Leeman: Two Ages, Not Two Kingdoms

Jonathan Leeman at TGC: Not Two Kingdoms, But Two Ages.

For centuries Christians have considered different ways of relating the church and the world, particularly with respect to the God-established authorities in each domain. Well-known proposals include Augustine’s “two cities,” Gelasius’s “two swords,” Luther’s “two kingdoms,” and Kuyper’s ideas about sphere sovereignty, which operate inside of what might be called a “one-kingdom” framework.

I would like to offer an alternative that learns from each of these, but that also draws on the last half-century of New Testament theology. In a nutshell, I would propose that the Spirit-given power of the new covenant requires a doctrine of two ages. A doctrine of two ages or inaugurated eschatology is a popular way among New Testament theologians for characterizing how creation history and redemptive history bifurcated when Christ’s kingdom was inaugurated but not consummated through the giving of the new covenant. The history of new creation began even while the history of the old creation continued.

I think Leeman offers a helpful perspective. Read the whole thing.

Israel’s Changing Economy in the 8th Century BCE

What shall I say about the homes of the wicked filled with treasures gained by cheating? What about the disgusting practice of measuring out grain with dishonest measures? How can I tolerate your merchants who use dishonest scales and weights? Micah 6:10-11 NLT

The Torah envisions life in the promised land as a subsistence economy in which every family farms perpetually on the plot allocated to it by God. God promised Abraham a multitude of descendants and land on which to live. Israel’s occupation of Canaan following the Exodus was the fulfillment of that promise. Each family was allocated a plot of land – its inheritance – by lot. The land was entrusted to each family as a gift from God and would never be sold in perpetuity. Families would subsist on the bountiful fruits of their own farms and share with those in need.

The message of the prophets, however, seems to assume a different kind of economy. They speak of weights and measures used in buying and selling. They condemn those who complain about the lack of commerce on Israel’s Sabbaths and holy days. They write about the use of dishonesty and pretext in the courts to confiscate the land of the poor. They address the enslavement of the vulnerable to provide labor for the fields. This does not look like an economy primarily built on the produce of one’s own flocks and fields.

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For a Daughter of Abraham, Freedom on the Sabbath

When I was stationed in Korea in the early 90’s, it was common to see short, elderly Korean women bent at the waist, walking down the street with large burdens on their backs. They were carrying merchandise to market or produce from their fields and I wondered how such a small, frail person could bear such a load.

And often you would see them without their burdens as well. Many of them were still bent at the waist, unable to stand erect, suffering from decades of hard labor, poverty and the nutritional deficits they had suffered in the early post-war years. The Korean War and the years that followed were extremely hard on the Korean people. I’m sure that if I listened to these bent-over ladies describe their lives, I would hear stories of both great strength and great suffering.

In our reading from the gospel, Luke tells us about a woman who suffered from a similar ailment.

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. Luke 13:10-11

Jesus has two ways of describing her condition. In verse 12, Jesus spoke about her weakness – which might also be translated as her illness or her disability. In verse 16, he described her as being in Satan’s bondage. And to complicate matters a little more, in verse 11, Luke says that she had a spirit of weakness.

What is the relationship here between her physical ailment and her spiritual condition?  Is Luke telling us that physical ailments are caused by demonic attacks?  Or is he telling us that Satan uses physical suffering as an opportunity to cause spiritual suffering?

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How I Pray at Military Ceremonies

I offer a lot of public invocations. Here are some brief, practical thoughts on how I approach the task.

Introducing the Prayer. I say why I am offering an invocation and gently invite people to participate in their own way. The introduction recognizes that a time of prayer is important on this occasion for many people, but not for all, and it gives the listeners freedom to adapt my words for their own use as they see fit. A couple of examples.

“We are rejoicing today with John and Kathy Jones as John is promoted to Colonel. I invite you to take these moments to give thanks in your own way, in your own heart, as I offer this invocation.”

“Retirement is a momentous occasion is every person’s life. As we gather to honor Sally Smith on her retirement, I invite you to take a few moments for your own prayer or reflection as I offer this invocation.”

Praying in the First Person Singular. When I am directly addressing the deity, I try to speak in the first person singular or in the imperative. In other words, I say “I” instead of “we”, or I completely leave off the pronoun. In a government ceremony, I cannot assume that everyone prays as I do. It would be inaccurate to put my words in their mouths. Since I can only speak for myself, I don’t ordinarily say “we ask” or “we pray” or other words that presume to speak for others. I only use the word “we” to describe the obvious sentiments of the assembled group. A couple of examples:

“O Lord, I pray to you for all who are grieving. We’re all feeling the pain of Sam’s death. I ask you to comfort all who mourn, especially Sam’s family and close friends. Let the love that brings them sorrow today also bring healing to their souls.”

“God, I ask you to bless this food we’re about to share. We’re all happy to have a day out of the office at the company picnic. Keep us safe and use this time to refresh our spirits.”

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Pluralism or Non-Sectarianism: The Supreme Court on Government Invocations

Town of Greece v. Galloway, 2014

On the issue of invocations at government ceremonies, the most relevant Supreme Court decision is Town of Greece v. Galloway (2014). Two citizens from the town of Greece, NY objected to the sectarian nature of the invocations given at town council meetings. They sued the city, demanding an end to sectarian prayers at the assembly. They wanted the town to adopt a policy that only inclusive or non-sectarian prayers were acceptable. In writing the opinion of the court, Justice Kennedy provided a description of the facts of the case. The following is an abridged version of that portion of the decision.

The town followed an informal method for selecting prayer givers, all of whom were unpaid volunteers. The town at no point excluded or denied an opportunity to a would-be prayer giver. Its leaders maintained that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation. But nearly all of the congregations in town were Christian; and from 1999 to 2007, all of the participating ministers were too. [The town] neither reviewed the prayers in advance of the meetings nor provided guidance as to their tone or content, in the belief that exercising any degree of control over the prayers would infringe both the free exercise and speech rights of the ministers. The town instead left the guest clergy free to compose their own devotions. The resulting prayers often sounded both civic and religious themes. Some of the ministers spoke in a distinctly Christian idiom.

[The suit against the town] did not seek an end to the prayer practice, but rather requested an injunction that would limit the town to “inclusive and ecumenical” prayers that referred only to a “generic God” and would not associate the government with any one faith or belief.

The town won the case in U.S. district court, lost in the court of appeals, and won again in the Supreme Court.

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