Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

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: (more…)

The Dictatorship of Moral Relativism

Posted: November 10, 2010 by joelmartin in Philosophy

My favorite author and painter, Michael O’Brien, writes of his trip to Poland:

In a meeting with a very highly placed journalist and ministry official, I was told by her that freedom of the press in Poland has shrunk drastically in a very short time, since all secular media is now heavily influenced by vested interests and a resurgent secret police, many of whom are old Communists/new Eurocrats. Only Radio Maria and smaller Catholic journals continue to report the objective truth in the country, and thus the mainstream press continues a constant barrage of propaganda against both the Church and Catholic media. This was a shocking statement, but it was repeated by responsible observers of the situation many times during my travels. The dictatorship of moral relativism (as Pope Benedict calls it) has many faces, but its most deceptive mask is that of the “enlightened” liberalism. Beneath such liberalism there is an agenda that is very much allied with the culture of death, with power and with private wealth. In North America and most other Western nations the same dynamic is a work in various guises.

I like how he points out the links between enlightened liberalism, private wealth, power and the culture of death.

Humanistic Conservatism

Posted: July 29, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Christ & Culture, Debates, Philosophy, Politics
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Doug Wilson, reflecting on Glenn Beck’s novel The Overton Window and Beck’s view of humanity:

Our problem is humanism, and we cannot effectively counter radical leftist humanism with apparently milder right wing forms of it. The humanist believes that mankind is basically good and, going back to Socrates, the explanation for evil is ignorance. If man is basically good, where does all this evil come from? It has to come from ignorance, and the solution to ignorance is education. The solution to the political pathologies we see in Washington today is to get involved and “get informed.” But the biblical answer is repentance, and repentance all the way down. Our solution is not to get angry at what “they” are doing to us, but rather to be grieved at what we have done to ourselves. One of the basic things we have done in this regard is flatter ourselves — and Beck’s approach here is part of the problem.

Wilson’s not anti-Beck; in fact, he liked the book.  At least in the sense that so much (liberal and conservative) activism is about the egregious harm committed by some outside force against the innocent common people, Wilson echoes James Hunter’s critique of our political culture.

Kevin DeYoung has noted before that people talk a lot about the Kingdom of God, but don’t always have a fully biblical view of this issue.  Last week, he posted some thoughts on this issue, cautioning people who want to bring the kingdom to earth.  DeYoung argues instead that the kingdom is closely identified with the Church:

If the kingdom of God is heaven breaking into earth, Eden being replanted, the New Jerusalem nailing in stakes, then we should expect to see the kingdom almost exclusively in the church. Of course, the church, living in the world, ought to embody the principles of the kingdom. Likewise, we will be pleased when the world around us reflects many of the values of the kingdom–forgiveness, compassion, mercy, and justice. But we will not expect the world, in this life, to become the kingdom.

Here’s the problem: when people talk broadly about bringing heaven down to earth on the culture writ large, they can’t help but be selective about the nature of the kingdom. So some Christians will argue for dismantling of nuclear weapons because in the kingdom swords are beaten into plowshares. True, but in the kingdom everyone also sits under their own vine and fig tree. The vision of the kingdom/garden/city is one of extravagant opulence and prosperity. So should we try to be as rich as possible as a sign of the kingdom’s in-breaking? Well, no because the kingdom is not the full reality yet. As a result we must temper the notion of kingdom-living prosperity with the reality that some people don’t have enough to live. In the same way, we must temper the notion of kingdom-living pacifism with the reality that there are lots of bad guys in the world who don’t want us to live.

In other words, when we think of the kingdom as what we are trying to build in this world we will be severely disappointed, potentially dangerous. But when we see the church as the presence of the kingdom in this world then the theological pieces start falling into place. The oversight in some recent conceptions of building the kingdom is that the kingdom is only thought of in terms of social services. But where Christ reigns, wickedness is expelled too. If you want to build the kingdom in your town, if you want heaven to come down to earth in your city, then you must not allow unrepentant sinners to live there. For Scripture is clear that they share no part in the kingdom. (more…)

Stanley Fish on Liberalism

Posted: March 13, 2010 by joelmartin in Philosophy, Politics
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Fish discusses the liberal Western order (not political liberalism) and observes:

If you persuade liberalism that its dismissive marginalizing of religious discourse is a violation of its own chief principle, all you will gain is the right to sit down at liberalism’s table where before you were denied an invitation; but it will still be liberalism’s table that you are sitting at, and the etiquette of the conversation will still be hers. That is, someone will now turn and ask, “Well, what does religion have to say about this question?” And when, as often will be the case, religion’s answer is doctrinaire (what else could it be?), the moderator (a title deeply revealing) will nod politely and turn to someone who is presumed to be more reasonable. To put the matter baldly, a person of religious conviction should not want to enter the marketplace of ideas but to shut it down, at least insofar as it presumes to determine matters that he believes have been determined by God and faith. The religious person should not seek an accommodation with liberalism; he should seek to rout it from the field, to extirpate it, root and branch.

How is it that he sees things so clearly and yet Christians are so blind?! He writes later:

That is what Marsden should want: not the inclusion of religious discourse in a debate no one is allowed to win, but the triumph of religious discourse and the silencing of its atheistic opponents. To invoke the criterion of intellectual validity and seek shelter under its umbrella is to surrender in advance to the enemy, to that liberal rationality whose inability even to recognize the claims of faith has been responsible for religion’s marginalization in the first place. Marsden wants to argue against that marginalization, but his suggestion for removing it is in fact a way of reinforcing it. He calls it “procedural rationality.” The procedure is to scrutinize religious viewpoints and distinguish between those that “honor some basic rules of evidence and argument” and those that “are presented so dogmatically and aggressively as not to be accommodated within the procedural rules of pluralistic academia.” (more…)

Amos 2:1-3

1 Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because he burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom. 2 So I will send a fire upon Moab, and it shall devour the strongholds of Kerioth, and Moab shall die amid uproar, amid shouting and the sound of the trumpet; 3 I will cut off the ruler from its midst, and will kill all its princes with him,” says the Lord.

Interestingly, this oracle of judgment doesn’t concern Israel. Moab’s sin against Edom, which God had already pronounced judgment against earlier, is quite telling. While Israel is usually central to the reason why God judges the surrounding nations, here is one example where God’s judgment comes because of how one pagan nation treats another pagan nation. This highlight the sovereignty of God. Essentially Moab was desecrating graves and using the decomposing corpses to possibly make a whitewashing formula. One commentator quotes:

2:1 Moab’s representative crime neither harmed Israel nor concerned them in any way. Desecration of an Edomite king’s remains was Moab’s sin. Border fortifications between Moab and Edom suggest the probability that the two nations engaged in armed conflict from time to time. Warfare may have been the setting for the Moabite atrocity against the king of Edom.53 Either Edom’s king was burned to death, or his corpse was burned, or his skeletal remains were exhumed and burned to lime. The last suggestion best fits the wording, since the specific reference is to “the bones of Edom’s king.”
Burning the bones to lime suggests total destruction.54 The Targum interpreted the term rendered “as if to lime” to mean that the Moabites used the ashes of the king’s bones in a substance to whitewash houses. The treatment of a human being as mere material was reason enough for Amos’s indictment. Moab’s atrocious act disturbed the Edomite king’s resting place and in Moabite and Edomite thought prevented peace in the afterlife and perhaps even immortality.55 As J. Niehaus explains: “Crimes against humanity bring God’s punishment. This observation is a powerful motivation for God’s people to oppose the mistreatment and neglect of their fellow human beings.”56
Smith, B. K., & Page, F. S. (2001). Vol. 19B: Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (57–58). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

By what standard is God judging one pagan nation’s treatment of another? By His own standard. His law applies to pagan nations, even if they were not the particular recipients’ of such. This is one proof text for Theonomists, those who believe that all nations will be judged by God’s law and must conform to the standards of God’s Law. There are nuanced versions of it, and we are all theonomists in one sense and not in another. Sorting through these distinctions is no easy task. (more…)

Dan Savage is openly gay and a pronounced atheist. Having said that, I do appreciate his qualified criticism of Hume. I don’t agree with everything he said, but I did find insightful his suggestion that Hume’s comments were an offense to Christianity. Savage mentioned Hume’s omission of Jesus as being the Son of God along with other major tenets, and sees Hume as simply offering the Jesus who takes care of adultery, etc. Savage asked where the “moderate, progressive” Christians were who would denounce Hume’s comments. Interestingly, it is the conservative Christian crowd on the blogosphere that was uncomfortable with Hume’s comments coming off as a Joel Osteen version of the Jesus who offers, “Your best life now”. I already posted on my thoughts of criticism for the lack of objective emphasis in Gospel proclamations that often accompany “evangelizing” today (link). I would actually proclaim a loud “Amen”  to Savage’s criticisms if Hume understood the Gospel strictly in a pragmatic paradigm. The fact is, as Olbermann and Savage pointed out, that “Christians” are plagued by marital unfaithfulness, etc. What Jesus did on the cross offers forgiveness, not as a cop out, but as great news.

The Gospel saves imperfect Christians as much as it saves sinners. Christians are perpetually in need of grace, which is why Paul denounced the Galatian heresy of starting in grace, but then proceeding in works for our salvation. The cross also purchases our sanctification, which means that the Christian WILL fight against all sin in their lives, but will never attain perfection in this life. The Christian does receive the Holy Spirit and is called upon to put to death the deeds of the flesh, adultery included, but some will stumble. Though God is grieved, His name brought under ill repute, because of the sins of His people, the good news remains good because it is never predicated upon our performance. The genuine Christian will not view this grace as a motivator or as a covering for sin, but rather as a motivator towards a life that glorifies God in all things. The genuine Christian will plead for grace so that they might NOT sin, so that they might not defame the name of Christ with outrageous sin.

While I appreciate some of the criticisms of Olbermann and Savage, they are trying to define the whole by a few rotten examples. At the same time, Christians invite this sort of criticism when they loudly declare that the major tenet of the Christian faith is, “Your Best Life Now”. When the Christian faith is emphasized for its subjective derivatives, then it will stand or fall based on how rich, how happy, how successful its adherents are. If Christians can reclaim the objective emphasis of the Gospel as being our counted righteous in Christ because of our “Worst life now”, in spite of who we are, then we would do well. Of course, we ought not ever be cavalier about sin, nor excuse our sinful behavior. We, of all people, must have a hatred for sin.

We walk in the footsteps of Abraham, the man of faith, and yet the coward.

We walk in the footsteps of David, who had a heart for God, and yet committed adultery.

We would do well to rejoice with David, who proclaimed the blessedness of not having God count our sin against us (Ps. 32:2) AND we would do well to mourn and grieve with David the sinner who was physically crushed and chastised for His sin (Ps. 51).

Luther taught that we are “Iustus et peccator simul” (Simultaneously a Saint and Sinner). The true Christian, the regenerate man, is at once a saint and a sinner. Therefore, our rejoicing is also mingled with remorse. We rejoice that we are forgiven sinners, but we mourn because we are still sinners. I would dare “proselytize”  this good news to Keith Olbermann and Dan Savage because they both know that they are sinners. While they are amused at the sins of professing Christians and are offended that an imperfect Brit Hume would dare suggest that Tiger Woods turn to Christ, and would even criticize their perception that Hume is offering a Jesus who will give Tiger a pass, these are no excuses for their own refusal to turn to Christ. Jesus Christ doesn’t guarantee moral superiority (though Christians should progress in sanctification), but offers forgiveness. Forgiveness for prior sin, present sin, and all future sin.

Mr. Olbermann, the good news is that you needn’t  be morally superior than everyone to feel forgiven. The good news isn’t that you might be morally superior in unbelief over those who do believe. That, you might be in many regards, but we are all sinners. The Gospel is what God does in us, no doubt, but it rests in what Jesus did 2000 years ago on a cross. It is historical, it is earthy, it is deeply practical, and it happens outside of us, apart from us first, before we enter into it.