Book Review of David VanDrunen’s “Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture”

Posted: November 30, 2010 by Rick Hogaboam in Book Reviews, Christ & Culture, Covenant Theology, Debates, Ethics, Kingdom of God, Missional Thought, Philosophy, Social Issues, Theology, Vocation
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Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture

Copyright © 2010 by David VanDrunen

Published by Crossway Books

PRELIMS: This book was provided by Crossway for my personal review.

First off, Dr. VanDrunen is a credible author on the points in which he engages. He is a studied scholar in the realm of divinity and law. Such background is necessary for the topic in which he engages. Secondly, this book is much needed in the “Evangelical” world today as the church struggles and flounders through the murky issues of Christian engagement of culture, politics, etc. Lastly, VanDrunen approaches this work from the rich heritage of the “Two-Kingdom” theory you will find in Augustine, Luther, Calvin (although open to debate), and many contemporary Reformed thinkers.

THE GOOD:

VanDrunen establishes a historical understanding of the issues of how God rules in the world generally and in the Church specifically. He is well aware of Niebuhr’s work on “Christ and Culture” and establishes the framework of the debate judiciously. Before making an inductive thesis in support of the “Two-Kingdom” perspective, he engages critically in modern distortions of the Christians obligation to the world: N.T. Wright and the Emergent Church. His criticisms are insightful and helpful. Read the book for the nitty gritty.

I commend VanDrunen’s covenantal redemptive-historical framework throughout the book. He deals specifically with the covenant with Adam and how it consisted of his tending the garden (priestly duties), as well as governing the land (kingly duties). If Adam and his righteous progeny had succeeded, eternal bliss and rest would have followed, meaning that the “Creation Mandate” had a goal in view. Adam and Eve weren’t to perpetually bear children and work the land forever and ever as the last climatic act in their God-given charge. The priestly duties would have brought about consummated holiness in destroying the serpent and partaking of the tree of life, while the kingly duties would have brought earth under perfect subjection and thus a perfect consummate rest from labor. VanDrunen dedicates an entire chapter in elaborating upon these themes because the rest of the book makes no sense apart from this framework.  VanDruned then dedicates an entire chapter to exactly how Jesus has and will fulfill these charges given to Adam. VanDrunen states the following:

Before the second Adam no one accomplished the task of the first Adam, and after the second Adam no one needs to accomplish it. The last Adam has completed it once and for all. Christians will attain the original destiny of life in the world-to-come, but we do so not by picking up the task where Adam left off but by resting entirely on the work of Jesus Christ, the last Adam who accomplished the task perfectly.

 How did Christ accomplish Adam’s original task perfectly? Jesus did not personally fill the earth with his descendants or exercise dominion over all creatures in his human nature during his earthly ministry. But as considered in chapter 2, Adam was to have his entire obedience in the entire world determined through a particular test in a particular location. So it was for the last Adam. Like the first Adam, the Lord Jesus was confronted by the devil who tried to entice Christ to obey him, and King Jesus resisted the devil and conquered him (Matt. 4:1–11; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14). Like the first Adam, the Lord Jesus was called to priestly service, and Christ the Great High Priest purified God’s holy dwelling and opened the way for human beings back into his presence (Heb. 9:11–28; 10:19–22). Like the first Adam, the Lord Jesus was to enter God’s royal rest in the world-to- come upon finishing his work perfectly, and this is precisely what Christ did, entering into heaven itself, taking his seat at God’s right hand, ministering in the heavenly tabernacle, and securing our place in the world-to-come (Heb. 1:3; 4:14–16; 7:23–28).

This is absolutely essential for issues of Christianity and culture! If Christ is the last Adam, then we are not new Adams. To under- stand our own cultural work as picking up and finishing Adam’s original task is, however unwittingly, to compromise the sufficiency of Christ’s work. Christ perfectly atoned for all our sins, and hence we have no sins left to atone personally. Likewise, Christ perfectly sustained a time of testing similar to Adam’s: he achieved the new creation through his flawless obedience in this world. He has left nothing yet to be accomplished. God indeed calls Christians to suf fer and to pursue cultural tasks obediently through our lives. But to think that our sufferings contribute to atoning for sin or that our cultural obedience contributes to building the new creation is to compromise the all-sufficient work of Christ.

VanDrunen even pulls out the exclamation mark in reference to how important understanding the work of Christ is for determining our own obligations as a Christian.  We are now heavenly citizens who taste the world to come, but do not in any way bring it about. He states:

According to Paul, creation waits “with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19) and “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the free dom of the glory of the children of God” (8:21). To understand Paul’s point, it is important to remember that this present world was never meant to exist forever. The first Adam was commissioned to finish his task in this world and then to rule in the world-to-come (Heb. 2:5). Thus when creation groans (Rom. 8:22) for something better, for “the glory” that is coming (8:18), creation is not seeking an improvement of its present existence but the attainment of its original destiny. It longs to give way before the new heaven and new earth spoken of in 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21.

 Romans 8:18–23, however, also suggests that there will be some continuity between this world and the world-to-come. Paul’s ref- erence to the resurrection, “the redemption of our bodies” (8:23), may be a helpful clue for understanding where to find the conti nuity between the present heaven and earth and the new heaven and new earth. Paul says that the resurrection of believers is the focal point of creation’s longing (8:19, 21, 23). Though Scripture teaches the destruction of the natural order, it does not teach its annihilation. In fact, we know that the present world will not be annihilated because Scripture teaches that our earthly bodies will be transformed into resurrected bodies. It is precisely this—the resur rection of believers’ bodies—that the created order is now longing for: “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (8:19). Our earthly bodies are the only part of the present world that Scripture says will be transformed and taken up into the world-to-come. Believers themselves are the point of continuity between this creation and the new creation. The new Jerusalem is the bride of Christ (Rev. 21:2). Asserting that anything else in this world will be transformed and taken up into the world-to-come is speculation beyond Scripture.

VanDrunen contends that even marriage does not carry over into the eternal state. He obviously is very critical of any notions that we are ushering in the Kingdom of God through begetting children and creating “Godly” institutions. It is only the Church that moves on. While we should love our families and honor God in our earthly duties, we need to ever be reminded that these are “earthly” duties for our pilgrimage in this time of redemptive history. This is not intended to squash our enthusiasm and love for families and other “good” obligations, but rather to make patently clear that Christ will usher in something that is different and yet better.

VanDrunen likens the Christian walk to the exiles in Babylon and to the patriarchs who roamed in a land that was not yet theirs. We have no permanent home here in this life and thus life with “pagans”, must work with them, cooperate with them, do business with them, submit to them when in places of authority, etc. The Mosaic covenant, however, grants Israel a land and specific laws which are to be lived out within only their community and boundaries. The Mosaic covenant is fulfilled in Christ, who also fulfills the Abrahamic covenant of promised global blessings. God’s people no longer have claim to a specific land where particular legislation should bind all people to God like the Mosaic covenant did. The ethics of the Kingdom are lived out in the ministry and jurisdiction of the Church, not the state. Jesus and Paul recognize the Roman state as legitimate ruling authorities with God-given jurisdiction over the “Common” kingdom to enforce justice in the land and thus bear the sword. VanDrunen contends that the “pagan” authorities will generally rule well under the application of “Natural Law”, which he has done other writing on. More on this later.

VanDrunen progresses in his book by emphasizing the ministry of the Church as a distinct Kingdom administration and contends with believers that we should devote most of our labors and zeal to the Church, rather than trying to transform the pagans through legislation and the like. Some folks may not like this indictment, but it needs to be heard, especially those who are more zealous about winning the next presidential election than they are over the affairs of the Church. Conservatives aren’t the only ones who need a word of caution. The liberal fascination with bringing utopia on earth through transformative justice and feeding hungry children, etc., though valid and critically important within our call to neighborly love, is not to be confused with the ministry of the Church (however the Church is called to administer mercy and benevolence to her members). Making these necessary distinctions ought to hopefully heighten our ecclesiology and esteem for the Church as the unique instrument in expanding God’s kingdom. It is not a sword-bearing, world legislating body, but rather a Gospel-preaching, Sacrament administering body that handles her affairs very differently than the world. It is in this sense that the Mosaic covenant has something to say about our uniqueness as the Church. The parameters and jurisdictions need to be laid out, or else we will conflate the Church with the common kingdom and confuse some labors as being the Church, while also demanding of the world certain moral convictions that are uniquely applied to God’s pilgrim people.

VanDrunen concludes the book by taking on the common concerns of education, vocation, and politics. What he says can’t be summed, here, but I commend his treatment on all three areas, but will also admit that he has not alleviated all tension I feel in relation to the realm of politics and on what grounds the Christian may seek certain legislation that is rooted in God’s special revelation. This is really a clash of “Special Revelation” and the inconsistency one will often find in the administration of “Natural Law” in the affairs of the “Common Kingdom”.

All in all, this book is extremely worthwhile and I commend it to all believers. It is a fairly concise treatment of the 2 kingdoms that can serve as a primer for those wishing to engage these issues. VanDrunen seeks the glory of Christ in the affairs of the Church in a way that is rarely found in what passes as “Evangelical” today. Postmillennials, theonomists, and transformationalists: BEWARE.

THE BAD:

Nothing bad or heretical here J

THE UGLY:

While I agree with VanDrunen’s overall thesis and defense of the two kingdoms, and the idea of “Natural Law” in the “Common Kingdom”, I am still a pessimist on how exactly the pagan articulates NL (Natural Law) and what the role of the Church is in calling upon Special Revelation to clarify or contend for just laws when the civil magistrate has erred. Is the Church a prophetic community? Does the Church call upon the State to repent of their sins and turn to God for the good of the State? The Church is clearly an instrument in calling upon all people to repent and turn to Christ, but I am wondering if the Church has the role to specifically call out a nation for unjust war, etc, and on what grounds the Christian may do such.

VanDrunen commends the Christian’s conscience on the issue of abortion, and is well aware of the complexity that surrounds abortion in relation to the State, but he appears to commend such engagement as an earthly citizen for the justice of the common kingdom because NL informs us to defend human life. Now, what if your rulers aren’t convinced by your arguments for NL and actually think that a human is not a viable citizen of society until they are actually born, receiving the rights of life then, and only then? How ought a Christian plead with such a ruler?

The abortion issue is just one of many. VanDrunen even states that marriage is an institution finding its validity in the Noahic covenant. Though God did create Adam and Eve, VanDrunen does not cite such as the legitimacy of marriage within the CK (Common Kingdom). It’s clear from Scripture that God reckons pagan marriage as a legitimate union, or else Paul wouldn’t call believing spouses to remain with their unbelieving spouses. Even if a marriage is terminated on illegitimate grounds in the Church, God does reckon the separation in the civil sphere. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that she had been married 5 times and was now living with one that was not her husband (John 4). Jesus doesn’t state that she was married only once and happened to consummate further illegitimate unions, nor does he dignify her current relationship as a marriage. There are many today who say that marriage is a Church issue and not a state issue, however such an argument may prove to much and also conflate the standards for marriage within the Church as the same for the state. Is it possible that the State has the authority to define marriage however they please, or are they bound to a one man/one woman definition based on NL as sanctioned under the Noahic covenant? The Church clearly derives her ethic from the Scriptures and disciplines accordingly, so I’m not saying that the State’s definition ought to be the same standard for the Church. I am only wondering if the Church should care at all about the State’s handling of marriage, and if so on what grounds does the Church tell the magistrate that they are wrong? Do we appeal to NL, or actually articulate the Christian view? How far should the Christian go in articulating the “Christian” view? Should the Church instruct the state that there should be civil penalties for adultery and that no marriage may be dissolved except on grounds of adultery or desertion?

Essentially, NL provides a paradigm only for the Christian who is making the distinctions that VanDrunen makes. We would seek certain legislation in the CK and contend for it within the framework of NL, but then restrain ourselves from calling for distinctly Churchly applications of the law, thus making a dual kingdom, dual application distinction. I am still muddied on a host of issues on what is a green light, yellow light, and red light. Don’t get me wrong, there is much more clarity on a host of issues. Take for example Jesus instructions to turn the other cheek. How do we reconcile that with the legitimate sword-bearing ministry of the magistrate and the sanction for capital punishment under the Noahic covenant? The answer is clearly found in the distinct duties of the Church in the name of Christ and the civil magistrate in the name of justice. I also realize that some feel tension over the cited illustration of turning the other cheek and don’t find it reconciled as easily as I do within the 2 Kingdom paradigm. This just confirms that these issues will continue to be murky. I am not suggesting that VanDrunen’s treatment is “Ugly”, but only stating the tensions that remain unresolved, in spite of his wonderful treatment on the matter.

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