A Tale of Two Kingdoms

Michael J. Glodo
Thursday, August 16th 2007
Sep/Oct 1994
"And it shall come about when Pharaoh calls you and says, 'What is your occupation?' that you shall say, 'Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,' that you may live in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians." Gen. 46:33-34, NASB.

Ranging from William Parry's "Jerusalem" (popularized in the hit film Chariots of Fire) to the Social Gospel to Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is a Place on Earth", modern history has witnessed a struggle to define the proper expression of the kingdom of God "on earth as it is in heaven." The thunderous return of American evangelicals to the public square in the last fifteen years has brought this matter to the forefront of public discourse. Across the country conservative Christians are rallying to candidates and causes to take up what they believe is their civic responsibility. In recent months an opposite reaction has surfaced with equal zeal to prevent the so-called "New Christian Right" from being successful. While much of this opposition is motivated by anti-Christian thinking, one can detect a genuine fear of what the New Right's success could do to harm the workings of democracy. (1) It seems timely look to Scripture's own formulation of this issue in order to know how Christians should regard and engage this perennial issue.

The Bible begins to address the matter very early on-earlier than many might realize. This ancient story is a tale of two cities and it begins with the first siblings. Abel pleased God with his offerings and Cain did not. The jealous Cain murdered his brother and was confronted by God with his crime. Although attention is usually focused on the nature of the mysterious "mark of Cain", of greater interest should be the nature of Cain's punishment and Cain's reaction to hearing of it. "When you cultivate the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you; you shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth" (Gn 4:12). Cain reacted with fear and dismay (v. 13).

We can understand Cain's reaction by looking to the respective vocations of the two brothers and to Cain's subsequent actions. Abel was a herdsman. This is not the day of large feed lots and stockyards. The life of a herdsman was the life of a wanderer, moving from pasture to pasture living off the land. By way of contrast, Cain was a farmer. Today we associate farming with rural life, living in the country in dependence upon the land. In the Ancient Near East, farming was an urban occupation. Though it was not something done within the walls of a city, it required technology-the digging of canals for irrigation and the building of barns for storage. Further, farming made the city possible. With the planting and harvesting of crops life became more stable, facilitating the building of cities. Conversely, farming was dependent upon the city because its ready market and economic infrastructure sustained the farmer's livelihood.

The conflict between Cain and Abel was not simply a case of sibling rivalry, but it was the conflict of ruralite and urbanite, of wanderer and city-dweller. Cain sought the security of the city, the technological security of man's accomplishments. This explains his fear of God's punishment. That this outlook belonged to Cain was further confirmed when he built a city and named it after his son Enoch (v. 17). Naming a city after oneself or one's progeny was a source of pride and boasting (cf. "Raamses", Ex 1:11). What is more, Cain is the father of a people with whom technology is associated (Gn 4:22).

The Cainites are set in contrast to the Sethites who include a different Enoch. But this Enoch, rather than having the glory of the city attached to his name, was the humble one who "walked with God" (Gn 5:22) The particular form of the Hebrew verb here connotes not only a manner of life, but going about, i.e., sojourning (e.g., Gn 13:17, 48:15). The early chapters of Genesis, therefore, present a contrast between two peoples-one which builds cities and one which sojourns with God. The contrast is not merely one of sociological interest, for these two lines are in opposition to one another, their corporate lives being organized around antithetical interests as foretold by God in his words of curse upon Satan: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel" (Gn 3:15).

The characters of these two races of man are further developed. The most poignant expression of the city-builders was the tower of Babel incident (Gn 11). Their intended purpose was that this tower, in reaching to heaven, would "make for ourselves a name" (v. 4). That purpose was juxtaposed to the notion of being scattered over the face of the earth. While man's creative capacity and communitarianism were given by God to image (and therefore glorify) God, here both are perverted for man's own glory. Even after the flood and the different world order introduced therein, there is a remnant of the Cainite love for the city. Though this is not a biological remnant of the Cainites, nevertheless it is of the same spirit which had its beginnings with Cain and which persists to the present.

In stark contrast to Babel is the history which immediately follows. Genesis 12 begins the story of Abraham. He left his country, his family and a great city of its day to wander after God. Abraham and his sons after him lived in the land that God promised them but which they never possessed. As the writer of Hebrews so aptly describes it, "By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise" (Heb 11:9). Abraham's transience was so important in the mind of Moses and the nation of Israel, it was the confession to accompany the offering of the first fruits, that which Von Rad called "Israel's credo." There the presenter would declare, "My father was a wandering Aramean" (Dt 26:5).

Abram stood in marked contrast with his nephew, Lot, who, when given the choice of where he would establish his own family, "settled in the cities of the valley" (Gn 13:12). Lot's love for the security of the city is indicated explicitly when, upon being delivered from the fiery judgment upon Sodom and Gomorra, he feared the mountains to which the angel had instructed him to flee. Lot pleaded, "I cannot escape to the mountains, lest the disaster overtake me and I die; now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there (is it not small?) that my life may be saved" (Gn 19:19b-20). Lot clearly understood this was something the angel of the Lord would not grant without some pleading. Lot, in contrast to Abraham, sought the security of the city, even if it could be only a small one.

The contrast of urbanite and ruralite was completed in Genesis through Joseph's instructions to his brothers. By the time the statement was made in Genesis 46:34, Joseph had revealed himself to his brothers as their long-lost sibling and as Pharaoh's viceregent over all of Egypt. His instructions were to maximize the well-being of the Jacobite clan upon their move to Egypt. When Pharaoh inquired as to their trade, the brother were to respond, "Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers." The purpose in their response, besides being the truth, was "that you may live in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians." The Israelites would have drawn several lessons from this. First, they would have understood better Egyptian antipathy toward them. Secondly, they would have seen Goshen as God's provision for them and understood the importance of resisting religious syncretism with Egyptians.

In the book of Genesis, Moses presented the Israel of the exodus with two categories of people. One sought the security of the city and glorified man's accomplishments. The other was willing to follow God as a pilgrim community toward the destination which God has promised them and to which He had promised to bring them. These two peoples Augustine of Hippo called the "city of man" and the "city of God," respectively. And he applied this division to describe all of human history as the story of two cities.

I classify the human race into two branches: the one consists of those who live by human standard, the other of those who live according to God's will. I also call these two classes the two cities, speaking allegorically. By two cities I mean two societies of human beings, one of which is predestined to reign with God for all eternity, the other doomed to undergo eternal punishment with the Devil. (2)

That he termed the city builders "the city of man" we can understand from its association with self-glorifying city building. But why would he refer to God's people as the "city of God"? It is because this people seeks security in a city, too, but one which God builds. In the pattern of Abraham, they are " looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb 11:10). This is the city which was foreshadowed by the Jerusalem of old, but which will be realized in the "city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God" (Rv 3:12; cf. 21:2, 10).

Meredith Kline has termed these two cities "Metapolis" and "Megapolis." Of the former he states it was

offered to man at the beginning in the prophetic sanctions of the Covenant of Creation, [and] is again offered as the final goal of the process of cosmic redemption. It is promised as the crowning achievement of Christ, the redeemer-king. Towards it the people of the covenant wend their historical way as pilgrims in a wilderness. (3)

As its name indicates, Metapolis is the transcendent city which is established from heaven. Of the Megapolis, Kline asserts,

Over against the heavenly city stands the other city, mundanely present and visible to all. Although the term "city of man" used for this other city marks, in the first place, the contrast between human political government as an interim product of common grace and the city of God as a holy eschatological kingdom produced by redemptive grace, "city of man" also carries a negative religious charge insofar as it connotes the apostate character borne by this city in its development under the hand of fallen mankind. (4)

As a biblical motif which runs from the fall to the consummation, the distinction between the city of man and the city of God is a major feature of the post-fall pre-consummation epoch in which we live. It informs us, contrary to many popular understandings, that the overriding and dominant metaphor for the church is that of pilgrims in passage.

One might counter that the dominant metaphor could shift to "a city on a hill" or some other figure appropriate to cultural hegemony. The writer of Hebrews is quite clear that "there remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God" (Heb 4:9). The city of God is not expressed in geo-political realities until the consummation. Therefore, both in terms of aliens in the land of promise and followers of God in the wilderness, Christians are never "there" until the rule of Christ is established visibly at his coming again. Awareness of the distinction between the two cities and understanding to which one belongs brings a number of profound implications for the Christian.

First, we can understand the ultimate antithesis that exists between the two cities. This saves us from dismay at culture's reaction to the gospel. We may understand also where our ultimate loyalties must lie when we are faced with compromise.

Secondly, we should never place our hope on man's accomplishments. While we may appropriate and participate in them, they are not where our hope is vested. As we come to the twilight of the Modern era with its fast-failing confidence in technology as the absolute redeemer of mankind, we may find this lesson the easiest to learn.

Thirdly, and related to both, we must condition our expectations for cultural transformation. This is especially important in light of the above-mentioned zeal with which many Christians approach the subject. Coming to grips with this might make Christians less than the most gullible of voters, for instance. Civil government, while necessary and God-ordained for this age (Rom 13:1-7), at its very best cannot even approximate the righteous rule of God on earth. Yet our zeal for cultural transformation can make us vulnerable to skillful manipulation by those who desire our votes and influence.

But our concern should be for more than merely the weaknesses which a desire for cultural transformation exposes. When cultural influence becomes a substantial focus of the church, it gives over to the megapolis the exclusive hope of the metapolis. If the church finds itself in a position of cultural influence, it may well have abandoned its distinctiveness as the church. A contrary understanding blurs the line between the two cities which are antithetical to one another. It opts for a metaphor for the church other than that of aliens and strangers. There is, in fact, an inverse relationship between the church's desire for cultural influence and her faithfulness to Christ.

To live as citizens of the city of God our expectations of culture must be conditioned. As Richard John Neuhaus has pointed out, there is a dual aspect to the proper understanding of Christ and culture. In his reflection on Christ's proclamation of the coming of the kingdom Neuhaus writes,

Our Lord both relativizes and empowers our efforts to effect change. Our efforts are relativized, because we know that all the changes we can make, or even all the changes that we can envision, are at best penultimate, our hearts being fixed on the ultimate transformation that will be effected by the coming of the kingdom. Our efforts are empowered, because we act, not trusting in our own successes but in his final vindication. We are enabled to act in the courage of our uncertainty, because we do not know what our actions-our most fervent, most devoted, most self-sacrificial actions-will mean in the end. We do not need to know. It is enough that he knows. (5)

It must be said, however, that when we do good and do it well, we have a boldness that whatever stands, if anything, is the work of Christ through us. This is over against the evacuationist tendencies of millennarianism. Our status as aliens and strangers does not permit cultural withdrawal. Although our ultimate allegiance is to the city of God, we do hold dual citizenship in that we have rights as well as responsibilities in this world. This is clearly reflected in Jesus' words to render to Caesar (Mt 22:21). Further models are found in Daniel's service in the courts of Nebuchadnezzar as well as Jeremiah's exhortation to the exiles to "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare" (Jer 29:7). But too often the redemptive agenda of the Christian is misapplied to the civil sphere with the result of antipathy towards Christ and lackluster service rendered to the citizenry. The responsibility of the Christian to be salt and light is an individual responsibility to be a good public citizen, not the institutional responsibility of the church.

In spite of all the Christian is positively obliged to do, one must reckon with the subtle pitfalls of involvement in the politically-charged atmosphere of today's culture. With the church being identified with particular cultural forms and the gospel with the rhetoric of individuals effusive of bipartisanism, the Christ which is known is not the Christ of the cross. He is the christ of cultural values, the christ of polarizing rhetoric, the christ of political alliances.

As we witness a renewed interest in the Reformation, we must remind ourselves that it was not about the reformation of culture. It was a reformation of religion. To the extent that cultural reformation is the primary focus, it is the city of man which we attempt to rehabilitate. This minimizes the transcendent character of the city of God. Worse, the city of God, from a human perspective, lies in disrepair. Many have rightly emphasized the need for focusing on individual transformation of persons through the preaching of the gospel. This is an excellent corrective. But we further must understand that the kingdom of God is built from the top down as well as from the inside out.

If God in His wisdom grants some forms of cultural progress through the work of the church, we should rejoice and enjoy it-but remain ever watchful for hypocrisy. If God deigns that the gospel be a single light against the night of a new dark age, we should rejoice at the purity of the church it will bring. However, in good days or bad, the work of the church is the work of pilgrims as they await their Metapolis. We could do no better than the saints of old who

died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth (Heb 11:13).

1 [ Back ] For a chronicle of these current dynamics see James Davison Hunter's Culture Wars and Before the Shooting Begins, as well as Michael S. Horton's Beyond Culture Wars.
2 [ Back ] City of God, XV.1.
3 [ Back ] Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, S. Hamilton, Mass.: 1991, p. 112.
4 [ Back ] Ibid, p. 112.
5 [ Back ] "The Christian and the Church," in Transforming Our World: A Call to Action, James M. Boice, ed. Portland, Ore.: Multnomah Press, 1988, p. 119.
Thursday, August 16th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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