Where’s the Resurrection? (VanDrunen Review IX.2)

Let me then come back to my bold claim that VanDrunen’s gospel doesn’t seem to include the Resurrection.  Toward the end, analyzing Bartholomew and Goheen, he says (I’ve quoted a bit of this already): “[They] describe God’s redemptive work as comprehensive and fundamentally restorative: in Christ human beings work to restore the creation that was marred and work again toward the positive cultural development of this world.  After the fall, God set out on a ‘salvage mission.’  They write: ‘We stress the comprehensive scope of God’s redemptive work in creation.  The biblical story does not move toward the destruction of the world and our own ‘rescue’ to heaven.  Instead, it culminates in the restoration of the entire creation to its original goodness.’”  

 Now, basically, this sounds like exactly what the resurrection was about.  Of course, I want to also make sure we insist that the resurrection is not merely a restoration, but gets us ultimately much further than the first Adam ever got.  But, if the purpose of Christ’s work was to be obedient unto death, and thus to purchase for himself a people who could join him in his spiritual kingdom in heaven, until such time as he should choose to chuck the old creation in the bin, then it seems like his work was done at the cross.  The resurrection, it would seem, served only an epistemic purpose–sorta a divine, “See, I told you so, he really was God.”  But of course, if that was the point, it seems like something better could’ve been managed, since we still have to accept the resurrection on faith.  

However, if the resurrection is what I understand it to have been, the destruction of death and Christ’s taking on a body that was the glorified form of creation–not a mere spirit, but his same body from earth, brought to perfection–as a firstfruits of all mankind and all creation, which from that Easter morning is set on course to receiving that same glorification, then we are in this age charged with the task, and strengthened by the Spirit, to participate in Christ’s making all things new.  Again, N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope says all this much more clearly than I can.  

 

Now, having stated rather forcefully my disagreement with VanDrunen here, let me acknowledge a couple points where I am in sympathy with his concern.  He speaks repeatedly of the problem with the neo-Calvinists’ “eschatological burdening of the cultural task”–they so connect the redemption and perfection of the world with our work of culturally embodying the Gospel that they run the risk of making the consummation dependent on our work.  This is a sort of cosmological Pelagianism: Christ set us back on the right track, and charged us to bring his world to perfection.  No doubt these thinkers would insist that this is not what they mean–they are Calvinists after all–they would insist that we are dependent on Christ for everything, and the victory is his alone.  Nevertheless, but insisting too forcefully on a correlation between the triumph of the kingdom and the visible evidence of that triumph, they risk two errors, common to all Pelagianism.  On the one hand, there is a risk of a triumphalistic pride, confident that we will simply move from victory to victory till we reach perfection, refusing to look at evidence of our failures; on the other hand, a temptation to despair when we cast ourselves on the wheel of history and it refuses to turn, when the powers of this world do not seem to be collapsing before the onslaught of the kingdom as we would expect them to.  

Moreover, this attitude creates an urgency to go out there in the world and start making the Kingdom visible, and this impatience leads to a tendency to favor those pursuits that will produce the quickest, most visible results.  Hence, there is a tremendous push to Christianize the political realm, to capture positions of power and make them bastions of the Gospel.  But of course, the true progress of the Kingdom is in the Church, and it is humble and lowly in the eyes of the world; it comes through repudiating the positions of power in which the world puts so much stock.  It is no coincidence that neo-Calvinists tend to have low ecclesiologies, because the growth of the Church to maturity is a painfully slow process, and so does not present to our eyes the sense of glorious accomplishment that the short-lived cultural and political conquests of the Gospel might.  VanDrunen’s concern for the marginalization of the Church in these thinkers comes out repeatedly, and here, I am in great sympathy with him.  

 Finally, I should very briefly note a fundamental problem with the way he repeatedly tries to contrast these thinkers with the Reformers–it is again a failure to reckon with history.  All thought is developed in a context, and geared toward answering a set of questions and problems posed by that context–it may be adaptable in some way to later situations, but such adaptation will have to be done carefully, and with a willingness to recognize some major shifts.  These neo-Calvinists are working in the context of post-Enlightenment secularism: to assert that Christ is king over all, and his Gospel needs to affect everything, is a way of resisting the claim that there are supposed to be large tracts of life completely insulated from the claims of Scripture or of any religion, the claim of a secular realm.  For the Reformers, there was no concept of secular in the same way.  There was a temporal realm, but even this was deeply shaped by religion, and deeply concerned with religion.  Of course, we have already noted that VanDrunen tries to marginalize this–he tries to minimize the Reformers’ concern for a Protestant magistracy and a Protestant society–but there is simply no way to make the historical case that the early Reformed tradition had anything like our modern concept of sacred vs. secular realms.  However, VanDrunen seems to think they did: “This rejection of a sacred-secular realm distinction in which only the former is redeemed is certainly consistent with Plantinga’s kingdom theology, though this distinction is arguably exactly what the earlier Reformed two kingdoms doctrine was meant to uphold.”  That statement manifests a serious historical anachronism, and suggests a serious methodological flaw in VanDrunen’s attempt, throughout this chapter, to simply line up what the neo-Calvinists say, on one hand, and what the Calvinists say on the other hand.  Two people can say very different things in different contexts, without necessarily having fundamentally different goals.  I’m not sure what Calvin would’ve said if he’d been writing in the 20th or 21st century; to be sure, it wouldn’t have been the same as Cornelius Plantinga, but I’m quite sure it wouldn’t have been anything close to David VanDrunen either.  

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