In a previous post, I had wondered along with The Daily Standard’s Terry Easton, who simultaneously reviewed James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World and David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, why Hunter should be so aggrieved over two kingdom theology in its alleged tendency to cause believers to cultural withdrawal. After all, two kingdom theology as articulated by the likes of VanDrunen seems to coincide well with his sobering criticism of broad transformationism. Contra Hunter, Eastland pointed out via VanDrunen that two kingdom theology actually compels believers against withdrawing and to participating. And I suggested that transformationism is actually the culprit at creating a so-called “Christian ghetto” or sub-culture because it conceives of a redemptive way of going about creational tasks. When this is presumed, it seems little wonder that we get a plethora of Christian versions of whatever one might already and naturally find all along the temporal strata already. Ironically, for all its talk about changing the culture, broad transformationism ends up simply creating its own sanctified hemisphere and aping the culture it says it’s all about changing. One can almost hear the chant coming from up the street (or is it from the past?) that “The world sets the church’s agenda.”
But along the way in the discussion that ensued the point was made that what VanDrunen and others mean by “engage the culture” or “promote the welfare of human society in the here and now” is distinctly political or legislative in nature, thus VanDrunen is representing an expression of two kingdom theology that is quite different from those of us skeptical about this way of engaging culture. More than that, it was suggested that Hunter’s fears of world-flight are confirmed by those who at once hold to a two kingdom theology but are also not so politically inclined or who at least take a much more modest and conservative view of what politics can actually accomplish. And, ironically enough, Hunter seems to come to their aid by articulating just what may account for the hesitation of some to narrowly define cultural participation in political and legislative terms. Here is Hunter selectively and at length in a section he calls The Turn to Politics:
If modern politics is the sphere of leadership, influence, and activity surrounding the state, politicization is the turn toward law and politics—the instrumentality of the state—to find solutions to public problems…Institutions such as popular and higher education, philanthropy, science, the arts, and even the family understand their identity and function according to what the state does or does not permit. Groups (women, minorities, gays, Christians, etc.) have validity not only but increasingly through the rights conferred by the state. Issues gain legitimacy only when recognized by law and public policy. It is only logical, then, that problems affecting the society are seen increasingly, if not primarily through the prism of the state; that is, in terms of how law, policy, and politics can solve them.
In short, the state has increasingly become the incarnation of the public weal. Its laws, policies, and procedures have become the predominant framework by which we understand collective life, its members, its leading organizations, its problems, and its issues.
…Now, of course, the commonly accepted view is that everyone must be involved because the primary means to get anything done in society or to effect change in any area of social life, is through law and politics…
…In this turn, we have come to ascribe impossibly high expectations to politics. As I noted before, we look to politics as the leading way to address our common problems and implicitly hope that politics, broadly defined, will actually solve those problems.
…When one boils it all down, politicization means that the final arbiter within most social life is the coercive power of the state. When politicization is oriented toward furthering the specific interests of the group without an appeal to the common weal, when its means of mobilizing the uncommitted is through fear, and when the pursuit of agendas depends more on the vilification of opponents than on the affirmation of higher ideals, power is stripped to its most elemental forms…The politicization of everything is an indirect measure of the loss of a common culture and, in turn, the competition among factions to dominate others on their own terms. Our times amply demonstrate that it is far easier to force one’s will on others through legal and political means or to threaten to do so than it is to persuade them or negotiate compromise with them.
…Slowly, often imperceptivity, there has been a turn toward law and politics as the primary way of understanding all aspects of collective life. Nothing catalyzed this tendency more than the Depression-era New Deal. The tendency now effects conservatives every bit as much as it does liberals; those who favor small government as it does those who want larger government. It has effected everyone’s language, imagination, and expectations, not least conservatives who, like others, look to law, policy, and political process as the structure and resolution to their concerns and grievances; who look to politics as the framework of self-validation and self-understanding and ideology as the framework for understanding others.
…I don’t want to overstate the case—clearly what I describe here are not fully and comprehensively established realities; all is not power and ressentiment [resentment that involves a combination of anger, envy, hate, rage, and revenge as the motive of political action]. What makes it more complicated (and interesting) is that there are genuinely public-spirited people on all sides of all issues. Indeed most people are not resentment-filled and power hungry. But consistent with my view all along is the fact that the motives of individuals and the structures of culture are not the same thing. In terms of the structures of our political culture, these dynamics are clearly present and represent increasingly significant tendencies.
James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World (pps.102-109)
So, while is quite true that politics is one way Christians may legitimately participate in the wider world, it is also true that some believers have legitimate skepticism about not just the nature of the political process but also the way it is wielded by all manner of those participating in the common sphere. One might respond to Hunter’s own fear that two kingdom theology begets world-flight piety by pointing to his own insights into what has been made of the political tools to the relative deconstruction of the common weal and collective life. If this is all true then what some two kingdom adherents are trying to say is that, yes, believers work shoulder-to-shoulder with unbelievers (and believers) in the common sphere, contra any idea that the solution is to whirl away in Christian ghetto’s. But while some may choose to rub shoulders with those who have sunnier views of politics and legislation still others of us find more in common with those unbelievers (and believers) who have a much more tamped down outlook and who think Hunter has put his finger on what ails the modern era. Put another way, it may be that some of us track more with the liturgicals than the evangelicals.