Book Review

Worship and Life between the Already and the Not Yet

Nathan Barczi
Jason J. Stellman
Thursday, July 1st 2010
Jul/Aug 2010

"Eschatology… precedes everything," writes Rev. Jason Stellman in the preface to Dual Citizens. Life on earth can only be understood through the lens of what lies beyond: we can understand the past

and present only in light of God's promises for the future. This is the underlying premise of Stellman's book, a richly biblical devotional exposition of two-kingdom theology or, as Stellman puts it in his subtitle, Worship and Life between the Already and the Not Yet.

Dual citizenship is an apt metaphor for the two-kingdom theology espoused by Martin Luther. Christians, Stellman argues, are citizens of two kingdoms–one heavenly and eternal, the other earthly and temporal in which we are but pilgrims living in exile. The primary purpose of Stellman's book is to work through the im-plications of this world-view. In contrast to the theocratic nation of old covenant Israel, called to withdraw from the surrounding nations in all aspects of life, the church under the new covenant is called to be cultically (in its worship) but not culturally (in its worldly engagement) distinct.

Churches frequently reverse these two precepts, argues Stellman. Seeking relevance in the eyes of nonbelievers, we tone down our distinctions from the world on Sunday morning. Archaic liturgy is stripped away, along with distinctly Christian language and culture and even, in the extreme, the potentially offensive marks of the church, Word and Sacrament, the ordinary means of God's grace to sinners and thus, ironically, that which is most relevant to those we long to see converted and to those of us who already believe. During the rest of the week, on the other hand, we pursue distinction in our work and other cultural engagements, whether this takes the form of withdrawing from the world into Christian enclaves with our own aesthetic and political communities, or seeking to redeem the brokenness of the fallen world in which we live by our own cultural activity. In either form, the legitimacy of the kingdom of the world as it stands is denied; it becomes an object for us either to reject or to redeem rather than, as Stellman puts it, "a stage…on which the divine drama [can] be performed."

Criticism of two-kingdom theology can be found within Reformed circles, particularly from those who take a neo-Kuyperian, transformationist approach to the cultural mandate given to the church. Stellman does not deny that the Christian will go about his mundane life in a manner distinct from the nonbeliever, with different motivations, and potentially with world-changing effect. But he argues against conflating the laudable efforts of Christians to seek economic justice or cultural renewal with the mission of the church. It is not we who serve God by transforming the world; rather, we are transformed by God's service to us as we respond in faith to his call to worship. We live in light of the grand narrative that eclipses our horizons, in which all history is leading to a consummation secured by God's triumph in weakness on the cross of Christ. We are thus free of investing our individual battles against the world, flesh, and devil with ultimate consequences; in Stellman's words, we avoid letting "the existential tail wag the eschatological dog" (88).

Stellman applies this premise to various arenas of Christian worship and life in the pages of Dual Citizens. In a chapter titled "Subversive Sabbatarianism," he portrays the Sabbath as a day for Christians to withdraw from cultural activity, which is legitimate but not ultimate. The impulse to transform society cannot be the primary motivation for keeping the Sabbath, which lies rather in God's call to worship; and while the saints are called to full cultural participation Monday through Saturday, "it is precisely the believer's cultural withdrawal on Sunday that serves to challenge and subvert the assumptions of this fleeting age" (58). Stellman elaborates on the same principle in two later chapters on the church's relationship to the world in which it passes its pilgrimage. Though full of God's gifts, which we are in as much danger of enjoying too little as too much, it is also only a temporary realm, subject in the end to judgment and futility. The Christian who maintains a balance between these two is preserved from boredom with the world by gratitude for God's many blessings within it, but also from a disillusionment deriving from a quest for satisfaction from what must ultimately pass away.

Dual Citizens is best read as an exposition of the Christian life in light of two-kingdom theology, rather than as a fully argued defense of the position. The book covers a significant swathe of doctrine, presenting a wealth of scriptural and extrabiblical resources (including references to U2, Sting, and Facebook) in an approachable manner. Naturally, not all receive as full a treatment as one would like, and skeptics will find lacunae in its articulation of a sharp divide between the sacred and the profane. Stellman's exposition of eschatological themes from the book of Revelation is lucid and helpful, for instance, but passes over the extent to which these chapters allude to the primeval history of Genesis. Stellman cites G. K. Beale's work on Revelation but does not interact with Beale's work (i.e., The Temple and the Church's Mission, IVP, 2004), tracing the redemptive-historical trajectory that ends in consummation and begins in the garden, where the cultural mandate to fill the earth and subdue it was initially given. As transformationists find support for their stance in Beale's argument (and the similar work of Geerhardus Vos) that the same mandate is recapitulated throughout Scripture, including the call of Abram to be a blessing to all nations and the Great Commission that underlies the present mission of the church to fill the earth with God's presence and rule, some exegetical work in this field would have been appropriate.

Undoubtedly, however, the work of renewal and redemption belongs ultimately to the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son, to whom Stellman devotes his very helpful final chapter. The misidentification of the world as a restoration project resting on our shoulders, rather than the arena for God's work of redemption, represents a great threat to modern Christians' apprehension of the gospel. Against this threat, Stellman's call to the church to preserve its distinction in seeking its sole nourishment attending to the proclamation of the truth of the gospel and to the ordinary means of grace offered in worship is most welcome.

Thursday, July 1st 2010

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

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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