Christ and Culture from a Two Kingdoms Perspective
David VanDrunen’s new book Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture (Crossway, 2010) goes against the grain of a lot of contemporary discussion on Christ and culture. Even if you end up not agreeing with everything he says, I think readers will find this a very helpful corrective and a challenging perspective.
You can read the entire substantive introduction online.
He observes that “Some of the themes frequently emphasized in contemporary conversations are right on target and very important for a sound view of Christianity and culture. Other themes, I fear, present a distorted view of Christian cultural engagement and its relationship to the church and to the hope of the new heaven and new earth.”
VanDrunen mentions some of the things he thinks the contemporary voices get right:
First, many contemporary voices emphasize that God is the Creator of all things, including material and physical things.
God is king of all areas of life, and human beings are accountable to him in everything they do.
Many contemporary voices also helpfully remind us that it is good for Christians to be involved in a variety of cultural pursuits. Christians should not withdraw from the broader culture but should take up cultural tasks with joy and express their Christian faith through them. Every lawful occupation is honorable.
These voices also remind us that the effects of sin penetrate all aspects of life. Christians must therefore be vigilant in their cultural pursuits, perceiving and rejecting the sinful patterns in cultural life and striving after obedience to God’s will in everything.
Finally, many contemporary voices stress that the true Christian hope is not for a disembodied life as a soul in heaven but for the resurrection and new heaven and new earth.
VanDrunen thinks that all of these affirmations are true and helpful. But he then identifies some popular themes that he deems problematic:
For example, many contemporary voices assert that God is redeeming all legitimate cultural activities and institutions and that Christians are therefore called to transform them accordingly and to build the kingdom of God through this work.
Some advocates of this position claim that redemption is God’s work of restoration, empowering human beings to pick up again the task of the first human beings, Adam and Eve, and to develop human culture as they were originally called to do. This redemptive transformation of present human culture begins a process that will culminate in the new creation—the new heaven and new earth. According to this vision of Christian cultural engagement, our cultural products will adorn the eternal city.
VanDrunen observes that many talented authors present this as as an exciting and inspiring vision, but he does not believe that these ideas are true to Scripture. He therefore offers a biblical alternative in this book, which he refers to as a “two-kingdoms” doctrine.
Though many writers in recent years have ignored, mischaracterized, or slandered the idea of “two kingdoms,” it has a venerable place in the annals of Christian theology. It stands in the line of of God, developed in the Lutheran and Calvinist Reformations, and brought to greater maturity in the post-Reformation Reformed tradition.
Many writers today seem to associate a two-kingdoms doctrine with unwarranted dualisms, secularism, moral neutrality in social life, or even the denial of Christ’s universal kingship. Perhaps some versions of the two-kingdoms doctrine have fit such stereotypes.
My task in this book is not to defend everything that has ever gone by the name “two kingdoms,” but to expound a two-kingdoms approach that is thoroughly grounded in the story of Scripture and biblical doctrine. It embraces the heritage of Augustine and the Reformation and seeks to develop and strengthen it further. I will strive to present it in an accessible and useful form to the church in the early twenty-first century.
Read the whole thing to see his sketch of how the two-kingdoms doctrine approaches these issues.
Whether or not you agree or disagree at the end of the day, I think you’ll find this a valuable book.