Living in God’s Two Kingdoms

I’ve been looking forward to this book for a few months now: Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010). David VanDrunen has been studying this subject for years, and this book is the fruit of his study aimed at the layperson.  In some ways, it is his scholarly work on the topic made easier for the general audience.  To introduce the book, I’ll quote a section of the intro which I appreciated.

“This two-kingdoms doctrine strongly affirms that God has made all things, that sin corrupts all aspects of life, that Christians should be active in human culture, that all lawful cultural vocations are honorable, that all people are accountable to God in every activity, and that Christians should seek to live out the implications of their faith in their daily vocations.”

“A Christian, however, does not have to adopt a redemptive vision of culture in order to affirm these important truths.  A biblical two-kingdoms doctrine provides another compelling way to do so.  According to this doctrine, God is not redeeming the cultural activities and institutions of this world, but is preserving them through the covenant he made with all living creatures through Noah in Genesis 8:20-9:17.”

“God himself rules this ‘common kingdom,’ and thus it is not, as some writers describe it, the ‘kingdom of man.’  This kingdom is in no sense a realm of moral neutrality or autonomy.  God makes its institutions and activities honorable, though only for temporary and provisional purposes.”

“Simultaneously, God is redeeming a people for himself, by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham and brought to glorious fulfillment in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has completed Adam’s original task once and for all.  These people are citizens of the ‘redemptive kingdom,’ whom God is gathering now in the church and will welcome into the new heaven and new earth at Christ’s glorious return.  Until that day, Christians live as members of both kingdoms, discharging their proper duties in each.”

There is more to it, of course – this was just a part of the intro.  I do think this is a solid Reformed way to look at the tough issue of Christians in culture.  I’ll blog more on it later; until then, let me say this book will certainly stimulate healthy thinking and discussions on this topic.  I highly recommend it.

shane lems

Victorinus, Augustine, and Monica

 As most of you know, Augustine’s Confessions are indescribably amazing.  No matter how many times you’ve read them, each time you open the book and start to read you feel like Lucy did when she saw Narnia for the first time. 

One thing that sticks out for me is how Augustine brilliantly sets up his mother Monica’s joy over his conversion.  Before writing of Monica’s joy and his own conversion, Augustine discusses the conversion of Victorinus (4th C. AD). 

Victorinus was a big time Greek philosopher who was swimming deeply in the cults of the Greco-Roman empire.  Since Victorinus read everything, of course he read the Bible.  After reading the Scriptures, he appreciated them, and went to a bishop named Simplicianus and said, “Did you know that I am already a Christian?”  Simplicianus said, “I shall not believe that or count you among the Christians untill I see you in the Church of Christ.”  Victorinus laughed, saying, “Then do walls make Christians?”  He and Simplicianus would go back and forth this way for quite a long time.  Victorinus at first was afraid of what his pagan friends would say about him being a Christian, but then slowly he was convicted by Luke 12.9, that he needed to publicly profess faith in Christ.

One day he went to Simplicianus and said, “Let us go to the Church; I want to become a Christian.”  They did, and to  make a long story short, the joy of the local church was amazing as she received him.  “He proclaimed his unfeigned faith with ringing assurance.  All of them wanted to clasp him to their hearts, and the hands with which they embraced him were their love and their joy.” 

Later, after recounting his own conversion (“A light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart.”), he writes of his mother’s joy.  “She was filled with joy…she saw that You had granted her far more than she had long been praying for in her unhappy and tearful groans…. You changed her grief into joy (Ps 29.12) far more abundantly than she desired.”

This is a powerful section of the Confessions.  It is fascinating to see how much these Christians valued the church – Simplicianus said essentially what Cyprian before and Calvin after said: outside of the church there is no salvation.  I’m also deeply amazed by the literary genius of Augustine as he ends the section with Monica’s joy – the church receiving Victorinus in joy is how Monica receives Augstine in joy (which reflects Luke 15.10).  Simply brilliant.  Go read it – you can find it in book VIII of Confessions.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Cyprian on Tares in the Church (The Mixed Assembly)

Around 252 A.D. Cyprian wrote a letter to several Christians (Maximus, Urbanus, Sidonius, and Macharius) who had recently been received back into the church after they had left under persecution.  They repented and confessed faith, and after time, were allowed full fellowship once again.  Cyprian rejoices in this letter (“Epistle L” [50] in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, V.326-7) that they repented and confessed faith.  Here’s part of his counsel:

“Although there seem to be tares in the Church, yet neither our faith nor our charity ought to be hindered, so that because we see that there are tares in the Church we ourselves should withdraw from the Church: we ought only to labour that we may be wheat, that when the wheat shall begin to be gathered into the Lord’s barns, we may receive fruit for our labour and work. [Cyprian then quotes 2 Tim. 2.20]”

In other words, he calls these restored brethren to “stick with” the church even though there may be tares.  Calvin said it this way: “Add to this, that very many, under the pretense of zeal, are excessively displeased, when every thing is not conducted to their wish, and, because absolute purity is nowhere to be found, withdraw from the Church in a disorderly manner, or subvert and destroy it by unreasonable severity (Commentary on Matthew [13.24-43]).”

Cyprian then goes on to say, essentially, that it is not the job of humans to “do” the final separation between the wheat and the tares:

[No one] …may claim to himself what the Father has given to the Son alone, so as to think that he can take the fan for winnowing and purging the threshing floor, or can separate by human judgment all the tares from the wheat.  That is a proud obstinacy and a sacrilegious presumption which a depraved madness assumes to itself.  And while some are always assuming to themselves more dominion than meek justice demands, they perish from the Church; and while they insolently extol themselves, blinded by their own swelling, they lose the light of truth.”

Fascinating.  Cyprian was hinting at the same things that the Reformers faced during the Reformation.  With some historical/contextual clarifications, one could apply Cyprian’s latter quote to the Anabaptists of the 16th century and beyond.

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

Anabaptist Profiles Part II

Product Details In August, I did a sort of “Anabaptist profile” on Conrad Grebel, who hated the early 16th century Papacy and the Reformers equally – both were antichrists to many anabaptists like Grebel.  This “profile” is a brief on Balthasar Hubmaier, living at the same time as Grebel, Munzter, John Denck, and so forth, in the early 16th century.  These selections from Balthasar Hubmaier come from his 1527 treatise, On Free Will.

Hubmaier wrote that a person has flesh, a spirit, and a soul.  He said that each of these have a distinct will.  In Adam’s fall, Adam’s flesh fell, and Eve is a figure of the fleshly fall.  However, in Adam’s fall, his spirit “remained utterly upright and intact before, during, and after the fall, for it took part, neither by counsel nor by action, yea, it did not in any way consent to or approve of the eating of the forbidden fruit by the flesh.”  In other words, the spirit did not sin when Adam fell, but the flesh did.

Not only did Adam’s flesh fall, his soul did as well, Hubmaier notes: “The soul, the third part of man, through the disobedience of Adam was so maimed in will and wounded even unto death that it can of itself not even choose good or reject evil, for it has lost the knowledge of good and evil, and nothing is left to it but to sin and to die.”

What did Christ’s work then do for the flesh, spirit, and soul?  Well, the flesh is bad, the spirit is good, and the soul stands “between the spirit and the flesh” and needs help because its natural powers cannot do the good.  The Father sent Christ and the Holy Spirit to give freedom back to the soul.  “It  [the soul] can now freely and willingly be obedient to the spirit and can will and choose the good, just as well as though it were in paradise.”  Hubmaier then cites a few medieval proverbs to show that the soul is now free to obey: God says ‘Man, help thyself, and then I will help thee.’  “God created you without your aid, but he will not save you without your aid.”  “If I will [saith the soul], I can be saved, by the grace of God.”  God “wills and draws all men unto salvation.  Yet choice is still left to man, since God wants him without pressure, unconstrained, under no compulsion.”  

 Yikes!  This is part of the theological reason why the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, etc.) worked very hard to distinguish themselves from the Anabaptists (i.e. the Belgic Confession uses the terms, “We detest the error of the Anabaptists…”).  Of course, the Anabaptists returned the “love;” in fact, in the above mentioned treatise, Hubmaier said that the teaching of the bondage of the will is “rubbish” which “they” (read: Luther[ans]) “introduced into Christendom.”  Hubmaier, in this treatise, tries to “hew them (Luther[ans]) down with the sword of the divine word” by upholding the freedom of the will.  I don’t think it worked!

The above quotes were taken from Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers ed. George H. Williams and Angel M. Mergal (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 114-135.  For more info on the Reformer’s responses to the Anabaptists, check out Luther’s Concerning Rebaptism, Letter to the Christians at Strassburg in Opposition to the Fanatic Spirit, and Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments just to name a few.  Also see The Formula of Concord, Epitome – XII (“Other Factions and Sects”) as well as  Calvin’s Treatise Against the Anabaptists.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Calvin on Law and Gospel

In an outstanding section of Calvin’s commentary on 2 Corinthians 3.4-11, he makes a great Reformation distinction between the law and the gospel.  Here are a few ways he puts it.  [The context is, of course, the the old (Mosaic) covenant in comparison to the new covenant.  To keep things clear, Calvin is here specifically speaking of the Mosaic covenant (the “ministry of Moses” in his own terms), not the entire OT.]

“True indeed, the grace of God did not, during all that time, lie dormant, but it is enough that it was not a benefit that belonged to the law.  For Moses had discharged his office, when he had delivered to the people the doctrine of life, adding threatenings and promises.”

Comparing the law and the gospel, Calvin says, “it is truly and properly affirmed, that the nature of the law is to teach men literally, in such a way that it does not reach farther than the ear; and that, on the other hand, the nature of the gospel is to teach spiritually, because it is the instrument of Christ’s grace.”

The external (“written on stones”) aspect of the law “required to be corrected by the gospel, because it could not but be brittle, so long as it was merely engraven on tables of stone.  …From this too, it follows, that the law was the ministry of condemnation and of death; for when men are instructed as to their duty, and hear it declared, that all who do not render satisfaction to the justice of God are cursed, they are convicted, as under sentence of sin and death.  From the law, therefore, they derive nothing but a condemnation of this nature, because God there demands what is due to him, and at the same time confers no power to perform it.”

“The law…as it simply prescribes the rule of a good life, does not renew men’s hearts to the obedience of righteousness, and denounces everlasting death upon transgressors, can do nothing but condemn.  …The office of the law is to show us the disease, in such away as to show us, at the same time, no hope of cure.   …The law leaves man to himself, it condemns him, of necessity, to death.

“The gospel, on the other hand, by which men are regenerated, and are reconciled to God, through the free remission of their sins, is the ministry of righteousness, and, consequently, of life also.  …[The gospel is] reckoned the doctrine of life, because it is the instrument of regeneration, and offers to us a free reconciliation with God.  …The office of the gospel is to bring a remedy to those who were past hope.  …The gospel brings [a man killed by the law] to Christ [and] opens the gate of life” (all emphasis in original).

I also noticed that Matthew Poole made similar comments, and Luther sounded the same notes, of course, in a sermon on the same text.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

The Anabaptists and Luther

What did the Anabaptists of the radical reformation generally think of Luther and the Reformers?  Not much.  In a letter from Conrad Grebel to Thomas Muntzer (from 1524), Grebel wrote that between the Romanists and the Reformers (which he called “the pope and antipapal preachers”), “there is grosser and more pernicious error now than ever has been since the beginning of the world.”  In fact, said Grebel, the Wittenberg (i.e. Lutheran) “slothful scholars and doctors…preach a sinful sweet (i.e. poisonous) Christ, and they lack clear discernment.”

Grebel wrote that the Lutheran form of baptism is “senseless” and “blasphemous” and among the old “customs of the Antichrist.”  Luther, Grebel said to Muntzer, does not teach Christ as he should; Wittenberg’s scholars “flounder from one perversion of Scripture into the next, and daily from one blindness into another and greater.  I think and believe that they propose to become true papists and popes.”  Elsewhere, Muntzer even called the Lutheran teachers “vicious reprobates.”

Of course, more could be said, but this is pretty significant.  Many Anabaptists viewed the Reformers’ and their teaching as a nasty outgrowth of the papacy (sort of like a tumor).  The Reformation views of the sacraments (both Reformed and Lutheran) as well as the Reformation view of the church (which included ordination, office, and assembly) were condemned by the Anabaptists for being essentially papist, stuck in outward forms.  Therefore, some of the Anabaptists did not hesitate to call Luther and company little popes or antichrists.  The Anabaptists wanted to return to the pure Word without the externals (i.e. sacraments as means of grace, offices in the church, ecclesiastical assemblies, etc.).

Of course, what happens then, as Luther rightly remarked, is they ended up being more spiritual than the Holy Spirit (they swallowed him feathers and all).   What happens when you chuck the externals and focus on the internals (as Bavinck rightly remarked) is that you get pietism,  rationalism, and ultimately deism.  On the surface this Anabaptism may look sweet (return to the “pure” word without anything else), but under it lurked a world of errors, as Luther and the other Reformers so rightly pointed out.

FYI,  here are some of Calvin’s works against the Anabaptists, which is on my list of reading for this winter.

Quotes taken from Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers ed. George H. Williams and Angel M. Mergal (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1957), 65, 73-85.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Another New One On Calvin

In light of the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birthday, a host of all things Calvin is hitting the bookstores, blogs, and even other media.  Here’s another new compilation on Calvin, edited by Burk Parsons – John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2009).  Nineteen pastors/teachers contributed, from Joel Beeke to Sinclair Ferguson to Thabiti Anyabwile to Phillip Johnson to Derek Thomas to Jerry Bridges.

The chapters include topics such as Calvin’s humility, life, and devotion; his role as churchman, reformer, writer, preacher; Calvin’s teaching on redemption, election, reprobation, union with Christ, justification, and so forth.  A great many topics are covered.

I’m not going to actually quote the book a bunch here. I simply want to flag the book for those interested.  In my opinion, the book is a great one to give to those Christians who 1) are leery of Calvin, 2) have heard of Calvin but never read anything about him, or 3) know a little of Calvin’s teaching and want to learn more.  This book is probably too much an introduction to Calvin and his thought for it to be overly useful to those of us who have read the Institutes or parts of his Commentaries.

One small quibble I have with the book is that some contributors didn’t really seem to get “into” Calvin’s thought.  For one example, Jerry Bridges wrote about holiness, and he only quoted from a tiny section of the Institutes (sometimes known as “The Little Golden Book”) but left out some other huge Calvin emphases that came to mind.  Joel Beeke’s chapter, “The Communion of Men With God” followed Bridges; it certainly “breathed” Calvin.  These two chapters sort of display the diversity of contributors.  Another chapter that didn’t “breathe” Calvin was John MacArthur’s chapter, “Man’s Radical Corruption,” (a.k.a. Total Depravity) which he said was one of Calvin’s “most important legacies” along with a few other points (p 138).  True enough, but this is sort of a reduction of all of Calvin’s thought down to several “points.”  In summary, some chapters are solid reading, others are somewhat superficial.

I realize an author and a book can only do so much.  And I realize the benefits of having Christians of all traditions say that Calvin is good and helpful.  Again, this is a good introductory level book for Calvin’s thought and life in simple language, but you may not need or want it if you’ve already read some things on Calvin.

For those of you who want more than a broad introduction, see this Beeke book or this one by Godfrey – both of which are also introductions to Calvin.  These are two men (among others I know) who have read and studied the Calvin “autographa” for years, and who are Calvinistic from head to toe.  These two books (among others) may just serve a better purpose than the one I’m reviewing here.

Finally, if you want a scholarly book on Calvin, check out Richard Muller’s, The Unaccommodated Calvin. I’m guessing most of our readers who have been “reading us” awhile are probably able to dig into the Institutes themselves.  Start there, and patiently read.

shane lems

sunnyside wa