A Critique of Van Drunen’s “Two Kingdoms”

Over the last two days I’ve been reading David Van Drunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture. I want to start by saying that there are a number of points I appreciate in Van Drunen’s work, especially his argument that the technical aspects of education, work, and politics do not have a specifically “Christian” how-to manual.  I also think good Christians can certainly disagree on this topic. That being said, in my opinion there are at least two fundamental problems with Van Drunen’s articulation of the two kingdoms position in this book. There is, first, the issue of Van Drunen’s supposed biblical foundations, and, second, his misunderstanding about the gospel’s impact on “ordinary” tasks.

First, in terms of the supposed biblical foundations for two kingdoms (which, by the way, take up almost two-thirds of the book), I don’t see Van Drunen laying any in a convincing fashion. He relies on four primary pillars, as far as I can tell: the Noahic covenant, Christ as the last Adam, the cataclysmic nature of Christ’s return, and the “sojourner and exile” language of the NT. Van Drunen argues that the Noahic covenant establishes the common kingdom and that the later Abrahamic covenant establishes the redemptive kingdom. The Noahic covenant, in this view, is not about redemption but about the establishment and preservation of the common kingdom, especially through justice (blood for blood) and family. This is, along with Christ as the last Adam, the major foundation for Van Drunen’s position. I find it thoroughly unconvincing. The Noahic covenant is highly redemptive, both in looking back to creation and looking forward to Christ. The flood is presented in similar terms as the chaos of Gen. 1:2, and the ark’s landing on dry land and Noah’s commission by God to be fruitful and multiply both echo the original creation narrative. It is, in other words, new creation, restoration. Of course it is not THE new creation; Noah, the second Adam, gets naked and drunk immediately. But that’s how the OT operates – it gives us proleptic typological pictures of the final and ultimate redemption in Christ. So Noah points us back to creation and speaks of its renewal, but points us forward to the ultimate renewal in Christ. It is thoroughly redemptive, not just “common.”

The second major biblical foundation Van Drunen gives for his position is his repeated refrain that believers are “not little Adams,” which for him means that the church must distinguish its work from “common kingdom” activities like caring for creation, vocation, or familial relationships. I want to commend Van Drunen for recognizing that the first Adam had specific tasks related to his image bearing – ruling, keeping, being fruitful, and obeying – that he failed at these tasks which plunged the creation and humanity into sin, and that Christ as the second Adam accomplishes what the first Adam did not. Van Drunen also rightly states that it is Christ and Christ alone that accomplishes this. But to then go on to say that we are “not little Adams” that do not participate in Christ in these is again thoroughly unconvincing in my opinion. The NT repeatedly refers to the church in “new Adam” language, and in ways that tie the church’s task to Adam’s tasks. Jesus “breathes the Spirit” into his disciples in John 20, which is a direct allusion back to Gen. 2:7 – Jesus, the last Adam, is creating “little Adams.” In Acts 6, 12, and 19, the Word of God “increases and multiplies” through the gospel proclamation of the church. In Ephesians 2:6 we are “seated with Christ in the heavenly places,” a location in Ephesians 1:20-21 that directly relates to Christ’s authority over the principalities and powers – in other words, his rule. The ruling task is also the focus of Rom. 16:20, where Paul promises that Satan will be crushed under the feet of the church. “Little Adam” language is also found in Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3, where Christians are told to “put off the old man” and “put on the new man.” This is directly related to the image of God being restored in Christians, an image that was first made in Adam. So to say that the Bible doesn’t call us “little Adams” just does not bear the weight of the NT evidence.

Two other biblical foundations are used by Van Drunen: 2 Peter 3/Revelation 21 and the NT language of “exile and sojourner.” I don’t have many quibbles with the latter, but the former again presents major problems in my opinion. Van Drunen asserts that 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21 teach that there is a radical or cataclysmic break at Christ’s return between life now and the life to come. He presents this break as being manifested primarily in the arena of the common kingdom, so that activities in that arena now are temporary and fleeting with no eternal effect. First, I don’t think that Van Drunen correctly interprets the apocalyptic language of 2 Peter 3 or Revelation 21. You can read my post about that here. I don’t think that the radical break that Van Drunen rightly recognizes is primarily manifested in the “common kingdom”, but in the presence of sin in all areas of creation. That is where the cataclysmic break occurs. Remember, Jesus’ death and resurrection is also presented in apocalyptic language, and while his resurrected body is certainly new and restored and radically creative, it also is still a physical body that looks like his old body (because, you know, it’s the same, just a new creation body). In other words, I don’t think Van Drunen’s assertion that the apocalyptic return of Christ will basically abolish the common kingdom and anything in it now is justified. It’s possible to read the NT this way, but I think to do so is to go beyond the NT evidence. At the end of the day then, I don’t see Van Drunen laying any convincing biblical foundations. Even the “sojourners and exiles” foundation, which in his NT chapter is very reflective of biblical categories, ends up being so reliant on his first two foundations that it is eventually unconvincing as well. For me, this is a major issue. If most of your book is a biblical defense and the biblical foundations you purport don’t make correct sense of the biblical data, why should the position itself be convincing?

As if this isn’t long enough, my second major issue with Van Drunen’s work comes in his understanding of the gospel’s impact on Christians’ activities in the “common kingdom.” Because this is already so long, I’ll make this brief – Van Drunen asserts that the New Testament’s commands concerning work ethic and family life are just good natural law principles and that there isn’t anything really distinctly “Christian” about them (other than that we do them to God’s glory). But again I don’t think this bears the weight of the NT evidence. If the gospel doesn’t change the way we do these activities, then why is it that Paul continually addresses them after explaining the gospel to his readers? Perhaps the parameters he gives are in some sense “natural law” – but any recognition of depravity should not that, under the deception and distortion of sin, we can neither see nor behave in a way that is consistently in line with that natural law. The gospel allows us to both understand and behave in accordance with these principles that God has laid down daily activities, and that means that the gospel changes the way we do those things. Additionally, the gospel impacts the “common kingdom” and societal structures, as seen in Philemon and Paul’s discussion of slavery. The gospel does have something to say to societal structures, although as Van Drunen rightly says we are not to pursue proclaiming that in a theonomistic manner. Still, even in that agreement, in order to avoid theonomy Van Drunen goes to far and cuts off the gospel of the kingdom’s voice and its ability to proclaim the way of Christ to the larger culture.

At some point I’d like to see an alternative to this “two kingdoms” language. I’m not a transformationalist or a theonomist; I don’t think we can bring Christ’s rule and reign here right now. And Van Drunen is certainly right that the church is the only visible institution where the heavenly kingdom is seen on earth right now. But that doesn’t mean that Christian activity in other areas isn’t a sign of the kingdom or an invisible manifestation of it. Maybe at some point I’ll write something constructive in that regard. For now…