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.


 

 

 

Book Review: The Deep Things of God

The Deep Things of God: how the Trinity Changes Everything is by Fred Sanders, an associate professor at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute. The book is published by Crossway*.

The simple thesis of the book is that Gospel is the Trinity and thus Evangelicals are deeply Trinitarian, whether they realize it or not. While simply stated, the substance of the arguments are far from simplistic. At times, this book can be a little heady. I found myself re-reading certain paragraphs in order for me to understand exactly what Sanders was saying. However, for the most part, I found the book to be readable and enjoyable.

I’ve been struggling with how to classify this book. It’s not a systematic treatment of the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s not a complete survey of evangelical engagement of with the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s kind of a mish-mash of both. Sanders seeks reintroduce evangelicals to the doctrine of the Trinity, by showing them that evangelicals in the past have thought well about the doctrine and thought it important. As he does this, the doctrine itself is discussed and unpacked. For me personally, the book has really heightened my awareness of the Trinity, but in a way that allows the doctrine to remain tacit, rather than explicit (you’ll want to read the book to see what I’m talking about!).

There where two sections I think are worth the price of the book alone. In the Introduction, Sanders presents a problem to us. If evangelicals are so deeply Trinitarian, why do so many seem to be confused by or intimidated by the doctrine? How is that the modern evangelical is so detached from his Trinitarian roots? Sanders believes, and I agree with his analysis, that the emphatic nature of evangelicalism has led to this problem. What he means is the evangelicals have always been concerned with highlighting certain aspects of the Christian doctrines. Bible, Cross, Conversion, Heaven have been the major emphases of evangelicalism. Sanders affirms this pattern of emphasis. However, when you are emphasizing something, you’re assuming a larger body of truth out which a certain truth is then emphasized. The Cross of Christ is certainly worthy of emphasizing. However, the Cross draws it’s power and meaning, so long as it’s flanked by Jesus’ pre-existence, incarnation and earthly ministry on the one side and his resurrection and ascension on the other side.Without those other truths flanking the Cross, Jesus death upon it would have done nothing for us in regards to our salvation. The same could be said of emphasizing the Bible, Conversion and Heaven. They are the right things to emphasize, so long as there is that larger body of Christian truth from which they stand out. What has, sadly, happened in within evangelicalism is that the points of emphasis have been severed from their roots and are presented as the whole story, rather than just the highlights. And when this happened, evangelicalism moved from being emphatic to reductionistic. Evangelicals became “anemic” as they lost connection with all the other important truths. And since the doctrine of the Trinity is one of those truths that falls outside of the emphasis (as it should, Sanders points out), evangelicals have lost touch with it’s power and importance. For me, this nailed my growing up. I grew up in a stream of evangelicalism that had become reductionistic. It wasn’t until after college where I was introduced to the rest of the story. So I really enjoyed this section, mainly because I connected with it so personally. I’m sure many other young evangelicals will connect with it as well. The second section I thought was amazing, was the chapter on prayer. Sanders lays out a way to pray “with the grain.” What he means is that there is a way to pray that lines you up with the way the Trinity works. My favorite section of the chapter deals with how its possible for our prayers to influence God. I believe in the absolute sovereignty of God. What God wills, happens. How do I get off believing my prayers have any impact on God? Sanders gives a plausible explanation for how our prayers can and do influence God when we look at prayer through the lens of the doctrine of the Trinity (you need to read the book to get the answer…I couldn’t do it justice here).

The rest of the book is good as well. As I mentioned before, there a few sections that are kinda heady, but Sanders himself says at certain points that readers can skip ahead if the topics feels too deep. One thing I did notice about the book is that Sanders repeats himself, a lot. However, I didn’t really mind the repetition. It helped me remember where I was and what he was talking about. Other people may find it distracting or unnecessary, but I was fine with it. I had two beefs with the book. The first is that it had end notes rather than foot notes. I hate end notes. Petty, I know. Second, I would have like to see this book in hardback. It’s a solid book, one that I will be referencing again and again. A hardback binding would have been nice.

I highly recommend this book.

~sdg

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

Book Review: Primal

I was privileged to be apart of the blog tour for Mark Batterson’s new book, Primal. I’ll go ahead and give you my overall rating and then go into a little detail as to why I rated it what I did.

I would give the book 3 out of 5 stars.

Summary

Mark is attempting to take us on a journey to the heart of Christianity. He feels the essence of the faith has been buried under years of man-made additions. He wants to strip it all back and expose the heart of the faith to his readers. The book is really an exposition of the Greatest Commandment. Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Each way we are commanded to love God (heart, soul, mind and strength) is given a section of the book. Mark ends the book with a challenge to engage loving God in one the ways that doesn’t come easy to us.

What I Liked

There were several things to like about this book. First, Mark writes very readable prose. I cruised through this book very easily. At no point was reading this book laborious. I also really appreciated the heart of this book. Like myself, Mark sees problems with the western, American church. But he starts with himself. He spends some time talking about the problems he sees in himself and this book seems to have been birthed out of rediscovering what truly mattered. Mark has seen the log in his own eye, before beginning to remove the speck from the church’s eye. This is commendable.

I really liked Mark’s discussion of simplicity on the far side of complexity. There is too much simple Christianity for my liking. Mark shoots a hole through by it talking about how we need to explore the depths of Christianity if we’re ever going to understand it’s simple truths.

Editorial Notes


I hate endnotes. With a passion. Unfortunately, this book is full of them. While this is most likely an editing/formatting decision, it’s one that detracts from the overall rating of the book. It also seemed like every time there was a quotation of Scripture, it was in italicized font and indented. But not all of those quotes were Scripture. And since there was no reference or footnote for me to quickly find, I’m left wondering if this actually came from the Bible or another source. I didn’t like that the Bible was put on equal footing with other sources. I’m sure Mark or the editors are Multnomah meant nothing by it, but I believe it to be a poor decision (regardless of who made it).

A Caution


One area that I felt uneasy with was how the issue of the sovereignty of God was handled in the book. In a section on “counterfactual theory”, which is a branch of history that asks “what if?” questions, Mark begins to ask all these questions about the story of Joseph. He basically comes to the conclusion that if Joseph had not made a few key decisions, both Egypt and Joseph’s family would have perished. While that seems okay on the surface, it creates far too many theological problems than it solves. For starters, it assumes that one man can thwart the will of God. And if that’s true, we are one pitiful people; worshiping a God who we can overthrow if we just realized it. God will accomplish his plans with or without our involvement. Why waste time asking what if questions? It seems silly. God is not a God of “What if”, but “What is”. This world is his plan and his idea. Later on in the book, Mark says that he believes that God is sovereign. But he then starts talking about free will, like it somehow stops God in His tracks. Mark creates a tension (between God being sovereign and man having free will), but does nothing with it. While I’m quite sure that Mark never intended to give an in-depth exegesis of the relationship between the sovereignty of God and responsibility of man, I think something more was required given the assertions made. Had Mark done so, and even if I disagreed with his theological conclusions, I would have been satisfied that he at least interacted with the tension he created. Instead, I believe readers are left with a more muddy picture, rather than a clear one.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. While I wouldn’t make it the first book I read in 2010, if you’re looking for a book that talks about the basics of Christianity, this is a good starting place.

~sdg

Book Review: Fearless

I wouldn’t normally pick a Max Lucado book to read. However, since I’m apart of the Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers, they were really pushing to have this book reviewed, so I thought I’d take a shot at it. So, here it goes 🙂

Overview


The book begins with a chapter on why we fear. Lucado then spends the remainder of the book examining different fears that people have and using the words of Scripture to help ease those fears and remind people to turn to Jesus. Lucado never goes “pollyanna” optimistic and never goes “Chicken Little” pessimistic. He’s real about the fears that exist in this world, but offers the hope of Jesus that can overcome those fears. The book is laced with personal stories and stories of people he’s either met or read about. The stories help the book move along at a quick pace.

Review


Overall, I’ll give this 4 stars. I give it 4 because the book achieves what I think it was meant to achieve. The book is soaked in Scripture. Lucado backs up what he says Jesus said by quoting Jesus. That’s a refreshing approach for me (sadly, I’ve run into too many people who say Jesus said this or did this, but never back it up by quoting the Scripture). There were a few times where I furrowed my brow and probably made a funny looking face. I think Lucado rips a few verses from their context to support what he’s saying or makes a simple statement that the Scripture, under a close examination, wouldn’t support. However, these few moments of debatable scholarship don’t detract from the overall theme of the book.

~sdg

Book Review: The Shack

This is my first attempt at reviewing a book, but I hope that there is value in what you find here. I had heard a few people reference The Shack and also read a few reviews of the book. I was skeptical of it when I read it, but I believe that helped me. Even though the book is a work of fiction, the ideas that drive the story deserve our full attention. If you do not approach this book with some skepticism, you will buy some assumptions that you wouldn’t have otherwise.


For a quick summary, the story centers around the character named Mack. Mack experiences a great tragedy in his life which shatters his world. In the midst of his “Great Sadness” Mack receives a note from god, inviting Mack to meet him at the Shack where the tragedy happened. Mack reluctantly goes and spends the weekend with god (as a quick side note, the god of the Shack will be spelled with a lower case “g”, any reference to the real God will be spelled with a capital “G”). Mack meets with the three persons of the trinity and leaves the shack a changed man. The story ends abruptly. I felt like I was riding in a truck that just driven off the edge of a cliff. Boom. It’s over. Deal with it. On a literary level, it left a bad taste in my mouth for the story in general. I felt like the author was trying to figure out some way to end it and this was the best he could do. You’d think after Mack has this existential experience in the forest, there would be more to the story. But no, it pretty much just ends.

 

I want to begin my comments on this book with a discussion of context. No matter what you want to discuss, context is king. You cannot take comments out of their context and expect to discuss the comment intelligently. I hope that I have not taken the author’s statements out of context. I have included page numbers so that you can go read the entire context for yourself. While I’ve tried to be careful to treat the authors comments within it’s context, I do not feel that the author has done the same with God. God has been ripped from His context. The Scriptures provide the context for God’s revelation of who He is and what His character is. The sad reality of this book is that God has been ripped from the very truth he states about Himself. This critique will be the foundation for the remaining critiques I lay out. So, let us begin.

 

The first objection I have to the god of the Shack is that this god is very man-centered. All god does is centered on and purposed for his love of man. On page 106, god says “We have limited ourselves our of respect for you…” On page 107, Jesus says to the father (who has currently manifested himself as a black woman) “You honored [Mack] and you honored me…” How the father treated Mack made Jesus feel honored. It seems to be saying that god finds fulfillment in man, in helping man. It seems like honoring man is a way to honor God. It seems like this honor is equal. What if we changed the word from honor to glory. Would Jesus ever say, “You glorified man and that brought glory to me”? I do not remember one instance where God declares the importance of His glory to Mack; that through all his pain, God’s glory was meant to shine through. There was never this conversation, only that god is love and his love overcomes the pain of Mack’s life. This is, sadly, a story of Mack’s pain, and Mack’s life and how god comes to help Mack be more adjusted and live in spite of Mack’s pain. This is Mack’s story, it is not god’s. God is merely an actor in the story of Mack. Probably the saddest statement comes on page 126 where god emphatically states, “I’m not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way.” This is sad because God does insist on His own way. His way is the best; the only way! What He purposes in His heart, He accomplishes. God is radically God-centered and we are the beneficiaries of that God-centeredness. If God is not God-centered, He is not truly loving. And, frankly, if God is content being focused on something other than Himself, why should I waste my time with him? I can find the same satisfaction in man he does. Thankfully, I am not left with that option. God is a lover of God and I am satisfied in resting in His good pleasure.

 

The author also presents sin in a man-centered way. Sin is not committed against God, but ultimately against ourselves. On page 120, god says “I don’t need to punish people for sin, sin is it’s own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.” Statements like these frustrate me greatly. The phrase is worded ever so carefully to get the reader to unconsciously agree with the statement without any thought. Essentially, god has said that sin is man’s punishment on himself. God’s only complaint about sin is that it hurts his children. Sin is not an attack upon god’s nature, but stepping outside arbitrary bounds god set up for social order. A careful review of the Scriptures will refute this view of God and sin. When David confessed his sin of murder, rape and adultery, he states that he had sinned against God and God alone (Ps. 51:4). That’s a bold statement. What about Uriah? What about Bathsheba and her family? Were they not sinned against? The answer is yes, they were, however the Scriptures are teaching us a very important doctrine. Sin is ultimately against God and His nature. To act counter to God’s nature is to sin. Why is it a sin to lie? Only because God declared it should be so? No. Lying is a sin because God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18, Titus 1:2). So when we lie, we attack God’s nature. We must understand that sin is so much more that what we do to others. It is primarily a rejection of God and His nature. It is to spit in His face and say “I know better! Screw you!” My friends, that is what sin is; do not be deceived. With a Biblical understanding of what sin is, we can now see why there is punishment involved. Is sin really what destroys, as the god of the Shack has supposed? Perhaps in the way that it causes separation between God and man. It makes you an enemy of God and the Bible is very clear, one day, God will route His enemies. They will be thrown into the lake of fire. The measure of the punishment fits the measure of the being who is sinned against. Since God is infinitely perfect, to sin against Him requires infinite punishment (or a perfect substitute). If God does not punish sin, then He is unjust. He won’t even defend His own name. But we know from the Scriptures that God is full of justice (Ps. 33:5, Ps. 37:28, Is. 30:18, Is. 42: 4, Is. 61:8, etc.), that He will never clear the guilty (Ex 34:7, Num. 14:18, Nahum 1:3) and all He does is for the renown of His name (Is. 48:9, 11). Sin is a big deal. Sadly, the god of the shack uses cloaked language to undermine the Biblical view.

 

The god of the Shack is incomplete. At least if it was trying to be the God of the Bible. The god of the Shack only talks about love. That’s pretty much it. If the author was intending to portray the God of the Bible, then he has committed the sin of reductionism. Basically, he didn’t tell the whole truth about the whole counsel of God. As I read, I could here the Beatles in the background singing “All You Need Is Love.” I got the feeling that the god of the Shack is a 1960’s hippie with rose-colored glasses and a tie-dye t-shirt. I half expected god and Mack to start smoking pot on the deck. The problem with this narrow discussion of God’s character is that people who don’t know better will begin to think that’s all there is. But, again, Scripture paints a different picture. God is jealous (Ex. 34:14). God is wrathful (Jn 3:36, Rom 1:18, 2:5). God is just (Is. 30:18). God is merciful (Deut 4:31, Dan. 9:9). God is sovereign (Ps. 68:20, Is. 51:22, Ez. 20:5, Is. 55:11, etc.). God is loving (I John 4). God is truth (Jn 14:6, I Jn 5:6). God is more things than I have space to write or expound upon or even know (I Cor. 13:12). As a side note, people wonder why guys don’t come to church. It’s because they only hear about the “love god.” Guys will not follow someone they can beat up. Basically, if they can’t respect you, they will not follow you. I believe that if we started presenting a fuller picture of who Jesus is, more men would follow. The god of the Shack is the same limp-wristed, dress-wearing, Herbel Essence using, pageant contestant being peddled by most American churches. It disgusts the heart of the true God. Check our Revelation 19 sometime, it’ll blow your weak view of God in a heartbeat.

 

For lack of a better word, the god of the Shack is bi-polar. What I mean by that is that god the father seems to love everyone in the whole world, all through out human history. She is quite “fond” of everyone. What that means, I’m not really sure (which we probably should be sure about). Jesus, on the other hand, loves the church. So, now I’m confused. Does god (father/jesus/holy spirit) love everyone or just the church? The god of the Shack never really answers that question. All we’re left with are ambiguous statements that could be construed to mean whatever you wanted them to mean. I think it’s kinda important we answer this question. A Biblical understanding shows that God does love everyone, just not the same way. God loves His enemies, but not the same way He loves the Church. These vacant statements on who and how God loves are boarding on criminal.

 

Another aspect of the unclear statements on God’s love is the muddied picture of who is actually saved. There is a scene where Mack gets to be reunited with his father and be reconciled. The reason that was needed was that Mack’s father was an angry, abusive drunk. He beat Mack and his mother often. Eventually, Mack runs away, but before leaving, he puts poison in every bottle of alcohol he can find. While it’s never explicitly stated, the implication is that Mack murdered his father. Anyhow, the scene appears to be a glimpse of heaven and somehow Mack’s abusive, drunk father gets in and on top of that, is allowed this reunion/reconciliation. So, if Mack kills his father while his father is still an unrepentant abusive, drunk, how’d he make it into heaven? It is consistent with the god of the Shack loving everyone, but dangerous in the assumptions underlying the scene. This assumes that all is needed for salvation is going to church (which Mack’s father did) and saying a prayer and no life change is required. That is flat wrong! If a man truly submits his heart, under the direction of the Spirit, he will change. If he says a prayer and never changes, he is not saved. You cannot come face to face with God and remain unchanged. This could simply just be a huge whole in the plot line and completely unintentional. If so, scrap this paragraph and chalk it up to a shoddy story editor. However, I doubt that. The author was intending to communicate something with this scene. The lack of any continuity with Scripture leaves this whole even open to wide interpretation. When it comes to who gets saved, themes like that should never be this obscure.

 

The final aspect of the book I found concerning was that the accomplishment of the cross is being twisted. God makes a statement in the book that the cross was a triumph of mercy over justice. I have some big issues with that. The cross was not a triumph over justice, but a dramatic display of it! God cannot violate His justice. He is required to punish sin (as I’ve discussed earlier). To say that mercy triumphed over justice is to say that justice was stayed, denied, ignored, in order to show mercy. In reality, the cross was the punishment of sin, and not everyone’s sin, only those who were to believe. Jesus purchased the faith of every believer on Good Friday. To say the cross was a triumph of purely mercy  is to strip it of it’s power and beauty. I was meant to hang on that tree (as were you), but Jesus was my (and your) substitute. His atonement has been imputed upon me (and you). The cross is the greatest display of God’s justice, mercy and love wrapped up into one event. It’s the shining jewel of glory that we long to see and cherish. Don’t strip the cross of it’s glory by believing the shallow god of the Shack.

 

In conclusion, The Shack is a poor attempt to re-write the character of God. Had the author used plain language to make his points, this book would never had enjoyed the level of popularity is has. The veiled language and hidden assumptions are dangerous and destructive. Become a thinking Christian and engage the truth of Scripture as you read. The God of the Bible is not scared to tell us who He really is. He is authentic, the real deal. Unfortunately, the god of the Shack is a fraud, a sham. The god of the Shack is just the same old lie, cloaked in new garments. Save you money and time and read your Bible instead. It is the actual Word of God. You don’t have to hike to some dingy shack to spend time with God. Just open the Word and the very God of the universe is there, waiting to be discovered and loved.

 

~sdg