ST350: Spirit, Church, and Last Things
VanDrunen and Goheen Comparison Paper
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Christian Faithfulness in the Public Square
David VanDrunen and Michael Goheen are respected covenant theologians who have set
out to understand Christian life and mission in the world. They arrive in two very different
places. I believe this stems from their understanding of the covenants. Below is my
understanding of VanDrunen’s covenantal theology:
What is of most consequence is the bi-level nature of God’s work in the world. He views
Christian faithfulness in the public square as Living in God’s Two Kingdoms. The common
kingdom is marked by ordinary cultural activities, common to all mankind, ensures the
preservation of the natural and social order, and is temporarily in place.1 The redemptive
kingdom is marked by religious faith and worship, holy and distinguished people, bestows the
benefits of salvation, and lasts forever.2
VanDrunen’s desire is to present no “hostility or indifference” toward the world or its
cultures.3 He then states (using the language of confession) that he partakes in cultural activities.
For VanDrunen cultural activities are ultimately temporal, “provisional, and bound to pass away”
1 David VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms (Wheaton, IL: Crossway,2010), 79-81,emphasis mine.
as mentioned above.4 He believes common cultural activity is not integral to Christian identity
but necessary, or more strongly unavoidable, for life in the two kingdoms. It is important to note
at this point that VanDrunen does believe, “that Christians have a responsibility to be involved in
a broad range of cultural endeavors” only because we live in God’s two kingdoms. 5
The tension that lies in VanDrunen’s project of living in two kingdoms is that Christian
involvement in culture is marked by detachment.6 This involvement and detachment is informed
by his view that the Adamic mandate was one of merit, “Adam’s righteous cultural labors would
have earned him a share in the eschatological world-to-come.”7 This then becomes a
soteriological lens by which he views the rest of the biblical story. Therefore the Adamic cultural
mandate should not be taken up by Christians today as this would be trying to add to Christ’s
Goheen who is also a covenantal theologian views the story of scripture quite differently:
What is most significant about Goheen’s understanding of the covenants is that he
stresses the missional telos of the covenants. Goheen wants to point the reader in three
orientations; backward to creation, outward engaging culture, and forward toward the kingdom
4 VanDrunen, 26.
7Ibid.,28, emphasis mine.
of God.8 God’s people acting in culture is integral for Goheen as he frames each covenant within
a context of mission. Israel was for the nations, likewise the church is for the nations. Cultural
activity is not just enviable, but important for Christian identity. Christians are to be living within
the nation’s culture and embrace “cultures’ creational insights, while rejecting their idolatry.”9
VanDrunen focuses his attention on the work of the church within its own walls. He
wants to stress that the church is “not just one earthly institution out of many.”10 Everything in
the Christian’s life is secondary to the main event, worship (in all its forms) on the Sabbath day.
Christian witness in the world is focused within the church because it is, “the only earthly
community that manifests the redemptive kingdom and grants us the fellowship of our true
home, the world-to-come.”11 Therefore the ordination of the church is primarily inward focused
on being the redemptive kingdom on earth. Working for the good of Babylon should always be
the Christian’s second love.
1 Peter 2:9-12 and Exodus 19:5-6 are good scriptural case studies for these differing
views of ecclesiology because they contain language of election, mediation, calling, and identity.
For VanDrunen the controlling image for ecclesiological identity is that of sojourners and
exiles.12 He fails to probe into the role of a priesthood and what that might mean for the church.
Secondly, he does not make a solid connection to the defining event of the Old Testament in
Exodus 19:5-6. VanDrunen states, “Israel was the manifestation of the redemptive kingdom
during the time between Moses and Christ.”13 This seems like a rather flat interpretation as it
only points forward to Christ and is not concerned with acting in the world presently, and doesn’t
8 Michael W.Goheen, A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story (Grand Rapids,MI: Baker
Academic, 2011), 26.
9 Goheen, 153.
10 VanDrunen, 131.
13 Ibid., 88.
directly affect the original audience. It serves as a foreshadow and not a call to action for real
people in history. Finally, he doesn’t ask teleological questions of a national priesthood. He then
references 1 Peter 2:9-12 and describes the church as, “present-day sojourners and exiles, in
distinction from the world, having been made a royal priesthood to offer “spiritual sacrifices” to
God.”14 Here again he stresses separation as exiles who’s worship is strictly spiritual.
Goheen sees Peter forming the church’s identity by stressing the continuation of Israel’s
missional identity in Exodus 19. Goheen asks the question, “What is a nation of priests for?” He
stresses that the people of God are, “chosen, redeemed, bound to God in covenant, holy, with
God dwelling in its midst for the sake for the nations.”15 Goheen is convinced by the rest of 1
Peter that these churches were involved with cultural life and because of their involvement they
experienced persecution from those in their community. In this sense they are exiles in a foreign
land and engaged in their public life.16 This exilic church identity should not be justification for
retreat from the public square.17 The church is currently the first fruits of the kingdom of God
that is both here and not yet.18 Goheen then states this about Paul’s understanding of the
kingdom of God, “Paul thinks in cosmic and communal terms. Salvation has a cosmic breadth; it
is a new creation that has dawned in the resurrection of Jesus.”19
Present Christian Life & Vocation
VanDrunen suggests that participation in the work of Christ is centered on worship which
takes its fullest form on Sunday.20 Christians are to correctly observe the Sabbath day by resting
the first day of the week, which signifies not Adam’s work but Christ’s finished work after his
resurrection. Outside of the church walls, “believers, as individuals and families, are obliged to
14 VanDrunen, 135,emphases mine.
15 Goheen, 161.
17 See Richard Mouw’s warning,Ibid.,188.
20 VanDrunen, 134.
offer private worship to God.”21 Christian are to be able to forgive the unforgivable, give
generosity and seek peace. His definition of worship (which is ultimate) has no room for
common kingdom work. This is because the common kingdom and the work therein cannot
produce worship because the Noahic covenant has nothing to do with worship.22
The redemption of Christ orients us toward the world-to-come for VanDrunen. He states,
“Thus the church did not grow out of the soil of the common kingdom but sprang to life out of
heaven itself, as the manifestation of a kingdom not of this world.”23 VanDrunen is left at the end
of the book parsing out the common kingdom and how it interplays with the redemptive
kingdom. This does not seem to be a place of freedom. He ends up making political statements
that narrow the potential Christian worldviews; for example: “Christians should believe in
VanDrunen states, “Christians themselves are holy and redeemed, as citizens of the
redemptive kingdom, their daily vocation are not.”25 Later he states that, “Hard work, with
God’s blessing, is truly its own reward.”26 Does the farmer not sow in order to reap? He then
prioritizes the work of the church and those who work in it, “The redemptive kingdom is built
through the church’s ministry of the Word, the sacraments, prayer, and discipline.”27 The best
jobs are in the church.28 To put it strongly VanDrunen sees the vocation of the vast majority of
the world as ultimately meaningless. His understanding of the work of the church has potential to
21 Here we have the languageof obligation in reference to worship. VanDrunen, 135, emphasis mine.
22 VanDrunen, 135.
28 VanDrunen’s covenantal understandinginforms his viewof lifein the church age. He believes that after the
finished work of Christ,Adam’s task of cultivation was completed. Christiansin thechurch age should not desireto
fulfill this Adamic calling,butrather do the work of the church. This is greatfor seminary enrollment.
breed a sense of superiority to those who are working within the redemptive kingdom. This isn’t
his intention but I find it unavoidable.
Goheen also gives priority to the church in the Christians life but frames the activities of
the church as facing outward and inward.29 He states that church must “continually be reoriented
and redirected to the unbelieving world as the ultimate horizon of our calling.”30 Secondly, the
church must be a student of the culture in which it resides, which is wholly different from a
Goheen is engaged because he believes God is engaged. Redemption in Christ involves a
return to the created order for Goheen. Adam failed to complete his cultural work and was
expelled from the garden, “nevertheless God sets out on the long road of redemption to restore
the creation.”31 Actions in this world matter because God is in the process of renewing all things.
Everything matters for Goheen, including all vocations that cultivate this world and seek the
good of one’s neighbor.32 While VanDrunen has an attitude of dividing vocations into his
redemptive kingdom and common kingdom, Goheen includes all vocations. A variety of
vocations aren’t addressed directly but I suspect Goheen would take 1 Cor 7:20 as a text that
validates vocation multiplicity.
Eschatology & Human Agency
I will analyze VanDrunen’s eschatology based on his reading of 2 Peter 3:10 and
surrounding verses. He believes Peter is making the point that the natural order and everything in
it will come to a “radical end.”33 The phrase “will be exposed” at the end of 3:10 is taken to
29 Goheen, 198.
32 Note that Adam’s cultural mandatecontinues in the Goheen covenant diagramabove.
33 VanDrunen, 67.
mean destroyed.34 Likewise the flood is to be seen as a reminder that all culture is doomed for
Christian are citizens of the redemptive kingdom, so they are found in Christ in the last
day. The “heavenly Jerusalem will endure forever, but the created things of this world will
not.”36 The church’s actions cannot usher in the world-to-come because the church is not about
the project of recreation. Rather it looks forward to receiving the finished Jerusalem from heaven
with Christ who has completed the Adamic cultural mandate. I believe this does violence to
human agency in the world both locally and globally. If it’s all going to burn, why should we
take great care of the earth itself?
Ultimately his eschatology is not entirely clear in the book. The questions plaguing
VanDrunen’s eschatology include, how does the Church envision a resurrected life and body
without something like an earthly kingdom? What does this mean for life in the resurrected
state? Will the church has an eternal vocation?
Goheen’s eschatology is derived from his desire to identify the church as an
eschatological community who are called, even compelled, outward into their community to
really and truly do kingdom work. Goheen suggests that there is a real responsibility to fill the
earth with God’s knowledge even now. Rather than receiving the kingdom in the last day, he
states the church is the temple of God on the earth, “The imagery of the temple signifies the
expansion and enlargement of the knowledge of God’s presence throughout the world.”37 This is
consistent with the early church’s mission, quoting Newbigin, “the early Church did not see itself
as a private religious society competing with others to offer personal salvation to its members; it
34 This is informed by his understandingof the Noahic covenant and the words “while earth remains”in Gen. 8:22 .
How one ends a story depends on how itbegins. VanDrunen, 65.
35 VanDrunen, 68.
36 VanDrunen, 65.
37 Goheen, 180.
saw itself as a movement launched into the public life of the world”38 Finally, Goheen hints at
the idea that there will be continuity between this age and the age to come. First the kingdom of
God is currently here, although not complete. Secondly, the nations in their specific form are to
be brought into the kingdom. The natural order itself will be recreated or renewed, not destroyed.
I believe that Goheen’s covenantal construction best represents the biblical story.
Therefore I reject VanDrunen’s understanding of the covenants and find the outcomes of his
construction problematic for practical theology. The main issue with this two kingdoms
articulation is its relationship with ultimate ends. Eschatology matters because it directly affects
one’s ethics in the present. Secondly, Goheen presents a world that I would want to live in. A
world where everything matters because it is constituted by a God who cares about everything.
Everything matters because everything is relational. With VanDrunen most things in this world
This has great implications for vocation. As I continue to pursue my career in teaching
high school humanities, I want to stress that any vocation can and does glorify God and has the
ability to do the work of the kingdom of God. I don’t want my students to think that I’m just
working for the weekend (worship on Sunday). VanDrunen is working for the weekend. Goheen
is working for change and expects change by the power of God in the world through common
vocations. Secondly, the janitor’s job matters more for Goheen than VanDrunen. There is a
priority of vocations in VanDrunen’s understanding, a two class system.
I am drawn to minister out Goheen’s understanding because I believe people can tell
when you don’t care about what you are doing in the world. If your life work is to be burned up
in the end, and you believe everyone you minister to will have the same fate, how will you stay
38 Goheen, 181.
engaged? If you are not 100% bought in with relationships and vocation people can tell,
especially children. I believe what we do on this earth will have a lasting effect on our
resurrected state. Our actions have real and lasting consequences.
Finally, I want to suggest that Goheen’s position is more imaginative and thoughtful. A
personal story provides a good example. I grew up working on a family farm. Every weekend
that wasn’t filled with sports or school activities I was at the farm helping my dad cultivate, sow,
spray, and harvest corn and soybeans. While my family would consider themselves devout
Christians we never had a discussion about the goodness of the earth, God’s plan for His land,
and our stewardship of it. They are coming from an Anabaptist background, but the end result is
the same as VanDrunen’s two kingdom theology; a lack of deep thought about creation and our
place in it.
Although VanDrunen wouldn’t agree with my conclusions, I believe they are a natural
product of his position. I believe they should be avoided. On the other hand Goheen’s position
requires the Christian to be thoughtful about everything they do in this world, for mission and
love of the Other. I believe this is God’s desires as well.
This is excellent work. You describe the positions of the authors with fairness and
precision, sprinkling critical observations throughout the paper. Your diagrams added clarity to
the analysis, too. My only suggestion for improvement would be for you to summarize in the
conclusion some of the observations and criticisms regarding the respective hermeneutical
methods of the authors you scatter throughout the paper.
In any case, well done. You earn %100 for this work.
With all good wishes,