I now come to an evaluation of the two kingdoms view of Christianity and culture. Of all four views I have outlined, I would regard this one as the “home base,” or the place where I stand while drawing on valid insights from the other views.
I believe the two kingdoms approach has a number of strengths. It rightly accounts for the New Testament teaching that believers live in two ages at once, with responsibilities both to the common kingdom of this age and the redemptive kingdom of the age to come. For this reason, it rightly recognizes that the church is to be a distinctive body in this world, made up of citizens of the redemptive kingdom, and with a focused mission to make disciples of all nations. Furthermore, it gives Christians freedom to engage with the culture of the common kingdom through their various callings without imposing pressure on us to figure out what is the “Christian” approach to everything. In other words, it rightly recognizes Christian freedom in many areas of life. This approach also tempers expectations by reminding us that, while our labor in this world is good, valuable, and honorable, we must not imagine that we have the ability or responsibility to build the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God (as George Ladd rightly pointed out decades ago), is never presented in the New Testament as the result of a human endeavor. We do not create it, build it, expand it, etc., but we do receive it, enter it, etc. The two kingdoms model tells us to labor on in faithfulness, patiently waiting for God to do what he has promised by sending the fullness of his kingdom in his time.
But the two kingdoms view also has some pitfalls to avoid. It can lead one to the erroneous conclusion that one side of life is “religious” (and therefore private), while the other side is “secular” (and therefore public). By doing so, it may feed into the myth of a neutral public square where different religious convictions have no effect. Along the same lines, the two kingdoms view is the one least likely to acknowledge the important role that Christianity has played in the shaping of culture throughout history. As James K.A. Smith pointed out recently, some parts of our lives that many theologians identify as “common grace” is really the long-term effects of the gospel permeating a civilization over the centuries. In order to reflect reality, the two kingdoms view must recognize that the “common kingdom” is affected by the presence or absence of Christianity, for the better or for the worse, and drastic differences in culture have resulted from this. If the transformationist view tends toward too much optimism, the two kingdoms view may tend toward too much pessimism, at least in regard to the potential for Christianity to shape human culture.
All in all, I find myself most at home in a two kingdoms view, but I try to avoid these pitfalls by acknowledging the good insights of other perspectives. Transformationists rightly seek the long-term transformation of culture. Counterculturalists rightly see the need for the church to be a distinctive culture within itself, one that bears witness to the wider world of the transforming power of the gospel. The Relevance approach rightly seeks to contextualize the gospel for every generation. I believe Christians must do all of these things as they live as citizens of the City of God who are sojourners in the City of Man.