Cultural Engagement (God’s Two Kingdoms)

 More good stuff from this new book.

“God still calls us to engage in cultural labors.  He has not taken us out of this world but entrusts us with a range of responsibilities within it.  Yet we are not called to engage in cultural labors in order to attain or to build the world-to-come, the new creation.  As noted in the first chapter, many recent books on Christianity and culture suggest that redemption in Christ consists in the restoration of God’s good creation.  They do not mean that we are placed literally back into the garden of Eden to start from the beginning, but that we resume Adam’s original task of working and developing the creation.  This includes reforming the cultural development that has occurred until now and continuing that development toward the original eschatological goal.”

“But this is not the New Testament’s teaching.  The New Testament does not speak about the completion of the first Adam’s original task and the attainment of his goal, but it always attributes this work to Christ, the last Adam.  We have not been given a plot of land as a holy temple to work and to guard; Christ has already purified a place for God to dwell with his people.  We have not been commissioned to conquer the devil; Christ has already conquered him.  Christ did not come to restore the original creation, but to win the new creation and to bestow its blessings upon his people apart from their own efforts.”

“Thus Christians’ cultural endeavors should not be understood as getting back to Adam’s original task.  This claim should become increasingly clear as we consider the final topic in this chapter [Christ’s second coming].  The story of the last Adam finally comes to its climax at his second coming, when he returns to this world from his glorious reign in the world-to-come.  On that day the world-to-come will be revealed to our eyes, and the cultural activities and products of this world will come to a sudden and drastic end” (p. 62).

I agree with this perspective, based on the classic Reformed/Presbyterian teaching of the covenant of works and the two Adams.  Wondering out loud here: does the Dutch transformationalist theology that came up in the mid to later 20th century have to do with some 20th century Dutch theologians’ rejection of the covenant of works?  As a side note, it would be a fascinating and insightful study to see how many theological errors and problems have resulted from a rejection of the covenant of works in Reformed/Presbyterian theology.

shane lems

17 thoughts on “Cultural Engagement (God’s Two Kingdoms)”

  1. Shane, there are several problems with VanDrunen’s “analysis” here.

    1) it assumes that within the Covenant of Works, that the reward of consummation depended upon some further completion of cultural work even after the probation had been already successfully passed at the tree of knowledge temptation. This is a highly questionable assumption, if for no other reason than the Second Adam’s own work. After His completing the Messianic mission, He was given Resurrection and exaltation glory and all dominion, and that reward did not depend on His completion of some further task. Rather, Christ’s being fruitful and multiplying His people and subduing His enemies would be (is being) done while He is already glorified.

    2) The traditional neocalvinist position does not teach that the transformational & redemptive cultural task is one in which through our cultural work the Christ is gradually restoring the world and will end up with the new heavens&earth. If that is being taught by some, it is a severe distortion & corruption, and is not the genuine teaching of neocalvinism. Rather, the neocalvinist view is that the effects of Christ’s redemption extend far as the curse is found. This means that the transformation that takes place is not one of this present world into the world to come, but a transformation analogous to sanctification. As we are sanctified personally, our own lives and selves are brought into greater conformity with the image of Christ. We increasingly die to the sinful nature and increasing live unto Him in holiness. So also with our cultural activity. Less and less will we make and serve idols in our cultural work, and more and more we are made to serve and love Christ in cultural obedience to Him.

    Herman Ridderbos is a good example of a neocalvinist (eg., he was active in the Christian political party founded by Kuyper) who never abandoned the biblical doctrine of the Covenant of Works. And Herman Dooyeweerd was a good example of a neocalvinist who was clear about what transformation in culture meant (he was also solidly confessional in his theology).

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    1. Baus:
      Thanks for the comments.

      1) I’m sorry, I don’t quite get the thrust of your argument here. Maybe it’s because of a long Sunday in the pulpit! Feel free to clarify.

      2) Your second point highlights the fact that the neo-calvinist position is quite broad. When I was in college, I got the kind of transformationalism that VanDrunen is addressing. Also, since my quote didn’t convey the context, I should note that in the opening chapter(s) VanDrunen discusses transformationalism using citations and such; this is what he is responding to here. Your example sounds like personal sanctification and not the “sanctification” of some labor union or baseball league or something.

      Thanks for the note on Ridderbos. I didn’t think that he was big on the covenant of works based on my reading of him (though I appreciate his book on the Kingdom and on Paul). I don’t mean to be grumpy here, but can you give me some citations where Ridderbos affirms the covenant of works? I always like to see it with my own eyes.

      Warmly,
      shane

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  2. Shane, about Ridderbos… you’re right, I also don’t know anywhere he address covenant of works! As I was typing, I was probably somehow conflating him with Bavinck (too many Hermans!), although thinking about Ridderbos’ dealing with Rom.5 with Christ and Adam.

    But, Bavinck (though earlier than Ridderbos, obviously) might do as an example. He qualifies as neocalvinist too.

    In any case, who represents cultural “transformation” as producing the new heavens&earth?

    Yes, I’ll try to clarify my first point.
    VanDrunen seems to hold (as Kline proposed, I’m afraid to say –since I’m a fan of Kline) that Adam’s glorification depended on his somehow “completing” the cultural mandate in order to achieve consummate dominion.
    This is a seriously problematic view.
    I think, rather, that had Adam resisted temptation and obeyed (one act of obedience), then, Adam would have received the reward (as Christ did).
    In that case, just as with Christ, Adam would have “been fruitful and multiplied and subdued” from a position of glorification.

    What does this mean?
    It means that Adam was never building the world-to-come by the cultural mandate. Rather, Adam would have earned the New Creation by obedience at the tree of knowledge as Christ earned it by obedience.

    And it means that Christ did not have to complete the cultural mandate in order to save us. And it means that even though cultural work is in some way a kind of type of Christ’s work of subduing His enemies and multiplying His people, we are nevertheless still to do cultural work (even as marriage is typical of Christ and the church, but we still have actual marriages until the consummation).

    Now the question is “what does Christ saving us have to do with our cultural work?” This relates to sanctification. In Adam, apart from Christ, all the good things of creation are for unbelievers polluted by sin (Titus 1:15). This includes all cultural work. For sinners, apart from Christ, the original creational goodness of culture is corrupted. Their cultural works are defiled and idolatrous. However, in Christ, by His redemption, believers, renewed in His image, are able to do good cultural work to the glory of God. Common things of this present life are sanctified for believers (1Tim 4:2-5).

    The transformation and redemptive work of culture is not (and never was) one of turning this world into the world-to-come, but rather doing common creational work in increasing faith towards God and in ways increasingly faithful to their created good design. This is both redemptive (ie, the result of Christ’s redemption of us and our lives), and transformative (ie, no longer conforming to corruption, but turned to obedience).

    So, when Dooyeweerd (for example) talks about an “inner reformation of philosophic thought,” he’s not talking about using philosophy to create the new creation. He’s talking about how philosophical thinking about reality has been corrupted by sin, and how through a new understanding because of Christ’s redemption, philosophy can be done “according to Christ,” as opposed to that philosophy that is “not according to Christ” (Col.2:8).

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    1. Thanks, Baus.

      Concering the CoW, I’m not sure I read what you read in the quotes; VanDrunen didn’t go into specifics in the quotes I gave. I just don’t pick up on the nuance you did – about the cultural mandate and the CoW. If we were face to face it would be easier to explain to me I’m sure. Forgive me for missing this!

      About your other points: If Ridderbos is considered a neo-calvinist, he is very different than other neo-calvinists I’ve read. In fact, when I was in college, I was reading Ridderbos’ Coming of the Kingdom and some neo-calvinists at the same time, and I was thinking “how different!” (i.e. see pp 23-26 or so of CotK). To be sure, I was comparing Ridderbos to the transformationalist readings I was doing.

      Echoing what I said earlier (and thanks for bringing this to the fore): it is important to realize there are big differences in the neo-calvinist movement. It would be neat to compare/contrast the “transformational” theories like those of N.T. Wright, Driscoll, Keller, the Emergent Movement, Calvin College, etc.

      Also, back to VanDrunen’s book: I don’t think he over-generalizes. He clearly mentions several transformationalist positions (giving citations/references) and then deals with them, not some theoretical position he just made up.

      shane

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  3. Hey Baus,

    This was very interesting to me: “2) The traditional neocalvinist position does not teach that the transformational & redemptive cultural task is one in which through our cultural work the Christ is gradually restoring the world and will end up with the new heavens & earth. If that is being taught by some, it is a severe distortion & corruption, and is not the genuine teaching of neocalvinism.”

    I didn’t realize that there were strands of Neo-Calvinism that didn’t hold to this approach. When I read this elaborated Hoekema’s “The Bible and the Future,” (285-87), I sort of thought it was more of a norm regarding continuity between this age and the age to come. How is Hoekema generally thought of in Neo-Calvinist circles?

    I’ve been reading (and enjoying) Spykman’s “Reformational Theology” and am really enjoying this opportunity to be part of a very fun dialogue between Ref2KT and Neo-Calvinist approaches where I feel like many on both sides are moving beyond slinging insults and working more to understand better these two facets of the Reformed tradition!

    Thanks again for taking time to chime in over here at the RR!

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  4. Yes, while they may be their own versions of a “transformationalism,” N.T. Wright, Driscoll, Keller, the Emergent Movement, Calvin College are not neocalvinist. Calvin College is the only one with historic ties to neocalvinism, but they showed their preference for Harry Jellema (Plantinga and Wolterstorff mentor)’s approach over Evan Runner’s (a neocalvinist) long ago.

    Hoekema is not considered a prominent figure, but his The Bible and The Future is appreciated. I don’t have that book handy at the moment, but yes of course the Reformed Faith affirms there is continuity (and discontinuity) between this world and that to come (as there is between our present bodies and resurrection bodies), but does Hoekema teach that the world-to-come arrives by way of our cultural development?

    If any self-identifying neocalvinists teach an “evolutionary” consummation, they got that from liberalism, not neocalvinism (which has always been redemptive-historical and confessional).

    The names here are more representative of neocalvinism:
    http://www.allofliferedeemed.co.uk/
    I think Roy Clouser’s work is the most representative.

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    1. “but does Hoekema teach that the world-to-come arrives by way of our cultural development?”

      Hmm. This is a good question. He may not and if this is indeed the case, I can see the distinction. Thanks!

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  5. Baus, speaking of “neo-Calvinism” seems to imply there is such a thing as “paleo-Calvinism.” I wonder what you think the difference might be?

    But you say this: “Rather, the neocalvinist view is that the effects of Christ’s redemption extend far as the curse is found. This means that the transformation that takes place is not one of this present world into the world to come, but a transformation analogous to sanctification. As we are sanctified personally, our own lives and selves are brought into greater conformity with the image of Christ. We increasingly die to the sinful nature and increasing live unto Him in holiness. So also with our cultural activity.”

    I’m more or less with you until the last sentence. How does what is happening personally all of a sudden translate into what we do culturally? It’s almost as if grace leaks from our fingertips. So, one way I might contrast neo with paleo is to say that paleo thinks sanctification is ever and only personal (as in, only for the imago Dei creation in the present age), neo (of whatever variiety) thinks that the sanctification of the imago Dei creation and the restoration of non-imago Dei creation happen similtaneously in this age. Paleo is semi-eschateological and says that, true, as imago Dei creation goes so goes non-imago Dei creation, but the restoration of the latter will only happen when the former is instantly glorified on the last Day. Until then, it’s only a matter of imago Dei creation’s sanctification. Neo seems a bit impatient with waiting for all that.

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    1. Zrim, first, I want to emphasize there are not really multiple extremely-varied kinds of neocalvinism. There are non-neocalvinist “transformationalisms,” and some of them want the Kuyper cachet, but their ‘conceptual heritage’ is (sometimes easily) distinguishable (if you know the history and the players). For instance Wolterstorff (and much of the CRC) is not neocalvinist and clearly repudiates Kuyper’s program in favor of neomarxism. Goheen is importing the framework of Leslie Newbigin, and Keller is using contextualist missiology (ala Kraft and Hiebert, etc).

      The “neo” in neocalvinism means “revival of” or “in the present context”… sort of like the neo in neoclassical (more or less) means “classicalism repeated”.

      While obviously the Reformed Faith experiences historical development ecclesially and confessionally, etc. neocalvinism is not about offering any “alternatives” in those areas outside of the church itself. That is, in the matters of church and faith, neocalvinism is not to be viewed as some other option as opposed to what the Reformed Faith simply is. On that score we are on the same page as everyone else who is Confessionally Reformed.

      What neocalvinism offers is a way of approaching non-ecclesial life from a Reformed perspective in a Reformed way. Obviously, the “neo-twokingdoms” view holds that nothing outside the ecclesial can be Christian by definition, so considering the possibility is precluded (often out-of-hand).

      In a way, there’s a catch-22. If you can’t already imagine what a Christian approach to something non-ecclesial might be, it’s really, really, really hard to imagine it. Nevertheless, we press on to help neo-twokingdom’ers with their apparent failure of imagination. ;)

      If you are tracking with me on the sanctification thing… you’ve pretty much got it. Culture is not “non-imago”, because culture is only something that is done by people. Culture is not non-personal. Neocalvinism is not claiming that the cosmos is being “re-structured,” but only “re-directed”. That is, sanctification in the lives of redeemed people effects what they do culturally. The distinction between structure and direction is key, and to begin to understand neocalvinism it cannot be missed.

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  6. Hi Shane,
    For what it’s worth, I have to admit I had a similar reaction to the VanDrunen quote that Gregory did. My first thought was, “Um… Sort of… But not really…” I don’t have the time or the inclination to dig into the nitty gritty, but VanDrunen’s point seems to be a bit of a caricature (sort of taking a “popular” version of neo-Calvinism which gets batted around in less trained/educated circles to represent the tradition as a whole).

    I think Zrim is onto something in his analysis, though I might (as a neo-Cal) phrase it differently. The individual vs. cosmic implications of Christ’s work might be a helpful way of working through the differences between the two positions. I have to admit that the 2K position from my vantage point (again to be fair, I know very little about it) sounds very pietistic and a tad escapist/dualistic. I honestly don’t say that pejoratively. But to my neo-Calvinist ears when I hear: “On that day the world-to-come will be revealed to our eyes, and the cultural activities and products of this world will come to a sudden and drastic end,” alarms go off, and I hear echoes of Plato. Now, that may be completely unfair, but that’s what I hear.

    It would be interesting to do an analysis of the two positions based on what they are trying to protect. From a neo-Cal’s perspective, neo-Calvinism is trying to protect the goodness of creation and Christ’s Lordship over the same. My sense is that 2K theory is trying to safeguard human salvation from water-down versions (i.e., traditional Protestant liberal versions) which confuse human salvation with social change, etc.

    On a totally unrelated note: Andrew, could you email me your email address (you have mine I assume because of this blog)? I’m wondering if you’ll be at SBL this year.

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    1. Thanks, Nevada; no worries, I know you don’t comment here with fists swinging!

      First, as I mentioned in an earlier comment, VanDrunen lays out what neo-calvinism is in the first part of the book, then goes on to give a Reformed alternative. He does cite his definition(s) of neo-calvinism, so it isn’t some made-up form of neo-calvinism that he’s writing against. And in my experience, his definition(s) are right on (again, having neo-calvinist training in college).

      This comes down to (again) what Baus and Zrim have mentioned (in ways). There are differences in the neo-calvinist camp. Some are probably old-school neocalvinists and others are neo-neo-calvinists (maybe you can make up better labels!). For example, if one says that Bavinck was a neo-calvinist, he is so very different than the Calvin College neo-calvinism of today. After my neo-calvinist training, I read all of Bavinck and I was amazed how different the two are.

      Though I’m not a hard-core 2k guy, I do see the 2k teaching as being more in line with historic Reformed theology and I agree with many of VanDrunen’s conclusions. The 2k position does affirm Christ’s Lordship over all and the goodness of creation. Also, the 2k teaching puts a lot of emphasis on vocation to the glory of God (this goes back to Luther and Calvin). And 2k is not dualistic, it simply makes theological distinctions. The difference b/t ‘dualism’ and ‘distinction’ is huge – I encourage you to explore these terms.

      Nevada – I say this in a kind way – I think you may have some wrong views about what the 2k position teaches. You should grab this book!

      And you’re right – it would be interesting to highlight the emphases of these two positions and see what they are tring to protect against. Good point.

      Thanks,
      Shane

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      1. Hi Shane,
        Likewise, no worries. I’m sure I do have some wrong views about the 2k position. I suppose my point was more about what I perceive when I read such quotes (i.e., “On that day the world-to-come will be revealed to our eyes, and the cultural activities and products of this world will come to a sudden and drastic end”).

        It’s an intriguing example of reader-response hermeneutics :) Indeed, there is probably some truth to that. When I read such a quote, I recall my own past in evangelicalism and hyper-Calvinism and read it through that lens (i.e., human culture is worthless and will be destroyed at the eschaton).

        My comment regarding a caricatured form of neo-Calvinism comes from listening to a respected neo-Calvinist chastise other less educated neo-Cal’s for making silly comments about “redeeming” the world. Popular level apologetics for neo-Calvinism sometimes do more harm than good. VanDrunen’s characterization reminded me of those sort of comments.

        You have mentioned a number of times that you had neo-Calvinist training. I am curious where you received this and what transformationalist writers you read at the time who differed so dramatically from Bavinck (By the way, Bavinck is an interesting case… He was a friend Kuyper, but I go back and forth about whether he was a neo-Calvinist… But then again some of the Dooyeweerdians dispute whether Kuyper himself was a sort of dualist :)

        You are right about the multiformity of neo-Calvinism. There are a bewildering variety of strains, but that is the case, of course, with every movement.

        Again, thanks for the gentle correction. Someday I may have to do more reading on 2k theory (at this point in my life it just doesn’t generate enough interest to warrant excising other must-read material :). Again, I’m not a hater of it… Just what I see, I find troubling.

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  7. So, here I read this: “I have to admit that the 2K position from my vantage point . . . sounds very pietistic and a tad escapist/dualistic.”

    And over on Hart’s blog commenting a Hart’s recent entry “More 2K Hysteria” a different 2K critic comments thusly: “What Federal Visionists and (sadly) Westminster West types have little room for [is] the active work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. To these groups, an emphasis on this is termed ‘pietism’. ”

    If I had hair to spare, I’d be pulling it out.

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