Review: Kingdoms Apart edited by Ryan C. McIlhenny

4.5 out of 5 Stars
Author: Ryan C. McIllhenny
Publisher: P&R Publishing
Buy Kingdoms Apart
Reading Level: Moderate

I don’t read a lot about this topic but it’s something I’ve learned to enjoy more as I’ve joined the conversation. Kingdom Aparts converses on the topics of Two Kingdom theology and Neo-Calvinism. Here’s a quick description of both from the book for those who are unfamiliar

The Two Kingdoms doctrine asserts that God rules all human institutions and endeavors, but in two very distinct ways. According to this view, God rules his church as Redeemer through Jesus Christ. Thus, the church is God’s “spiritual kingdom.” He also rules the state and all other social institutions outside the church. However, he rules this “civil kingdom” only as Creator and Preserver, and not as Redeemer. (p. 126 see this interview with David VanDrunen for his definition of Two Kingdom theology)

And

At the heart of neo-Calvinism is the claim that God’s sovereignty extends to every square inch of the cosmos. God rules, upholds, directs, and gives meaning to all things. This can be broken down further into four critical tenets in what is often referred to as the “grace-restores-nature” scheme: the cultural mandate, sphere of sovereignty, the antithesis, and common grace (p. xx)

The book’s introduction develops the four tenets mentioned above. This development is important groundwork for everything else that follows. “Part 1 Kingdom Reign and Rule” is more involved in historical theology than any other section. There were large discussions of Calvin, Bavinck,  and also David VanDrunen as the Two Kingdom scholar of choice. I loved this:

‘The gospel is a joyful tiding,’ wrote Bavinck, ‘not only for the individual person but also for humanity, for family, for society, for the state, for art and science, for the entire cosmos, for the whole groaning creation’ (p. 75 as quoted by John Bolt CTJ, 2 [1992]: 224; also see p. 77 for much large explanation of this same topic)

“Part 2 Kingdom Citizenship” starting digging into the real difference between these philosophies--cultural engagement. Neo-Calvinists insist,

Truly, the narrative of creation, fall, and redemption teaches us that all men continue to reflect the imago Dei (image of God) even after the fall. All men retain a religious “sense of God” . . . . By grace, God is restoring human creative culture and transforming sinners’ hearts. Believers, then, not only have a new nature in Christ, but also attend to their cultural endeavors in the state of grace (pp. 139, 140).

while the Two Kingdom advocate

One of the more aggresive contentions of Two Kingdom advocates is the denial that biblical principles have a place in the areas of public ethics and morality, civil procedure and cultural engagement. . . . All other cultural pursuits in which the Christian is involved, whether they are academic, vocational, or political, are devoid of religion and the norms and values of Scripture. (p. 143 also see pp. 146-47 and contrast with p. 145)

“Part 3 Kingdom Living” was by and far my favorite. The last chapter (Chapter 10 “Christian Witness as Redeemed Culture”) was well worth the price of admission. Chapter 8 “How Does ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ before the End?” examines the coming kingdom in light of Revelations (see p. 225 as especially piercing exposition). In chapter 9 “Eschatology, Creation, and Practical Reason,” Jason Lief  argues we must see Luther’s Two Kingdom discourse wasn’t developed for/against political or cultural engagement but for epistemological reasons fighting against the skepticism of his day (p. 232). Chapter 10 as I said was the crown jewel of the book. It tied everything together. He talks about the creation of culture and the way racial identity often grows because of changing culture and work environments (pp. 258-59). For instance,

So as not to lose the reader, let me restate my point: changes in how humans interact with the natural world often produce unintended cultural identities that we tend to confuse as being --universally and transcendentally--part of the creation order. And since culture is at times dynamically discursive, it is crucial for us to pay attention to how it works, which requires thick descriptions. In many circles, these cultural constructs--race, class, and gender--are taken for granted and largely remain; in other words, we take a middle-class identity as a universal ideal or race as biological (i.e., natural). (p. 262)

Overall a book all Christians should read. You will instinctively have a position whether you call it by its name or not. You will either engage and trasform or not. And in our time when Christians need a clear framework for political and cultural engagement Kingdoms Apart will be invaluable.

A free copy of this book was provided by P&R Publishing. If you plan on purchasing Kingdoms Apart, consider supporting Grace for Sinners by purchasing from Amazon.