David VanDrunen is Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Seminary California, an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and a licensed attorney. Dr. VanDrunen book Living in God's Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture is a helpful treatment on the often controversial issue of how Christians interact with culture.
Dr. VanDrunen argument for the two kingdoms is thoroughly grounded in the Scriptures. The fact that VanDrunen's argument is thoroughly grounded in Scripture helps the reader as he moves from the Old Testament to the New Testament not just examining various passages but engaging the Scriptures with solid explanation of the passages he considers relevant to his argument for the two kingdoms.
The two kingdoms doctrine affirms that God had made all things, that sin corrupts all aspects of life, that Christians should be active in human culture, that all lawful cultural vocations are honorable, that all people are accountable to God in every activity, and that Christians should seek to live out the implications of their faith in their daily vocations.
This book is a helpful treatment on the topic of Christianity and culture. In two hundred and five pages, VanDrunen clarifies why he wrote the book, why the topic of Christianity and culture is so important, and presents his arguments for the two kingdoms in a biblically faithful way.
For such a short book, Living in God's Two Kingdoms can be said to be an extended exegetical and theological treatment on the topic of Christianity and Culture. This book will help you to understand why the issue of Christianity and Culture is so important to the Christian life. This book will challenge and confront you as a Christian to not just sit on the sidelines but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and then go out and then proclaim the glory of God in Christ in culture.
You should read this book, but do so slowly and reflectively. You will be challenged and you may not agree with what the author says, but the author does not write to give his opinions but to confront, and edify the Body of Christ with the Word of God.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
Great Book! This book will be a Discussion Starter
March 15, 2011
The Reformed Reader
The book was extremely good! Vandrunen's argument is logically sound and saturated with scripture. If you are new to the argument, buy the book because it is something that definitely needs to be addressed by any believer wondering what the Christian life should look like in culture. Vandrunen's book I think is one of those books that will spark a fire of causing many of books to be written in response to it. Already since its publishing Kevin DeYoung, Keith Mathison, and 9marks have written reviews of it. I cannot imagine Wright, Keller, or others who hold to a redemptive/restorative framework will not write a book in response to this. I say all this to say, "GO OUT and BUY IT." The book is worth buying even if you do not agree with its premises, which I do not currently do not fully. Even if one does not hold to the Two Kingdom Theology, there is still a great deal to glean from the book. The book sets the groundwork for a future debate.
A few months back I received a copy of a new book from Crossway called Living in God's Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture. I was immediately intrigued by this book since I have done very little reading on the topic of Christianity and culture. When we begin to talk about how we view the relationship between Christianity and culture we are talking about an issue that has big implications for how we live our daily lives. Because of the importance of this relationship there are many different (and often strongly held) perspectives on what exactly that relationship is. Into this discussion comes VanDrunen's new book where he defends a Two Kingdoms view that he considers to be a "Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture."
To sum up quickly, the Two Kindoms view does stand in opposition in some ways to the transformationist understanding of our role in this world. Transformationist may see our task as redeeming the culture to help build and usher in the new heaven and new earth. This Two Kingdoms view pictures us as sojourners in a foreign land, working for the good of our temporary home (similar to the Jews in exile in Babylon) as we look forward to our eternal home with God.
First, I want to highlight what I thought to be strengths of the book.
1. VanDrunen is a great teacher. The layout of the book and the way he presents the material made it really easy for someone as thickheaded as me to grasp what can be a very complex argument. He moves from Old Testament to New Testament, First Adam to Last Adam, and Creation to Consummation and built his arguments in a way that truly taught me this Two Kingdoms view.
2. The glory of God in the finished work of Christ on our behalf shown through marvelously. Though I may not have been convinced on every point, I was certainly drawn to worship and contemplation at times as VanDrunen taught on God's gracious work of sending His Son to accomplish salvation on our behalf and purchase for us entrance into the new heaven and the new earth that we do not deserve.
For example he says in contrasting the First and Last Adam:
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.
3. The vision of Christians as sojourners in a foreign land. I was reminded to look forward to my heavenly home with God forever. VanDrunen draws many helpful parallels between Old Testament wilderness wanderers and exiles and New Testament Christians:
Peter calls Christians â€˜exiles' and â€˜sojourners' who are in â€˜dispersion,' using the Greek term diaspora that refers to the scattering of Jews throughout the world after being expelled from the Promised Land. What is Peter saying about our identity in this world? By using the terms â€˜exile' and â€˜dispersion' Peter informs Christians that their identity is similar to that of the Old Testament Israelites who were driven from their land and lived far from home, many of them in Babylon_ By using the term â€˜sojourner' Peter points even further back in the Old Testament, to the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As â€˜sojourners' they were promised a land of their own but had not yet attained full possession of it. Like the patriarchs, Christians today are â€˜in a foreign land.'
4. Radical Differences Between Life in the Church and Life in the World:
Vandrunen lists 3 aspects of the church's ethic that is distinct:
1. Forgiveness That Transcends Justice
"In an ordinary civil lawsuit it is irrelevant whether an accused person repents. If he committed a crime he should pay the penalty, whether he feels remorse or not. This is the demand of justice. But in the church it would be a travesty to continue the disciplinary process after repentance, out of desire to give the sinner his due."
2. Generosity That Transcends Scarcity
"It seems almost irrational when analyzed in earthly terms. In the common kingdom something does not come from nothing, but that seems to be exactly what happens in the church. Christians cheerfully desire to give â€˜beyond their means' and rather than rebuking them as fiscally irresponsible Paul actually praises them, for the Lord loves it_ He â€˜is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work."
3. Evangelism That Spurns Violence
"No particular culture could dominate the world except by a cultural imperialism that fails to respect the creativity of image-bearing human beings in other cultures. In contrast, the church rightly calls every person in this world to itself and invites them to forsake every other ultimate allegiance for the sake of Christ's kingdom. Yet is does so without violence and without any injustice."
While the above were very legitimate strengths that are significant truths that can't be neglected I still have some questions about some premises and conclusions that VanDrunen showed in this book. Ideas such as God governing the common kingdom by the Noahic covenant and the redemptive kingdom by the Abrahamic covenant were things I had not given much thought to before and I wonder if things are really as strictly divided as VanDrunen posits. All in all this was, in my opinion, a well-written thought provoking book. I think, though, that I can say in agreement with VanDrunen that I want to work hard in this temporary world in grateful response to what God has graciously done on my behalf as I look forward to my eternal home with Him. A home that He has purchased for me.
I would recommend every Christian either read this book or be taught its contents by someone equipped to do so. It clears up so much confusion around today. Essentially this book is about the relationship between God's Kingdom in heaven & that which we see on earth. Why, if God is in control, is there so much wrong in the world and what should a Christian be doing about it? The answers are in the Bible & this book shows us where.
Should Christians be transforming the culture? Is there a specifically Christian way of being a teacher, politician, or businessman? Is there a difference between what individual Christians are called to do, and what the church is called to do as an institution? What is the "kingdom of God" and what does it mean to do "kingdom work"? These are some of the questions that drive David VanDrunen's recent book on two kingdoms theology.
The term "two kingdoms" is unfortunately not very well known outside Reformed and Lutheran circles. This is a real shame because I found the two kingdoms, as VanDrunen lays it out, to be a helpful and Biblical framework for understanding the relationship between Christianity and culture. And the world of evangelical Christianity certainly needs more thoughtful reflection on how to approach culture as a whole.
So, how should Christians be engaged in the society in which they live? VanDrunen's answer lies in the thesis that Christians live in two kingdoms, a common kingdom and a redemptive kingdom. Or, in plain English, the world and the church. All people are part of the common kingdom by virtue of the covenant that God made with Noah and all mankind after the flood in Genesis 9. At that time, God formally established the preservation of human cultural activities and institutions until they are done away with at the time of the new heavens and the new earth. Government, education, family, and so forth are valuable human activities common to all people, and Christians share these activities in common with non-believers even though their religious and spiritual values are very different, even hostile to one another.
The redemptive kingdom, on the other hand, has entirely to do with Christians gathered together into the community of the church. Making a covenant with Abraham, God established a special people for Himself, a redemptive kingdom of those whom God has called out to live a religious life of worship that is distinct from that of the world. While there are certain requirements that God places on mankind in general (justice, kindness, fairness), there is separate set of requirements that God places on His people in particular (worship of God alone, Sabbath observance, baptism and the Lord's Supper, prayer, obedience to God's special revelation in Scripture, etc.)
VanDrunen emphasizes time and again that it is important to keep in mind the distinction between these two kingdoms because depending on what kingdom you are operating in, different things may be required of you. For example, in discussing the Sermon on the Mount (p.112-116), VanDrunen points out that Jesus is giving an ethical code for the church community, not for the world in general. These are rules of living for the church. They are not tips for good living that everyone in the world is expected to obey. And "Why not?", you may ask. Because if the government turned the other cheek (Matt 5:39) towards criminals and practiced a policy of forgiving people as Christians are expected to do, then society would descend into chaos. Civil government, as part of the common kingdom, has been established by God to preserve order in society (Romans 13). "If the state wishes to operate according to the ways of the redemptive kingdom as revealed by Jesus then it must forsake the sword -- the very thing that Paul says it must not do." (p.122)
Positively, if you know into what kingdom a certain activity falls, then you know who is responsible for it. The church is responsible for preaching the Word of God and the state is responsible for criminal prosecutions and setting economic policy, not vice versa. Negatively, if you don't know into what kingdom a certain activity falls, then there is confusion and conflict. If the state starts regulating the methods or content of religious worship, or if the church comes down on a particular side of a political policy issue not clearly stated in God's Word (and most aren't), then big problems ensue. And knowing the difference of who's responsible for what brings us into the cash value part of the book.
There is a crisis today regarding defining the mission of the church (redemptive kingdom), and the degree to which the church should be involved in education, business, and politics (among other institutions belonging the common kingdom). After two helpful chapters on Old Testament sojourners (ch.4) and New Testament sojourners (ch.5), living in the two kingdoms, VanDrunen concludes his book with a section on the the nature and mission of the church (ch.6) and another on the Christian's approach to education, vocation, and politics (ch.7).
Regarding the church, VanDrunen helpfully points out that the church (redemptive kingdom) is limited in its authority to areas and tasks specifically spelled out in the Bible. Therefore, the church should focus on the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, prayer, Sabbath observance, and other religious aspects of the life of God's people. Conversely, the church has no authority to speak on issues that the word of God does not talk about. Therefore, if the church tries to speak or act authoritatively in areas that properly belong to the common kingdom (education, politics, vocation, etc.), then the church has acted presumptuously. I found this point extremely helpful as I hear Christians talking about the need to be involved in "kingdom work", i.e. social needs ministries, community development, the arts and other areas that don't directly have to do with worship, the central task of the church (cf. p.134-135). VanDrunen has helped me to understand that while Christians MAY come together to engage in mercy ministries, there is no Biblical requirement that such ministries are necessary as a formal program of the church.
Christians individually have freedom of conscience to work out the implications of Biblical commands to do justice and show mercy, but the church as an institution can not bind the conscience of individual believers to work out these principle in a specific way. There is a limited set of activities that church as a body must do, and to require church members to do more than that is an imposition on their Christian liberty (p.157). His application of this point to the use skits and liturgical dance in worship was also instructive (p.156-7), as he points out that the value of such worship practices are a matter of personal judgment, not Scriptural command. Thus to use them in corporate worship is to infringe upon the Christian liberty of those in the congregation who would judge such creative worship activities to be unhelpful.
As an aid to churches deciding whether to take on a particular ministry or activity, VanDrunen recommends that a church asks itself the following question "about each thing that it does: is this its own proper work, or did God entrust this work to another, nonecclesiastical institution?" (p.151 emphasis original). If this question alone were rigorously asked in elders meetings, deacons meetings, and pastoral staff meetings, then I think we would see a widespread sharpening of focus as to the identity and purpose of the local church.
In the final chapter, VanDrunen takes on education, vocation, and politics but not to commend a specific Christian way to do each of these, but to say that there usually isn't a Christian way to do any of these. Of course, Christians are called to do all things to the glory of God and to conduct themselves ethically and with integrity, but is there really a Christian way to fix a car? Isn't the way that a believer and a non-believer would fix a car be the same? I found his point on this matter to be a helpful corrective to the excessive labeling of things like diet plans or child raising techniques as Christian (as if the particular method being advocated is the ONLY Christian way to do the task at hand). I also appreciated the fact that VanDrunen tries to lay down an approach for Christians to think about their engagement with cultural activities and institutions of the common kingdom, but does not proscribe how we are to go about them, other than the general commands of Scripture.
In summary, VanDrunen's "Living in God's Two Kingdoms" is of great value for any Christian who wants to understand how they should approach culture. It is both theological and practical. But it is not for the faint of heart. Those who want easy reading or prepackaged answers for the Christian's response to culture should look elsewhere. That is not to say that VanDrunen is obscure, for he repeatedly tells you where he is going, why he is going there, and where he has been. His writing style is very readable but because his topic requires a lot of explanation and qualification, I found that I really needed to concentrate to understand his points. But it is well worth the effort and I now feel like I have a better framework for thinking about the nature, purpose, and calling of the church (and the individual Christian) and their place in their relationship to the other cultural institutions and activities of the world.