Book Review: Living in God’s Two Kingdoms

Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture is by David VanDrunen, who is Robert B. Strimple associate professor of systematic theology and Christian ethics, Westminster Seminary California. The book is published by Crossway.*

 

This book falls into a very large category. Christ and culture is a hot topic in modern evangelicalism. In my estimation, this is a good thing. The fact that a lot of young christians are earnestly desiring to engage the culture at large in a christ-like manner is exciting. Since there are a lot of people contributing to the conversation, there are several competing perspectives for how best to engage the culture. Dr. VanDrunen represents the Two Kingdoms perspective.

Summary

The book is broken down into four parts. First there is an Introduction, where VanDrunen introduces not only the two kingdom perspective, but here he also surveys three other camps within what he calls the “Redemptive Transformation of Culture” movement. The Neo-Calvinist, New Perspective and Emergent camps are surveyed for what they say regarding Christ and Culture. The next section is Part One, where VanDrunen examines the two adams, Adam and Christ. Part Two examines how both Old Testament and New Testament believers lived as sojourners as ¬†way to determine how we as modern believers ought to live. In Part Three, VanDrunen begins to flesh out what the Two Kingdom perspective might look like in the realms of Education, Vocation and Politics.

Review

I would give the book 3.5 stars (out of 5). The main gist of the book is that there are two kingdoms in this world. There is the common kingdom, in which all of humanity lives and there is the redemptive kingdom, in which only the church lives. These two kingdoms are governed by two covenants. The common kingdom under the Noahatic covenant (Gen. 9:1-17) and the redemptive kingdom under the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12). VanDrunen is attempting to answer how the people in the redemptive kingdom relate to and interact with the people from the common kingdom.

The first two parts of the book were quite persuasive and enlightening and I think, worth the price of the book. As I mentioned earlier, Part One deals with the two adams. The first Adam was created and placed in the Garden of Eden. His role was that of King and Priest. Adam was to rule over the garden and to guard the purity of the garden. Not only that, but as God’s image bearer, Adam was eventually to enter rest. As God had worked and then rested, so to Adam was to work the garden and then enter rest in the “world-to-come”. As we all know, Adam never entered that rest. Instead, he abdicated his throne and defiled the garden. He was banished, never to return, never to fulfill his destiny. Yet, humanity was not without hope. A second Adam was promised and that promise was fulfilled in the person of Jesus, the Christ. VanDrunen goes onto explain how Jesus has fulfilled the role of Adam and has now entered rest in the world-to-come. He makes it explicit that since Jesus has fulfilled the first Adam’s roll, we should not be seeking to do what Adam was commanded to do. Jesus has done it. Any attempts to fulfill the cultural mandates of Adam is to say that Jesus was insufficient. VanDrunen contends that all cultural activities fall under the Noahatic covenant, not the original mandate given to the First Adam.

In Part Two, VanDrunen surveys both Old and New Testament to see how those under the Abrahamic covenant (and thus part of the redemptive kingdom) lived while they were sojourners. VanDrunen states that the Mosaic code only applied to the redemptive kingdom and the commands to kill everything that breathes were only to be carried out within the Promised Land. By looking at how the people of God lived outside the Promised Land when they were sojourners, we can get a clue for how we ought to live. For instance, while in exile in Babylon, even though the Israelites were promised they would return to the Promised Land, they were told to live in Babylon and plant gardens and build homes. They were also instructed to pray for the cities in which they lived, that they would prosper, because their fate was tied in with that of the city. When VanDrunen turned his attention to the New Testament, he points out that the exile terminology is used to describe the church. The church is just like Israel, in that she is in exile, awaiting the return to the Promised Land. In light of this comparison, we are to relate to the common kingdom just like Israel did. We are to work for it’s good. We are to pray for it’s blessing. Yet, we are to be mindful of the fact that our dealings in the common kingdom are temporary and our work there will eventually be left behind.

Part Three was not as good as the first two (I felt like it became more laborious to read). Here, VanDrunen is trying to show how the Two Kingdom perspective can speak to cultural issues, such as education, vocation and politics. If you’re looking for a definitive work on each of these three areas, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s an overview for how each of these areas might be impacted. The most interesting I thought VanDrunen was trying to point out, was that since each of these areas belong to the common kingdom, there is freedom here for Christians to disagree. Christians can come to different conclusions as to how to do education, work and politics, because those realms are within the common kingdom. The church can only bind things within the redemptive kingdom. Only activities where the church is given authority can it bind it’s members conscience on. Whether you choose to educate your child in public, private or at home is freely up to you. The church cannot tell what to do and other Christians can’t either.

Dr. VanDrunen has definitely heightened my interest in this area. While he presents a very convincing case for the Two Kingdom perspective, I would like to do some more reading before I commit to this perspective.

~sdg

*Disclosure: I was provided a copy by Crossway in exchange for reading and reviewing the book.