Review: Living in God’s Two Kingdoms by David VanDrunen

In 2010 Crossway released David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture. VanDrunen is the Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, CA. In this work, VanDrunen aims to unpack what’s come to be known as Reformed Two Kingdoms Theology (R2K hereafter). Living in God’s Two Kingdoms offers an alternative to the view that’s become quite popular among young Reformed thinkers: Christ is king over all creation and therefore Christians are to influence their cultures for the cause of the gospel. This means, according to what I will refer to as the Kuyperian (or neo-Calvinist) view, that Christians are to aim for distinctively Christian approaches to economics, politics, law. Vandrunen fears this approach to the Christ and culture question will lead to a misapplication of Scripture and a triumphalistic attitude toward non-Christians.

Content. VanDrunen affirms the Lordship of Christ, though R2K theology teaches that God rules over his creation in two distinct, yet complimentary ways. Each of these ways represents a sphere, a kingdom, of God’s providential agency. Early on VanDrunen clearly develops what each kingdom entails and how God has chosen to rule through it. Whether one agrees or disagrees with VanDrunen’s proposal, we should certainly appreciate his clear exposition of a doctrine that hasn’t always been (to my mind, at least) the easiest to pin down.

The Two Kingdoms. The two kingdoms are the common kingdom and the redemptive kingdom, respectively. The redemptive kingdom, VanDrunen explains, was established with the call of Abram in Genesis 15. Its distinguishing characteristics are the establishment of a chosen people who are provided the means through which they can inherit eternal life. Likewise, as God’s people called out of the world, citizens of the redemptive kingdom maintains a spiritual antithesis with the world. The Israel of God is in union with God in Christ, while unbelievers are under the dominion of Satan. In contrast, the common kingdom was established back in Genesis 9 in God’s covenant with Noah. According to R2K theology, cultural development, the family, and the cause of justice mark the common kingdom. This means at least two things: First, the spheres of the family, economics, civil government, and cultural institutions fall under the rubric of the common kingdom. Second, as a part of this kingdom, they will pass away at Christ’s second coming.  Third, while the citizens of the redemptive kingdom maintain a spiritual antithesis with unbelievers, they nonetheless share a cultural commonality with them via the common kingdom.

The Cultural Mandate. One of the most central disputes between Kuyperians and proponents of R2K theology is the application of the cultural mandate found in Gen. 1:28 (“Be fruitful and multiply…”). Was this a uniquely Adamic task? Is this something that applies to humanity more generally? According to VanDrunen Adam served as both a king and priest before God. The Fall was the result of Adam’s infidelity to protecting Yahweh’s sacred sanctuary (the Garden) from the intrusion of the (morally and ceremonially) unclean serpent. If Adam had obeyed he and his seed would have been rewarded with the age-to-come and (and this is the hotly debated point) all cultural activity would have ceased. In contradistinction from Adam, Christ in his perfect obedience as king and priest fulfills Adam’s original task on behalf of his people, thus winning the age-to-come for them. Because of Christ’s victory, the cultural mandate does not directly apply to Christians. As VanDrunen puts it:

Redemption does not consist in restoring people to fulfill Adam’s original task, but consists in the Lord Jesus Christ himself fulfilling Adam’s original task once and for all, on our behalf. Thus redemption is not “creation regained” but “re-creation gained.”

Implications. Several implications follow from VanDrunen’s exposition. First, the redemptive kingdom is to be found in the church and in no other cultural institution. ‘Kingdom work” is accomplished in the church and in the church only. From this starting point Vandrunen emphasizes both the spirituality and ministerial authority of the church. The spirituality of the church is specifically anti-nationalistic. Since the redemptive kingdom is comprised of believers from the Church Catholic, no nation can claim to be the “hub.” We aren’t to confuse the common good of our respective countries for the advance of the kingdom of God. Likewise, since the minister of the gospel is not called to be a statesmen, politician, poet, or social activist, his authority is linked solely to the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments. This is merely an application of the regulative principle. The minister’s authority lies in expounding God’s word. If it does not carry the authority of “thus says The Lord” it should not be spoken from the pulpit.

Commendation. As I noted earlier, VanDrunen is an excellent communicator of his position. He not only provides you with his theological conclusions, but also presents you with the scriptural passages that he is persuaded get you there. For Reformed thinkers who are interested in the kind of biblical theology and thinking found in the works of the late Meredith Kline this book certainly speaks your language. And this is a good thing, considering just how much Kline has contributed to Reformed redemptive-historical thinking over the last 50 years.

Likewise, Vandrunen has an excellent discussion of the role of kingly and priestly work of Adam in the Garden of Eden (somewhat building from the thought of G. K. Beale).  I don’t agree with all of it (even all of what I wrote above) but he’s provided excellent food for thought. But the thing I appreciate most is his love for the local church and his concern for its purity. This comes out clearly on nearly every page. Again, this is a very good thing. VanDrunen is not leveling a strawman when he warns of the dangers of neo-Calvinism. Often Kuyperians do (functionally, at least) downplay the importance of the local church, along with the ministry of the word and sacrament.  This breaks my heart, as I’m sure it does his, though I do not believe this error is inherent in the Kuyperian view. Far from it. All that to say, VanDrunen is right to remind us that whatever position we hold, we must keep the local church front and center in the advance of God’s kingdom work.

Concerns. There are a number of things that concern me about the book’s proposal. I’ll summarize them as 1) misrepresentation, 2) the “new-new creation” view, 3) sources of authority, and 4) a lack of interaction with alternative positions.

Misrepresentation. One thing that aids a reader ‘s comprehension is knowing an author’s audience. Living in God’s Two Kingdom’s is published by Crossway, an evangelical publishing house. While Crossway publishes broadly evangelical works of theology (along with works of devotion and Christian living), over the last 10 years or so it has discernably shifted it gears in catering to what I will call the TGC (The Gospel Coalition) demographic. This point is almost indisputable. This means a large percentage of Crossway readers are Reformed males ranging from the ages of 25-45. I state all of this for this reason: early on Vandrunen links his concerns for Kuyperian/neo-Calvinist theology (what he refers to as ‘transformationalism’) along with his concerns regarding the Emergent Church and the New Perspective on Paul (by which the discerning reader understands as N.T. Wright). But, in truth, there is almost nothing to link these groups other than the shared conviction that there is continuity between this present creation and the New Creation and that our Christian worldview should inform all of life. Outside of these points, linking Kuyperianism with the New Perspective and the Emergent Church (theologies largely perceived as rivals to the TGC demographic) borders on guilt by association. This is unfortunate considering that in the early sections of the book VanDrunen is quite fair in his presentations of neo-Calvinism. But that too is short-lived.

My primary concern with his misrepresentation is in his discussions of the doctrine of justification by faith (central to the thought of the apostle Paul and the theology of the Reformation). VanDrunen rightly links justification to the obedience of Christ as the second Adam (obeying and trusting God where Adam did not trust and disobeyed God). The problem is found when he repeatedly (either directly or by implication) says that the ‘transformationalist’ position that he opposes affirms a kind of salvation/justification by cultural engagement. If this charge seems a bit harsh, I urge my reader to see his comments on pages 28, 46 (twice), 47, 50, 51 (twice), 56-57, 62, 71, 139, 165, and 204-205. This is no mere slip of the pen. Yet it simply cannot be demonstrated that any bona fide neo-Calvinist has ever taught that we achieve our forgiveness and acceptance with God by means of our obedience to the cultural mandate. This is positively inflammatory.

The ‘New-new’ creation. VanDrunen also advocates the view that upon the return of Christ and his exercise of final judgment God will create a new heavens and earth. But before you think to yourself, “Isn’t that what Scripture itself teaches?” you should know that within the Reformed tradition it has been affirmed that the new creation spoken of in Scripture is in fact this present creation liberated from it’s “bondage to decay.” Herman Bavinck—a fountainhead of Reformed theology— says as much (here as well). I will not spend much time dealing with what I think is the biblical alternative to VanDrunen’s position because I’ve address it elsewhere. The position put forward in the book strikes me as confusing the metaphysical and the ethical (a danger Cornelius Van Til frequently warned us about). VanDrunen teaches that if Adam obeyed in the Garden and crushed the head of the serpent upon its challenge to the authority of the word of God, God would have ushered in the new creation. Traditionally it has been affirmed that if Adam obeyed his probation would have ended and his nature would have been fixed or made permanently obedient to the will of God (as redeemed saints will be in the New Creation). But there will not be a “swapping out” of this material world for another ex nihilo creation.

The New Creation will be a renewed creation, purged of the presence of sin and under the righteous and godly rule of God’s redeemed vice-regents.

Sources of authority. While not addressed directly in this work, VanDrunen has defended the R2K view that there are 2 sources of authority, each related to it’s specific kingdom. Natural law governs the common kingdom, while special revelation (specifically Scripture) governs the redemptive kingdom. John Frame has helpfully addressed this subject in his piece Is Natural Revelation Sufficient To Govern Culture?

 A lack of interaction with alternative positions. Other than his brief summary of neo-Calvinism early on, there is hardly any critical interaction with neo-Calvinists.  Thinkers like Cornelius Plantinga, Albert Wolters, Tim Keller, or Nancy Pearcey are absent from the discussion in VanDrunen’s work. Also, VanDrunen doesn’t interact with alternative exegesis of the passages he references to support R2K theology. This makes his exegesis feel forced when there are perfectly plausible alternative interpretations than the ones he sets forth.

Conclusion. As I’ve noted earlier, David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms is to be commended as a clear and accessible introduction to Reformed Two Kingdoms Theology. He pulls from Reformed resources and helpfully explains Adams’ role in the Garden and rightly defends justification by faith alone. Finally, he has a passion for the local church and his love is crystal clear. All these things are wonderful and we need more of it.

Sadly I cannot recommend this work as a helpful proposal for the development and implementation of a biblical worldview. It unfairly misrepresents neo-calvinists as advocating a kind of salvation by works, doesn’t engage with rival exegesis or thinkers, and defends a view that teaches that God will replace this present fallen creation with another. It presents a religious version of the sacred/secular split that I reject and can—though to be charitable, it need not necessarily— lead to a theology of cultural disengagement and Christian ghetto-ism.


Posted on January 16, 2014, in Book Reviews/Recommendations, Culture. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Thank you for this. I share the same concerns after reading this book.

  2. Wow, great review! I certainly am not one of the R2K people but now understand better why so many “reformed” churches are so missing from the real issues of life. This false and unbiblical viewpoint is an attractive poison resulting in no real cultural fruit.

  3. Thanks, Joe, for a great review. I appreciate your clarification of how VanDrunen misrepresents the Kuyperian viewpoint and links it with other distinct ideologies. The first lecture series I attended at Covenant College essentially became a debate between DG Hart and Covenant’s faculty (Kuyperian) on this issue.

  4. Joe,
    Thank you for this review. Personally I haven’t had the best experience with R2K proponents and the people I met who subscribe to it esp. those influenced by WSC. I appreciate your balance review and how you are able to point out some serious flaws in the book in a gracious manner.
    One thing that puzzles me is why Crossway even published this book, since R2K folks tend to be critical of the Gospel Coalition types.

  5. I am a graduate of WSCA (M.Div, 2001), but attended there before DvD came on staff. I don’t recall much 2K stuff being taught when I was there, although it seems to be more prevalent there now.

    I had been meaning to read this book for a while now (bought it well over a year ago), and finally did so. I found some of it to be helpful, but found a good bit of it to be confusing, even troubling at times.

    When he associated neo-Calvinism with NPP and the Emergent church, I knew that I was going to have a difficult time with this book. And he does that on p.16 as well as throughout the rest of the introduction. I found this to be misleading at best and uncharitable at worst. If it was intended as a rhetorical device, it was not a very good one, IMO.

    I’m going to have to go back and re-read O Palmer Robertson’s treatment of the Noahic Covenant now.

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