Monday, July 18, 2011

Getting Two Kingdoms Right

While Adam is reading through Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, I am reading, in the little spare time I have, Living in God's Two Kingdoms. When I told a friend I was reading through VanDrunen's latest book and he ask me if I had seen this review of it. I had not, but since he pointed it out to me, I thought I would give it a read.

I am only into chapter 3 of God's Two Kingdom, but the thing that struck me about this review was this comment:
since in the Introduction [of Living in God's Two Kingdoms], as in Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, he began by lumping together theonomists, Kuyperian neo-Calvinists, the emergent church, and N.T. Wright as all instantiations of the same problem, the one he is going to solve.
This particular comment stuck out to me for at least two reasons. The first was that this author mentions that VanDrunen lumps "theonomists" in with these other groups, but as best as I can recall, VanDrunen never mentioned this group. The reviewer does say that this is the same as in Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, so the confusion may be that the reviewer is mistaking the one book for the other. The introduction, however, to Living in God's Two Kingdoms does not bring up theonomy as a foil. In fact, as of chapter 3, VanDrunen has not mentioned this group at all. His foils are "contemporary" movements and since theonomy is not a predominant theological view at this time, it would seem odd for VanDrunen to even bring them up.

The second reason this comment caught my attention was the lake of qualification. The way the comment stands now, it is as if VanDrunen is lumping these four (or better three) groups together in all respects. This, however, is not the case. VanDrunen is very clear that he is only grouping these views together in so far as they view creation, fall and redemption. As VanDrunen puts it:
Though advocates of neo-Calvinism, the New Perspective on Paul, and the emerging church certainly do not hold identical views on all issues, they show mutual respect for each other's work and, most significantly, they share a common vision that the redemptive transformation of culture is central to the Christian life (p. 16-17).
And so we see, VanDrunen does group the three views together (no mention of theonomy), but it is a qualified association which he draws between them. Now, I am sure that the reviewer understood this point from VanDrunen. I only wish the review would have been more careful to bring this out. The reviewer's point is that VanDrunen is confusing, and the reason he thinks he is confusing is that he is lumping all these different views together and trying to argue against all of them. However, Vandrunen's task is a bit more limited, since he is really only arguing against their common vision of a "redemptive transformation of culture" as being "central to the Christian life."

1 comment:

  1. Josh,
    Thanks for the interaction. You are right to push for more clarification on these points. When I wrote up that post, I was writing it against the backdrop of a year's worth of fairly regular blogging about VanDrunen (including a long slow slog through Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms last summer), and so I tried to get by with a sort of shorthand at points. This is the difficulty with blogging, of course--ideally, everything you write should be understood with reference to a bunch of things you've written before on similar subjects, because you can't say everything in every post, but lots of people will stumble upon a single blog post and read it on its own terms.

    If you read Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, you will find that theonomy is very much in VanDrunen's sights, although, since he is trying to write for a wider audience, he avoids explicitly fixating on it too much. You suggest that it is odd that he would target it when it is no longer a prominent theological movement; I agree, I thought it was very strange. But in NLTK, it seemed to be the tail that was wagging the dog. And although it's hardly if ever mentioned in LGTK, it still seemed to be a big part of what was going on under the surface. As I complained in my review, VanDrunen's practical proposals in the end don't really look all that radical. In large part, they're things that I think N.T. Wright, many Kuyperians, etc. would agree with (though I think with much more doctrinal consistency than VanDrunen can claim). The only people who would really sharply disagree with VanDrunen's concrete portrait of political and cultural engagement are theonomic types, as well as particularly unreflective fundamentalist political activists. My sense is that VanDrunen is sharply reacting against these, and reading many other, much more sensible opponents in light of these.

    Now, you are right that he acknowledges differences between RO, NPP, neo-Calvinists, etc. But ultimately, he isolates what he takes to be one key issue, and makes this the decisive one for lumping them all together--which is, as you say, the vision of a "redemptive transformation of culture." But of course, the concepts "redemption," "transformation," and "culture" are all capable of many different meanings, so it is not at all clear that these movements do share a common visions.

    Moreover, I, for instance, would choose a different key issue (say, an inability to properly reconcile nature and grace) and suggest that in fact, R2Ks and theonomists are just variations on the same theme...I could probably also through Anabaptists into the same mix. The point is, it makes a great deal of difference what you choose as your crucial issue. And if you choose it in such a way that almost every contemporary form of Christianity comes off looking like just one more form of the same problem, to which only you have a solution, then I'd say your starting premise is highly suspect. It's like when Americans decide that pretty much everyone else in the world is anti-American, and that's their problem, that all of them--France, the Arabs, the Russians, the UN, Latin America, the Pope, are benighted socialists or something who can't stand America, and we're the only people who have it right. This starts looking suspicious, and an application of Ockham's razor would suggest that on the contrary, maybe we're the only people who have it wrong. Same goes for VanDrunen. Maybe the reason almost everyone else thinks it's important to redeem culture in some sense is because that's central to what Christianity means.


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