David Van Drunen recently answered a few questions by Chris Cooper at “Credo’s” blog. One answer struck me as particularly insightful, very likely because it captures what my own sense was all those years ago as a smoldering wick within broad funda-evangelicalism of just what Reformation Christianity had to offer. As any recovering eeeevangelical knows, the world is a hard thing to negotiate and drawing upon its fundamentalists roots, American evangelicalism knows basically only two modes: hands off or death grip. Coming initially from broad secularism myself, where we were all perfectly fine with the world, broad evangelicalism seemed to have a sort of neandrathal mentality about the world. We either retreated into our cave from the beast, or we came to its edge in order to hurl rocks at it.
Most former evangelicals seem to have come to Reformation Christianity based on soteriological differences. That is, they hear the doctrines of grace and realize the Arminianism of their present environs jibes neither with the Bible nor their inner Calvinist. That was certainly true for me. (In fact, after hearing of the doctrines of grace, I went running to my evangelical pastor whereupon he chuckled and said, “Of grace I say, give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.” He went on to speak of grace as if she were a former girlfriend who had scorned him somehow. The sneeking suspicion that I had been hitherto subject to glorified moralism was confirmed.) But principally, my own conundrum was with the Gnostic and world-flight piety of big-box evangelicalism. Worldly principles seemed just fine to adopt when it came to worship and evangelism, but the creation and maintenance of a second rate sub-culture seemed to be the function of a fear of the material world. Contra Paul, we were to be of the world but not in it. On the other hand, there was a culture decaying and had to be won back from the infidels. What Reformation Christianity seemed uniquely able to do was affirm on the one hand the very goodness and dignity of creation, while at the same time maintaining a moderated perspective on just what the provisional order of earth east of Eden could afford.
And so to the question, What are the dangers of rejecting Two-Kingdoms Theology, Van Drunen aptly answers:
Let me put this positively. The two kingdoms doctrine provides an excellent antidote to the two great temptations that have afflicted Christians through the centuries with respect to the Christianity and culture issue: I’ll call them Retreat and Takeover. Many Christians have been tempted to retreat from the world and to avoid participation in the common vocations of human society—perhaps because they’re so infected with sin or because, in comparison with the proclamation of the gospel, such things seem like a waste of time. Many other Christians have been tempted to see their duty as taking over all areas of human life so as to form some kind of fully integrated Christian society. Both understandings are very understandable—but both also very dangerous, I believe. The two kingdoms doctrine is a bulwark against not one, but both, of these temptations. On the one hand, it guards against the danger of despising ordinary human society and common vocations, because it teaches that these are blessed by God through his common grace and serve his good purposes in preserving this world. On the other hand, it guards against the danger of a triumphalist spirit and utopian crusades, because it teaches that God’s redemptive kingdom is now being established through the humble ministry of the church and that Christians are sojourners and exiles in this world until Christ cataclysmically ushers in his new creation at the second coming. You see, I think Christians who recognize only one kingdom of God run into a dilemma. Either you see the broader human society as part of that one kingdom (in which case the triumphalist temptation will be strong) or you see the broader human society as not part of that one kingdom, and thus not under God’s rule in any sense (in which case the temptation to retreat will be strong). The two kingdoms doctrine avoids this dilemma.