Monday, February 28, 2011

Living in God's Two Kingdoms

More than a year ago I opened for myself a can of worms I'm still trying to close. When Lynn and I kicked off the Poiema ACG, we started with a semester long series on Christ (or better Christianity) and Culture. I thought it would be easy, and I had four books I used to guide the class: the classic Christ and Culture (Torchbooks) by Niebuhr, a more recent assessment of Niebuhr by DA Carson called Christ and Culture Revisited, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Randy Crouch, and a series of sermons by Boice turned into a book Two Cities, Two Loves: Christian Responsibility in a Crumbling Culture.

Those four books, honestly, weren't nearly enough. The challenges that were presented to my initial understanding were legion, and I set out to read more a settle this once and for all in my mind (To quote Wayne "tsshyeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt").

The two approaches most represented in the evangelical world are often referred to as the 'transformationalist' (Niebuhr's 'Christ the transformer of culture') and the "two-kingdom approach" (roughly corresponding to Niebuhr's 'Christ and culture in paradox'). Certainly, the transformationalist approach is dominant and was my position early on. However, even when one avoids the extreme of theonomy, this position seems to be riddled with danger through and through. In which direction should we strive to transform culture? In a Christian one, of course? Who's version of a Christian society will we use as our template? Shane Claiborne's or Pat Robertson's? How about Jesus'? But, is Jesus' ethic meant to be applied in all situation, in every context? Should a judge simply forgive a criminal - and do it 70x7? Should a nation turn the other cheek when it's borders are violated and citizens terrorized? Too many questions! And they aren't just hypothetical. ECC is an awesome church, and a very diverse church. I've heard, since being here, "you can't be a real Christian and vote for a Democrat". I've also heard, "you can't be a real Christian and vote for a Republican". How do you navigate these issues?

By remembering the Christians live in two kingdoms, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. And here is where David VanDrunen's book is invaluable. His book, Living in God's Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture, is a great introduction to a two-kingdom theology. I certainly don't agree with ever jot and tittle (i.e. that the diaconal ministry of the church is limited to serving the Christian poor), I offer a hardy 'Amen!' to 98% of VanDrunen's book. That's awesome, since I only give a hardy 'Amen! to about 92% of what I actually say.

The book is divided into three parts. First, VanDrunen explores the relationship of the first Adam to the Last Adam and their covenatal roles. For those not overly familiar with Covenant Theology, these chapters are still accessible and well reasoned. VanDrunen argues that Christ did all the covenant keeping Adam failed to do, thereby entering and bringing his people into the Sabbath rest that would have been given to the original Adam had he kept the covenant. Christ perfectly did this, resiting temptation, offering perfect obedience. Since Christ is the 'last Adam', we are not 'new Adam's' who must fulfill the cultural mandate of the original Adam. Christ fulfilled all the obligations of the Covenant of Works. Does that mean Christians should be engaged in cultural endeavors?

In the second section of the book VanDrunen looks at the theme of sojourn in both the Old and New Testament. As Christians, we are sojourners, citizens of heaven yet living in exile in this present world. We are not, however, unique among God's people in this. There were several times in history past when God's people were resident aliens. In this section, VanDrunen mines the Bible for principles that guide us in this sojourn.

The third section is where the rubber meets the road. VanDrunen explore the implications of the two-kingdom approach for our understanding of the church and the Christians involvement in politics, education, and vocation. It's an immensely practical and well balanced treatment. He concludes the last chapter, "On the one hand, cultural activities and institutions exist by God's appointment and under his moral government, and Christians should participate in them. On the other hand, these cultural activities and institutions should not be confused with the redemptive kingdom of heaven, which finds its present expression in the church of Jesus Christ."

I highly recommend this book. Even if you disagree with him, his work will cause you to wrestle with some tough questions.

3 comments:

no said...

Liberation Theology is a field that might help your reflections. Of course you won't agree with a lot of it but they have a bold model of cultural engagement that might help answer some questions in a practical way. Liberation Theology by Leonardo Boff is a good starting point.

Dan Waugh said...

NO,
Been there, read that. I read Gustavo Gutierrez a long time ago. That's actually quite the opposite direction I'm heading. Liberation theology ties the church to a social/political ideology. I would argue the church should never tie itself to an ideology - not the religious right, not the left, not democracy or an emperor, not capitalism or socialism.

The church, as the church, shouldn't involve itself in political issues, policies, etc. Certainly, Christians can and should, but the church must always be wary of doing so. The church should remind people of their responsibility to care for the poor and downtrodden, but not promote policies for doing so - not trickle down Reganomics or socialism, etc.

Where Scripture speaks, the church should - care for the poor. Where the Bible is silent, like how the state should do this, the church, should be silent too. (Same goes for issues like abortion - the church should preach about the sanctity of life, but not tell people who to vote for, etc.)

Thanks for the recommendation though. I'll pick that one up when I get a change. Who knows, maybe Boff will change my mind.

no said...

gotchya. i'm supposed to be reading gutierrez right now but haven't started yet. i don't agree, either, that the church should tie itself to an ideology but i still think there are good things we can learn from them. three things that i really (in relation to cultural engagement) like is their general concern with orthopraxis, their concern and articulation of theology for the simple and/or marginalized man, and their general reflection and critique of ecclesiology and culture. so yeah, i never expected that you'd want to link the church with the state but i don't think that's all lib theo is...maybe gutierrez pushes more for that.