I wrote yesterday about my initial reaction to David VanDrunen’s accessible introduction to Two Kingdoms Theology, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms. VanDrunen has also written a longer, more scholarly account of the history of Two Kingdoms Theology in a book called Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms.
VanDrunen begins the historical account of the doctrine in the 2nd century by examining an anonymous document called the Epistle to Diognetus. VanDrunen writes:
Another theme animating Augustine’s City of God is one not opposed to the theme of antithesis, but one certainly sounding a quite different note and adding an enormously important nuance to it. This theme might be described as commonality, and is perhaps most vividly exemplified in another second-century document, the Epistle to Diognetus….
It too presumes a vast difference between the life of believers and the life of unbelievers. Sounding a heightened note of beleaguerment and suffering at the hands of the world, the Epistle to Diognetus describes Christians as being persecuted, condemned, put to death, poor, destitute, dishonored, defamed, reviled, affronted, and punished as evildoers even when doing good. Christians are different from the world in shunning infanticide and marital infidelity. There is antithesis with the world, to be sure.
Nevertheless, the Christian’s antithetical relationship with the world is tempered by a broad sense of commonality with it. In a remarkable passage early in the letter, the author describes Christians as rightly sharing a host of things with their non-Christian neighbors: “For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life.”
He adds shortly thereafter that Christians “follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living….They have a share in everything as citizens….They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children….”
This never means their absorption into the world, for they share these commonalities only as “aliens” and “foreigners” whose “citizenship is in heaven.” They obey the laws of their city, yet never if it means falling into sin, and they distinguish themselves especially by going “far beyond what the laws require.”
(Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, p. 23-24)
Read the relevant chapter from the Epistle to Diognetus online here.
What I really appreciate about this letter is that it captures the lives of Christians who were thoroughly persecuted for their faith, but who yet did not withdraw from society into enclaves of Christian subculture.
Although they lived antithetically to the world according to their citizenship in the Redemptive Kingdom, they also mixed indistinguishably with members of the Common Kingdom.
As we struggle to figure out the particulars of living in a post-Christian world, this 2nd century letter provides increasingly valuable instruction for how we might seek commonality with our neighbors while nevertheless living godly lives in this present age.