The Culture War Is Over: A Review Article

Gregory Edward Reynolds

Living in God's Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture, by David VanDrunen. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010, 208 pages, $16.99.

In 1974, I was first exposed to the question of Christ and culture in a course taught at Covenant College, titled Philosophy of the Christian Faith, which was intended to assist students in integrating the liberal arts curriculum. There I read H. Richard Niebuhr's landmark taxonomy of this question, Christ and Culture.[1] It was heady stuff for a student who had recently been immersed in Eastern mysticism. My new appreciation for history and embodied existence lured me toward a Kuyperian account of the solution to this question. Since then, over the last three decades, I have accumulated quite a library of books on this question and have been revisiting the Kuyperian idea from an amillennial hermeneutic. This in turn has moved me to a more distinctly two kingdom (hereafter 2k) position, although I did not early on have a label for it. Coincident with my own change in thinking was the development within the Reformed academy of a renewed appreciation for post-Reformation dogmatics. On top of all this, I have been impressed that, despite the fact the Puritans were often still captive to a Constantinian account of this dilemma, the Westminster Confession equates the kingdom with the visible church. "The visible church ... is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ" (WCF 25.2). It is from within this renewed intellectual climate that VanDrunen's work on the 2k theology has emerged over the last decade.

As an ethicist, VanDrunen has been laying a foundation of natural law scholarship for more than a decade. His first serious research was connected with his graduate school dissertation from 1999-2001. In 2003 he began research for his seminal historical account Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms (2010),[2] laying the foundation for future studies. A Biblical Case for Natural Law (2006)[3] served as an appetizer for the biblical foundation of the 2k doctrine. In late 2007 he turned his attention to the constructive, biblical-theological part of his project, resulting in the publication of Bioethics and the Christian Life (2009),[4] and the present volume under review, demonstrating the practical implications of the 2k doctrine for the Christian life.

VanDrunen approaches his subject like a skilled lawyer facing a jury squarely, all the while realizing that they come to the courtroom largely hostile to his case. This is why he repeats the main tenets of his argument incessantly throughout the book. If his earlier books were shots across the cultural transformationist bow, this book is a direct hit. While this martial metaphor is appropriate regarding the substance of the book, in his mode of arguing VanDrunen is irenic, exemplifying the ancient saying, loved by Cornelius Van Til: "Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re" (gentle in manner, strong in deed or substance).

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VanDrunen's exploration of the cultural mandate, and the covenant of works associated with it, being fulfilled by the Second Adam makes a unique contribution to the discussion of Christ and culture. He insists that Scripture teaches that culture is not being redeemed by God but is rather being preserved in order for the citizens of the second Adam to be redeemed and gathered from among the nations. These citizens of the new creation are the subject of God's redeeming activity, while culture is not (15).

The introduction gives a nice summary of the proponents of the idea that Christians are called to redeem or transform culture, from neo-Calvinists to the emerging church (16-24). VanDrunen maintains that the transformational view is usually presented as the only alternative to a world-denying pietism (25). Twentieth-century Calvinism in particular has largely ignored the doctrine of the natural law/2k alternative, once almost universally present in post-Reformation dogmatics. The 2k doctrine, according to VanDrunen, posits redemption not as " 'creation regained' but 're-creation gained' "; while the "divinely ordained common kingdom ... is legitimate but not holy" (26).

The most eye-popping conclusion that VanDrunen comes to—he does so early in Part 1 ("First Things and Last Things," pages 33-71) of the book—is that the culture war is over, although he doesn't use these terms. How so? Fulfilling the cultural mandate, the second Adam has done what the first Adam failed to do, thus inheriting the glory represented in the Tree of Life for his people. Through his obedient life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection, he has entered into the Sabbath rest in the heavenly places, which the triune God entered on the seventh day upon completing his creation (40-41). The Lord Jesus passed the probation that the first Adam failed, thus fulfilling the covenant of works on behalf of his covenant people in order that they might inherit glory in the new heavens and the new earth (42-43). The failed dominion of Adam's progeny awaited the appearance of the royal heir of the kingdom, Jesus Christ, who would win dominion for God's elect in his consummation glory that he already inhabits as the exalted king (44-47). This section is a tour de force of covenant theology, nicely parsed for popular consumption.

So then, in Christ, explains VanDrunen, the believer finds his true destiny.

Christians will attain the original destiny of life in the world-to-come, but we do so not by picking up the task where Adam left off but by resting entirely on the work of Jesus Christ, the last Adam, who accomplished the task perfectly. (50)

The Christian's task in the present world, which is passing away, is a "grateful response" (51) to the perfect accomplishment of Jesus Christ. VanDrunen then unpacks Romans 5, 1 Corinthians 15, and sections of Hebrews to convincingly prove his point that there are two kingdoms, one eternal and the other temporary (51-60). "The goal of Adam's original cultural commission has been achieved," and the Lord Jesus has been resurrected to enjoy the reward (53). He has not done this for himself alone, but as the mediator of a new creation (56). "We pursue cultural activities in response to the fact that the new creation has already been achieved, not in order to contribute to its achievement" (57). This has direct bearing on the doctrine of justification by faith, because a

Protestant doctrine of justification is ultimately incompatible with a redemptive transformationist view of culture along the lines of neo-Calvinism, the New Perspective on Paul, or the emergent church. (58)

The goal of redemption in Christ is not the renovation of this present order, the restoration of the original creation (62). "In his resurrection Christ was not resuscitated to life in this world but raised up to life in the world-to-come." It is our present access to this world that Hebrews emphasizes (59). In the second coming of our Lord all the "products of human culture will perish along with the natural order" (64). VanDrunen is quick to point out that this does not mean that there will be no continuity between this world and the next (66). For example, we will have recognizable, but glorified bodies just like our risen Savior—that is heavenly, as opposed to earthly (1 Cor. 15:40). Nor does this mean that present cultural activities have no goodness or value, only that they are not the objects of redemption and are temporary (68-69).

Having laid the exegetical and theological foundation for the two kingdoms, VanDrunen proceeds to its implications for living in two parts: Old and New Testament sojourners (73-128); and Christian living in the church and the world (129-205). The latter is divided into education, vocation, and politics.

A common complaint about the 2k idea is that it blunts the antithesis between the Christian and the world. VanDrunen puts this complaint to rest by demonstrating the compatibility of "spiritual antithesis" and "cultural commonality." In turn, the two kingdoms are founded by two covenants, one redemptive covenant with Abraham and the other common, cultural covenant with Noah (75-76). Believers and unbelievers share the activities of the common kingdom, while only believers participate in the spiritual kingdom in which their allegiance stands in antithesis to the loyalties of unbelievers. Another common complaint, related to concern for the antithesis, is that the 2k idea is essentially antinomian. VanDrunen asserts otherwise:

God himself established and rules the common kingdom. It exists under the Lordship of the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The common kingdom is not in any sense a realm of moral neutrality or human autonomy. (81)

A brief portrait of believers as citizens of the redemptive kingdom in the midst of the common kingdom focuses on their identity as exiles and sojourners (82-88). VanDrunen then contrasts this with the unique situation of God's people under the Mosaic covenant (88-97). In this covenant, redemption and culture are temporarily merged. But, far from being a prescription for redeeming culture, it presents a picture of the coming of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, the kingdom of the world-to-come. The subsequent exile reminds us that the kingdom had not yet come. But then, when it does come in Jesus the Christ, we may be tempted to think that exile is over. Yet the language of the New Testament makes it clear that believers are still exiles and sojourners (1 Pet. 1:1, 17; 2:11, p. 99). The remainder of the book describes the situation of the church in this present age, clearly distinguishing the two kingdoms and describing the proper activity of the believer in each.

In keeping with the Westminster Confession's identification of the kingdom of God with the visible church, VanDrunen asserts, "the church is the only institution or community in the present world that can be identified with the kingdom proclaimed by Christ" (101). He goes on to demonstrate from the New Testament that the church and the redemptive kingdom are identical, and that the church follows the pattern of the Abrahamic covenant, except now it is tasked with spreading the good news of the redemptive accomplishment of Jesus Christ to all nations (102-6). At this point VanDrunen takes on the theonomic exegesis of Matthew 5:17-21. He does so with great finesse and yet oddly without mentioning Greg Bahnsen, who, as far as I know is the major theonomic exegete of this passage, which many believe to be the interpretive linchpin of theonomy as an ethical system (108-12). He demonstrates the uniqueness of the ethics of the new covenant as they apply to the Christian as a member of the kingdom of heaven still living in this world, and not to the world or its governments. Consequently, "the church is the community of the citizens of the kingdom.... the kingdom of heaven is not to be found in the social-political communities of the broader world" (114). The ethics of the Sermon on the Mount are only possible for citizens of the new creation, to whom it is clearly directed (115). VanDrunen does admit to a kind of overlap in the institution of the family between the redemptive and the common kingdoms (119, 121). This is an institution about which much more discussion is needed.

Especially helpful in this chapter is VanDrunen's discussion of the Christian's attitude toward the common kingdom, its citizens and activities (123-28). The perspective of Ecclesiastes enjoins the believer to enjoy the blessings of common culture as God's gifts, not simply hostile territory of which to be suspicious. However, VanDrunen cautions that cultural activities are not the focus of the New Testament (124). This insight implies several corollaries. So, rather than viewing our unbelieving neighbors as our opponents we should seek to love and be a blessing to them in our cultural involvement, instead of being culture warriors seeking to conquer culture (124-26). On the other hand, cultural participation is not meant to deny the antithesis. So, Christians must be vigilant and beware of the idolatrous tendencies within all fallen culture, which may undermine our longing for the world to come as pilgrims (126-28).

Part 3 gets down to the specifics of Christian involvement in the two kingdoms. The order of this section is very important. The church comes first, because it is the central institution in the Christian life (131-60). While there are many excellent books on the church and its worship and life, VanDrunen makes a unique contribution to the Christ and culture debate by introducing the importance and centrality of the church. The church alone is the place where people are nurtured in the realities of the new creation in Christ. One will not find a more theocentric explication of the doctrine of the church, the distinctiveness of her ethics, the abundance of her spiritual fruits, and the purity of her spirituality. Thus, "it is entirely inappropriate to identify the church with any institution or community of the common kingdom" (148). The church must stick to the mission given her in the New Covenant.

The final chapter (7) explores ways in which the 2k doctrine plays out in the three hotly debated arenas of education, vocation, and politics. To say that the culture war is over in terms of the cultural mandate, the covenant of works, and the accomplishment of Christ, is not in any way to imply that spiritual warfare is over. No, in fact, this section of the book is a reminder that the weapons of our warfare are not from the common kingdom, but from the spiritual. So, appropriately VanDrunen enjoins Christian cultural activity to be joyful, detached, and modest (163ff.). Although Christians are not called to take up the original cultural mandate, cultural institutions are God's temporary blessing and must be supported by and participated in by believers (164-65).

We often hear Christians speak of their involvement in various cultural activities as if their participation makes the activity itself unique, or uniquely Christian. VanDrunen corrects this as a mistaken notion:

The normative standards for cultural activities are, in general, not distinctively Christian.... The standards of excellence for cultural work are generally the same for believers and unbelievers.... And there are usually many possible ways in which Christians could pursue such activities. (168-72)

It would, therefore, be wise to "discard familiar mantras about 'transformation' and especially 'redemption.' Nowhere does Scripture call us to such grandiose tasks" (171).

Education is, according to VanDrunen, an area, like all others, where 2k theory does not claim to have all the answers. But it helps to clarify many aspects of the task by suggesting helpful guidelines. Except for theology, which interprets special revelation,

the primary concern of all other disciplines—whether in the humanities, social sciences, or natural sciences—is to interpret and explain natural revelation, that is, the truth revealed in creation, as upheld and governed by God through the Noahic covenant (Ps. 19:1-6; Rom. 1:19-20; 2:14-15).... These considerations suggest that Scripture says crucial things about the big picture of all the academic disciplines, while it is silent about nearly all the narrower, technical details of these disciplines (except theology). (174-75)

Thus, parents have primary authority over the education of their children and are free to choose among any number of educational institutions, including public schools. But, because Christ has entrusted the keys of the kingdom to the church, pastors and teachers have the primary authority over instruction in theology. In every discipline the Christian must remember that "study and teaching are never religiously neutral" (179). However, "we impoverish our children educationally if we unduly cut them off from the accomplishments and contributions of unbelievers" (184). VanDrunen applies similarly sage advice in his consideration of vocation, warning us to respect the disciplines developed for each earthly calling in common culture, while being faithful to our Christian calling in the pursuit of these (187-94).

Finally, "politics is a matter of the common kingdom" (194). VanDrunen succinctly sums up the 2k perspective on politics:

Christians must strive neither to deny the importance of politics—since it has great bearing on the justice, peace, and prosperity of this world—nor to exalt politics as a means of ushering in the redemptive kingdom of heaven. (194-95)

Because the justice and order that civil government provides is temporary and provisional—not to mention imperfect—Christians should participate with modest expectations and seek to assist in the limited but important goals of God's institution, "seeking the welfare of the city" (Jer. 29:7, p. 199). Most important of all, Christians need to be careful not to make ethical absolutes out of policy positions and candidates that they favor where Scripture is silent on these things (198-203).

One can only hope that VanDrunen will write separate books on each of these and other areas of common concern. Throughout the book VanDrunen interacts in helpful and fair ways with numerous other writers on the subject of Christ and culture. Thus, it is a shame that there is no subject-author index. This book should become a staple in the adult education programs of our churches. It is a splendid little book whose message is in desperate need of a wide hearing.

The entire book is redolent of the theology of Geerhardus Vos and Meredith G. Kline. While that theological connection and VanDrunen's articulate 2k position will raise the ire of some, I hope that his work will receive the thoughtful attention it deserves. Any construction of the church's role in the world or the Christian's task in culture that strays far from the 2k doctrine will tend to dissipate the energies needed to be the ambassadors we have been called to be.


[1] H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper, 1951).

[2] David VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).

[3] David VanDrunen, A Biblical Case for Natural Law (Grand Rapids: Acton Institute, 2006).

[4] David VanDrunen, Bioethics and the Christian Life: A Guide to Making Ethical Decisions (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009).

Gregory E. Reynolds serves as the pastor of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is the editor of Ordained Servant. Ordained Servant Online, April 2011.

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Ordained Servant: April 2011

Decisions + 2 Kingdoms or 1?

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