Thursday, September 04, 2014

Living in God's Two Kingdoms by David VanDrunen

Image result for living in god's two kingdoms

Living in God's Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture,
David VanDrunen, Crossway, 2010. Kindle Edition

Christians should be doing stuff, like transforming the culture and redeeming society and that. Preaching the gospel so that people get saved and nurturing disciples in the church is alright, but we've got to get with the world-changing, holistic, transformational program. What we need is a distinctively Christian approach to politics, education, the arts, medicine, engineering, plumbing, fast food serving and rubbish collecting. Anything less would be Pietism and we all know that's a Bad Thing. And anyway, if  believers don't make all kinds of stuff go Christian how's the new creation going to happen?   

Whoa up a bit. David VanDrunen's essential thesis is that it isn't in fact the duty of Christians to try and transform, redeem or Christianise the culture at all. 'What?' you may say, 'is he a Pietist,  or something?' Nooo. Good 'ol Calvinist. He seeks to recover the 'two kingdoms' vision of the Reformers as a way of engaging with the transformationalist tendencies of the likes of Tom Wright, Tim Keller and other influential figures. 

Essentially it boils down to this: there are two kingdoms. There is the 'common kingdom' which is ruled by God under the terms of the Nohaic covenant established in Genesis 9. Then there is the 'kingdom of God'. That is God's saving rule made known in the world through the covenant of grace in its various manifestations, from the Abrahamic to the new covenant. The believer belongs both to the kingdom of God and the common kingdom. That was the case under both old and new covenants as VanDrunen demonstrates.

In the common kingdom believers rub shoulders with non-believers as they engage in a variety of cultural pursuits including politics, work, education, the arts and so on. The believer will seek to honour the Lord in this context, but the same ethical standards will be expected of a Christian accountant, for example, as a non-Christian one. It is nonsense therefore to speak of 'Christian accountancy' or 'Christian plumbing'. Christian as well as non-Christian plumbers are both obliged to install central heating systems that don't leak like a sieve. OK, you would hope that a plumber who is a Christian wouldn't charge a little old lady the earth for fixing a dripping tap. But fair pricing policies aren't the exclusive preserve of believers. That's life in the common kingdom. 

The kingdom of God is made a visible reality in the church, the gathered people of God who meet to hear God's word proclaimed, partake of the sacraments and be built up in the faith. Ministerial power in the church is different from the power entrusted to rulers in the common kingdom. It is non-coercive and is limited to the preaching and application of the Word. Ministers must be not to overstep the mark by giving believers detailed instruction on how they should operate in the common kingdom in terms of involvement in politics, voting intentions and so on. Yes, general biblical principles must be worked out in the whole of life, but Christian liberty must be honoured when it comes to matters like political choices and decisions regarding how the children of believers should be educated. If the Bible doesn't say, either explicitly or by implication, 'thou shalt vote Conservative, or Labour, or Lib Dem, or Ukip, or Yes or No to Scottish independence' then pastors should not go beyond the teaching of Scripture when ministering to the people of God. The same goes for parental choices regarding their children's education, whether home, Christian School, State School, or whatever. 

VanDrunen calls for a biblical realism when it comes to the extent to which the world can be 'Christianised' by the activism of believers. The aim of the Christian is not to 'transform' or 'redeem' the common kingdom, for the form of this world is passing away. Redemption and transformation are only possible in the kingdom of God. That is not to say that believers may not strive to be 'salt and light' and try to make the world a better place. But even when they do that, their works in the common kingdom don't help to usher in the new creation. Christ has guaranteed that glorious future by completing the work God initially entrusted to Adam in Genesis 1 & 2. 

On which point I think that it's a blunder on the author's part to conflate the 'cultural mandate' of Genesis 1:26-28 with the 'covenant of works' in Genesis 2. The 'cultural mandate' was issued to man as man 'male and female' as God's image-bearers. It continues despite the fall, but is only finally fulfilled in Christ and the new creation. Adam's 'covenant of works' role, however does not continue. It was made with Adam specifically as federal representative of all humanity. We should certainly not think of ourselves as finishing off what he failed to do by our works in the common kingdom. Christ has accomplished that on our behalf by his redeeming work. As Herman Bavinck said, 'Christ takes is not to the beginning, but the end of the road that Adam had to walk.' Nevertheless, the langue of multiplication in Genesis 1 is also used of God's 'new humanity' in the Abrahamic covenant, Exodus 1 and also in Acts of the church. The cultural mandate of dominion and multiplication continues in the 'common kingdom', but grace perfects nature in the 'redemptive kingdom', Hebrews 2: 5-9, Revelation 7:9-10.

That said, I agree with VanDrunen's biblically argued cause for the two kingdoms view. It has helped me to think through one or two issues personally. Especially when it comes to involvement in the activities of the common kingdom.  As a governor in a local state secondary school it is not my duty to try and 'Christianise' the educational establishment in which I am involved, but rather to operate in line with the rules and guidelines set down for all governors irrespective of their faith. Yes, my faith informs and influences my approach to governance, as with everything else, but trying to 'redeem' the school would be misplaced. The church is the locus of God's redemptive activity, not the world of education, or any other cultural pursuits in the common kingdom for that matter. The transfomationist agenda is a grandiose distraction from getting on with the Great Commission that Jesus has laid upon the church. That's enough for us to be getting on with. 


Mostyn Roberts said...


I like this and I liked the book. We read it as our John Owen Theology Study Group book one meeting last summer and I think we all agreed with its main thesis. But Garry Williams , Ian Hamilton and others strongly disagree with it - they see it as dualistic, and Garry in his papers on Noah at the John Owen conference last September (probably available online at the JOC website) strongly criticised it. Garry sees the Noah covenant as redemptive and therefore not a creation covenant as van Drunen sees it.

The issue for van Drunen is to answer the question: from what source does society outside the church draw its norms? Natural Law? Is that adequate? His bigger book 'Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms' deals historically with this but it is a big issue.

Paul Helm agrees with van Drunen too by the way.


Guy Davies said...

Hi Mostyn,

When Garry led a seminar on the covt of redemption at our fraternal he hinted that he saw the Nohaic covt as redemptive, but didn't develop the point. I'll have to have a look at Ian and Garry's papers. I also have VanD's smaller work on natural law on my 'to read' list. Whatever his view, I believe that there is a place for biblically derived truth in the public square.

Mostyn Roberts said...

Ian Hamilton did not give a paper at the JOC conference - I just know he agrees with Garry from comments he has made.

I entirely agree with the need for a Christian presence in the public square - and I don't read van Drunen as denying this. His work is a much needed shot across the bows of much over hyped stuff about transformation etc , even if one does no go all the way with him.


Daniel said...

"We will cheerfully admit that 2K advocates have some legitimate concerns, particularly that the mission and witness of the church not be hijacked by political and cultural agendas. But in this instance the cure is worse than the disease. While 2K theology may well scratch the itch of Christians who need a theological excuse to remain silent in current cultural conflicts, it is both less than biblical and less than faithful to the decided weight of the Reformed tradition."

To quote Calvin Beisner: "two kingdoms" theory for the 16th and 17th century Scots was NOT what neo-2K (Escondido) theory is today. Today's neo-2K theory essentially says the Bible teaches nothing about shaping the social/political order and that the "spirituality of the pastoral call" prohibits pastors' preaching and teaching anything about public policy. Both of those are about as far opposed to the Scottish Presbyterians' thought as can be imagined. (My Ph.D. was in Scottish history, specifically on the political thought of the late 17th-century Covenanters, and involved a thorough reading of the whole history, in primary documents, of the Calvinist Resistance Theory aspect of the monarchomachs.)

Just in case anyone wonders: I'm most definitely not a Theonomist, and proclaimed myself publicly thus in an appendix to my book PROSPERITY AND POVERTY back in 1988. The Theonomists forget that the judicial/civil law was given to Israel as a body politic THAT WAS ALSO a "church under age." There is no such body politic today, anywhere, so the civil law doesn't obligate any people beyond the principles of equity (justice, the moral law) reflected in it."

This is also worth reading on it.

Personalty I believe this is a dangerous doctrine that makes the Church ineffective as salt and light in this dark sinful world.