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Cities of God

Christianity meets culture.

Oct 11, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 04 • By TERRY EASTLAND
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That James Davison Hunter has no affinity for two kingdoms would seem surprising, since it is a doctrine that offers no support to the world changers he challenges at every turn. On the other hand, there is an ambiguity in To Change the World that makes one wonder whether Hunter’s dismissal of two kingdoms is a product of his sympathy for, yes, world changing. The ambiguity arises in his discussion of faithful presence, and it concerns the critical issue of redemption. For while Hunter emphasizes that “culture-making .  .  . is not, strictly speaking, redemptive or salvific in character,” and that “world building” is not to be confused with “building the Kingdom of God,” he also says that the church should “offer an alternative vision and direction” for prevailing cultural institutions and seek “to retrieve the good to which modern institutions and ideas implicitly or explicitly aspire.” Putting aside whether the church is even capable of offering such vision and direction, or of retrieving such goods, it would seem without authority to do so—unless it is now being charged with (to borrow a phrase) “redeeming the culture.”

Such is the allure of transformationalism that one of its most vigorous critics seems unable to abandon it. Even so, Hunter’s book is not without its redeeming features, notably a critique of the modern world that strikingly illumines the challenges that “difference” and “dissolution” pose for Christian engagement. Difference, meaning pluralism, “creates social conditions in which God is no longer an inevitability,” a development that renders “God-talk” with “little or no resonance” outside the church. Dissolution, meaning “the deconstruction of the most basic assumptions about reality,” makes it more difficult to “imagine that there is a spiritual reality more real than the material world we live in.”

Likewise, Hunter’s theology of faithful presence takes inspiration from the sensible teaching of that Epistle to Diognetus, and before that, from the wise counsel of Jeremiah. In his letter to the exiles living in the very different culture of Babylon—its king a pagan gentile—the prophet exhorted them to “seek [its] welfare” on the ground that “in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

David VanDrunen’s study is worth commending on account of the achievement it represents, for the two kingdoms doctrine, with its fascinating lineage, has not had the historian of theological acumen it deserved until now. 

Taken together, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms and To Change the World indicate where discussions of the perennial question of Christian involvement with the broader culture—a question with obvious implications for our politics—seem now to be heading.

Terry Eastland, publisher of The Weekly Standard, is the author, most recently, of Freedom of Expression in the Supreme Court: The Defining Cases. 

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