Archive Authors Joseph Minich Philosophy Sacred Doctrine The Two Kingdoms

VanDrunen on “the modern Bavinck”

Giving a mixed review of Bavinck on natural law and the two kingdoms, David VanDrunen recently wrote,

Though a complete account is more complex, a good general argument can be made, I believe, that his defense of the natural law and the two kingdoms categories belongs to the orthodox Bavinck and his advocacy of themes such as grace restoring nature and the kingdom as leaven belongs to the modern Bavinck. – “The Kingship of Christ is Twofold,” Calvin Theological Journal 45.1, 162 n. 75

It is somewhat shocking to see “grace restoring nature” as being labeled a “modern,” as opposed to a simply Reformed theme. Indeed, in the absence of such a theme, would not the link between creation and redemption be effectively severed? It would seem that for VanDrunen, the link is suspended by a thread. He writes elsewhere,

Our earthly bodies are the only part of the present world that Scripture says will be transformed and taken up into the world-to-come. Believers themselves are the point of continuity between this creation and the new creation. – Living in God’s Two Kingdoms (Crossway, 2010), 66

But does this small thread honor the vision of Revelation 21-22? In Scripture, “new creation” does not imply the destruction of the old, but its renewal. In 2 Peter 3:7, the apostle Peter distinguishes the “heavens and earth” that now exist from that which existed before the flood. But clearly, Peter would have understood there to be essential continuity between the earth that was before and the earth that was after the flood. As well, Jesus’ famous “the meek shall inherit the earth” (Mat. 5:5) and Paul’s extension of the promise of Abraham to include the entire earth (Rom. 4:13) all require some continuity of place. This is not to mention the typological relationship between the exiled Abraham (living on a land that he did not posses) and the believer living on a land (the earth) that has not been renewed and which both is and is not our home. And remember that when Israel actually enters the land, they receive wells they did not dig, towns they did not build, vineyards they did not plant, etc. This sounds something like “the glory of the nations.” (Rev 21:24) While certainly the New Jerusalem is the church (v.9), the new heavens and earth are more than this (cf. the similar description in Isaiah 65).

VanDrunen does qualify the above statement concerning “continuity,”

As a side note, it is important to emphasize that this conclusion is not meant to question the goodness of what is physical and visible or to deny the physical and visible character of the new creation. If there is a ‘problem’ with the things of this present creation, it does not lie with the fact that they are physical and visible, but with the fact that they belong to a present creation that was never mean to be the final home of the human race (and with the fact that they have been corrupted by sin). The new creation will be physical and visible and inhabited by the resurrected bodies of the children of the last Adam. (Ibid.)

VanDrunen has elsewhere spoken of his position as affirming the “penultimate” – in contrast to views which are anxious to baptize the good gifts of this age with “kingdom” adjectives. And so what is the problem here? Several things:

  1. VanDrunen’s own view seems to imply some sort of ontological “elevation” of human beings at the end of time.  After Christ, our bodies stand in essential continuity with our previous bodies, but it is difficult to see why this is necessary – beyond it’s obvious Scriptural support. Why not get entirely new bodies to fit an entirely new creation? Indeed, Paul himself speaks of the necessity of our resurrected bodies to inherit the kingdom of heaven in 1 Corinthians 15. “Flesh and blood” cannot inherit it (v.50). If this “kingdom of heaven” is not this glorified earth, it is difficult to see why our resurrected bodies need to be these bodies.  What we have here is something like a donum superadditum which has been pushed into the eschaton rather than lost by Adam and regained through Christ.
  2. Certainly we can agree with VanDrunen’s constant critique of “gradualism” or the notion that the progress of the kingdom will inevitably evolve into the eschaton. Certainly the end will involve a drastic change, but it is not a change in nature or thing-hood. It is a change in the order of things, corruption, decay, and sin. And whatever new state we will enter seems to stand in continuity with our nature. Will we be more than Adam? Perhaps, but only because we will be crowned Adams. In the case of Christ, His glory seems to simply be the maximalization of created human perfections.  This could be spelled out further, but we must observe (in response to anticipated objections) that (a) we are not entirely aware of what abilities Adam lost in the fall and so (b) we cannot object to the above by noting discontinuity between our current state and Jesus’ own eschatological state – that He walked through walls and such.  We do not fully understand human materiality, human consciousness, and the potentialities located within human authority and its relation to the cosmos. We have ceded much of our reign to the enemy. But whatever is regained is simply our non-defective nature in maximal perfection as the gift of God’s eschatological Spirit. Jesus’ body specifically and the whole earth generally are perfected (“restored to their destiny” at Brian Mattson elegantly puts it).
  3. VanDrunen moves in between a critique of gradualism and a critique of eschatological continuity in general. Clearly, these are different. Continuity does not eradicate the need for the potencies of creation to be actualized by an outside agent and power (God’s Spirit). But this “receptacle quality” of human beings is precisely part of their “nature” and has glorifying effects when heaven and earth are brought together.  Those things which “perish with use” (marriage) are not arguments against “essential continuity,” but rather just those features of reality which innately have a built-in telos – in this case – the conception and rearing of persons.
  4. Finally, it seems to me that reducing the believer’s current labors to the “penultimate” creates an effect of cognitive dissonance.  The heart of believers cries to relate all things to God and His kingdom. This is not to “baptize” them because we are nervous about getting “dirty” with materiality. It is rather because all things are suspended in God’s will for them to be. They are from Him and for Him. Specifically with respect to being conscripted to participate in the labor of culture, God honors the believer precisely by being glorified (and eternally so!) by the gifts of His people. Certainly there is no need to name individual items or to be speculative, but the principle stands. If human memory exists in the eschaton, it is difficult to imagine that a massive amount of cultural labor will not be preserved. More specifically, human labor is oriented toward the future. It is oriented toward developing persons and places to reflect that final order of things which we await with longing. And while plenty of this labor, like food, “perishes with use,” all of the perishables stand in relation to that which does not perish – the formation of persons, the love of neighbors, the making of beauty, etc.

Certainly this requires further argumentation, but my goal here is simply to state an alternative to VanDrunen’s position which does not suggest some form of gradualism or nervousness about putting the adjective “kingdom” before my coffee-beans. I realize that VanDrunen has an alternative biblical-theological account of the creation commission and its significance, which he works out extensively in Living in God’s Two Kingdoms. But I must leave this and especially his treatment of the eschatological quality of the institutional church for another post.

By Joseph Minich

Joseph Minich lives in Texas with his wife (Rebecca) and four children (Samuel, Truman, Felix, and Ruby). He recently graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary (D.C. Campus) and is pursuing a Ph.D in intellectual history at the University of Texas at Dallas.