David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms

David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms is subtitled, “A Biblical Vision For Christianity and Culture.”  The book lives up to that, though not without making some controversial assertions along the way.

I think it may be helpful to provide VanDrunen’s own summary of his position, which he offers near the end of the book:

God willed that human beings should attain life in the world-to-come through their cultural labors.  The first Adam, the original representative of the human race, failed to offer perfect obedience to God in his cultural task and plunged the world into sin and misery.  But God sent the second and last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, to atone for the sin of the first Adam and to accomplish his task. Christ has rendered perfect obedience to God in every area of life and has won for his people an everlasting inheritance in the world-to-come.  Already we are citizens of that kingdom and from the depths of our heart look forward to the day when the new heaven and new earth will be revealed.  In so doing we acknowledge that our share in the world-to-come rests solely on the work of Christ.

In the present age, God has called his people to be citizens of heaven who live as pilgrims in this world.  We do not take up the first Adam’s task of earning, achieving, or in any way ushering in the world-to-come through our cultural labors, for Christ has already done this for us perfectly and sufficiently.  Instead, we take up our cultural activity in grateful obedience to God and for his glory, recognizing that they are temporary and fleeting, always remembering that “the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31).  Though each of us at death “shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand” (Eccles. 5:15), by faith we trust that God is pleased to use our cultural obedience to accomplish his inscrutable purposes in history and will acknowledge all of our good works on the day of Christ’s return.  Until then may we all take up our cultural activities with joyful and generous hearts, with charity to our enemies, and with the modesty and humility that befits the servants of Christ.

That is a most helpful summary.  VanDrunen’s book is a working out of that thesis in ways that, overall, buttress the validity of his central contentions.  The Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world (what VanDrunen calls “the redemptive Kingdom” and “the common kingdom”) have been heavy on my mind for some time and especially as I have been working through the Sermon on the Mount.  Furthermore, the seismic cultural shifts in modern American society have, I believe, jolted a great many followers of Jesus to think more deeply about Kingdom theology and the implications of such for our lives today.

VanDrunen offers some helpful insights.  His linking of “the common kingdom” with the Noahic covenant of Genesis 8-9 is most helpful.  He sees here a covenant between God and the people of the earth in general, irrespective of whether or not they are His followers.  The earth will end one day and, with it, the labors of all who lived thereon.  The redemptive Kingdom may be traced first to Abraham and then, definitively and consummately, to the Lord Jesus.  The promises and mores and economy of this Kingdom are for the people of God and are without end.

But the people of God live in both Kingdoms.  Therefore, we are to seek the common good through responsible citizenship and through our membership in the communities in which we live.  But our work in these communities is not eternal work.  It will end one day.  It has value, to be sure, but relative value.  Our work for the Kingdom of God is part of God’s eternal plan of redemption.  Thus, serving in local government is important, but it is limited.  Leading somebody to Christ or proclaiming the gospel, however, is redemptive Kingdom work.  He is not calling us to abandon one for the other.  Rather, he is calling us to think rightly about what it is we are doing and why we are doing it.  (This would guard against, for instance, the naive thought that we can usher in the Kingdom of God through social effort.  The fact that we cannot does not render social effort insignificant, just relatively so.)

It is a helpful way to look at things and is, in my opinion, fundamentally biblical.  It resonates well with what Jesus was doing and saying in the New Testament, as well as with the apostolic proclamation of the gospel.

Some of the ways that VanDrunen works out the implications of this view are interesting.  For example, his assertion that while individual Christians or groups of Christians may rightly care for the poor, the example of the New Testament would suggest that the church, as the church, primarily meets the basic needs of the church itself. In other words, there is no clear, New Testament call for the church to try to solve the problem of societal poverty in general, simply the poverty of those in the church.  However, Christians, as Christians, may work to alleviate the plight of the poor.  Now, there is something to this, to be sure.  The church dare not neglect the needs of its own people while embarking on a general policy of community poverty reduction, but I cannot help but ask whether or not the distinction between “the church” and “groups of Christians” is a distinction of any real significance?  The clear biblical and prophetic warnings against injustice by the rich as well as the prophetic denunciations of those who indifferently watch the suffering of the poor would, as I see it, place care for the poor clearly in the parameters of appropriate church action so long as care for those in the Kingdom of God is being provided.

Furthermore, VanDrunen’s little excursus on the regulative principle was problematic.  He asserts that music is clearly present in the New Testament and, as such, is a fundamental requirement of Christian work, but other expressions, like drama, should not be imposed on people who may not care for such.  To put it simply, this notion opens up a whole can of worms about which I am curious.  For instance, the New Testament makes no reference to instruments.  Should musical instruments be imposed on people?  And what kinds of songs did the early church likely sing?  should we limit our singing to these?  And what of the unaddressed topic of church architecture?  Should we have church buildings?  What should they look like?  Should buildings be imposed on people who may not care for them?  Etc., etc…

To be sure, these are quibbles and do not negate the central contention or theme of the book, which is, I repeat, biblical and very helpful.  If you’d like to consider the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world in a helpful and thought-provoking way, you’ll enjoy this book.

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