Monday, August 03, 2015

Second thoughts on Two Kingdoms


It's nice, isn't it, getting a new 'view'? First of all there's the discovery that there's a new 'view' to be had. Then there's the dawning realisation that you are convinced by the 'view', being pretty plausible and all. You're kind of aware than not everyone might agree with your new 'view'. But they're just silly and don't understand what it's all about. So it's a bit of a pain when someone critiques the 'view' that you've gone to some effort to get, and it seems that it isn't that great after all. Wrong, even. It's like, 'I really loved that view and can't be doing with all that changing my mind malarkey.' Know what I mean? 

Well, I was pretty sure I was a 'Two Kingdoms' man ever since reading David Van Drunen's Living in God's Two Kingdoms. Must admit that I found his A Biblical Case for Natural Law unsatisfactory in a number of ways. But that didn't really shake up my new-found 2K convictions. You can imagine how inconvenient it was when I read what Tim Keller had to say about 2K-ers in his Centre Church. He was all, 2K-ers are a bit, 'am I bothered?' about effecting cultural change, what with the 'Common Kingdom' being transitory and such. Made 2K-ers sound like Pietists, with little motivation for doing good in society. Need a nice dollop of transformationist zeal to sort them out.

Came agonisingly close to making me change my mind. But there was no need for that. The basic 2K insight that Jesus is king of the world and the church, but relates to the two realms in different ways holds good. Maintaining a distinction between the 'Common Kingdom' and 'Redemptive Kingdom' is biblically sound. But the relationship between the Two Kingdoms needs to be spelt out in a nuanced way. 

Alright, that means I'm going to have go all nuancy and complicated, but bear with me. Unless you've got something better to do. And if so, just go and do it. Stuff needs transforming. Lots of it. But if you can't be doing with all that and you're still around, here goes. Pietist. 

The thing is that I've always been a 2K man, only I wouldn't have put it in quite those terms until reading Van Drunen. Well, not quite always. I wasn't a 2K kid when I was 10, way before I got saved. And when I was converted 2K views didn't enter my mind as if by some kind of heavenly Wi-Fi. But instinctively I've long been a bit suspicious of  world dominating transformationist schemes. When a twenty-something theological student I went to hear S. T. Logan speak. He was on about the 'cultural mandate' and that believers should be looking to grab the commanding heights of academia, politics and society with a 'Christian view' of this, that, and the other. After he was done there was a Q&A session. I had a point and a question. The point: 'Yeah, like that's going to happen.' The question: 'What if  you're a Christian dustman?' In other words, Logan's vision of world-transforming Christian views was both unachievable and elitist. It's fair to say that the speaker was a bit miffed at my interjections.

The 2K position chastens our grand schemes for 'redeeming the culture'. It emphasises that all good honest work is to be recognised as a calling from God and there isn't always a distinctively Christian view of of every academic discipline, profession, or trade. What's the Christian approach to rubbish collecting, or plumbing, or economic policy? In all these areas and more believers work in the 'Common Kingdom' alongside those who don't share our faith and in accordance with commonly accepted ethical principles and working practices. The believer, whether a particle physicist or postman will do their work as unto the Lord and bring their faith to bear upon their calling, but won't harbour schemes for a Christian takeover of letter delivery, or what have you.

Here's where it gets a little complicated. Van Drunen puts way too much weight on 'natural law' as the governing ethical standard in the 'Common Kingdom' to which all people are subject, irrespective of their faith. His account doesn't factor in the extent to which the Christian faith has had a profound effect on shaping Western values and ethical principles. For example, in the West we abhor nepotism and believe that people should get on in life on the basis of what they know rather than who they know. Financial corruption on the part of politicians is frowned upon because we believe that public servants should serve the public rather than themselves (for example, see Lord Nolan's 'The 7 principles of public life').

But there is nothing inevitable or 'natural' about that view. It was recently reported that in Kenya only 1% of public expenditure can be properly accounted for (see here). In the ancient, pre-Christian world nepotism and the use of power for personal enrichment was rife. As rich as Croesus and all that. Why do we view that kind of thing as totally unacceptable today? In large part because our culture is living off borrowed capital from the Christian faith. The sustained application of biblical principles to public life has had a deep and lasting impact on Western society, even after many Westerners have abandoned the Christian faith. See Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart. 2K-ers need to take on board Dan Strange's points on The Sufficiency of Scripture for Public Theology and be less sanguine about the cultural load bearing capacity of natural law.

How, then, can we be true to the 2K vision and its valid distinction between the 'Common Kingdom' and 'Redemptive Kingdom' without lapsing into Pietism? Or how may we seek to redress the balance and apply biblical principles to public life, without positing unworkable schemes for 'baptising/redeeming/transforming' the culture? Michel Horton addresses these points in his piece on Two Kingdoms and Slavery. Kevin De Young also has a go, here.

For a start we need to bear in mind the difference between the role of the 'gathered church' and the 'scattered church'. The 'gathered church' has been called to proclaim the gospel, administer the sacraments and disciple believers. As such the 'gathered church' is not to try and act as an agent for social reform, much less become a political pressure group. But if she is doing her job of making disciples properly, the 'gathered church' will be equipping the 'scattered church' to live as whole life followers of Jesus in the home, community, workplace, nation, and as global citizens.

As believers follow their callings in the 'Common Kingdom' they will act as 'salt' in a decaying world and 'light' in a dark world. 2K advocates fully accept that, Van Drunen included. But their position tempers our hopes of what is possible in this world and silences loose talk of building the Kingdom of God on earth by social activism. It recalls the church to gospel-centered mission and disciple making, while empowering believers to fully engage with life in the 'Common Kingdom' for the glory of God and the good of their fellow human beings.

When the 'gathered church' fails in its task, Christians will have little impact on the culture. According to Operation World, Kenya is 82% Christian, almost 50% Evangelical, But OW also acknowledges that corruption is rife in that country. Nominalism is a real problem, with only 7% of Christians attending church regularly. It's little surprise then, if many Christians aren't being discipled effectively, that there is a widespread failure to apply biblical principles to society. Natural law won't sort that out, only the church teaching believers to observe all that Jesus has commanded them in all areas of life, private and public.

So, even on second thoughts the 2K view still stands. But I'm grateful to Keller for provoking me to review my position and address some of the weaknesses in the 2K case evidenced in the accounts of some of its recent advocates. No need to go to the bother of changing my my mind, then. How cool is that? 

2 comments:

Jub said...

Hi Guy,

I doubt the "gathered church" and "scattered church" could ever be kept separate – especially in Politics and given the modern Media.

Also, I'm not sure I find your nepotism/corruption example convincing. In Australia, where I live, it is also relatively difficult to get away with nepotism and corruption - though people still try. Many more would try, I suspect do it, if they thought they could get away with it! From the other direction, I suspect that many a corrupt despot is indignant about those who steal from him and break his laws.

Thus to sum up, I think natural law is that which "with our minds we approve (for other people) but which we don't want to be encumbered by ourselves" - to paraphrase Pauls dilemma with motivation and the law in Romans. Those in your “Common Kingdom” are, I suggest, under law - both unwritten (but written on their conscience through their moral upbringing) and written - because they find it burdensome to love. Fear of punishment provides useful restrictions on what harm they do others. There is no transformation of their characters as law only deals with behaviours, not with the core beliefs motivating the behaviours. The difference between UK and Kenya is greater stability in the former, under which politicians and the general public think it is worth legislating against one’s own potential lawlessness in order to limit the lawlessness of many others! It’s ordinary, enlightened self-interest, where "even pagans love those who love them."

And the "Redemptive Kingdom"? I think that is wherever people are so transformed by faith in the Gracious One that they substantially live like Jesus lived. A radical change in core beliefs IS able to result in a radical change in behaviour, from the inside out. Complete acceptance of Jesus’ news about God is the righteousness (of character) out of which good behaviour is the latter evidence. This is the righteousness that derives from faith (faith = a change of core beliefs such that the person shares Jesus' view of the Father). The command to love is then not burdensome for them, whilst abiding in that teaching. They keep the law incidentally. They don't run foul of the law for the same reason. They are no longer under law but under Grace. We see so little of this because such a one can only be pacifist - and the Church let go of Jesus' 'core' pacifism when She accepted that Constantine could be Christian without relinquishing his duties as Caesar to command armies that kill (not love) enemies.

However, I don't like the Two Kingdoms dicotomy. To me, there's more elements than two. There's the Kingdom of God vs all the other Kingdoms of the world (in modern parlance, nations). Being in the world and not of the world can, I think, be rephrased as being in a nation but not of a nation. And the key issue, I think, is about where is one's prime allegiance lays. A good, and relatively objective, indicator of prime allegiance is the evidence of what people are willing to kill or die for. Going by the numbers who are willing to kill and die for country, 'Nationalism' is the number one religion of the world. On the other hand, those who would love their enemies and love not their lives even unto death if required – are few. Narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to Life.

Jub said...

Re the transformation of society: IMO, it requires the Kingdom of God gradually taking over from the Kingdoms of the world. In practice, I think this means maintenance of the tension between Pacifist Christians and non-pacifists patriots/nationalists: The pacifism of Christians will erode, from within, each nation's 'stomach' for lethal force, through their own loving martyrdom as times. The non-pacifists of each nation will keep in check both other non-pacifists within their nation and the non-pacifists in the surrounding (potentially hostile) nations, while the proportion of Pacifists Christians grow. The proportion of Pacifists needs to grow relatively evenly in every nation, until finally the nations 'beat their swords into ploughshares.'

For the proportion of Pacifists Christians to grow, we need, IMO, to rediscover the pre-Constantinian-shift Gospel. Modern evangelical interpretations of Scripture are so skewed by 'Constantinianism!' (I have a book about it in progress.)