Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture by David VanDrunen was released recently by Crossway Books and presents a readable, comprehensive view of two-kingdom theology. I’m just a youngster in terms of theology, especially that of a reformed flavor, so I was excited to dive in with VanDrunen and stretch my brain.
The main premise is a counter to the “transformationalist” view of culture that seems to be pervasive with emergent theologians, those who ascribe to the New Perspective on Paul and neo-Calvinists (depending on your definition of neo-Calvinists). In transformational theologies, the church and Christians are about the work of restoration, as we march across creation and culture putting things back how they were meant to be before all this sin and death entered the world.
Whilst that can sound all well and good, the ramifications of that worldview are twofold:
1) When Scripture asserts that this world will be put away and a new heaven and a new earth will come, we have to reject any of the cataclysmic language that accompanies such claims. Instead, the new heaven and earth will come by a restoration to utopia.
2) VanDrunen states that when we embrace a transformationist view of culture, we cling to the work of Adam in the common kingdom rather than living in the grace of the redemptive kingdom which Christ has already won for us by living the life Adam, and each of us, should have lived.
This concept of resting in grace with regard to cultural activities was a refreshing exhortation, and one that could easily go unnoticed for many of us as we seek to understand the implications of the gospel in our everyday lives. Having been engaged with the idea of vocation recently on the blog, I was particularly keen to get to the end chapter wherein VanDrunen unpacks the theological foundations into meat for the daily life. But I will say that the book is best read from beginning to end.
As an attorney, he is skilled at building a case and it will provide more scope for discussion when approached in that linear fashion than if you were to pick and choose chapters. The defining of terms such as “church” and “Christian” are key to understanding his argument. Without these underpinnings, his passage on ministerial authority would be excessively contentious – and he knows already that some of his ideas will be met with opposition, especially when that final chapter deals with education and politics.
One of the most fascinating and liberating points is the aforementioned ministerial authority – to read such pointed, Scriptural arguments for the authority of the elders/pastors, but without any of the superiority complex that sends many heading for the hills, is a powerful testimony. And the authority is limited by Scripture. Pastors and elders are not expected to micromanage life, but they are given to the church (being the visible manifestation of His body, in local, observable congregations) and are given real authority by the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ. When engaged with cultural specifics, VanDrunen holds that ministers should be able to give an overarching principal on a matter, as drawn from Scripture, but cannot confirm or deny a specific technical point as uniquely Christian without the explicit consent of that same Scripture. In other words, we can tell people that Biblically, they are to submit to their governing officials, but we cannot demand one technical outworking of that over against another technical outworking. This does not mean that a pastor/elder in the church cannot have an opinion, but within an official capacity (especially from the pulpit), they should refrain from espousing a particular method, model or candidate.
For example, when dealing with the concept of education, we can show biblically that parents are held as the first accountable party for their children’s upbringing and education (general principal), but whether they choose to exercise that themselves (homeschooling) or to delegate to trusted experts (institutional school) is a matter of conscience for those parents (specific, technical outworking). This is one of those areas, also, where the common kingdom and the redemptive kingdom interact. VanDrunen uses the Noahic covenant to draw out the common kingdom – that shared life of cultural activity between both believers and unbelievers – and then the Abrahamic covenant for the redemptive kingdom, which is exclusively the realm of the church (i.e. worship of Jesus Christ is done by believers, not with unbelievers, so it is not a common cultural activity). It is within these interactive areas that we live many of our days, as the church, but not with exclusive rights to excellence and control. The common kingdom is no less ruled by God, but it is shared by all of mankind. As such, it is a cooperative kingdom and one that has value, though not eternal presence. The redemptive kingdom, on the other hand, will be forever, and the church is the present manifestation of that kingdom on earth.
As I read through all of this and wrestled with the ideas (and believe me, there was plenty of wrestling), I found myself convinced by the general argument of two kingdoms, but two things should be noted.
Firstly, I had an inherent concern that people would read this theological view and forsake the common kingdom. If it is going to be destroyed and replaced, why bother? And are all who pursue restoration crazy or is there value in being redemptive in our living as a reflection of God in whose image we are made? At the opening of the final chapter, VanDrunen lays to rest such fears because he agrees that we should still live lives engaged with the common kingdom, seeking to serve people and enjoying all that God has blessed humanity with, but we should do it without an attachment to such things, for they are not to last forever. He also affirms that we simply do not know what cultural activities will exist in the New Jerusalem.
My second concern was with some of the practical implications of his own reading of the life of the church in the redemptive kingdom. Whilst I receive the general argument of two kingdoms and have been really quite blessed by it, I also find myself at odds with two particular ideas. Firstly, the regulative principal in the worship life of the church. Whilst we can read Scriptural presentation of worship in the New Testament Church and draw a sharp line underneath that as the only acceptable mode of corporate worship, we could also look to the worship life of God’s people under the entire Abrahamic and Mosaic covenant too and see that dance was certainly involved – which is one of the things VanDrunen argues against for corporate worship. Just to be clear, he is not opposed to dance in general, or even in terms of within a religious context, but would see it limited to an optional setting rather than the commanded gathering of the whole body for worship. Though I don’t agree with the entire application, there is certainly wisdom in considering what is advantageous to ALL worshipers in praising God during our regular worship gatherings and reserving the more fringe expressions for optional extra meeting times.
Additionally to this restriction, I was a little grieved by the concept that parents are not authorized to preach to their children, that only pastors/elders are authorized for such work. Whilst I agree that teaching against the authority of the local elders/pastors is ill-advised save for if those people are heretical, to deny the authority of fathers and mothers in presenting the gospel (which is really the work of preaching) is something I do not find scriptural or a useful distinction.
One thing is for sure, VanDrunen has presented a solid case and a very comprehensive take on two kingdom theology, and it is a theology that will aid in the life of the church and individual Christians. It is encouraging to encounter such a powerful testimony to the life of the church, with such clear understanding of our being sojourners and exiles, held in tension with our continuing life presently in the common kingdom. We are, indeed, the City of God in the midst of the City of Man.
A review copy was provided to me at no charge by the publisher. No attempt was made to gain a favorable review, and all opinions and recommendations expressed are the author’s own.