Sunday, November 23, 2008

On False Gods, False Devils, and the Fear of Two-Timing Jesus

No one appreciates a two-timer, least of all God. I mean, if all those passages about idolatry and spiritual harlotry are any indication, Yahweh does not appreciate being cheated on.

Now when it comes to the Christian’s relationship to culture, it would seem that many feel the typical guilt occasioned by a love triangle of sorts in which God is sometimes snubbed so we can read War and Peace, see a rock show, or engage in political debate. In a word, cultural material is often looked upon by the believer as the kind of stuff you hide under your mattress and pray no one finds.

Enter two-kingdoms theology. One of the greatest strengths of this model is that it protects earth from being either demonized by the fundamentalist or divinized by the liberal. The civil kingdom can be seen by two-kingdoms proponents as a perfectly legitimate occasion for rejoicing, frustration, prayer, marching, or protest, all the while refusing to force earth to bear the burden of becoming anything other than it is.

If man’s fall taught us anything, it is that the cultural work of the sons of Adam, while still worthwhile, can never issue forth in eternal, heavenly blessing. That gig is up, and we lost. Now, the best we can expect of our carnal weaponry such as wrenches, violins, and tennis rackets is that they help build a more just and pleasurable society for us to enjoy.

But at the end of the earthly day will come the great and terrible Day of the Lord, on which “the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” When “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen,” there will be no rebuke for the church over the fact that Babylon is still there and hasn’t been transformed into Jerusalem. Rather, the civil kingdom will simply have served its purpose and will be destroyed as God’s people “come out from among her,” rejoicing over her destruction while the earthlings throw dust in the air and lament Babylon's fall.

So by all means, enjoy earth, lament earth, love earth, and hate it. But what we must not do is turn the civil kingdom into a false god on the one hand, or into a false devil on the other.