The Reign of the Son of Man

This post, again, contains much material from last year, but considerably reorganized, and much more developed (particularly in the latter section)

For Hooker, the royal supremacy, and indeed, the whole identity of a Christian commonwealth, cannot be explained without reference to Christology.  In this, he responds directly to Cartwright, but also, as we shall see, to VanDrunen, for both have advanced the same argument.   

In Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, VanDrunen lays great weight on what he calls the Reformed doctrine of the “two mediatorships,” which he summarizes, 

“As mediator, the divine Logos is not limited to his incarnate form even after the incarnation.  He was mediator of creation prior to his incarnation and as mediator continues to sustain creation independent of his mediatorial work as reconciler of creation in the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth.” 

The function of this doctrine is to emphasize two distinct offices of the Son of God, that of creator and governor over the order creation, on the one hand, and that of redeemer and governor over the order of redemption on the other.  These are not to be characterized as a temporal sequence, for, by virtue of the doctrine of the extra Calvinisticum, VanDrunen sees both offices being executed simultaneously and separately—while Christ was on earth, and indeed, after his ascension as well.  We need not look far to find the function of this doctrine for VanDrunen, for if Christ exercises two separate kingships, this authorizes the two kingdoms distinction.  VanDrunen, we will recall, correlates the civil kingdom to creation, encompassing phenomena such as politics, economics, and culture, and the spiritual kingdom to redemption, encompassing the Church and its work.  

Thus far, the distinction is fairly unobjectionable.  Having once made such a distinction, however, we must be careful not to allow it to become a dichotomy.  The personal unity of the Incarnate Word ensures that, as Hooker emphasized, creation and redemption hold together as two works of the same agent; moreover, these are not two unrelated works, but the latter, as we have seen repeatedly in Hooker’s exposition, renews the former and brings it to perfection.  A mere distinction of this sort, therefore, will not necessarily underwrite the strict separation of Church and state, of the norms of redemption from the norms of creation, that VanDrunen seeks to offer.  VanDrunen must therefore seek to resist the communicatio idiomatum whereby the human acts of the work of redemption can be predicated of the eternal Word and the divine acts of creation and governing creation can be predicated of the Son of man.  VanDrunen thus asks us to separate out these two “capacities”: “The Son of God rules the temporal kingdom as an eternal member of the Divine Trinity but does not rule it in his capacity as the incarnate mediator/redeemer.”  VanDrunen will even go so far as to say that this means we cannot rightly speak of “Christ” as creator:  “To distinguish between the Son as creator and the Son as redeemer entails that the title of ‘Christ’ belongs only to the latter . . . in his special mission of becoming incarnate for the particular work of saving his people.  The Son redeemed the world, but did not create the world, as the Messiah, the Christ.”  On this basis, VanDrunen argues, it is wrong to try to make the creation order (and thus the state) “Christian.”    

Distant as these Christological concerns may seem from politics, a glance at the 16th-century reveals that VanDrunen is not barking up the wrong tree.  In his debate with Whitgift over the relationship of the two kingdoms, Cartwright developed a similar line of argument, which he pursues at some length in his Second Replie.  In attacking Whitgift’s account of the civil and spiritual kingdoms, Cartwright argues that  

“yt confoundeth and shuffleth together the autoritie of our Saviour Christ as he is the sonne off God onely before all worldes coequall with his father: with that which he hath gyven off his father and which he exerciseth in respecte he is mediator betwene God and us.  For in the governement off the church and superiorytie over the officers off it, our Saviour Christ himselfe hath a superior, which is his father: but in the governement off kingdomes, and other commonwealthes, and in the superiority which he hath over kinges and judges, he hath no superior, but immediate autoritie with his father.”  

Further on, he explains, 

“let yt be consydered fyrst that our Saviour Christ ys in one respecte creator, and preserver of mankinde, in another redeemer, and upholder of his church.  For he created once and preserveth daily as God coequal with his Father, and holy spirite, but he both redemed once, and daily gathereth his church, as mediatour of god and man, in which respect even yet in his infynite glory he enjoyeth, he is, and shall be under his father, and holy ghost, untill having put downe all rule and power, he shall render the kingdom to his father.  Secondly yt ys to be donsidered, that as our Saviour Christe doth these in dyvers respectes: so he doth them by divers meanss.  To wyt that as God symply he hath ordeined certein means to serve his providence in the prservation of mankynde; so as God and man, he hath ordeined other certein, for the gathering, and keping off his church.  Thes groundes laied, yt is to be considered, whether the exercise off the sworde by the magistrate, come from our Saviour Christe preserver off mankinde, wherein he is coequal to his father, or as mediatour off his church, wherin he is inferiour.”

In these passages, Cartwright is attempting to assert a Christological basis for a separate government of church and state.  These institutions, says Cartwright, serve to provide for the ongoing work of redemption, and the ongoing government of creation, respectively.  Accordingly, they are not simply under the government of Jesus Christ in the same way, and cannot be mixed together.  In particular, Cartwright’s point here is to insist that we cannot speak of a human head of the Church, because the Church already has a human head, Christ Jesus, who answers to God.  As governor of the Church, “our Saviour Christ himselfe hath a superior, which is his father.”  However, Cartwright does want to allow for human heads of state, and thus argues that these are subordinated to Christ only as he is God: “in the governement off kingdomes . . . he hath no superior, but immediate autoritie with his father.”  Torrance Kirby explains: “According to Cartwright’s position, then, Christ has a double role or function as the ‘God-man’.  On the one hand, he is the source of all authority in the secular political order by virtue of his being the Son of God; on the other hand, he exercises ultimate power as head of his body, the Church, through his Manhood.”  With two distinct heads, then, the civil and spiritual kingdoms function in Cartwright’s account as two distinct, personally separated bodies.  

VanDrunen approvingly cites Samuel Rutherford advancing a similar, though perhaps even more starkly stated account: 

“Rutherford put the temporal kingdom under ‘God the creator’ and spiritual kingdom under ‘Christ the Redeemer and Head of the Church.’  In speaking further about the former, he writes that it is ‘not a part’ of Christ’s spiritual kingdom and thus states bluntly that the civil magistrate ‘is not subordinate to Christ as mediator and head of the Church.’  Along similar lines, he says later that ‘magistrates as magistrates’ are not ‘the ambassadors of Christ’ but ‘the deputy of God as the God of order, and as the creator.”

 

Behind this sort of account lurks the spectre of Nestorianism, the implication that we must treat the Incarnate God-Man as a separate agent from the eternal Word, and must strictly avoid predicating of the one functions carried out by the other.  Hooker is alive to this danger, and also to its larger consequences, recognizing that “such a separation within the source of authority, and its consequent ‘personal’ separation of the civil from the ecclesiastical community implies an inevitable de-Christianising of the secular political order.”  Accordingly, he responds to Cartwright’s claims from the Second Replie in a masterful stretch of argument in VIII.4.6, drawing on the Christological principles laid down already in Book V.

He begins, “As Christ being Lord or Head over all doth by vertue of that Soveraigntie rule all, so he hath no more a superiour in governing his Church then in exercising soveraigne Dominion upon the rest of the world besides.”  On this basis, he will argue “that all authoritie as well civill as Ecclesiasticall is subordinate unto his.”  One cannot, as Cartwright does, separate Christ’s kingship over the Church as man his divine kingship.  Hooker constructs his argument carefully, beginning with the eternal Son’s sharing in the rule of God the Father:

“That which the Father doth work as Lord and King over all he worketh not without but by the sonne who through coeternall generation receiveth of the Father that power which the Father hath of himself.  And for that cause our Savioures wordes concerning his own Dominion are, To me all power both in heaven and earth is given.  The Father by the sonne both did create and doth guide all.”

So far, VanDrunen and Cartwright would probably concur—the second person of the Trinity, by virtue of his divinity derived from the Father, is creator and ruler of all things.  However, Hooker insists at this point on the communicatio idiomatum: “there is no necessitie that all things spoken of Christ should agree unto him either as God or else as man, but some things as he is the consubstantiall word of God, some thinges as he is that word incarnate.  The workes of supreme Dominion which have been since the first begining wrought by the power of the Sonne of God are now most truly and properly the workes of the Sonne of man.  The word made flesh doth sitt for ever and raigne as Soveraigne Lord over all.”  Indeed, at stake here is not merely the doctrine of the incarnation—by virtue of which divine agency can be predicated of Jesus of Nazareth—but the doctrine of the ascension, by virtue of which the man Jesus Christ has been elevated, in his human nature, to kingship at the right hand of God over all his works.  Whereas VanDrunen asserts, and Cartwright implies, a version of the extra Calvinisticum which permanently sunders the human being Jesus Christ from the lordship exercised by the divine Son, Hooker insists that all that the Son worked as God he works now also as man, and what the Son works as man, he now does by divine power: “And yet the dominion wherunto he was in his humane nature lifted up is not without divine power exercised.  It is by divine power that the Sonne of man, who sitteth in heaven doth work as King and Lord upon us which are on earth.”  The two natures, in short, are united in one agency, one dominion, a dominion over not only the Church, but all creation.  

It is thus as both God and man that Christ rules over his Church, and as both God and man that he rules over the kingdoms of this world.  The foundation for all earthly government, then, is not merely from God the Creator, but now also through the God-man, the redeemer, who as man sits on the throne at the right hand of God, as redeemer of the world exercises his rule over creation.  All that the Son has and does by virtue of divinity, his humanity is made sharer in, and all that Jesus Christ has and does by virtue of his humanity, the divinity is made sharer in.  This, Hooker has argued, is simply the orthodox doctrine of the incarnation.  One cannot say then that as divine Son, the Word exercises a dominion in which the man Christ Jesus has no part, or that as redeeming man, Christ exercises an office in which the divine Son has no part.  Rather, all things on heaven and earth are made subject to the Word made flesh.  For that reason, there is no part of the natural order that has not been united to, and perfected in, the order of grace.

 

Just as the implications of Cartwright’s semi-Nestorian move for political theology are profound, so the implications of Hooker’s response supply him with a strong foundation not merely for his defence of the royal supremacy, but more generally, for his account of the Christian commonwealth.  Civil magistrates hold their authority derivatively from God through Christ, and thus are accountable to Christ for the outward protection of his kingdom.  Because we cannot sever Christ’s redemptive work from his work of creating and governing, it follows that magistrates are responsible not merely for preserving the created order of human society, and witnessing to God’s rule over it, but also for encouraging the redemption of society, and witnessing to the kingship of Christ the redeemer.  For Hooker, this is not a denial of his clear insistence on the integrity of the natural order, and of natural law as a means for governing this order.  Rather, as we have seen, he has maintained throughout that human nature seeks its proper fulfillment in union with God.  Now that this natural end has been achieved by virtue of supernatural grace in the Incarnation of Christ, one cannot speak of the natural order without reference to its rightful king, Christ the Redeemer.  In him, human nature has not been destroyed, nor transformed into something else; rather, it has been restored from its fallen condition, and advanced to a higher perfection, a perfection not beyond nature but proper to it.  Accordingly, the political order, while falling within the realm of nature, is not unaffected by the work of Christ; it cannot carry on as though it existed only under the banner of a generic deity.  By the same token, nor does natural law have no need of the revelation of Christ and his Word, despite having its roots in creation rather than redemption.


The Third Dimension–Luther’s Two-Kingdoms Theology

An excerpt from a crucial section of my paper, “Natural Law and Which Two Kingdoms,” to be presented next weekend at the American Academy of Religion:

We must recognize that there were at least two sharply divergent conceptions of the “two kingdoms” that emerged from the sixteenth century, and, of course, a number of more or less consistent half-way houses between them.  Unsurprisingly, these different conceptions, and the way they used natural law, will undermine neat modern preconceptions about what natural law might be, and will suggest several different ways of applying it to a Christian society.  

Martin Luther offers a succinct statement of the first conception in 1521: “The kingdoms of the world are ruled by human laws which evidently have to do with things temporal; the kingdom of Christ is ruled by the pure and simple word of the Gospel.”  For the second, we have the Scottish Second Book of Discipline (1578): 

“The Kirke . . . hath a certaine power granted by God, according to the which it uses a proper jurisdiction and governement, exercised to the comfort of the whole Kirke.  The Policie of the Kirk flowing from this power, is an order or forme of spirituall government . . . different and distinct in its own nature from that power and policie, which is called civill power, and appertaineth to the civill government of the commonwealth: albeit they be both of God.”

Whereas Luther predicates two realms, one of law and jurisdiction, and another of pure grace and liberty, in Scotland we seem back to something akin to Gelasius and the medieval “two swords” doctrine: “two there are by whom this world is governed”–the civil and the ecclesiastical authorities.  Both have power, law, and jurisdiction under Christ, but they govern different functions.  For Luther, on the contrary, we find all power, law, and jurisdiction classed as part of the civil kingdom; Mosaic law, evangelical law, and natural law all fall on this side of the equation.  In short, the “spiritual kingdom” is the Church, but what we would call the “invisible Church,” though perhaps a better term would be the “evangelical Church” taking visible form only in the dynamic preaching of the Gospel and administration of the sacraments.  The visible, institutional Church, the gathered congregation that must be organized, ritualized, and governed, is part of the realm of “polity,” part of the sphere of human authority which it occupies in common with the more mundane concerns of the civil magistrate.  Indeed, the visible Church is simply the communion of the faithful, and as such, includes the civil magistrate if he be Christian, and his government, if the society be Christian.  The continuing “Christendom” idea, the corpus Christianorum, and the civil jurisdiction over the Church that usually went with it, is thus not some inconsistent holdover that Luther’s two-kingdoms theory has failed to exorcise, as VanDrunen suggests, but is part and parcel of it.  Human life is not a two-dimensional map onto which the two-kingdoms are drawn as a dividing line between spheres of jurisdiction, but rather, a two-dimensional map with which the civil kingdom is coterminous, and of which the spiritual kingdom might be said to form the third dimension–the vertical God-ward relation which animates all the rest.

 

What does this mean for natural law?  Well, for Luther, the contrast is not so much between natural law and divine law (Scripture) as between law and grace.  Scripture contains law too, and this is taken to be harmonious with the natural law, helping to govern the civil kingdom as illumination and application of natural law principles.  As much that we would call “religious” falls within the realm of the earthly kingdom, so it falls within the orbit of natural law, which cannot thus serve as the means for a thoroughgoing separation of church and state.  Not that Luther offers us a complete fusion of church and state–mindful of the intimate relationship between the outward ministry of the visible Church, and the inward power of the Gospel which breaks through it, Luther was wary of making the institutions of the Church simply a department of State (although not very successful in preventing it), and argued for the importance of maintaining three distinct “hierarchies” within the earthly kingdom–state, church, and family.

  


Two Kingdoms in the Old Testament

(Continuing at last with my review of Living in God’s Two Kingdoms

One of the greatest weakness of the theological paradigm that VanDrunen advances as a basis for his Reformed two kingdoms theology, is that it leaves him ill-equipped to make sense of the Biblical narrative.  The dogmatic theology, as discussed in the previous post, is problematic enough, but at least there VanDrunen can tie it all together into a coherent, though perhaps not persuasive, package.  But when it comes to the Biblical theology, he is essentially forced to openly excise large portions of Scripture as having little or no meaning for us today, renouncing any aspiration to a unified Biblical narrative.  

Although the New Testament certainly provides plenty of narrative, and offers, I think, glimpses of a prospective narrative, whereby we may understand the Church age and the eschaton, the lion’s share of Biblical narrative of course falls in the Old Testament, and it is here that VanDrunen’s most obvious problems appear.  After all, 90% of the Old Testament narrative tells the story of Israel, a covenanted people who receive laws from God to regulate every area of their religious, social, economic, and civil life, who exist as a holy nation, a priestly kingdom, under their King Yahweh and those whom he appoints.  This is hardly a promising place to look for a two-kingdoms paradigm, in which divine law addresses only otherworldly matters, and affairs of this life are part of the “common kingdom,” ruled by natural law.  And so, VanDrunen sheepishly admits, this whole section of the story (90% of it) is just an interlude–a side-show–not something we should rest too much weight on.

 

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  Let’s look back at how VanDrunen sets up the Old Testament narrative in terms of his two-kingdoms theology.  After his somewhat idiosyncratic account of Adam’s commission (covered in the previous post), he begins with the Noahic covenant, which, he tells us, establishes the “common kingdom”:

“Several important features characterise this common kingdom established by the Noahic covenant: it concerns ordinary cultural activities (rather than special acts of worship or religious devotion), it embraces the human race in common (rather than a holy people that are distinguished from the rest of the human race), it ensures the preservation of the natural and social order (rather than the redemption of this order), and it is established temporarily (rather than permanently)” (79).  

With this, he contrasts the redemptive Abrahamic covenant:

“it concerns religious faith and worship (rather than ordinary cultural activities), it embraces a holy people that is distinguished from the rest of the human race (rather than the human race in common), it bestows the benefits of salvation upon this holy people (rather than preserving the natural and social order), and it is established forever and ever” (82-3) 

Now this kind of distinction is nothing terribly novel, and thus far, I’m more or less fine with it.  But two covenants do not equal two kingdoms, in VanDrunen’s sense; rather, I would suggest that the Biblical picture is one in which the Abrahamic covenant is the means to the realisation of the Noahic covenant.  The Noahic covenant is, after all, a reaffirmation of the Adamic covenant–that much is clear (it begins with “Be fruitful and multiply”).  After Adam’s failure to carry out his God-ordained task, the world was plunged into the chaos of sin and required devastating divine judgment.  After this judgment, God confronts Noah as the new Adam, reaffirming his task, and pledging that this time, the world will not have to be destroyed again.  Now, why not?  How is the fallen earth and the fallen race to be prevented from requiring judgment again?  Already within two chapters, things seem to be going to pot again.  The Abrahamic covenant is the answer.  God covenants with Israel as the representative of the human race, called upon to be the bearers of his promises and the witnesses to him in a fallen world, so that through them, the earth might be preserved and the race redeemed.  In other words, redemption and preservation are not so separate as VanDrunen suggests, but are interdependent.  

Now, as VanDrunen continues, his categories begin to look increasingly strained: “Here [in the Abrahamic covenant] God sets apart a people who, because of their faith and obedience toward him, are radically distinguished from their neighbours and given a different eternal destiny (life with Christ in the world-to-come).  Genesis teaches these things about the Abrahamic covenant” (83)  What?  Genesis teaches that Abraham is going to be given life with Christ in the world-to-come?  Hardly.  Dogmatic theology might teach that on the basis of the whole Scriptural revelation, but Genesis says no such thing.  VanDrunen’s insistence on supplanting biblical theology with systematic theology (on the next page, VanDrunen says “Unlike the Noahic covenant, this covenant is not about preserving this present world but about opening up the gates of the world-to-come” and then goes on to read the imputation of Christ’s righteousness into the passage!) blinds him to the incongruities in the categories he is applying to the text.  The promise to Abraham is first and foremost for a people, and for a land–for this-worldly benefits.  Now, we might want to jump forward to the New Testament and spiritualize all this, but the very this-worldly nature of these promises means that, in the Old Testament at least, this “spiritual kingdom” seems to transgress a lot on the territory assigned to the “civil kingdom.”  

But there’s a more serious incongruity.  What does God say to Abraham about the purpose of the covenant? “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  As VanDrunen has described it, the purpose of the covenant is to separate out a people for a different eternal destiny, to bracket them off from their neighbours and save them out of the world, giving them blessings in the world to come.  But as God describes it, the purpose is to commission a people to bless the whole rest of the world.  Needless to say, this difference has huge ramifications, since, as N.T. Wright never tires of pointing out, this is Paul’s whole point in Romans–Israel has failed to be the blessing to the world, and so God has fulfilled Israel’s task himself through the faithful Israel Christ, in whom we all are called to be the new Israel, bringing God’s blessing to the world.  

VanDrunen goes on to explain how Abraham, while covenanted to dwell in the spiritual kingdom by faith, simultaneously lived in the common kingdom: “As he sojourned in the land, Abraham did not set up his own cultural ghetto but freely participated in his neighbours’ cultural activities” (86).  There is a little problem with this picture, though–this land is the very thing that Abraham is going to acquire according to the terms of the redemptive covenant–this is the inheritance of his “spiritual kingdom”!  His “sojourning” in it is a temporary matter, as he patiently waits on God for the day when he and his descendants can take it over, at which time these “neighbours” will be killed, expelled, or converted.  This is hardly the kind of two-kingdoms mentality VanDrunen wants to recommend–one in which we inhabit the common kingdom only as long as we have to, waiting until we can take it over and make it into the spiritual kingdom–indeed, it sounds more like the theonomic mindset VanDrunen is keen to oppose.  

 

So how does VanDrunen get around this?  Apparently, by deftly inverting the narrative of the Old Testament so that the inheritance of the Promised Land is, ironically, not the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham, but a weird, 800-year-long hiatus in the Biblical narrative: “For present purposes it is also crucial to note that Israel’s experience under the law of Moses in the Promised Land of Canaan was not meant to exemplify life under the two kingdoms.  The cultural commonality among believers and unbelievers ordained in the Noahic covenant was suspended for Israel within the borders of the Promised Land” (90).  After describing the many ways in which the Mosaic law violates the two-kingdoms paradigm, he concludes, “Under the Mosaic covenant God evidently suspended the provisions of the Noahic covenant that ordained that ordinary cultural activities should be a common enterprise among believers and unbelievers alike.”  So in the Mosaic covenant–the covenant that dominates the Old Testament, we have a covenant that doesn’t really fit with either of the two previous covenants that are supposed to provide a blueprint for the life of God’s people.  In another strange inversion, it is not until things go horribly wrong, and God’s people are completely unfaithful, that they are again given the opportunity to live according to the original blueprint: “In Israel’s long history between the giving of the law to Moses and the coming of Christ, they nevertheless had one corporate experience which did exemplify the life of the two kingdoms: the Babylonian exile” (91).  But before moving on to the end of the narrative, let’s pause and look at a couple other remarks about the period in the Promised Land.

While admitting that the two-kingdoms principle seems basically suspended during this time, VanDrunen argues that it did still apply “outside the borders of the Promised Land”–here, Israelites were still supposed to live as citizens of a common kingdom, free to “make alliances and trade in common with the world.”  This claim is problematic because, in fact, Israel is condemned by God for pretty much every alliance they make with another kingdom, and the Solomonic period, to which VanDrunen appeals for his proof-texts, is the time when Israel is shown to have be violating God’s commands not to be like other kingdoms–the multiplying wives, horses, chariots, etc.  The trading alliance with Hiram is not explicitly condemned, but in context, it is hardly warmly affirmed.  In any case, again, this paradigm would underwrite a kind of two-kingdoms relationship that VanDrunen eschews–one in which Christians hang out in their “spiritual kingdom” ghetto of the Church, living isolated lives and only venturing out to mingle with unbelievers when pragmatic necessity calls for it.  

 

Now what about the Babylonian captivity?  Sure.  Here we do have a “two-kingdoms” relationship, in which faithful Jews are supposed to serve God as he requires, while also serving Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon.  But without delving into the details of how VanDrunen explicates this phase, we must note, as VanDrunen himself is forced to, that this is a temporary anomaly.  The Israelites are waiting for Babylon’s destruction; they are longing to get back to the Promised Land.  And as soon as they can, they do.  

 

VanDrunen’s entire retelling of the Old Testament, then, inverts its own self-presentation.  The state of affairs it envisions as proper for God’s people, which all of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are dedicated to laying the groundwork for, is one that he considers an anomaly, not to be followed, not to be used as an example.  But whenever things are not as they should be in the Old Testament, whenever they are out of whack, then, on VanDrunen’s reading, they are just as they should be–because they’re exhibiting a two-kingdoms paradigm.

Now of course, VanDrunen will retort that we are not living in a state of fulfilment, but we’re living in a time out of joint.  We have not received our Promised Land, and so the state of Abrahamic sojourn or of exile is the fitting image.  Unsurprisingly, he lays great stress on the New Testament language of “sojourners” and “exiles.”  However, obviously, this is not the only New Testament language.  The Church is the New Israel, the New Jerusalem.  We have already “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God” (Heb. 13:22).  Redemption is already taking hold.  The New Testament church is in a state of already/not yet, of partial fulfilment, but also expectation, of being sojourners but also citizens.  This means that we must hold in balance both Old Testament paradigms as offering a valuable hermeneutic for our own situation.  We cannot simply choose the one and chuck the other.  Especially, we cannot choose the one that is minimised in the Old Testament and chuck the one that is at the centre of the Old Testament vision.  Otherwise, Marcionism is lurking at the door, as I’m afraid it is in VanDrunen’s wholesale dismissal of the Mosaic covenant.



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.