I’ve nearly finished reading Center Church, by Timothy Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. I’m not prepared to offer a review, but recommend it as a thoughtful exploration of various approaches to church ministry and culture. There are a lot of “how-to” books on church planting, marketing, and management. There are also a number of more theological books on the nature, ministry, and mission of the church. However, Keller’s Center Church fills an important and less populated niche: theological vision, which is somewhere between theological convictions and practical applications.
One of the places where I found the book especially thought-provoking was his engagement with various approaches to Christ and culture—especially transformationalism, pietism, and two kingdoms. I still would demur with a couple of his descriptions of the “two kingdoms” perspective, but I think he does point out helpfully that this view is no more monolithic than other positions. I also share some of his concerns about how the model can be used to justify unfaithful witness—as in the way that it was used by Southern Presbyterians (under the rubric of the “spirituality of the church”) to justify slavery.
There is nothing, however, in two-kingdoms thinking itself that would ever justify sin and injustice, whether public or private, or keep the church from preaching all of God’s Word and disciplining members who refuse its clear instruction. In fact, by more clearly articulating the proper authority and jurisdiction of the church and the state, a two-kingdoms perspective is most allergic to any ideology, movement, leader, or party that would make absolute claims. The reduction not only of religion but even cultural life to politics is something that such a perspective opposes with might and mane. Christ is Lord of all, even if he rules his two kingdoms in different ways, with different means, toward different ends.
Anyway, lots to talk about—on this and other points he raises—and Center Church keeps the conversation going. Regardless of whether one agrees with all of his points, this book is the fruit of decades of theological reflection and pastoral leadership.
I recently came across a post from a WSC alumnus who is finishing his PhD work at Emory University in political theology. It’s well worth a read, showing how “two kingdoms” was used during the Nazi era to justify both complicity with evil and resistance to it. Here’s a preview:
[W]hile virtually all German Christians were politically conservative and therefore susceptible to Nazi ideology, theologically conservative Christians tended to be much more resistant to that ideology by virtue of their commitment to orthodox Christian teaching. Theologically liberal Christians, on the other hand, having rejected such orthodoxy as well as the authority of Scripture, had little basis with which to reject a movement that seemed to be so deeply sensitive to the philosophical and social ethos of the day.