Monday, March 12, 2012

Nature, Sin, Grace, and the Two Kingdoms 

Part I is here.                                                    

Two Kingdoms theology is a popular new movement within especially Reformed circles, coming mostly from Westminster West in Escondido.  Some of its primary advocates are David VanDrunen, Michael Horton and Kim Riddlebarger.  I believe that these men are reacting to some legitimate problems in modern Reformed thinking, but at the same time I believe that they are profoundly wrong in some important ways on this subject.

Two Kingdoms theology teaches that the Christian necessarily lives in two kingdoms, the common kingdom and the redemptive kingdom.  Here is a basic primer in two kingdoms theology.  For further study I would especially recommend David VanDrunen's book Living in God's Two Kingdoms.  But in a nutshell, this theology teaches that all of our common cultural activity such as art, business, music, politics, education and the like are all part of a common kingdom which is ruled by common grace, which cannot be said to be distinctly Christian, which is not the business of the church and which is ruled by Christ in His capacity as God, not by Jesus as the Messiah.  Christ as Messiah rules over the church, and it is in the church that all of our redemptive expectations are focused.  Redemption therefore has nothing really to do with our common cultural life.

People in Reformed circles are accustomed to talking about the "cultural mandate" of Adam and Eve.  This was the instruction that God gave them in the garden to take dominion over creation.  Many in Reformed circles, especially Dutch Reformed circles, speak of our salvation as being the restoration of the cultural mandate.  By being freed from the curse of sin, the redeemed believer is now free to continue and finish the mandate which God gave Adam.  They commonly quote Abraham Kuyper's statement, "There is not one square inch of creation about which King Jesus does not declare, 'This is mine!'"  The redeemed Christian therefore needs to be about the business of redeeming politics, redeeming art, music, business, etc.  Church becomes less important to such "cultural transformationalists."  Christianity is expressed mostly outside the church, not in it.  Many in this camp even believe that the works we do in this present age (buildings, works of art, inventions, etc) are not destroyed at Jesus' second coming but persist into the eternal state, and that therefore the Christian today is very literally engaged in the work of building the kingdom of God.  The church is mainly important then as it energizes and educates me to go out in the world and redeem culture.  To these believers, the eternal state is largely a continuation of the present age, with sin removed.  This camp is associated with Abraham Kuyper and especially Herman Dooyeveerd.

The "Two Kingdoms" theology attacks this thinking at every point.  Their argument is that Christ was the second Adam and completed the work God gave to Adam.  Adam's mandate was a temporary arrangement; he was under a kind of probation, and if he had obeyed, then at some point his mandate would end, he would pass the test and enter into his rest.  When Christ obeyed God perfectly during His life, death and resurrection, He completed Adam's mandate and that mandate now is obsolete, abrogated and irrelevant.  The kingdom of heaven does not need to be built by Christians; it has already been built by Christ.  When He comes again, He will establish His kingdom and we will simply inherit it at that point.  Our Christian activity is pursued within the church, and what we do outside the church should not be considered "Christian", according to writers like VanDrunen.  It is not governed by anything exclusively Christian, but by the common covenant that God made with all mankind in the person of Noah.  The covenant with Noah is seen by them as being a covenant which downgraded the covenant God made with Adam, so that the present order would be preserved.  That covenant, according to 2K theology, covers all of our activity outside of the church, and is common to all people, informed by common grace and without redemptive value.  Christians engage in this kingdom out of obedience and to preserve the present order until Christ comes again, but they do not do so in any sense as part of their identity as members of Christ's redemptive kingdom.  2K thinkers such as VanDrunen allow that salvation in Christ makes me better understand my common cultural obligations, since when I submit to God's truth I am better able to see and understand the principles by which the world works.

With that introduction in place, consider the question raised in the last article.  Is the fundamental dichotomy one of nature versus grace, or sin versus grace?  The Reformed position is that the dichotomy is one on sin versus grace.  The problem is not the way God made things.  The problem is our corruption of that natural order by sin.  We do not need to be rescued from a state of nature; indeed it is impossible that we ever should be so.  Deal with the sin and there is no need to free us from nature.  Deal with the sin problem, and nature becomes heaven.

The 2K theology brings us back to the nature vs. grace dichotomy.  In their view, the natural state in which God created Adam was not a state of blessedness, it was a probationary state in which Adam had to labor in order to receive his reward.  That is not to say it was onerous or unpleasant.  But it was not a state of blessedness for Adam.  After Adam fell, this becomes even more so.  The present state is fallen and it cannot be otherwise.  God locked that fallenness in place with the covenant of Noah, and our salvation in Christ is not to be restored to a real relationship with God's creation; it is to be rescued from that creation.  But the witness of Scripture is clear that God gave Adam every good gift in the garden; what could He add to what Adam already had?

This is not to say that the Dooyeveerdian cultural transformation model is to be preferred.  It is profoundly mistaken as well, I believe.  The 2K people are right to say that we are not saved in order to complete Adam's cultural mandate.  Christ fulfilled it perfectly.  To say that the Christian is to engage in building the kingdom of God or redeeming the culture is, I believe, to call into question the completion of Christ's work, and the 2K theologians are right to reject that view.  Where I disagree with them is in the idea of a cultural mandate which was only temporary.  I do not believe that the tasks God gave to Adam in the Garden of Eden were a test to be passed with a reward to follow.  I believe that Adam already was in possession of all of the blessings God had in store for him, and the tasks given to Adam were simply a description of what it meant to be human.  In Christ therefore we are restored to the dominion mandate of Adam, not as a task to be completed but simply as the true understanding of what a human being is.

Therefore, all of our lives outside of the church certainly are Christian, and certainly are affected by our understanding of ourselves as member of Christ's body.  Being a Christian absolutely does change my attitude toward being a plumber or a lawyer or a policeman.  It does so at a very fundamental level.

This gets me back to the original issue I raised, regarding the Philippines.  This is a country profoundly affected by worldview, as every country is.  They have had a great increase in their prosperity over the last 100 years due to their contact with a Christian worldview.  But profound problems remain.  They have common grace as much as Americans do; why is America prosperous and the Philippines less prosperous, relatively speaking?  Is it a geographical or genetic difference?  I do not believe so.  I believe it is a difference of worldview.

The 2K theology advocates are advocating their view while enjoying the results of hundreds of years of Christian theologians advocating the opposite view.  Common grace is not sufficient to raise nations out of barbarism, ignorance and poverty.  The world was plunged into that state before Christ came.  They had common grace, but it didn't help very much.  It was with the coming of a Christian understanding of science, politics and business that the Renaissance happened, freedom began to advance, technology began to develop and millions of people were lifted out of slavery and starvation.

The 2K theology seems to have the inescapable consequence of the denigration of all work outside the church.  I cannot avoid the conclusion (based on the 2K understanding) that non-church work, if it is not "Christian" and it has no redemptive value, is a necessary evil at best.  Its real value would lie only in its ability to generate money to be given to the church or to produce converts to go to church.  Otherwise, it simply maintains the current state, which is a wicked and fallen state.  This would rob the Reformation of one of its singular achievements, the understanding of a Christian worldview that sees God's image reflected in all of our cultural activities.

I do agree that our goals for cultural transformation ought to be modest.  In fact, I am not sure we should have goals at all.  Our goal, at any rate, is already complete in Christ.  Our common cultural activity should be seen as merely expressing that salvation which we have been given, and the larger results of that in history are purely a matter of God's will.  But I cannot accept the idea that culture is mostly irrelevant to our salvation.  I cannot accept that most of our identity as human beings will simply end when we die and that our economic and civil behavior simply doesn't matter in the long run.  I cannot accept that salvation means escaping nature, escaping human activity, escaping labor and achievement.  The history of the western world shows what happens when a truly Christian worldview comes to largely dominate societies, and the tremendous wealth and freedom that are produced.  That history proves the truth of the Christian worldview; it proves that God's creation works the way God says it does, and therefore gives additional evidence of the truth of all of His revelation.  I think that history shows just a very small glimpse of what is possible when the effects of sin begin to be reduced by such a Christian worldview, what the prophet saw when he said,  "They shall build houses and inhabit them; They shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  They shall not build and another inhabit; They shall not plant and another eat; For as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, And My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands." (Isaiah 65:21-22)

Our work now is not the way we accomplish, maintain, add to, or confirm our salvation.  Jesus did all that perfectly.  Our work now is the way we begin to experience our salvation.  I look forward to working in heaven, working at the things I enjoy with none of the corruption of sin destroying my labor or robbing it of its rightful reward.  The New Testament tells us that we will be kings in the New Earth, and when God made Adam and commanded him to take dominion over the earth, He told Adam what that kingship looked like by telling him to tend the garden (labor) and name the animals (science).  I look forward to fully entering into that dominion in the eternal state, and I thank God that He gives me the grace, by the power of His Spirit, to begin to learn what it means to take dominion over creation even in this present age.  In my own life I have already seen some small taste of the blessings possible when I begin to live my life in the common sphere according to Christian principles, which really are just God's principles, His truth about why He created all things, what we are to be in that creation and how we relate to God and to His creation.  Jesus said He came to bring the truth, and that the truth would set us free.  I don't think Jesus came just to bring the truth about justification and the eternal state, though that would be the implications of the 2K theology, since Jesus' Messianic work, according to them, has nothing to do with our labor, with politics, with family, with art, or with anything outside the church.  Jesus came to bring the truth about everything, and that truth sets us free in our whole lives to begin becoming what God always intended for us to be.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Google Analytics Alternative