Over at Old Life Theological Society, Darryl Hart has been vigilantly policing the web for any criticism of Reformed two kingdoms theology, so I knew it was only a matter of time before my incessant provocations warranted a full-post response. That response came on Monday, and although I hate the petty squabbling that so often characterizes blog debates, this may be a useful opportunity to clarify some of my critiques of VanDrunen and get a better idea of where R2K folks are coming from. My main reply proved rather bulky for the comments section, so I’ve opted to post it here–Darryl’s excerpts in italics, mine in regular font:
“1) Christ has fulfilled Adam’s original task.
2) Therefore [Latin, ergo], Christians are not called to fulfil that task.
3) Christians do not need to earn eternal life by cultural labours; they already possess the eternal life that Christ has won for them.
4) Our work does not participate in the coming of the new creation–it has already been attained once and for all by Christ.
5) Our cultural activity is important but temporary, since it will all be wiped away when Christ returns to destroy this present world.”
Sounds pretty good to me (except for number 5 which is a bit of a caricature), but it also makes sense theologically since you wouldn’t want to argue the opposite of these deductions, would you? Do you really want to be on the side of affirming that Christians earn eternal life through cultural labours?
First, I would ask how #5 a caricature? This is certainly what VanDrunen appears to be saying in LGTK, but if not, I am glad to hear that, and would like to get a clearer explanation of what R2K eschatology looks like.
Second, why wouldn’t some want to argue the opposite of these deductions? I would certainly dispute 2, as well as, in certain important senses at any rate, 4 and 5. The only one that you really wouldn’t want to dispute is 3.
But more fundamentally, my objection was that these do not constitute “deductions” but a string of assertions. (3) simply does not follow from (1) and (2)–except on an idiosyncratic and unbiblical understanding of “Adam’s original task”, nor do any of the others follow from (3). (3) is the odd man out here. How does the statement “we do not merit redemption by our cultural labours” entail “redemption has nothing to do with our cultural labours”? We are not justified by our cultural labours, of course. But our sanctification does flow over into those cultural labours, as I will get to in a moment.
We are united with Christ, ergo, we take part in redeeming the world? How exactly does that follow?
How does it not follow? We are united with Christ, therefore we reign even now with with him; we are made kings and priests, sharing in his dominion and intercession over all creation. He is even now putting all his enemies under his feet, thus redeeming the world from the bondage of sin. And by our union with him, we are made sharers in this task. Lest this sound too triumphalistic, we must of course remember that we are united with him in his death, and called to share in his cross, which is how he overcomes the world. I suppose it does not follow for the R2Ker because they insist that Christ is not enthroned over creation, but only over the Church; therefore, even if we do somehow share in his kingship, this means nothing for redeeming the world. This is a whole ‘nother discussion, I suppose, though I have touched on it in previous posts on R2K Christology.
But to turn cultural activity into a part of redemption does take away from the all sufficiency of Christ or misunderstands the nature of his redeeming work. You may understand the sole sufficiency of the work of Christ for saving sinners, but if you then add redeeming culture or word and deed ministries to the mix of redemption, you are taking away from Christ’s sufficiency, both for the salvation of sinners and to determine what his kingdom is going to be and how it will be established. Maybe you could possibly think about cultural activity as a part of sanctification where God works and we work when creating a pot of clay.
There’s vagueness going on here in the term “redemption.” Redemption involves, if I learned my ordo salutis correctly in Catechism class, both justification and sanctification…not to mention glorification. So yes, cultural activity is a part of sanctification–and therefore it is a part of redemption. Redemption takes effect in a sanctification which lays hold of our entire lives, including culture. Now here’s the cool part. Although this cultural activity is an effect, not a cause, of our own personal redemption, it is a cause of the redemption of the world more broadly. This of course gives VanDrunen and Hart the heebie-jeebies, so let me explain. The fall, by warping our relationship with God, also warped our relationships to one another. As we are sanctified, we are again enabled to live out these relationships rightly. Our redemption thus takes effect (slow and ambiguous effect, to be sure) in the healing of distorted social structures, and indeed of creation itself (Romans 8:20-23). And here is where my “not a zero-sum game” comes in. Christ is the sole lord of the universe, the sole captain of salvation, the only one with power to redeem. But he accomplishes the redemption of his creation through his people–by his grace, he redeems for himself a people, and in transforming them, enables them to work together with him in accomplishing the healing of his world.
But as I’ve said before, the fruit of the Spirit is not Bach, Shakespeare, or Sargent; if you turn cultural activity into redeemed work you need to account for the superior cultural products of non-believers compared to believers.
There are actually three categories to be considered, and you and VanDrunen collapse the latter two. First, there are actions carried out in relation to God–here, obviously, only believers saved by grace through faith are able to do what is good. Then there are actions carried out in relation to other humans–this is the domain of ethics and politics. Then there are actions carried out in relation to the creation–this is the domain of art, mathematics, technology, etc. These are of course not iron-clad spheres (at least not the latter two), but useful distinctions. Now, while in the third category, natural reason is sufficient for unbelievers to discover the laws of geometry or write glorious symphonies just as well as believers (although it is probably not a coincidence that music has developed so much further in the Christian West than anywhere else; if we were being really precise, we would treat humane arts here differently than physical sciences), it’s not quite this simple in the second category. Unbelievers are not going to have the same insight into justice, into how husbands and wives should treat one another, how rulers should treat their subjects, how economic exchange should be carried out justly, as Christians. They will have a lot of insight, sure (this is natural law, common grace, etc.), but do we really want to say that salvation doesn’t affect how you treat other people, and the Bible gives no instruction on how to treat other people? I think not. It is careless to lump together politics and music as “culture” and say that in all “cultural activities” believers have nothing distinctive to offer, and that the Bible doesn’t give us instruction about cultural activities.
Actually, VanDrunen supplies plenty of theological justification for his view of Christ and culture since he sees important layers of discontinuity between Israel and the church
Sure, of course there are important layers of discontinuity, but there are also important layers of continuity, and I can’t find those in his account (more on this in an upcoming post).
It does not take much imagination to see that the Israelites, even the ones who trusted in Christ during his earthly ministry, were completely unprepared for the new order that was going to emerge after the resurrection…. But the new order of the church was completely unprecedented in the history of redemption to that point in time.
Well, yes and no. I think N.T. Wright supplies very helpful categories for understanding this. The gospel only makes sense as an unforeseen fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel. It is unforeseen in advance, but it is a fulfilment, and thus is in continuity that can be readily traced in hindsight. I don’t see where those points of continuity are for VanDrunen–the history of Israel remains isolated and unintegrated into the sequence of redemptive history (again, more on this in an upcoming post).
I see no reason why the next age of redemptive history will [not] similarly exceed any expectation that we have based on our experience of this world.
Absolutely. But it will nonetheless be in continuity. When I was a young child, I couldn’t begin to imagine what I would be like as a fully grown man (heh, I still can’t :-p)… but this is different from not being able to imagine what it would be like to be a peacock. Again, I’m sure VanDrunen would claim that there is some kind of continuity between this creation and the new creation, but I’m not sure where it is, and his theology appears to repeatedly undermine it.
32 thoughts on “A Two Kingdoms Hart Attack”