Evangelicals, Meet the Two Kingdoms

It may just begin to be “all about” Dr. Darryl G. Hart from now on. (But I jest–read Hart’s post to know what I mean by that–and notice my comment on his post). Hart, his new book, and his Augustinian approach to the relationship of the church to culture and politics, known to conservative Protestants (as opposed to “Evangelicals”) as the Two Kingdoms view, have been introduced to the broadly Evangelical listeners to Christian talk radio. 

Janet Mefferd is appropriately the host of Salem Radio Network‘s The Janet Mefferd Show, which is broadcast here in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex on 100.7 FM KWRD. Mefferd may have just given Dr. Hart his big break–and may it redound to the benefit and enrichment of Evangelical understanding of their place in the political and cultural life of the United States of America. On her Thursday, Sept. 1st program, Mefferd interviewed Dr. Darryl G. Hart about his latest book, From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism (2011, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.). This book “provides an iconoclastic new history of the entrance of evangelical Christians into national American politics. Examining the key players of the Religious Right–Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Chuck Colson, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and many others–D. G. Hart argues that evangelicalism is (and always has been) a bad fit with classic political conservatism” (punctuation improved by me). 

On the air, before God and the Religious Right, Janet Mefferd encouraged Dr. Hart by her agreement with him that politically conservative Evangelicals could learn a thing or two from St. Augustine’s ancient classic City of God, which is the theological progenitor of the Two Kingdoms approach to “Christ and Culture.” 

Here’s a transcript of Hart’s description of this Augustinian Two Kingdom view of Christ and Culture and how it applies to the Religious Right:

Mefferd: …This concept that we need to embrace, I think, and you’re absolutely right about this, is this Augustinian view of the relationship between the city of God and the city of Man as we’re examining politics. Explain briefly what that is, the City of God and the City of Man.

Hart: Well, Augustine wrote this book at the time when the Roman Empire was falling, and people were blaming the Christian Church for that fall—that Rome had turned from its own gods to this other God, and so Christians were to blame. And part of Augustine’s defense, was to say that God’s ways are higher than Man’s ways, and you cannot identify the history of salvation with the history of any particular place or empire, like the Roman Empire, so there is this City of God that transcends the City of Man. And the application for America, as for any nation, would be that God doesn’t have necessarily a special relationship with any particular nation, though he did at one time with Israel, but now has a special relationship with his church which transcends all nations. You find churches and church members around the world, and that is where God’s plan of redemption is being carried out, in the “City of God,” the Church being sort of the earthly representation of it. And the “City of Man,” the affairs of nations, are things that God controls through his providential power, but you cannot correlate what God is doing necessarily in a redemptive way with the rise and fall of empires or nations.

Mefferd: Which may be sounding sort of heretical to a lot of very patriotic Evangelical conservatives who say, you know, this is a nation founded in large part by Christians, on Christian principles, etc., etc., and yet, you almost set yourself up for, if and when, God forbid, America does have a decline or a fall, as the Roman Empire did, then we may be in a bad place of saying, while, you know, this is somehow the Church’s fault, and, I think you’re absolutely right, we have to think in a different way as Christians about God’s purposes in the world beyond just who we want to get into office at a particular time, you know?

 Hart: Right. I think we’re all prone to think this way. Though, I mean, even if I trip, or if I oversleep, you know, I wonder if it’s because yesterday I yelled at my wife that these things are happening to me. So, we always want to view our relationship to God, and what happens in our lives, as whether we’re living in favor or out of favor, and we do that in politics as well, but it’s not a very helpful way for looking at politics. And political conservatives have actually drawn on that Augustinian perspective often. 

Dr. Hart also has a thought-provoking defense of Rick Perry’s recent appeal to states rights as a way to deal with the issue of gay marriage. But I’ll leave that for you to find for yourself on the podcast.

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