Monday, January 17, 2011

VanDrunen and the Great Commission

Reading When Helping Hurts thrust me into David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms. I’m desperate for clarity amidst a cacophony of voices on mission. Authors of the former, Corbett and Fikkert, join the growing list of writers who see cultural renewal/transformation/redemption/recreation as part and parcel of the Church’s mission.

The solution to poverty, they write, is reconciliation: “moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation” (78), quoting 2 Corinthians 5. I appreciate the crux of what they’re saying but wouldn’t call that reconciliation. Would the apostle Paul recognize Alisa Collins from the Chicago ghetto, finding steady work and self-fulfillment, as the process of reconciliation he writes about in 2 Cor 5? No.

To be fair, they do write several pages explaining that “profound reconciliation” (as opposed to ‘half-ass reconciliation’?) “cannot be done without people accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior” (80, c.f. 94-97). My only concern is that there is already a host of members in the missions community who believe that sin equals poverty, that the gospel equals kingdom, and would be delighted to have an advocate saying that reconciliation equals a process of alleviating suffering.

Why is Renee Padilla being invited to Urbana to depict mission exclusively in terms of coming to the aid of internally displaced people? Why is Shane Claibourne growing in popularity for his message that the only hell worth fighting against is that of poverty? Why is Christianity Today including articles about environmental concern as a chief pillar of mission? Why did Ralph Winter argue that we must do missions on the microbe level, battling Satan in the realm of infectious diseases? Why has 2010 marked the year in which more North American Great Commission dollars are going toward social work than evangelism and church planting?

To David VanDrunen we must turn. Lumping neo-Calvinists, advocates of the New Perspective on Paul, and emerging church leaders together as those who believe “the salvation or redemption brought by Christ is essentially restoration or re-creation” (18), he mounts a compelling defense for a two-kingdoms theology.

It comes down to two Adams and two covenants. Transformationalists oft-repeat the line that the cultural mandate of dominion to Adam has never been rescinded in Scripture. Therefore, we inherit this mandate as Adam’s heirs. Not so, says VanDrunen. Better than never rescinded the cultural mandate has been fully fulfilled in Christ. What the first Adam failed to do as a righteous king and priest in creation, Jesus did, resisting and conquering the devil, becoming the perfect priest to God, and achieving the Sabbath rest intended as the culmination of the first Adam’s labors. The New Testament takes great pains to connect the two Adams (Rom 5; 1 Cor 15; c.f. Hebrews and many other allusions).

Jesus left nothing incomplete, not justification and not achieving the world-to-come. We add nothing. Our cultural engagement now does not make new creation, but is in response to new creation. Far from cultural isolation, we understand that we dwell in two kingdoms, both firmly under the Lordship of Christ.

God’s covenant to Noah established the common kingdom: it involved cultural activities, all humanity, preservation of the natural order, and temporary nature. In contrast, God’s covenant to Abraham established the redemptive kingdom, conversely: pertaining to faith and worship, a distinct people within humanity, bestowing salvation, and is everlasting.

Christians are not pseudo-Gnostic, isolationists denigrating the physical for the spiritual, awaiting heavenly ethereal bliss in the clouds. We are cultural beings in a cultural world called to honor God in an infinite array of cultural activities. But we do so as sojourners. We do so as members of a redemptive kingdom who understand a radical end to this world and its culture and wait for a new (not improved) heavens and earth.

That which does last is our primary mission. Paul describes it as a building undergoing fire (1Cor 3). John, alluding to Isaiah, as the glory and honor of nations entering the new Jerusalem. Both refer to the proclamation of the gospel and growth of the Church.


P.D. said...

good review/post.

Sounds like you've had a real change in perspective. I gotta be honest I'm a little surprised by it, I'm really confused about this two-kingdom stuff. It's been nothing less than a thorn in my side for the last year or so and been extremely damaging when it comes to thinking through my christian identity in my vocation at school. It was two kingdom theology that kept the German church lame during WWII and that allowed Thornwell to keep his slaves.

I'm not convinced that two-kingdom theology is not simply born out of the crucible of German enlightenment gnostic thought (Kant).

I'm really curious about the practical implications in your day-to-day life. DO you find this radical divide between the physical and spiritual helpful in what it allows and does not allow you to accomplish as a minister? Is it really possible to live out and apply two-kingdom theology in the local church?


david gentino said...

You're right PD, this does mark a big shift in my thinking. Or "shifting" I should say as I'm still reading and processing.

I've become very disillusioned with popular mission discourse that includes everything from community development to cultural renewal to creation care under the Great Commission. That just doesn't fit the New Testament I'm reading.

So I'm shifting. You're right, there are HUGE two-kingdom abuses both past and present. But I think you might find VanDrunen's book to be refreshingly balanced as he desperately tries to ward off any accusations of being Gnostic/isolationist/matter-is-evil/etc. He even plays the piano and watches college football you'll be happy to know.

Practical implications abound of course. It's immediate relevance as a minister is to free me to do what I'm called to do - to shepherd the church in what she's called to do and be. Far from a radical physical/spiritual divide, all the elements of ministry and worship - water baptisms, bread and wine communion, personal evangelism, helping the poor through generosity and personal sacrifice, etc. - are all 'physical' activities that take place in culture through cultural beings. What divides fleshly/earthly and spiritual in the NT is that which is animated by the Spirit. Not that which takes place in our time and space material world.

I fear - and I'm still wrestling - that the church is in danger of ceasing to be the church inasmuch as she fails to live in God's two kingdoms faithfully.

P.D. said...

I thought more about this after I commented sorry if I'm venting, this is a sensitive topic for me. I was really surprised especially given your enthusiasm for Vanhoozer's post-propositional take on the Gospel and your contestations with Chris Little. It seems like there's no room in the two-kingdom inn for Vanhoozer, Wright or Crouch.

I guess I don't see the spiritual/physical divide like these two-kingdom guys do. I don't have in mind people like Shane Claiborne, but I do think that trying to disciple someone on a sexual ethic can't fit into those categories, i.e. Paul's exhortations at the closing of the 1 Corinthians chapter 6. John the Baptist lost his head for making a comment about a political figure's morality. Even for iconoclastic protestant churches the only images in the worship service aren't bread, wine and water. Just try changing the kind of chair the pastor sits in, or the kind of pulpit he preaches out of. Two kingdom theology is put to the test most rigorously in the ministry of the deacons, who are charged to meet explicitly physical needs within the bounds of the supposedly "spiritual kingdom".

Sorry, I know I'm ranting here and I'm picking fights on things you didn't even address. When I think of 2K theology, I mainly have in mind guys like Daryl Hart. He insists you can't have a christian view of anything except things like sin and salvation. Now, its fairly obvious there is no Christian view of drywall. But for me day-in day-out, its impossible to leave Christ at the door in art-history and play according to the rules of natural law. I tried for the first year here and it really took a toll on me. So, I don't consider it a ministry or call myself a missionary in my own backyard, but there clearly are christian and non-christian ways to talk about those things. To act like that's not the case forced me into strictly spiritual interactions with Jesus on sunday mornings.

I find natural law untenable, so I guess that's part of the problem too.

I might have my facts wrong about this, but one of the implications of 2K theology is when you have Daryl Hart saying things like, "the great commission doesn't apply to us, only the ordained ministers."

David, I'm eager to read something on the subject. It's been something I've been dialoging about with various people for the last year or so, but haven't taken the time to formally study. I get the whole "word and sacrament" definition of ministry, I just think the only ones who do that consistently are the guys who never leave their study.

david gentino said...

Thanks for being honest here PD, it is great for me to dialogue with you about these things because wherever we land there must be room in both kingdoms for PD's.

I haven't read Hart but I commend VanDrunen once again and think you might be surprised.

The best way to alleviate your frustration with VanDrunen is to drop the physical/spiritual divide in its abused form. That's not at all what two kingdoms in about.

There is ample room and encouragement in 2K theology for an art profession. We are cultural beings in a cultural world called to make and embody culture as Christians. VanDrunen does not believe cultural activities are just rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship; just that the ship is not our eternal home and the deck chairs as we've arranged them will pass unscathed into eternity.

His threefold warning about doing cultural activities in the common kingdom "Christainly": First, cultural activities are not distinctly Christian. We might say a Christian plumber is an honest one, but we'd expect that from a non-Christian plumber. Of course motives are a different story. Second, standards of excellence are not distinctly Christian. Which is why you will have a voice, PD. Third, there is no objectively Christian way of doing art. No two Christians would agree on what that was.

So the fruit of this kind of 2K theology is not to isolate ourselves from worldly/physical art but to be freed from the impossible attempt to redeem, transform, or make eternal your work in the field.

You're right though, to think and communicate and defend and act and be motivated in a Christian way in your field is where the battle lies and it is hugely important.

John Paulling said...

Sorry for being so late to comment.

I agree, David, that VanDrunen certainly mounts a formidable case for the doctrine of 2K. He is quite thorough on almost every front (biblically, historically, and so on). However, I've found him to be in the end, unhelpful. For all his theological precision he hasn't helped me practically.

Here are a few reasons:

Saying cultural transformation through social justice is not the mission of the church is like saying sexual morality is not the mission of the church. That is of course true if what we mean by mission is simply preaching the doctrine of justification by faith. However, I think it's clear that discipleship (or making disciples) for Jesus and for Paul is a bit more broad. It includes a host of things, even the way we work (1 Thess. 4:11-12). In the case of 1 Thess. 4, apparently the way we work can have a potentially persuasive influence on outsiders.

VanDrunen is fond of speaking about the two kingdoms being governed by two different ethics. The civil kingdom is governed by the lex talionis, while the Church is governed by the teachings of Christ. The civil kingdom perpetually has justice "before it" while the spiritual kingdom has justice "behind it". Justice smiles and asks no more, for the Christian. My struggle with this is how these two kingdoms are constantly overlapping for all people. Take for example, the situation the LORD through Moses posits in Deuteronomy 24. If there is an agreement between two men in which one man grants another a loan, and the recipient of the loan gives something to the loaner in collateral, the loaner is not to keep that item overnight (v. 13). That is assuming, I think, that the piece of collateral is the man's coat. Therefore, the loaner is asked to act against his own self-interest. He is asked to act against what is justice in this particular case. I have a hunch that VanDrunen would reject identifying Israel with our present civil kingdom, and would then reject my illustration, but that I believe to be a greater deficiency in his work (I, of course, don't believe there is a one to one similarity there). In my opinion, Paul leaves room for, and encourages those kinds of analogical readings of the legal parts of the OT.

Those instances in Scripture have renewed my hope for the Christian plumber. Fairness is not the only thing we admire in our employers and employees. In fact, its tender-heartedness, graciousness etc. that distinguishes those we interact with in the civil kingdom most.

I don't pretend to know what Christian art looks like (although I do believe there could be such a thing), and I'm not sure what Christian mission on the microbial level would be. What I have become convinced of is that 2K is not the only response to some of the transformational silliness.

Again, I absolutely admire VanDrunen's theological prowess. His book, "Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms" is extremely impressive. I just disagree with him on too many fundamental things. Because he is so systematic and careful, that spells disagreement with his applications at the outset.

John Paulling said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
david gentino said...

I was missing your absence here John and love the points you've made. It seems Israel and her laws continue to be a sore thumb in everybody's theologies.

Mission is dicey but so important. Yes our mission is to make disciples and teach them "all that I have commanded." So true discipleship has a lot to say to work, to sexual purity, to a host of issues. My problem is our state of affairs today, where all around me people are starting a basket-weaving ministry, a justice ministry, a creation care ministry, a hopscotch ministry and calling it missions.

Yes our faith informs our work but how much can "mission" hold without becoming utterly meaningless? And why don't we see all these colorful ministries springing out of the pages of Acts?

I think VanDrunen would heartily agree that a Christian plumber ought to look drastically different from a non-Christian plumber in those respects. I think he is writing against the war cries "take plumbing for Christ" or "bring plumbing (not the plumber) under the Lordship of Christ." At the end of the day we're still talking about whether my faucet leaks or not. And that doesn't disparage the work of a Christian plumber!