June 20, 2014

The Role of the Church in Cultural Transformation (2)

The following will be a series of posts based on the MA thesis of David Nixon. David is a good friend and has graciously allowed us to publish his work in order to educate us about this important topic.

The Two Kingdoms Model of Mission

This chapter will examine the Christ and Culture model represented by the Two Kingdoms theology, as advocated by Michael Horton and David VanDrunen. It seeks to demonstrate that the Two Kingdoms perspective makes a significant theological contribution which is valuable for shaping the church’s mission, while also arguing that it is not a complete or sufficient answer for the church’s mission.

1. Introducing the Two Kingdoms

1.1 Niebuhr Introduces the Tension of the Two Kingdoms

Niebuhr classified this model as Christ and Culture in Paradox because it construed the relationship between Christianity and culture as one of inescapable tension. Christians live in tension: “Living between time and eternity, between wrath and mercy, between culture and Christ ... There is no solution of the dilemma this side of death”.He commends the model because “It mirrors the actual struggles of the Christian who lives ‘between the times’”.

He cites and summarises Paul’s teaching as its chief representative:

“The Christians’ citizenship was in heaven, their hiding place was with the risen Christ. As far as this world was concerned it was their task to work out their salvation, and their gift to live in the spirit of Christ in whatever community or station in life they had been apprehended by the Lord. It was not possible to come closer to the reign of Christ by changing cultural customs.”

He sees Luther as a true heir to this Pauline tradition in developing Two Kingdoms theology, while he criticises Marcion for breaking apart the tension between the two responsibilities incumbent upon Christians in this world. Instead, Niebuhr applauds the dualist who“continues to live in the tension”.

However, Niebuhr fails to elucidate the positive nuances of its attitude towards culture. For example, he interprets Paul’s attitude to culture in terms of negative restraint rather than positive contribution. This is because he understands redemption and Christ’s lordship in Pauline theology to refer solely to internal spiritual matters. The resulting focus is on the internal redemptive transformation by Christ, rather than on external social transformation and cultural renewal. So it is about creating new people rather than a new culture. Comparatively, Horton and VanDrunen will be shown to have a positive view of culture, which is affirmed as existing for its own independent purposes in creation, apart from the church’s purpose in serving Christ’s redemptive reign. Indeed, they view all of culture and society as a legitimate sphere for Christian labours in this present age and encourage individuals living as Christ’s disciples to make a positive difference in culture. They focus on “Humanizing” rather than “Christianizing” culture, as in Transformationalism.

1.2 The Tension of the Two Kingdoms in Scripture

A brief survey of the biblical basis for the Two Kingdoms tension of living between the kingdom of God (Christ) and kingdoms of this world (culture) will now be undertaken to show that it is a legitimate interpretation of themes in scripture.

In the three synoptic gospels Jesus is recorded teaching: “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”. This suggests the Christian has a dual set of obligations, to the temporal rulers of this world’s kingdoms and to the eternal ruler of God’s kingdom. Alongside this in John’s gospel Jesus is recorded appearing before the Roman governor Pilate changed as a political subversive. However, he states in his defence: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 19:36). This need not suggest that Christ’s kingdom is unconcerned with this present world. On the contrary, John makes clear that all creation belongs to Christ, since “all things were made through him” (John 1:3). Indeed, the Johannine corpus foresees the eschatological redemption and renewal of all creation (Revelation 21:1-3). So these texts show a tension as Christians belong to both Christ’s eternal kingdom and to the temporal kingdoms of this world. Furthermore, Jesus prays for his followers who are neither “of the world” nor taken “out of the world” (John 17:14-16). Rather they live in the world but are set apart in it by their faith in God (John 17:17). So this develops a picture of Christians belonging to two kingdoms simultaneously in this present age.

In the Pauline epistles, there is an eschatological tension between Christ’s present enthronement over all creation (Ephesians 1:20-22; Colossians 1:17-18), and the future consummation of that rule within creation when Christ returns (1 Corinthians 15:24-26; Romans 8:19-21). Likewise, Christians are simultaneously citizens of this world and the world to come, one which is temporal and the other eternal. For example, to the Roman colony of Philippi with its pride in the privilege of Roman citizenship, he reminds them that their “citizenship is in heaven and from it we await a Saviour” (Philippians 3:20). Yet he instructs them to ensure their identity in the kingdom of Christ positively affects how they live as citizens of the kingdoms of this world (Philippians 1:27) and as they “work out their salvation” (Philippians 2:12).

Also the theme of exile is relevant, because it depicts Christians living as pilgrims or exiles in this present world, which is not their home (1 Peter 1:1; Hebrews 11:10-13). They owe respect to the present kingdoms in which they live but their ultimate identity is in Christ’s coming kingdom. Israel’s experience of exile in Babylon is the paradigm. They remained distinct in their ultimate religious identity, while also actively engaging in Babylon’s culture and serving their neighbours in society (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Notably exiles like Daniel or Ezekiel did not attempt to convert Babylon into Jerusalem, but rather awaited the promised return from exile and establishment of the new covenant kingdom. So this represents the Christian’s present experience of living in the tension between the Two Kingdoms. They are to be actively involved in their culture but aware that their cultural efforts do not establish the kingdom.

Finally, it is significant that the coming of Christ’s kingdom is described as the New Jerusalem descending out of heaven into the new creation (Revelation 21:2). It is not built-up in this world, but rather comes down into this world from heaven with Christ at his return. Likewise, Hebrews states that Christians are “receiving a kingdom” in Christ (Hebrews 12:28), rather than building it through their own efforts. Therefore, the Two Kingdoms model believes that Christ will transform the world at the consummation, when the kingdoms of this present age become the kingdom of Christ (Revelation 11:15). The church awaits and testifies to these events, rather than pursuing present social transformation or cultural renewal as part of its mission.

Therefore, there is a tension in scripture between the Two Kingdoms, one arising out of this present age and one representing the age to come which has broken into this present age in Christ and is manifested by the Spirit in the church community. This tension between the Two Kingdoms will be seen to have missiological implications.

1.3 A Brief History of the Two Kingdoms

The historical development of the Two Kingdoms model will now be briefly surveyed to place Horton and VanDrunen’s understanding of it in context. It will highlight debated matters, but resolving them is outside the scope of this thesis.

In the 5th century AD, after the sacking of Rome, Augustine wrote The City of God which is the starting point for tracing the development of Two Kingdoms’ theology. He argued God’s kingdom is neither dependent upon nor manifested as a socio-political entity in this present age. This meant that the Roman Empire’s decline was not a setback to God’s ultimate purposes and reminded Christians against setting their hopes in earthly things. He described two cities, the heavenly City of God and the earthly City of Man, which are in fundamental conflict throughout history: “the two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord”. VanDrunen contends these two cities “lie in basic, eschatological tension with each other. Christians belong to the former and unbelievers to the latter, and there is no overlapping or dual membership”. Indeed, in every area of societal and cultural life they are in conflict because of their ultimate religious allegiances. However, in the present age the two cities are “commingled” as believers and unbelievers live together in a common society. In short there is a religious “antithesis” between believers and unbelievers as well as cultural “commonality”. Aside from this “ultimate” conflict, Christians and non-Christians are fellow participants in society with common interests in “penultimate” matters.

Augustine’s theology was built upon by Martin Luther and John Calvin in the 16th century: “No one anticipates Luther’s ‘two kingdoms’ more closely than Augustine, and no one elucidates and builds on that foundation more rigorously than John Calvin”. While the two cities represented two peoples living in this world with different future destinies, the two kingdoms represented God’s present rule in this world by church (the spiritual kingdom) and state (the common kingdom). Elsewhere VanDrunen clarifies: “Christians are therefore citizens of two ‘kingdoms’ but one ‘city’”.He contends this is “not so much in contradicting it as in supplementing it with certain significant ideas”. However, Smith responds: “what claims to be a supplement turns out to change the original”.Similarly, Cooper argues that this version of the Two Kingdoms theology, construing them as church and state, is inconsistent with the original. Luther argued that God presently rules through these two kingdoms, since “Christ’s government does not extend over all men; Christians are always a minority in the midst of non-Christians”.Tuininga helpfully clarifies: “he meant the outward realm of the body and life in this world, and the inward realm of the eternal soul”. The temporal kingdom was governed through the law, state, and sword in order to promote order and restrain evil in the world; while the spiritual kingdom governed the Christian’s spiritual life by the gospel, Spirit, and Word. The distinctive Lutheran separation of the law and gospel is noticeable here, since God governed in his “left hand” sinful society coercively by law and in the “right hand” the Christian’s justified soul by the gospel. This builds on his understanding of the Christian life as simul iusutus et peccator,which corresponds to the Christian’s simultaneous “dual citizenship” in the Two Kingdoms. This sought to redress the Roman Catholic Church’s theological claim to have authority over both spiritual and temporal affairs.

A further development occurred in Calvin’s thinking about God’s Two Kingdoms, the “civil” kingdom and the “spiritual” kingdom, respectively the body and soul:

“in man government is twofold: the one spiritual, by which the conscience is trained to piety and divine worship; the other civil, by which the individual is instructed in those duties which, as men and citizens, we are bold to perform ... Now, these two, as we have divided them, are always to be viewed apart from each other ... For there exists in man a kind of two worlds, over which different kings and different laws can preside.”

For Calvin this meant that Christians have spiritual liberty as citizens of the spiritual kingdom, while also remaining bound to obey civil laws as citizens of the civil kingdom. However, Calvin did not follow Luther’s strict separation of the law and gospel. Rather he placed greater importance on church government and discipline (law) in the spiritual life. Furthermore, he considered the civil kingdom to be Christ’s reign over the external life through both social institutions and the visible church institution; while he considered the spiritual kingdom to be Christ’s internal reign within the Christian, who was part of the invisible church by virtue of their union with Christ. Nevertheless, it is debated whether Calvin identified the spiritual kingdom with the visible church,which is VanDrunen’s understanding. Venema contends that Calvin did not divide the world into the visible institutions of church and state, but rather they coincided within the Christian: “It is more accurate, therefore, to speak of Calvin’s doctrine of a ‘twofold government’ or ‘jurisdiction’ rather than primarily of two separate ‘realms’ or ‘kingdoms’”. VanDrunen concedes that Calvin is not a consistent representative of his version, as he supported the mutual co-operation between the church and state in the pursuit of public morality and the preservation of religious orthodoxy. In fact, VanTil argues that Calvin believed the state was God’s servant with a responsibility to submit to God’s law, and that he desired a Christian government, but not under the control of the church. This debate is significant because if the two kingdoms are represented institutionally in the church and state, then it is easier to hold the Two Kingdoms apart. That would result in special grace standing alongside culture, rather than redeeming it, which has significant implications for limiting the scope of the church’s mission.

VanDrunen argues that the Two Kingdoms theology continued to develop until the 19th and early 20th centuries, when it was modified by Abraham Kuyper and then abandoned by his Neo-Calvinist successors (this will be examined in chapter 3). Subsequently, the Two Kingdoms view with its dualistic implications has been dismissed, especially by those influenced by Neo-Calvinism. At the present time, there is a resurgence of the Two Kingdoms theology. Many of its advocates, including Horton and VanDrunen, are associated with Westminster Seminary in Escondido. As already stated, it has been challenged for allegedly misreading the Reformed tradition, or at the least misrepresenting itself as the only true version. However, that issue is beyond the scope of this thesis which is concerned with its stated conclusions as they relate to the church’s mission.

The rest of this chapter will consider the distinctives of the Two Kingdoms theology and its missiological implications. Part 3 to follow.

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