18 January 2011

One Kingdom or Two in "A Secular Age" Part 3

Having posted Parts 1 and 2 an embarrassingly long time ago, the need to turn to Part 3 is indisputable. The causes of the delay are personal--I got rather used to the myriad of non-academic tasks that the Christmas break brought my way. So let me begin by recounting that Charles Taylor has argued with great detail that the nineteenth century's "Age of Mobilization," characteristic of all strands of the Western Christian tradition, represented a response to the secular eclipse of the Disciplinary Age of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation movements. Without addressing the point precisely, I think it is clear that the single Kingdom of Christ approach (think Abraham Kuyper's "There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, 'This is mine! This belongs to me!'") fits squarely within the Disciplinary Age.

The mid-twentieth century fraying of the four strands that Taylor identifies as constituting the cord of the Disciplinary Age accounts, at least in the negative sense of providing sufficient social space, for the new "imaginary" of the contemporary Age of Authenticity. The single-Kingdom approach thus appears to be an argument simply out of its time. Not necessarily wrong, of course, but less persuasive than it used to be.

Enter the revitalization of the Two Kingdoms approach that was de rigueur long before and continuing well through the Disciplinary Age (see here). Is leapfrogging over the now seemingly passé Single Kingdom to the barely remembered Two Kingdoms approach a realistic response to the current age or simply antiquarian repristination, a theological hobbyhorse of a few disgruntled professional curmudgeons?

Before trying to answer that question let's turn to the third and fourth of the strands that constituted the Age of Mobilization: political identity and civilizational order. Severable in parts of Europe, these strands were unified in America: "Evangelicals felt that they were fostering the ethos that their society needed [in order] to live up to its highest vocation and ideals." (My piece on the influence of ante-bellum Evangelicals on the Bankruptcy Act of 1841 addresses this point.)

Today? The connection between civilizational order and the practice of a rigorous Christian faith has been severed.  Many Evangelicals still believe that any hope for human fulfillment will crumble without belief in God and redemption in Jesus Christ but I think it's safe to say that the Mainline Protestant churches and liberal wing of Catholicism do not. I can attest from my own undergraduate experience that even many of the Single Kingdom folks in America since the 1960's have definitely rejected any connection between America and the redemptive Kingdom of God in Christ.

As Christ's Kingdom is increasingly disassociated from any political order, we might think we would find space for a separate Kingdom of God outside the Church.  Perhaps we yet will but thus far such an understanding seems unlikely to engage people in the Age of Authenticity. The social soil now uncovered by what severed the strands of the Disciplinary Age has not proved any more fertile for a dual Kingdom of God than for a unitary Kingdom of Christ.

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