Doctrine and Devotion
One of my favorite podcasts to listen to is “Doctrine and Devotion” (Doc & Devo). Lead pastor of Redeemer Fellowship, Joe Thorn, and elder candidate, Jimmy Fowler, put on a great show. They are theologically rich, and hysterical to boot. As a reformed Baptist like them, I agree with them on quite a bit, and I have been sanctified on many theological issues because of their ministry. They really are a blessing to God’s church.
Their latest podcast was one I had to take issue with, but I could not do so without the previous introduction. It would be a mistake for anyone reading this to interpret it as criticism against these men or their church. I recommend them to all. This is simply in attempt to write a blog which will be informative for my audience.
I also want to proceed in the same spirit and manner in which they conducted their podcast.
“We are encouraging people to think harder about these things. We don’t have all the answers. Don’t read your favorite blog and go ‘OK that’s my view.’ Instead read the books, read broadly.”
I share their humble and gentle spirit. I hope no one reads this and assumes I am correct. I hope no one takes this as a dogmatic position which is binding or representative of all the leaders and members of my church; it is not. Feel free (as usual) to leave comments and questions about this post exposing the holes in my theology if need be! The issue at hand is one of the main ingredients of a Christian’s eschatology, and I do not pretend to have all the answers of eschatology. I am relatively new to my position, and still have many holes as well as texts unanswered. I am open and willing to change my mind on the issues below, but I hope that my current disagreements can still be a useful challenge to many.
The title of the podcast episode is “Sacred and Secular” and is a promotion of Two-Kingdom Theology. Risking simplicity, their brand of Two-Kingdom theology asserts there are two kingdoms in the world: a secular kingdom and a sacred kingdom, the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God. Two-Kingdom Theology is essentially addressing the issue of how the Church (Christians) is distinguished from and interacts with the world.
In this view, the idea of “Christendom” is unwelcome. The idea of a Christian nation (a theocracy) is rejected, for politics is part of the secular kingdom, and therefore no effort to “Christianize” it is necessary.
Admittedly, the terminology can be misleading. The vocabulary was used by the reformers (Calvin and Luther specifically) but completely different views fight over who is representing the two-kingdoms of the reformation. Without wanting to get into this debate, I am going to call the position advocated by Doc & Devo Radical Two-Kingdom theology (R2K). I stole this from Douglas Wilson. He calls it this in his book, Empires of Dirt, and since I will be quoting from his book often, it is fitting to adopt his terminology.
Essentially, what the podcast focused on was the idea of the church’s mission. Should we be in the business of “redeeming” the culture? Should the church expect cultural change? In R2K fashion, Doc & Devo said no. I maintain (with a loose grip) we should.
Before addressing the claims in the podcast, let me first define my position in regards to Two-Kingdom theology.
Like the reformers, I do believe in distinction. There are distinct authorities and nations in Scripture. I believe the government is not the church, and the church is not the government, and neither of those are the family. The real distinction for me lies in the one of worlds, not kingdoms.
Jesus, in His high priestly prayer, did not pray for the world, but prayed for those whom the Father gave Him out of the world (John 17: 9). John tells us not to love the world which is passing away (1 John 1: 15-17), and Peter describes us as “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2: 11).
There is a very real distinction at play in the Bible, but perhaps the distinction needs to be made between the world and the church, not between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of men, and that is not merely semantics.
Secular and sacred are real divides, but they are not kingdom divides. They are not divided as kingdoms, but they are divided within the kingdom.
The Secular World
Secularism has become the official religion of Agnosticism. It is a political title for something the authors of the Bible would think of as polytheism. But there is a place for the word secular, and it ought to mean non-ecclesiastical. There is work within the church, and work outside the church (ecclesiastical and secular), but all work is kingdom work. The divide is one within God’s kingdom. Not all people are called to work in the church, but all people are called to be part of the church. Not everyone is called to be a deacon or a pastor, but everyone is called to be a Christian (Acts 17: 30). Thus, the secular should be able to coexist just fine within a Christian kingdom.
The issue then becomes simple: how many Kings are there? It’s hard to imagine a kingdom without a king. Who is the king of the “secular kingdom”? Who sits in the throne over the “kingdom of men”?
The last time I checked, there is only one King. His name is Jesus, and He has all authority in both heaven and earth (Matthew 28: 18). There is only one King, and therefore, there is only one Kingdom.
Certainly, there are “kingdoms” on earth. There are sovereign nations with real boundaries and divinely appointed authorities. However, those nations are not existing in a world outside the rule and reign of Christ. The kings of those nations did not die and rise again, and therefore, there is a higher Name above them (Philippians 2: 8-11). But the Kingdom of God is penetrating the kingdoms of men, and the kingdoms of men are supposed to be taking their seats within the kingdom of God.
The controversy then (which I will flesh out in my responses) is the Church is not supposed to maintain a secular and sacred divide within the world, but is instead supposed to, as pastor Joe called it, “erode” the line between the two. Both the secular and the sacred must operate under the Lordship of Christ, applying His Gospel and His Law within their sphere.
The kings of the earth who do not honor their Lord have not rallied together and created their own kingdom to spite Jesus. They are simply unfaithful deacons within the world, which belongs to Jesus entirely.
This is why I believe in Christian theocracies, and why I believe the Christian church should set their sights on that within the nation God, in His sovereignty, has placed them.
Because Jesus owns the nations, because everywhere we go, we are in His kingdom, living in His jurisdiction, the nations should structure themselves accordingly, and rule in light of that reality.
Psalm 2 was written to the kingdoms of the earth. They are told to “serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” They are told to “Kiss the Son.” The nations are not a kingdom to themselves. They are expected to serve, obey, and kiss Jesus. As Douglas Wilson put it,
“The kings of the earth are to receive Christian baptism, and they are to bring their honor and glory into the Christian Church” (Empires of Dirt, 99).
There are realms of authority within the world, legitimate ones. That is the reformer’s doctrine of two-kingdom theology. However, I maintain that all the world is the kingdom of God, not just Jerusalem, and not just the Church. It all belongs to Jesus, and therefore we must call every person, every government, every organization, and every nation of men, who belong to Jesus and live in His world, to begin acting like it.
However, the kingdom of God is not fully manifested. The kingdom of God is not described in Scripture as an air-strike, raining down on the world and changing it in the blink of an eye. No, it is instead described as a mustard seed, or leaven (Matthew 13: 31-33). It began very small, but it grows gradually overtime until it is all-encompassing and beautiful.
The point of my position is that when the woman in Jesus’ parable leavens the dough, she expects the leaven to leaven the entire lump. The leaven will not stop at certain boundaries of the secular part of the dough.
Jesus came and brought the kingdom of God with Him. He planted the seed, and now it’s growing. This is why the Bible can speak of it as both being a present reality (Matthew 4: 17; Luke 17: 20-21: Acts 28: 30-31), and also as something to come (1 Corinthians 6: 9; Matthew 5: 17-20).
Thus, the Kingdom of God is not a global phenomenon yet, but it is getting there. We just need more time in the oven. And the growth of the kingdom implies there are no Secular boundaries with “No Trespassing” signs God’s people are required to obey.
Dealing with the Podcast
As has been said, the podcast dealt more specifically with the calling of the Church. Is it the Church’s job to effect cultural change? We will focus our discussion on this concept as I respond to some of the claims made by Doc & Devo.
“Redeeming culture is not the mission of the church…We are called to make disciples as disciples; that’s what we are called to do.”
This was repeated regularly throughout the cast. I simply do not understand the distinction. I understand the distinction between the church and the world, but I do not understand the distinction between culture and disciples.
It is true Christians must be about the Great Commission (GC) in Matthew 28: 18-20,
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.‘”
The GC is to disciple the nations, to baptize the nations, and then to teach them what Christ taught. How does that not redeem culture? A culture is a group of people within a nation who hold shared values. The GC, effectively accomplished, would change the group of people within that nation, and it would change their values. The culture has definitionally changed through the GC.
Was Michelangelo called to “paint the Sistine Chapel,” or was he called “to make the Sisitine Chapel beautiful?” The answer is both. By painting it, he beautified it. When we make disciples of the nations, we change those cultures.
This is why I disagree with Pastor Joe’s claim that we, “get confused because [we] have eroded the distinction between the sacred and the secular.” Perhaps we are actually confused by the creation of an artificial distinction between culture and disciples.
In short, people are culture. To change people is to change culture, and the GC is expressly about changing the people of every nation. the GC is about salvation and sanctification. And when enough people are saved and sanctified, that has consequences. Perhaps the church is not directly called to change the culture, but the church should be expecting it on the basis of what she has been called to. What this then really boils down to, is not so much the mission of the church, but the potency of the Gospel.
“When have we ever seen the city renewed by the church?”
This argument is fair and is one the most concerning arguments against my position used by R2K proponents. My father uses this one regularly, and I don’t think I have a great answer for it. If Paul couldn’t change Ephesus, how can I change Denver? If the Spirit, who saved 3,000 people at Pentecost, did not turn Jerusalem around, why expect Him to change mine?
One observation that needs to be made though is that this is a bit anachronistic. The idea that the kingdom of God grows slowly and progressively means we need a lot of time for this change to finally set. Don’t blame the leaven when you pull the bread out of the oven too early.
However, what was most ironic was that after Pastor Joe asked this rhetorically, Jimmy Fowler answered with “Salt Lake City.” They both laughed it off as a joke, but it appears the joke is on us.
Has not Mormonism managed to transform that city, and even the entire region? If a false gospel can do that, why can’t the true one?
“Restoration is possible in part…we’ve seen it happen.”
The question that must be asked at something like this is, “Says who?” Why is restoration of culture only possible in part? This idea must either come from experience or the Bible.
I do not know of a single text Scripture which promises God will only restore certain amounts of a culture. Where does the Bible draw this line? How much restoration is too much for God before He reigns in all that Gospel triumphing stuff? How much victory is too much victory?
And it seems that, were this based on experience alone, it is being interpreted upside down. For one, all of the cultural redemption that has happened in history through the church should be considered evidence against R2K (or at least the beginning of something worrisome). Secondly, I see no reason at all why this experiential observation cannot be encouragement for the antithetical hypothesis; namely, that because we have seen radical restoration, we can expect to go all the way.
If a baseball player slams one to left field, and the outfielder leaps the wall and catches it, we are not to infer from the out that the batter, the next time up at the plate, is unable to hit a home run. Instead, we should wait at the edge of our seats with baited breath. He has actually proved he can.
“The calling is on all people at all times in all places to live faithfully where you are at.”
This is common rhetoric, and certainly something I agree with, but the question I have to ask is, to what end?
To what end are we called to just live faithfully? If we do this long enough and faithfully enough, will something happen, or is it just for show? Tertullian famously said,
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
There are many who, to be in line with their own eschatology, reject this because they recognize the latent-postmillenial hope, many love this quote without really recognizing the ingredients. It’s easy to see why the Christian is drawn to it. It is not only poetic, but it also pays homage to our dear brothers and sisters who have been tortured and murdered for the sake of Christ. However, what this quotation is actually saying is that all of those faithful martyrs, being faithful where they were at, actually accomplished something with their faithfulness.
Tertullian believed that the martyrs are not merely God’s trophies, but were actually agents used to advance the kingdom. Through their blood, through their suffering, they help secure a world with less blood and less suffering.
This ironic redemption circle is present within the Gospel itself. Colossians 2: 13-15,
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
Jesus disarmed the demonic forces, shamed them, and triumphed over them, by being killed. This is the beautiful irony of the Gospel. The greatest accomplishment Satan ever managed to complete was the crucifixion of the Son of God. Satan hated Jesus, and so did men. And all of His enemies managed to get their way, and end Him (only from their perspective, for we know that no one takes Jesus’ life from Him unwillingly [John 10:18]). Yet, this great accomplishment by God’s enemies, was simultaneously their own defeat. They brought about their own destruction through their attempts of victory.
Hebrews 2: 14-15,
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.“
Jesus conquered death by dying. He achieved victory through losing. This is the irony of the Gospel. Like Haman was hung by the pole he constructed himself, the enemies of God destroyed themselves.
This is the picture of the martyrs. There is a beautiful irony in their faithfulness. The very blood they spill brings forth vegetation from that ground.
They plant the kingdom seeds, and then their adversaries water that seed with the blood of Christians. The adversaries of the church are actually adversaries of Jesus (Acts 9:4). And so they likewise persecute Jesus today just like they did in His day: to their own demise. They bring about their own destruction.
The point of all of this is two-fold. One, this is why we cannot look at Christian suffering and determine the postmillenial hope to be rubbish. That fact that things are difficult now is not an indication that it has not gotten any better, nor that it will not get better. Christians are still dying. That’s tragic, I understand that. But when Jesus died it was actually the sign of something redemptive; good things and better times were to come.
That brings me to my next point. Jesus’ faithfulness was fruit for the rest of us to reap. Likewise, we are faithful now, not only for faithfulness’ sake, but for our grandchildren’s sake as well.
This ironic Gospel victory shows up in the faithful witness of Christians. When we endure faithfully, when we live faithfully, we expect something to happen. The church grows, the Gospel endures, and God’s glory covers the earth.
In his book, Wilson comments on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from Daniel 2. Certainly, those three men are emblematic of being faithful where you’re at. And then said faithfulness put them in a high political office, and it was written into civil law that the God of Israel had to be respected. Wilson concluded his commentary this way,
“I would counsel extreme caution. Do you see the sorts of excesses that faithful presence can lead to? …This is dangerous business, this faithful presence stuff. You have to watch your step constantly. If you are too faithful, you might win…” (Empires of Dirt, 152).
“[The redemption of the world] is God’s work in Christ. It will only happen when Jesus returns. The ultimate redemption of this world, all creation being renewed…that’s God’s work. We don’t redeem the world. God redeems the world in the end.”
The language of this is not problematic, but the implication given the context it is in. Certainly it is true that the coming of Christ will actually accomplish something. Paul makes this clear in Romans 8: 20-23,
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
Final redemption for creation, final glorification for the people of God, the wiping away of every tear, all of this will happen at Christ’s glorious return. Everyone agrees the Second Coming will be awesome (where’s my ribbon for the understatement of the year?) Christ will make things right, redeem everything, and fix the universe at that time, and those who reject R2K theology have no inconsistency in accepting this. Wilson says,
“[T]here is absolutely no inconsistency between wanting the nations to acknowledge Christ and laboring for their conversion, on the one hand, and acknowledging that nothing will finally and ultimately be put right until the resurrection, even if the nations are fully converted, as I believe they will be.”
All Christians agree that after the Second Coming, everything will be perfect. The point of separation then becomes this, in the entire plan of redemption, which divine action pulled most of the weight: the cross, or the second coming?
What will have the most influence in changing the world? Which event will most drastically change people, the Gospel, or the judgment? It seems that Scripture is emphatic that the Gospel is the hope of world, the Gospel was the bigger rock thrown into the pond of eternity.
Why is it that Jesus was exalted so that “every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”? It’s because Jesus “being found in human form, he humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2: 5-11).
What is it that has reconciled all things to Jesus, “whether on earth or in heaven”? It was the peace made by “the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1: 20).
A prolific Messianic prophecy, Psalm 22, promises global redemption in verses 27-31,
“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”
All that is said to be the consequence of Jesus’ atonement, not His Second Coming.
We do agree the world will be put right, and that this is the work of God, not the work of man, but the Gospel is just as much the working and power of God as the Second Coming is. The Gospel has the shoulders to carry the world, and the Gospel has already happened. It’s time to cultivate and reap.
“Jesus Christ, Lord of the next Christendom, won a great victory before He was enthroned to where He is currently enthroned, at the right hand of the Father. We do not honor that victory by acting as though it passed through history the way Jesus passed the wall of the upper room, without leaving a hole. No, He left a hole, all right. History has never been the same and can never be the same.” -Douglas Wilson, Empires of Dirt