Last week, I wrote down some of my initial reactions to Two Kingdoms Theology from reading David VanDrunen’s book, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms. On the whole, I think that VanDrunen offered a very helpful explanation of how the biblical story presents the relationship of the Christian to God’s Redemptive Kingdom as well as to the Common Kingdom that all people share, believers and unbelievers alike.
I do have a few thoughts and questions, though, concerning the approach of Two Kingdoms Theology both to the world, and to the church. Today, I will be want to address the difficulty of culture in Two Kingdoms Theology, and tomorrow, I will post some thoughts about Two Kingdoms Theology and the Church.
Cultural Pursuits in Two Kingdoms Theology
As I wrote last week, I think that Two Kingdoms Theology offers an extremely helpful middle-ground approach to cultural pursuits (business, government, art, scholarship, community service, science, etc) between both Neo-Calvinism and Dispensationalism.
Two Kingdoms Theology agrees with Neo-Calvinism that cultural pursuits are valuable and important, and that it is a good thing for Christians to pursue various cultural pursuits. On this point, Two Kingdoms Theology would disagree with (at least some forms of) Dispensationalism, which almost completely rejects cultural pursuits as “worldly,” and therefore not legitimate.
Sometimes this Dispensational approach is called a life raft mentality, where the only point of living in this world is to get as many souls on the life raft as possible, because everything else is burning up and passing away. Why would you focus on building a business, creating art, engaging in scholarship, or taking part in any community service if all of this is burning up anyway?
On the other hand, Two Kingdoms Theology limits the value placed on cultural pursuits from what Neo-Calvinists would articulate. Our cultural pursuits, though valuable, are not redemptive in any sense. What we create, build, or reform in this world will not carry into the next, and, in fact, the Two Kingdoms Theology would agree with Dispensationalists on this point: all of it is passing away as we await Jesus to usher in the New Heavens and the New Earth when he returns.
Difficulty of Culture in Two Kingdoms Theology
The difficulty of the Two Kingdoms view, of course, is that it offers significantly lower motivation for cultural pursuits than the Neo-Calvinism approach. As someone who works a 40-hour work week for a marketing firm, there is something very attractive about believing that my work has some redemptive quality–beyond simply saying that my work is good, there is a pull toward believing that my work is redemptive.
Moreover, I’ll be honest–I’m still a bit confused about what the precise motivation for cultural pursuits would be under Two Kingdoms Theology. I understand that cultural pursuits have value and play a crucial role in God’s Common Kingdom, but I suppose I’m still wrestling a bit with how to navigate how I ought to feel about my work, how I ought to value my work, and how much emotional and spiritual energy I ought to invest in my work.
But I keep coming back to VanDrunen’s example from Jeremiah 29, where the exiles from Israel are living in Babylon, and God tells them that they are to seek the welfare of that pagan city even though they will be returning to the Promised Land in 70 years. They are to engage in all kinds of cultural pursuits during those next 70 years:
5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:5-7)
Indeed, the New Testament tells us that we are in precisely the same situation. We are sojourners and exiles (1 Pet. 2:11) whose citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). We are commanded to do good to all, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10), even though we know that this world is passing away along with its desires (1 John 2:17).
There is a strong case here, then, for insisting that we should engage in all kinds of cultural pursuits while we are passing through this land as sojourners, even with the understanding that we will leave this world behind–the exact same situation that the exiles in Babylon faced.
I need to continue to wrestle with the details, but at the moment, this overall approach to culture resonates well with my understanding of the Scriptures. Lord willing, I will have more to write as I process these things in the coming weeks and months.
Have you talked with Jake at all about William Cavanaugh? I’ve been reading a bit about Radical Orthodoxy, and it sounds like it would be a strong counter to Two Kingdoms theology, since it has a lot of overlap with Neo-Calvinism.
I think Jake mentioned William Cavanaugh the other day, but I might be mistaken.
Could you summarize some of the high points? I’ve heard of Radical Orthodoxy, and I once tried to read a bit about it, but I didn’t really understand what was going on and my attention drifted to something else. 🙂
Well, I’m no expert myself. I haven’t actually read Cavanaugh, so best to ask Jake about “Migrations of the Holy,” which I think I saw that he’s currently reading.
I read James Smith’s (philosophy prof. at Calvin) “Introducing Radical Orthodoxy” where he does a good job summarizing concisely the main ideas of the movement and connecting it with similarities and differences in Neo-Calvinism. (The little I’ve tried to read of Milbank has been almost unintelligible to me. Milbank writes the intro to Smith’s book’s, so I take it to be a fairly accurate portrayal.) The basic idea is something of a large-scale project unmasking – often in sympathy with postmodern theory – the theological presuppositions that lie behind secular modernity – secular reason, free market capitalism, the nation-state, etc. – in its variety of forms. But instead of retreating to relativism of postmodernism, it seeks to offer an alternative to secular modernity grounded in explicitly Christian theological assumptions. So its something like an Augustinian, post-foundational alternative to secular reason. Hence the overlap with Kuyper.
The reason I think it might provide a foil to Two Kingdoms theology (about which I’ve mostly just learned about from you) is that it would deny that there can be any sort of neutral, secular ground for Christians to participate in outside of the church.
Interesting. I’m not sure that Two Kingdoms people would be comfortable calling the Common Kingdom secular, since it still remains a Kingdom under the sovereignty of God.
Instead, I think the Two Kingdoms guys would depend on Natural Law (not a secular neutrality) as an organizing principle for the Common Kingdom. I’d be interested in how much Natural Law would overlap with those “Christian theological assumptions” that Radical Orthodoxy would articulate.