations about Christianity and culture are on the wrong track and that the perspective presented in these pages, largely overlooked today, offers a biblical corrective that can help to get discussion back on the right track. Though a multitude of voices are contributing to the contemporary conversations, many of them have a great deal in common. Some of the themes frequently emphasized in contemporary conversations are right on target and very important for a sound view of Christianity and culture. Other themes, I fear, present a distorted view of Christian cultural engagement and its relationship to the church and to the hope of the new heaven and new earth.
Let me mention a few things that the contemporary voices get right. First, many contemporary voices emphasize that God is the Creator of all things, including material and physical things. God is king of all areas of life, and human beings are accountable to him in everything they do. Many contemporary voices also helpfully remind us that it is good for Christians to be involved in a variety of cultural pursuits. Christians should not withdraw from the broader culture but should take up cultural tasks with joy and express their Christian faith through them. Every lawful occupation is honorable. These voices also remind us that the effects of sin penetrate all aspects of life. Christians must therefore be vigilant in their cultural pursuits, perceiving and rejecting the sinful patterns in cultural life and striving after obedience to God's will in everything. Finally, many contemporary voices stress that the true Christian hope is not for a disembodied life as a soul in heaven but for the resurrection and new heaven and new earth. All of these affirmations are true and helpful.
Unfortunately, other themes popular in the contemporary conversations are problematic. For example, many contemporary voices assert that God is redeeming all legitimate cultural activities and institutions and that Christians are therefore called to transform them accordingly and to build the kingdom of God through this work. Some advocates of this position claim that redemption is God's work of restoration, empowering human beings to pick up again the task of the first human beings, Adam and Eve, and to develop human culture as they were originally called to do. This redemptive transformation of present human culture begins a process that will culminate in the new creation — the new heaven and new earth. According to this vision of Christian cultural engagement, our cultural products will adorn the eternal city.
Many talented authors present such ideas as an exciting and inspiring vision, but are they biblically sound? I believe that they are not true to Scripture, and therefore I offer a biblical alternative in this book. I refer to this alternative as a "two-kingdoms" doctrine. Though many writers in recent years have ignored, mischaracterized, or slandered the idea of "two kingdoms," it has a venerable place in the annals of Christian theology. It stands in the line of Christian thinking famously articulated by Augustine in The City of God, developed in the Lutheran and Calvinist Reformations, and brought to greater maturity in the post-Reformation Reformed tradition. Many writers today seem to associate a two-kingdoms doctrine with unwarranted dualisms, secularism, moral neutrality in social life, or even the denial of Christ's universal kingship. Perhaps some versions of the two-kingdoms doctrine have fit such stereotypes. My task in this book is not to defend everything that has ever gone by the name "two kingdoms," but to expound a two-kingdoms approach that is thoroughly grounded in the story of Scripture and biblical doctrine. It embraces the heritage of Augustine and the Reformation and seeks to develop and strengthen it further. I will strive to present it in an accessible and useful form to the church in the early twenty-first century.
This two-kingdoms doctrine strongly affirms that God has made all things, that sin corrupts all aspects of life, that Christians should be active in human culture, that all lawful cultural vocations are honorable, that all people are accountable to God in every activity, and that Christians should seek to live out the implications of their faith in their daily vocations. A Christian, however, does not have to adopt a redemptive vision of culture in order to affirm these important truths. A biblical two-kingdoms doctrine provides another compelling way to do so. According to this doctrine, God is not redeeming the cultural activities and institutions of this world, but is preserving them through the covenant he made with all living creatures through Noah in Genesis 8:20–9:17. God himself rules this "common kingdom," and thus it is not, as some writers describe it, the "kingdom of man." This kingdom is in no sense a realm of moral neutrality or autonomy. God makes its institutions and activities honorable, though only for temporary and provisional purposes. Simultaneously, God is redeeming a people for himself, by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham and brought to glorious fulfillment in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has completed Adam's original task once and for all. These redeemed people are citizens of the "redemptive kingdom," whom God is gathering now in the church and will welcome into the new heaven and new earth at Christ's glorious return. Until that day, Christians live as members of both kingdoms, discharging their proper duties in each. They rejoice to be citizens of heaven through membership in the church, but also recognize that for the time being they are living in Babylon, striving for justice and excellence in their cultural labors, out of love for Christ and their neighbor, as sojourners and exiles in a land that is not their lasting home.
In order to introduce and explain this two-kingdoms vision more clearly, I now briefly describe some of the prominent voices in contemporary conversations about Christianity and culture. All of these voices, in various ways, defend a redemptive model of Christian cultural engagement. After I describe their views, I will turn readers' attention back to the two-kingdoms alternative and summarize the biblical defense of the two-kingdoms doctrine that will unfold in the chapters to come.
Contemporary Voices: The Redemptive Transformation of Culture
In the contemporary conversations about Christianity and culture, there is perhaps no voice more eloquent than what is sometimes referred to as "neo-Calvinism." This school of thought traces back most immediately to the work of Dutch philosopher and jurist Herman Dooyeweerd (1894–1977), and it also claims to be heir of the Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920) and of the Reformer John Calvin (1509–1564). "Neo-Calvinism" has been influential not only in many Reformed and evangelical churches but has provided inspiration for many Christian schools and colleges in recent generations. My own early education, in both church and school, was significantly shaped by this line of thought. A number of friends, pastors, and theologians that I respect embrace its views. It gets many things correct and presents an attractive vision for Christianity and culture in many respects. It helpfully combats forms of Christianity that are indifferent to mundane cultural activity or see the faith as only relevant on Sundays. In the end, however, it misreads some important biblical themes and offers a distorted theology of Christian cultural engagement.
One fascinating thing about the current scene is that many other prominent Christian voices sound so similar to neo-Calvinism. When neo-Calvinists speak about Platonic and dualistic tendencies in the contemporary church, the redemptive transformation of culture, and the connection of cultural work to the kingdom of God and the new creation, they have a lot of company. I could cite many examples, but I focus on two that have gained considerable attention in the Christian world in recent years: the New Perspective on Paul (as exemplified by N. T. Wright) and the emerging (or emergent) church (as exemplified by Brian McLaren). Though advocates of neo-Calvinism, the New Perspective on Paul, and the emerging church certainly do not hold identical views on all issues, they show mutual respect for each other's work and, most significantly, they share a common vision that the redemptive transformation of culture is central to the Christian life.
Neo-Calvinism is a diverse movement in certain respects, but its proponents are united by many common themes. Two contemporary advocates of the neo-Calvinist vision have summarized "neo-Calvinism" in three points: first, grace restores nature through redemption in Christ; second, God is sovereign and orders all of reality; and third, the original cultural mandate of Genesis 1 has ongoing relevance. This is a concise and accurate summary, but it may be helpful to unpack the tenets of neo-Calvinism at a little more length. To do so, I refer especially to two books that present a neo-Calvinist perspective: Albert Wolters's Creation Regained and Cornelius Plantinga's Engaging God's World. These writers do not necessarily agree with each other on every specific issue, but their general vision of Christianity and culture is the same. Their books are accessible and winsomely written, and they have been influential in many Christian schools and colleges.
Perhaps the most important thing to know initially about neo-Calvinism is that it presents the story of Scripture as the story of creation, fall, and redemption. Recognizing this pattern forms the heart of a Christian worldview, according to neo-Calvinism. What this means is that "all has been created good, including the full range of human cultures that emerge when humans act according to God's design. But all has been corrupted by evil, including not only culture but also the natural world. So all — the whole cosmos — must be redeemed by Jesus Christ the Lord." Wolters and Plantinga share a general conviction that God created this world and that the whole world was his kingdom and thus was good and blessed. God gave the cultural mandate (Gen. 1:26–28) to the human race, which meant that human beings were to use their abilities to care for the world and to develop human culture, thereby releasing the vast potential latent in creation. Their goal in this labor was eternal and eschatological: the new earth. As Plantinga puts it, "we may think of the holy city as the garden of Eden plus the fullness of the centuries."
The fall into sin threatened to destroy this entire project. The fall produced the corruption of every human faculty, all human action, and the created order itself. God, however, not only preserved the world from immediate collapse but also undertook a plan of salvation to ensure that his original purposes for this world are fulfilled. For neo-Calvinism the salvation or redemption brought by Christ is essentially restoration or recreation. God does not start over new, but accomplishes his original plan. According to Wolters, our first parents "botched" their original mandate, but God has now given us a "second chance" and has "reinstated" us as his managers on earth. This does not mean that God, through Christ, simply puts us back into the garden of Eden to pick up where Adam left off before he fell. God originally gave Adam the long-term task of unlocking the potentialities of creation through human culture, and despite his sin the human race subsequently has been engaging in that task, though in corrupted form. Redemption in Christ restores and renews human beings in this ongoing task, purging them of their sinful perversion of culture and redirecting them in ways that are obedient to God and beneficial to one another and the whole of creation.
As all of creation and human culture was God's kingdom before the fall, so now the renewal and redemption of all creation in Christ constitute the renewal and redemption of that kingdom. All cultural labor is kingdom work. All cultural labor aims to advance the full realization of that kingdom in the new creation. Our ordinary activity in this world is "kingdom service," which produces "the building materials for that new earth." As Plantinga writes, "What we do now in the name of Christ — striving for healing, for justice, for intellectual light in darkness, striving simply to produce something helpful for sustaining the lives of other human beings — shall be preserved across into the next life."
In light of this grand vision, neo-Calvinism often warns against various "dualistic" views that compromise the holistic character of God's kingdom in this world. Wolters, for example, is very critical of so-called "two-realms" theories that he sees as a perennial danger for Christianity. Wolters rejects any division of life into a "sacred" realm on the one hand, in which people do "kingdom" work, and a "secular" or "profane" realm on the other hand. He fears that Christians holding such a view will depreciate the latter realm or look upon it as inherently inferior. He claims that this view falls prey to a "deep-seated Gnostic tendency." It "restricts the scope of Christ's lordship." Wolters and other neo-Calvinist writers use terms such as "secular" and "profane" to denote things that are inherently evil or at least compromised for the Christian. By rejecting dualistic views, furthermore, neo-Calvinist writers aim to steer Christians away from "vertical" views of salvation that involve "escape" from this world into "heaven," which is the view of Plato rather than Scripture.
N. T. Wright and the New Perspective on Paul
Though neo-Calvinism has been influential in many Reformed and evangelical circles in recent generations, it is far from being the only voice in current discussions about Christianity and culture. As noted, however, many of today's significant voices in the broader Christian world emphasize themes that resemble neo-Calvinist teaching, such as the importance of redemptive cultural transformation and the problem of Platonic and dualistic tendencies in the church. Though there are many theologians and movements that I could mention, I will focus briefly upon two that may be familiar to many readers: the New Perspective on Paul (as represented by N. T. Wright) and the emerging church (as represented by Brian McLaren). As I describe these two, readers should recognize many of the neo-Calvinist themes identified in the previous section.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Living in God's Two Kingdoms"
Copyright © 2010 David VanDrunen.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. Introduction: Christianity, Culture, and the Two Kingdoms, 11,
Part 1: First Things and Last Things, 33,
2. The First Adam: Creation and Fall, 35,
3. Jesus Christ the Last Adam: Redemption and Consummation, 49,
Part 2: Living in Babylon, 73,
4. Old Testament Sojourners, 75,
5. New Testament Sojourners, 99,
Part 3: Christian Life in the Two Kingdoms, 129,
6. The Church, 131,
7. Education, Vocation, and Politics, 161,
Scripture Index, 206,
What People are Saying About This
“For those interested in a Reformed two-kingdom model, I can think of no better book to start than Living in God’s Two Kingdoms. Redemptive-historical in scope, heavenly minded in emphasis, and gentle in tone, David VanDrunen has made a great contribution to the ongoing discussion of the relationship of Christianity and culture.”
—Danny E. Olinger, General Secretary, Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church
“Any Christian perplexed by the Bible’s challenge to live as a dual citizen of God’s eternal and temporal kingdoms will find VanDrunen’s wise and charitable book an indispensable guide in sorting out the confused thinking that entangles the church today. This succinct and timely alternative to neo-Calvinism’s transformationist vision lays the groundwork for a wide-ranging and urgently needed discussion about two-kingdom theology’s implications for education, the workplace, and politics.”
—Richard M. Gamble, Anna Margaret Ross Alexander Professor of History and Political Science, Hillsdale College
“For some years now, I’ve been asking students to read works by Prof. David VanDrunen of Westminster Seminary California. VanDrunen has a gift for recovering themes from the political theology of the Reformation and demonstrating their continuing relevance. In this book, VanDrunen shows that the Reformation’s two-kingdoms theology allows Christians to faithfully navigate a course between, on the one hand, investing excessive hope in earthly government or, on the other, retreating from political life into isolationist enclaves. Particularly welcome is his emphasis on the liberty of biblical Christians to reach differing conclusions about how our political engagement might glorify God.”
—Randy Beck, Professor of Law, University of Georgia School of Law
“Evangelicals today, including those within the Reformed community, have become annoyed by the competing (and, in a few cases, embarrassingly inadequate) ‘transformationalist’ programs offered by leading Christian thinkers. With clarity and concision, David VanDrunen has offered an alternative perspective that liberates the Christian conscience to sincerely engage society without relegating the sovereignty of God over ‘every square inch’ of it. Living in God’s Two Kingdoms will certainly stimulate debate and force Christians to reevaluate the relationship between Christ and culture.”
—Ryan McIlhenny, Assistant Professor of Humanities, Providence Christian College
“The Apostle Peter writes that Christians are God’s own people, sojourners and exiles in this age. What does this calling mean for the way in which believers work in their jobs, raise their families, educate their children, and vote at the polls? In Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, David VanDrunen addresses these questions and more, offering a robust and reasoned alternative to transformationalist understandings of Christianity and culture. Whether or not readers agree with every argument in Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, they will find themselves engaged and challenged to think constructively and biblically about a critical issue in the life of the church. VanDrunen has done a great service to the church in promoting continued reflection on Christianity and culture, and in offering sound practical counsels to Christians eager to serve God in their pilgrimage heavenward.”
—Guy Prentiss Waters, James M. Baird Jr. Professor of New Testament, Reformed Theological Seminary
“Over the past century, evangelicals have jumped out of the frying pan of quietism into the fire of worldliness. Taking his cue from Scripture rather than merely responding to cultural trends, David Van Drunen outlines a biblically grounded theology of cultural engagement that reflects both the lordship of Christ over all creation and the special mission and calling of the church. This book, bold and unapologetic, provides some extraordinarily helpful categories for thinking clearly about what it means to live faithfully and wisely in the present age.”
—William S. Brewbaker III, Professor of Law, University of Alabama
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love this book. It is the clearest, most consistent explanation of the biblical foundations for Christian living I've come across. For all the confusion that exists in the church over how Christians ought to relate to the world, this book helps give us biblical categories to navigate the often confusing prospect of being in but not of the world. Christ has completed all the work of redemption this world requires. As his people, we are simply meant to live in light of what he has already done. There is no redemption of culture that we can do. People make culture; it is people who need redemption. Christ died for us, not for a Christian America (or Europe or any other earthly culture). VanDrunen's book helps us understand this essential truth for the Christian life. I hope it serves to refocus the church's attention upon what Christ has called it to and avoid the many distractions of "Christianity + ________" that keep us from faithfulness.
A good book on how not to over-Christianize our normal affairs. Argues that this world is passing away, and we are to do our work here, not in an effort to redeem this world for the world to come, or to do Adam's work (accomplished in Christ), but simply because we are humans & we are called to do certain things. (This is a gross over-simplification of the book's arguments). Basically - the author tries to achieve a good balance between two issues he views Christians as having: either viewing this present world as completely useless & therefore ignoring or disdaining our vocation, cultural endeavors, politics, etc on the one hand, or on the other hand thinking that the good (redeemed, Christian) culture, politics, etc that we do here & now will last into the new heavens & new earth. He points out that believers are to engage in all these activities hand-in-hand with unbelievers, and that often, unbelievers will be better at them then believers are. He draws from the imagery of the patriarchs and Israel in Babylon, viewing our path in this world as he shows that the New Testament does - as sojourners, citizens of another world, who are nevertheless to strive for the good of this world, while we inhabit it.One of the strongest parts of this book I think is how he is very clear on the role of the church & its centrality to the believer's life. He carefully defines the role of the church, its extent, and tries to draw boundaries where there is scriptural reason to do so. He does this for the family and the government as well, but to a lesser extent.This book was well & carefully thought-out and is written in a way that respectfully disagrees with those whose arguments he is opposing, he acknowledges where they are right, but tries to draw the church back to a biblical level of engagement where he sees from scripture that they have taken things too far. There are many references to both supporting and opposing books & papers in this book, so it is a good resource for beginning to look at the issue of the church & culture from a variety of viewpoints.