Fermentations Online is Here!

After many long delays and fruitless vigils, the new web platform of Fermentations magazine is online!  We still have lots of work to do on architecture, styling, and content, but the basic structure and a couple dozen of our most recently published articles are there now, so please feel free to go rummage around, and check back frequently for updates!

Featuring articles by Peter Leithart, Doug Jones, Wesley Hill, and a crew of exciting young writers, and interviews with writers like Stanley Hauerwas and Eric Stoddart, Fermentations seeks to provide thoughtful and creative reflections on the intersection of theology and culture.  With the new website, soon you will be able to read all of our old articles, recipes, poems, short stories, and trademark “Bits of Tid,” including some material never before published; and once we get everything running smoothly, you can expect brand-new content on at least a weekly basis.

 


A Two Kingdoms Hart Attack

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.



The Sole Un-lordship of Christ

About a month ago, I posted an initial reaction* to David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, with the promise that a more thorough summary would be forthcoming.  At last, I shall attempt to begin to make good on that promise, though the further posts will still be few and concise compared to other book reviews I’ve posted.  I plan to offer four further posts: this one, dealing with basic theological underpinnings of VanDrunen’s paradigm, another touching on the problems of biblical theology that his view runs into, another dealing with the ecclesiology offered and implied in the book, and finally one discussing in more detail the practical political and cultural applications VanDrunen offers, and how they seem at odds with the theological assumptions.  On to the theology then.

In my first post, you may recall I claimed that so alien was VanDrunen’s theological paradigm in this book that I often felt like we were practitioners of two totally different religions.  This was not meant uncharitably, or as a casual charge of heresy in the venerable tradition of Southern Presbyterianism.  VanDrunen is certainly orthodox.  But the following quote may give you an idea of how vast is the gulf between his kind of Christian theology and mine:

“The Lord Jesus, as a human being–as the last Adam–has attained the original goal held out for Adam: a glorified life ruling the world-to-come.  Because Jesus has fulfilled the first Adam’s commission, those who belong to Christ by faith are no longer given that commission.  Christians already possess eternal life and claim an everlasting inheritance.  God does not call them to engage in cultural labours so as to earn their place in the world-to-come.  We are not little Adams.  Instead, God gives us a share in the world-to-come as a gift of free grace in Christ and then calls us to live obediently in this world as a grateful response.  Our cultural activities do not in any sense usher in the new creation.  The new creation has been earned and attained once and for all by Christ, the last Adam.  Cultural activity remains important for Christians, but it will come to an abrupt end, along with this present world as a whole, when Christ returns and cataclysmically ushers in the new heaven and new earth.” (28) 

This passage represents a sort of condensed thesis statement for the entire book (though it must be said that the rest of the book is less a vindication of this proposal than an application of it–it serves more as a starting-point to be proof-texted than a conclusion that is argued toward), so let’s try to unpack the basic theses:

1) Christ has fulfilled Adam’s original task.

2) Therefore, 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.

 

The crucial claim here is the first one: this two-Adams typology serves as the fulcrum for VanDrunen’s argument throughout this book, and is repeated on what feels like every page.  To understand it better, it is perhaps helpful to understand what VanDrunen is reacting to.  He characterises much contemporary thinking on Christianity and culture as follows: we are required to fulfil Adam’s original dominion mandate. Mankind was created to take dominion over the world and enrich creation; man fell; Christ redeemed man and set him back on track to carry out this work of dominion and hence bring creation to completion. 

VanDrunen sharply disagrees with this picture.  Christ does not come to put us back in Adam’s place, but he himself takes Adam’s place and fulfills Adam’s task.  Christ, as the last Adam, has accomplished all that needs to be accomplished, and that accomplishment is not “not ‘creation regained’ but ‘re-creation gained.'”  Now, to a point, I would certainly agree.  There is something very inadequate about a doctrine of redemption that thinks that we are simply being restored to the Garden, a redemption that is simply rewinding the Fall, instead of fast-forwarding us as well into the new Creation (of course, I’m not at all sure that VanDrunen’s opponents actually think this).  

But what does VanDrunen think is Adam’s commission that Christ fulfils?  It does not appear to be, as we would normally think, exercising faithful rule over creation–first over the garden, with the reward of faithfulness there being an exaltation to greater responsibility and a level of greater maturity.  Rather, VanDrunen appears to believe that Adam would have been transposed to a world-to-come if he’d been obedient: “Scripture does not tell us exactly how things would have unfolded, but if the first Adam had been obedient then the rest of us would still have come into existence and shared the glory of the world-to-come with him in the presence of God” (41).  The garden, in this model–indeed, the whole world–appears to have simply been an elaborate stage on which Adam was to play out an act of obedience, after which point God would sweep away the world and give Adam lordship in a “world-to-come” with a completely different mode of existence.  

Needless to say, this seems a bit eccentric.  

From this it follows that Christ’s “fulfilling Adam’s task” means Christ becoming incarnate in order to carry out Adam’s act of obedience as a one-time action and thus earning not only for himself, but for all those whom he elects, a life in this world-to-come.  The point is in no way to restore creation or set us back on track for lordship over it.

The problem is thus not primarily that VanDrunen emphasises “Christ is Adam, not us” (though there are problems there, which we shall get to); the problem is that VanDrunen’s Christ does not actually come to exercise lordship over creation, as Adam was originally tasked to do. If that were Christ’s mission, then even though redemption was in one sense accomplished “once for all,” there would clearly be a sense in which it was still being worked out, as Christ’s lordship was concretely realised.  Christ’s lordship would thus have implications for how life was to be lived in this world, which we would be called upon to bear witness to, even if not to enact it ourselves.  But VanDrunen will have none of this.  Christ did not come to be lord of creation, but to enable us to escape from it to the “world-to-come.”  So let’s jump to the fourth and fifth theses, from which we can return to more carefully consider the second and third.

 

What then is this “world-to-come”?  Does VanDrunen really believe, in quasi-Gnostic fashion, that this world is simply being ditched so we can transition to a brand spanking new, made-from-scratch spiritual world?  I, for one, was quite persuaded by N.T. Wright’s argument in Surprised by Hope that that is completely alien to the vision of Scripture, so much so that I have trouble getting my head around it; but obviously, Wright was writing against somebody and VanDrunen seems to happily play into the stereotype.  On page 53, he describes Christ bringing the present world “to a sudden and decisive end,” and later elaborates, “The NT teaches that the natural order as it now exists will come to a radical end and that the products of human culture will perish along with the natural order.  As we have seen, Christ has already entered into the world-to-come, and now he is making it ready for us to join him.” (64) 

What about the resurrection from the dead, then?  Aren’t our physical bodies brought back to life for a renewed physical existence?  Some of VanDrunen’s remarks seem to attenuate the continuity of our resurrection bodies: “a ‘spiritual’ body is a body that comes from the world-to-come and is fit for the world to come.” (53)

But what about Romans 8? you’re going to ask.  VanDrunen has a reply ready: “To understand Paul’s point, it is important to remember that this present world was never meant to exist forever.  The first Adam was commissioned to finish his task in this world and then to rule in the world-to-come (Heb. 2:5).  Thus when creation groans (Rom. 8:22) for something better, for ‘the glory’ that is coming (8:18), creation is not seeking an improvement of its present existence but the attainment of its original destiny.  It longs to give way before the new heaven and new earth.”  The glorious release that creation is longing for is its own destruction, since that will enable believers to receive their spiritual bodies. (65)

 

Now, having understood all this, we can begin to understand why in thesis 4 VanDrunen can emphasise so emphatically the already of Christ’s work.  If Christ is lord of this world, then clearly his crown, although already bestowed, has yet to be fully recognised–the turning-point of the story may have been reached, but the story has not ended–Christ must reign until all things have been put under his feet.  But for VanDrunen, since the kingdom Christ has gained has nothing to do with this world, the story is basically over, and all we’re waiting for is the opportunity to join him in his completed kingdom. 

Likewise, we can understand why in thesis 4 and in thesis 2, VanDrunen draws such a dichotomy between Christ’s work and our work.  Obviously, if Christ were exercising Adam’s dominion over this world, and making it possible for us to live within it as we were originally meant to live, then it’s hard to see how emphasising the uniqueness of Christ’s work would entail that we do not participate in it in any sense.  Christ might be the only lord, but we are his subjects, and as such called to live out the reality of his kingdom here, participating in his redeeming work here.  But if Christ is not this world’s lord, and if the purpose of his redemption simply purchased us free passes out of it, then obviously there’s not really anything left for us to do. “Before the second Adam no one accomplished the task of the first Adam, and after the second Adam no one needs to accomplish it.  The last Adam has completed it once and for all.  Christians will attain the original destiny of life in the world-to-come, but we do so not by picking up the task where Adam left off but by resting entirely on the work of Jesus Christ, the last Adam who accomplished the task perfectly.” (50)

 

But it is worth pausing to consider a little more the theology underlying VanDrunen’s sharp “Christ, not us” dichotomy.  Underlying VanDrunen’s paranoia about any view in which we participate in Christ’s redeeming work or contribute to the realisation of the new creation is a supercharged doctrine of justification by faith.  (It is as this point where one begins to detect, lurking in the background, the spectres of the Federal Vision controversy, which actually proves to be highly relevant to the whole theological agenda VanDrunen is sketching.)  Let’s look again at a portion of the quote we began with: “God does not call them to engage in cultural labours so as to earn their place in the world-to-come.  We are not little Adams.  Instead, God gives us a share in the world-to-come as a gift of free grace in Christ and then calls us to live obediently in this world as a grateful response.”  Now this is a bit odd, I think, because I don’t know who he thinks he is arguing against here.  No Kuyperian I know of, nor any Anabaptist, nor N.T. Wright, has set up their call for Christian cultural activity in terms of justification by works–we must earn our place in the new creation by working hard to transform the world.  Of course we work as those who have already been forgiven, who have already been promised a share in Christ’s kingdom; of course he has conquered, not us, and all of our labours would be in vain without him.  But for VanDrunen, the suggestion that we are called to participate with Christ in restoring the world suggests synergism, suggests that Christ is not all-sufficient—if we have something to contribute to the work of redemption, then this is something subtracted from Christ, something of our own that we bring apart from him.  Solus Christus and sola fide must therefore entail that there is nothing left to do in the working out of Christ’s accomplishment in his death and resurrection, that we must be nothing but passive recipients.  

Here we find, then, that Puritan spirit at the heart of VanDrunen’s project–the idea that God can only be glorified at man’s expense,** that it’s a zero-sum game, and that thus to attribute something to us is to take it away from Christ, and to attribute something to Christ is to take it away from us.  If Christ redeems the world, then necessarily, we must have nothing to do with the process.  But this is not how the Bible speaks.  He is the head, and we are the body.  We are united to him.  He looks on us, and what we do, and says, “That is me.”  We look on him, and what he does, and say, “That is us.”  He invites us to take part in his work—this is what is so glorious about redemption, that we are not simply left as passive recipients, but raised up to be Christ-bearers in the world.  

Thus, VanDrunen is speaking only half-truths when he declares,

“The New Testament does speak about the completion of the first Adam’s original task and the attainment of his goal, but it always attributes this work to Christ, the last Adam.  We have not been given a plot of land as a holy temple to work and to guard; Christ has already purified a place for God to dwell with his people.  We have not been commissioned to conquer the devil; Christ has already conquered him.  Christ did not come to restore the original creation, but to win the new creation and to bestow its blessings upon his people apart from their own efforts.” (62)

 

At this point, though, the chasm is perhaps not entirely unbridgeable.  In the opening quote, VanDrunen spoke of us being called “to live obediently in this world as a grateful response.”  This kind of language appears at a couple of other points:  

“Believers are not returned to the position of the first Adam, called to win the world-to-come as an accomplished fact and then calls them to cultural labor in this world as a grateful response.” (53)

And similiarly, “We pursue cultural activies in response to the fact that the new creation has already been achieved, not in order to contribute to its achievement.” (57)

VanDrunen is right–the decisive act has been accomplished–in a sense, there is nothing new to be contributed, but simply the outworking of Christ’s once-for-all enthronement.  He is right–we live as those already redeemed, living out of gratitude for this redemption, and not to earn it.  I am all for this idea of Christian cultural activity as a grateful response to Christ’s gift.  But what does that mean?  What does that look like?  VanDrunen has already made clear that it cannot look like “helping make the new order of Christ’s kingdom visible” (since it’s not supposed to be visible) nor can it mean “bearing witness to the fact that Christ is this world’s true lord” (since he’s not), nor can it even mean, “seeking to restore this world to its original created order” (since even Christ isn’t trying to do that).  Indeed, if Christ has staked no claims to this world, and is planning to simply do away with it entirely, it’s hard to see why we should waste our time in any kind of cultural endeavour.  

 

In short, I really do salute VanDrunen’s intention to liberate Christians for cultural engagement as a grateful response to Christ’s gift, but I have a hard time seeing how he can give any meaningful content to this, given the theological foundations he has provided.  I shall say more about this disconnect between foundation and aspiration in a future post.  

 

*See this post.

**See this post and the latter part of this post.