Double Review: Goheen, A Light to the Nations & VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms

A recent theological discussion is Kingdom Theology. Kingdom theology is shorthand for how a Christian interacts with God’s creation. One Kingdom Theology recognizes the integration between the “sacred” and “secular” realms. Two Kingdom Theology recognizes a distinction between the “sacred” and “secular” realms. This topic is important because it considers how Christians should view and live in the world. Based on one’s conclusion, this will drastically shape their theology and interaction with God’s creation.

This paper will proceed by interacting with recent representatives of Kingdom Theology. Michael Goheen’s A Light to the Nations[1] will represent the One Kingdom position and David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms[2] will represent the Two Kingdom position.[3] This paper will identify their views in the following topics: (1) Christian Faithfulness in the Public Square, (2) Ecclesiology, (3) Christian Life & Vocation, and (4) Eschatology & Human Agency. At the end, their views will be critically evaluated.


Christian Faithfulness in the Public Square

Goheen’s basic position is missional engagement in the public square. Goheen argued that there is continuity from God’s original mission to redeem Adam and Eve that carries forward to Israel, Jesus, and the church.[4] After Adam and Eve fell from their original created state, God commenced his mission to redeem all things. As such, he uses his people in his redemptive work.[5] For Israel, they are to “embody God’s original creational design for the whole of human life. … [Be] a sign of … the restoration of all of human life to its original blessing … . [And lead] lives that differ from those of the peoples around them.”[6] However, Israel did not faithfully keep the work God called them to keep and Jesus came to fulfill God’s mission.[7] Before he ascended to his Father, he charged the church to fulfill this mission.[8] As the church lives out God’s mission in the world, by their message and works, they invite others to experience God’s covenant blessings.[9]

As a result of the passing on of mission, Goheen argued that cultural activity is integral to the Christian perspective.[10] He grounded his argument in 1 Peter 2 where Peter commended the exiled Christians to be involved in the worldly institutions and then taught them how to live.[11] Additionally, Goheen argued from God’s creational order: since he created everything initially good and called his people to participate in his creation, the church is to participate in culture.[12] This does not mean that the church interacts with culture uncritically, though, for the fall corrupted everything.[13]

Figure 1. Goheen’s Hermeneutical Structure.

Thus, Goheen believed Christians should distinctly manifest Christianity.[14] For example, Goheen calls for Christianity to embody justice, generosity, simplicity, selflessness, humility, boldness, hope, joy, thanksgiving, and God experiences.[15] As a result, cultural activity is important. There may be times when Christians can join non-Christians as they strive to reflect these characteristics in their communities. However, there will come times when Christians live distinctly from the world.

VanDrunen’s basic position is the public square’s preservation in non-redemptive capacity.[16] VanDrunen postulated two covenantal trajectories in Scripture: the Noahic covenant, which governs the common kingdom, and the Abrahamic covenant, which governs the redemptive kingdom. The Noahic covenant “concerns ordinary cultural activities … embraces the human race in common … ensures the preservation of the cultural and social order …, and it is established temporarily … .”[17] On the other hand, the Abrahamic covenant “concerns religious faith and worship … embraces a holy people that is distinguished from the rest of the human race … bestows the benefits of salvation upon this holy people …, and it is established forever … .”[18] These two covenants constitute the two kingdoms which God reigns over and where God’s people live out their lives.

Figure 2. VanDrunen’s Hermeneutical Structure.

Thus, VanDrunen does not believe Christians should distinctly manifest Christianity in their common activities. Two Kingdoms’ conclusions are “both liberating and weighty.”[19] They are liberating because “they claim that Christian’s consciences cannot be bound by the extrabiblical demands of fellow believers who seek to impose the ‘Christian’ way of [doing things].”[20] They are weighty because “this Christian liberty … puts the responsibility back upon ourselves.”[21] As a result, cultural activity is not as important—Christians are free to emphasize activity in the common kingdom or not. This freedom stands in contrast to Goheen’s emphasis that cultural activity is important.

As a result, VanDrunen does not think cultural activity is integral to the Christian perspective. VanDrunen’s hermeneutical structure is rooted in the understanding of the two Adams that Paul emphasized in Romans 5.[22] In Genesis, God gave two commands: to keep the garden and to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). Adam failed to keep the latter command and no one since then has been able to keep either command.[23] However, Christ came as the second Adam and fulfilled what he and no one else could do. Therefore, because Christ’s work is enough (Romans 5:12-21), Christians do not need to pick up the original task given to Adam.[24] While this understanding of Christ’s work is robust, it leaves the question open as to how Christians are to exercise their image bearing.


Ecclesiology

In Goheen’s ecclesiology, he emphasized the identity of God’s people as missional[25] and their role is founded as “agent[s] of God’s mission and … participant[s] in God’s story.”[26] His mission is to restore creation from the fall (Genesis 3:15). He will accomplish this by setting apart a people who will be a light to the nations (Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 49:6). In the Old Testament, as God’s people resided in Israel, the nations would interact with them and travel through them and see how the God they worshipped shaped the way they lived. In the New Testament, God’s people are to go out into the nations and proclaim redemption’s good news and live in accordance with God’s Word (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). Thus, Goheen conceives that the church is for the world and should be oriented in that direction.[27]

Furthermore, Goheen imagined the church’s relation to God’s Kingdom through the proclamation of its arrival.[28] When Jesus started his public ministry, he announced the arrival of the kingdom through his word and work (Matthew 4:23). As mentioned above, God’s people are to carry out a similar pattern today as those he sends.

Goheen also viewed the church as “a covenant community that has been gathered and restored to its original calling.”[29] The church is covenantal because it stands as heirs of the long line of covenants which God has kept in order to redeem his people (Genesis 2:15-17, 8:20-9:17, 15:1-20; Exodus 24; 2 Samuel 7:1-17; Jeremiah 31:31-40). The church is communal because God has created his people to be together (Exodus 1:1-7; Acts 2:42-47). The church is gathered because the Trinity is united, and God’s people reflect this unity (Deuteronomy 30:3; 1 John 5:7). Finally, the church is restored because of Jesus’s work. Therefore, they can pick up the original task God commanded in Genesis. This is not out of obligation to work for their salvation, but out of gratitude for what God has done for them.[30]

VanDrunen construed the church’s identity and role as spiritual and authoritative.[31] Thus, VanDrunen conceived the church is “for the Christian life”[32] and that the church’s proper orientation is towards God.[33] The spiritual nature of the church does not negate its physical aspects.[34] However, what it does mean is that God has created a unique institution from his people.[35] As a result, the only authority the church is found in God’s Word.[36] This means Christians cannot be compelled to do anything that is outside the Scriptures, such as how they should interact with culture.[37] VanDrunen argued that Christians are only bound to do what is recorded in the Scriptures whereas Goheen argued that Christians are bound to do more.

Furthermore, VanDrunen imagined God’s kingdom as purely redemptive.[38] While Christians should be engaged in the common kingdom, their endeavors are “temporary and fleeting”[39] and remain there.[40] In the redemptive kingdom, they are permanent and lasting. This distinction is based on 2 Peter 3:10 (ESV) where the things of the world “will pass away … burned up and dissolved.” Therefore, God’s kingdom consists solely of these redeemed people and activities, not the common people and activities.

Also, VanDrunen viewed the church as “a wonderful and mysterious community that is radically different from the communities and institutions of the common kingdom.”[41] The church is wonderful and mysterious because God calls his people from all different walks across his creation into one people. Since there is a divide between the two kingdoms, the church is radically different from all other institutions in the common kingdom concerning form and function.


Present Christian Life & Vocation

Goheen viewed the church’s participation in Christ’s work as “continu[ing] the mission of Jesus.”[42] The church continues Jesus’ mission in two ways: proclaiming the gospel and doing good works.[43] In the proclamation of the gospel, the church continues Jesus’ mission by proclaiming redemption to all creation (Mark 16:15). In good works—volunteering, employment, homemaking, parenting—the church continues Jesus’s mission by bringing redemption to everything (1 Peter 2:12).

As a result, Goheen judges that redemption restores Christians to creational concerns.[44] This means Christians should be involved with their culture. Cultural concern does not mean wholehearted endorsement. What it does mean is that they are “critical participants”[45] in their culture—affirming what they can affirm, and denying what should be denied.

For Goheen, whatever the Christian does is tied up in Christ’s renewing work.[46] The distinction between sacred and secular is dissolved. Christians no longer need to segment their lives into “religious” works or “worldly” works. Therefore, Goheen exhorted Christians to cultivate an attitude of humility and boldness as they represent Christ.[47] The church does not participate in such a way that they build God’s kingdom on their own ability,[48] but God redeems their words and deeds and uses them to build his kingdom on earth.

VanDrunen viewed the church’s participation in Christ’s work as necessary but offered the reminder that Christ’s work is complete (Matthew 28:16-20).[49] However, based on VanDrunen’s hermeneutical structure enumerated above, Christ, the second Adam, fulfilled what the first Adam never could. Therefore, the church should exercise caution in what they think their participation will actually accomplish.

As a result, VanDrunen judged that redemption restores the church to re-creational concerns.[50] Instead of rooting the church’s identity in its current state, he looked to its ultimate state in the new creation.[51] This identity is currently possible because of the church’s unity to Christ by the Holy Spirit—all the blessings are bestowed now.[52] For, in the end, this creation will not be restored, but recreated.[53]

For VanDrunen there is a distinction in his view of work: Christians can work in the common kingdom and the redemptive kingdom.[54] In the common kingdom, Christians should endeavor to perform their works well because their “labors … [are] meaningful and honorable.”[55] However, they should not find value in them because common kingdom work “will be brought to a radical end … at the second coming of Christ.”[56] In the redemptive kingdom, Christians should work well because God will see and reward their faithful service—their work will endure. Therefore, VanDrunen anticipates that Christians should cultivate an attitude “of love and service” as they work to represent Christ.[57]


Eschatology & Human Agency

Goheen expected creation to survive the coming Day of the Lord.[58] He viewed Christ’s work on the cross as redeeming everything, not merely God’s people. More broadly, Goheen started his work emphasizing creation. In Goheen’s continuous, unified heremenutical structure, the story should end with creation if it began with creation. It is inconsistent in this structure to end with the annihilation of creation and only the Christian’s redemption. When Paul wrote in Colossians 1:19-20 (ESV) that Christ would “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven,” he meant all things.

Finally, Goheen thought the church’s actions play a meaningful role in advancing the kingdom.[59] This line of argument is based heavily on Jeremiah 29, where Jeremiah informed Israel to seek Babylon’s welfare in their exile. God missionally shaped them so that they may be a light to their captors and as a result know their God. As a result, based on their everyday cultural activity, God built his kingdom in Babylon. Not only that, but Israel’s exile set an example of the church on what it means to be scattered and showing the light of the gospel to the whole world.

VanDrunen expected that the church will survive the coming Day of the Lord—no other institution would.[60] On the other hand, Goheen argued that institutions would survive the Day of the Lord (in a redeemed sense). While VanDrunen’s narrative understanding includes new creation, he interpreted 2 Peter 3 to mean that God will consume all he created.[61] The church, comprised of believers, will endure God’s destructive power and inhabit the world to come.[62]

As a result, VanDrunen does not think Christians’ actions play a meaningful role in advancing the kingdom.[63] Christ, who is the second Adam, accomplished the cultural mandate given to him in Genesis. Therefore, the church no longer strives to fulfill this original command, but seeks to serve Jesus out of gratitude for what he accomplished on the cross.[64]


Living as Exiles

Goheen’s One Kingdom Theology reflects the Scriptures’ balance concerning the cultural mandate and would encourage those I lead. His theological method represented a concerted effort to unify Scripture’s redemptive story and integrate this unity with the Christian life. In fact, this effort is where his strength lies. He structured his argument to begin with Adam and Eve and how Israel developed from them, to Jesus and how the church grew from him. Goheen highlighted that these stories connect to each other and they all tell about God’s mission to redeem all things. However, one of Goheen’s weaknesses in this approach was the lack of extended interactions with any text—this interaction is where VanDrunen excelled.

While VanDrunen demonstrated this Scriptural unity twice—once through the redemptive narrative and once through the biblical narrative—he focused heavily on the exegetical process to understand key passages. His framework for interacting with the Scriptures comes from Paul’s discussion of the two Adams in Romans 5. Adam did not keep God’s original commands, but Christ, the second Adam, did keep God’s commands. Therefore, because Christ’s work is enough, Christians do not need to contribute their works to what he has done—they rest in Christ.[65] This framework is a sound argument, but it misses the broader redemptive understanding of this passage. Goheen’s emphasis on the two Adams coupled with his understanding of the larger narrative provides a better solution. Instead of seeing this passage solely in the context of sin and works, Goheen argued that “Adam stands as the beginning of the old world and Jesus as the beginning of the new.”[66] Rather than using the fall and redemption to couch his hermeneutics, Goheen focuses on the creation and re-creation of the narrative to understand the two Adams. These two complement each other in their understanding of Scripture—Goheen focuses on the big picture and VanDrunen focuses on the details.

I think Goheen’s One Kingdom Theology will be effective in ministry over VanDrunen’s Two Kingdom Theology. One Kingdom Theology shows the church how their activities fit into God’s mission. Some have thought that the only works that matter are gospel proclamation or service projects; in short, Great Commission works. These are meritorious activities and should be commended and sought after by everyone. However, since this framework erases the divide between sacred and secular because it recognizes the equal importance of the Cultural Mandate, these are not more valuable than the “common” activities they can engage. For example, the work of a stay-at-home parent who disciples their children or gardens is valuable and fits into God’s mission by passing on the faith. The construction worker, spending hours welding a building or hanging dry wall, is valuable because it fits into God’s mission by being a part of the creation of a cultural artifact and cares about the safety of those who live or work in it. The grocery worker, cleaning, stocking, and bagging groceries is valuable because it fits into God’s mission by ensuring people have the food and supplies they need to carry on their daily lives.[67]

Additionally, One Kingdom Theology properly orients eschatology by giving meaning to this present life. Many take 2 Peter 3:7-13 to mean that when the Day of the Lord comes, everything will be destroyed by God in judgment. However, in verse 7, this destruction by fire is clearly reserved for the unrighteous, not the righteous. Additionally, this imagery is connected to metal working where metal is heated to the point of turning into a liquid and the impure metals rise to the top and it is scraped off, leaving pure metals. God will redeem all things, including all works, and these works will be brought into the new creation and offered to God, where they will be fully redeemed (Revelation 4:10-11). Therefore, since works and creations will not be destroyed in judgment at the end, but redeemed, this gives Christians in all stations of life a powerful purpose to their life now.[68]


Works Cited

Doriani, Dan. Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2019.

Goheen, Michael. A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011.

VanDrunen, David. Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.

Wright, N. T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. HarperOne: New York, NY, 2008.


Endnotes
  1. Goheen, Michael, A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011).
  2. VanDrunen, David, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010).
  3. It is important to note that while these men are representatives of One and Two Kingdom Theology, they are not the final representatives for either of these positions. For instance, Augustine’s construct of the City of God and the City of Man compared to VanDrunen’s construction (and hermeneutic) are different. For the sake of argument, we will assume these two accurately represent One and Two Kingdom Theologies.
  4. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 191.
  5. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 184.
  6. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 193.
  7. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 194.
  8. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 194.
  9. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 192.
  10. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 184.
  11. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 184.
  12. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 184.
  13. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 184.
  14. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 208.
  15. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 209-210.
  16. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 15.
  17. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 79.
  18. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 82-83.
  19. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 163.
  20. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 163.
  21. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 163.
  22. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 50.
  23. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 50.
  24. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 50.
  25. Goheen A Light to the Nations, 4.
  26. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 5.
  27. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 25.
  28. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 19.
  29. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 21.
  30. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 109.
  31. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 146.
  32. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 132.
  33. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 133.
  34. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 146.
  35. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 146.
  36. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 151-152.
  37. However, this is not to the exclusion of sin. At this point, church disciple can be exercised, even though the sin happened in the common kingdom (Matthew 18:15-20). Hence the overlap between the two kingdoms in VanDrunen’s hermeneutics (and the cover of his book) in Figure 1.
  38. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 195.
  39. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 171.
  40. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 195.
  41. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 129-130.
  42. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 194.
  43. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 195.
  44. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 185.
  45. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 185.
  46. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 33.
  47. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 209.
  48. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 194.
  49. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 162.
  50. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 60-61.
  51. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 61.
  52. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 61-62.
  53. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 62.
  54. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 161-162.
  55. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 67.
  56. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 67.
  57. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 125.
  58. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 109.
  59. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 184.
  60. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 131.
  61. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 64.
  62. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 56-57.
  63. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 57.
  64. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 56.
  65. VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 47.
  66. Goheen, A Light to the Nations, 166.
  67. A helpful work on understanding the importance of work and God’s mission is Doriani, Dan. Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2019. It’s important to note that even though most work is lawful to the Christian (except a few occupations that are clearly sinful), not all work is useful for the flourishing of society. For example, work that can be done by a machine (71), standing outside a store to let people know it’s going out of business (88), or producing processed, sugary foods (88) although all lawful are not necessarily beneficial.
  68. A succinct, powerful summary of this understanding can be in Wright, N. T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. HarperOne: New York, NY, 2008. (VanDrunen quotes Wright in part on page 22.) On page 208, Wright writes that:
    1. [W]hat you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrection power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.

This post was originally an academic paper submitted to Dr. Robbie Griggs in Spirit, Church & Last Things at Covenant Theological Seminary. It has been modified from its original version, is more technical in nature, and longer than previous posts. I have bolded the main points of sections and paragraphs as well as important endnotes. The introduction and conclusion should be read in their entirety.

Categories: Tags: , , , , ,