I know I promised to say some more about why I think it’s important for us to join the dots between providence and redemption (in relation to VanDrunen’s Living In God’s Two Kingdoms). And I will get there.
Before I do, I want to take a step back and glance at what appears to be an underlying issue. And that is the vexed one of the continuity and discontinuity between this world and the new creation.
I was fascinated to observe how VanDrunen marked out the distance between his ‘take’ on this issue and those of neo-Calvinists thinkers, N. T. Wright, and Brian Maclaren. But his comments did nothing so much as bring to mind this (extended) quote:
Let us be clear […] about the relation between our present work, our present reshaping of the world, and the future world that God intends to make. Christians have always found it difficult to understand and articulate this, and have regularly distorted the picture in one direction or the other. Some have so emphasized the discontinuity between the present world and our work in it on the one hand, and the future world that God will make on the other, that they suppose God will simply throw the present world in the dustbin and leave us in a totally different sphere altogether. There is then really no point in attempting to reshape the present world by the light of Jesus Christ. Armageddon is coming, so who cares about acid rain or third-world debt? That is the way of dualism; it is a radically anti-creation viewpoint, and hence is challenged head on by, among many other things, John’s emphasis on Easter as the first day of the new week, the start of God’s new creation.
On the other hand, some have so emphasized the continuity between the present world and the coming new world that they have imagined we can actually build the Kingdom of God by our own hard work. I am thinking not just of the so-called liberal social gospel, but also of some aspects of Calvinist heritage, which, in its reaction against perceived dualisms of one sort or another, has sometimes played down the radical discontinuity between this world and the next. This is sorely mistaken. When God does what God intends to do, this will be an act of fresh grace, of radical newness. At one level it will be quite unexpected, like a surprise party with guests we never thought we would meet, and delicious food we never thought we would taste. But at the same time there will be a rightness about it, a rich continuity with what has gone before, so that in the midst of our surprise and delight we will say, ‘Of course! That is how it had to be, even though we’d never imagined it.’
Know who said this?
One of VanDrunen’s adversaries — N. T. Wright (The Challenge of Jesus, p 138). And that complicates things a bit, doesn’t it? Because as far as I can tell VanDrunen would utter a hearty ‘Amen’ to this!