Life In Two Kingdoms: A Review

The seas of political and cultural engagement have proved treacherous for the Christian soul. If it sails too close to the shore of faith, it can run aground upon the reefs of non-involvement. But if it sails into the depths of secular thinking, it can drown in a whirlpool of political partisanship. Both a lack of involvement in the world and an over preoccupation with politics can harm both the Christian and his or her witness to this lost and dying world.

In the span of 322 pages, Doctor Martyn Lloyd-Jones charts a path through these dangerous waters that is guided by his exegesis of Romans 13. The passage serves as a compass for his view of limited cultural engagement, a view that both promotes Christian involvement in the secular world and protects the believer from being consumed by political platforms.

Overview

Lloyd-Jones or the Doctor (he was an MD prior to entering the pulpit and happily would look after one’s physical body as well as one’s soul when asked) believed Christians should engage the political and secular world because God had instituted both culture and government and remained involved in the workings of men and women. Since God had ordained the state to promote human flourishing and to restrain evil, Christians could vote, serve in parliament, and overthrow unjust political institutions that used their power to abuse and harm citizens.

But such political and social involvement was never to become the believer’s guiding star. All governments remained concerned with the limitation of sin. The State could not positively legislate the Sermon on the Mount because gospel change flowed through the channel of the church in accordance with the faithful preaching of the gospel. Membership in the Church and the expansion of God’s kingdom depended upon one’s spiritual birth. Rebirth remained untethered to that person’s earthly citizenship and family heritage. After providing a somewhat oversimplified history of how the Church and state have interacted through the ages, the Doctor rightfully concluded that the state should not dominate the doctrines of the Church nor should the Church control the politics of the state. When the separate spheres of the state and the church were foraged into one distorted circle, the witness of the Church would begin to rot.

Because of sin, the Church could never advance through the state, protests, or cultural institutions. Though the Christian was to care for his or her neighbors, he or she was always to remember that only the gospel could overcome sin and bring lasting change. The local pastor was not to tell politicians how to best care for their citizens. The Church had no special insights into how to best regulate speed limits, drainage problems, or international trade. But she did possess the gospel of Jesus Christ which showed men and women their sin, pointed them to salvation, and then laid out the principles by which Christians could live loving and just lives. Instead of organizing marches, Lloyd-Jones called the local church to declare the “principles” that governed life. As the Doctor concluded,

“It is always wrong to talk about Christianizing anything. No such thing is possible.”

Instead of campaigning, preach.

The Doctor spent the second half of the book discussing the second coming of Christ. He showed readers the necessity of Christian suffering, the predictableness of human failure, and the hope of Jesus’s return. The Christian was not to think in terms of political cycles or sports seasons but in terms of eternity. Jesus would one day return to liberate the world from the curse of the fall. All other efforts to establish world peace and to final reform society would fail. Only the gospel could change the soul. And only the return of Christ would bring the gospel to bear on the entire universe. The Christian lived for eternity!   

Conclusion

The Doctor first shared the thoughts that became this book in a series of lectures that ran from November 1966 to May 1967 in his church located in London. Though Lloyd-Jones’s words are more than 50 years old, they prove ever relevant because they direct the reader’s soul back to the gospel. Moreover, like a good bottle of port stashed in a ship’s hull, the Doctor’s words have become sweeter and more poignant with age. Lloyd-Jones’s ideas reside in the realms of principle and cannot be dragged down into the particulars of any modern political debate. Readers do not have to fear that the Doctor has some hidden agenda or favorite candidate to prop up. In an age of rushed opinions and unrelenting political fury, Lloyd-Jones’s books serves as a harbor of refuge where readers may safely consider how to best bring the gospel to bear upon their political and cultural system. Even if you reject the Doctor’s view of limited political engagement, his arguments will undoubtedly help you chart your own voyage through these shifting waters.

If you only read one book this year, I encourage you to make it the The Exposition of Chapter 13: Life in Two Kingdoms.

May we all make it safely to Jordan’s Sunny shores.  

3 Helpful Advent Devotions

To keep Christ in Christmas, we need to do more than wear catchy slogans woven into tacky Christmas sweaters. We need to commit to reading the Scriptures, reflecting on the Biblical themes of expectation, fulfillment, peace, salvation, and redemption (to name a few) that comprise the Christmas story. I have found Advent devotionals to be useful tools. They have helped me and my little family to pause and reflect upon the glorious realites wrapped up with baby in the manger. If you are looking for a Christmas devotional that you or your family could use this December, I encourage you to grab 1 of the 3 titles below. If you currently don’t gather the kiddos or spouse for family worship, I encourage you to make use of this Christmas season. Grab a devotional and start a new tradition on December 1 built on the eternal truths of the Lord Jesus Christ. May we be faithful to make much of Jesus today and always!

Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent

John Piper packs 25 meaningful devotions into this 63-page book. Each devotion extends across 2-3 pages, beginning with a Scripture passage and ending with helpful applications that challenge our hearts. I came into contact with this book shortly after its publication in 2013 and have repeatedly returned to the volume because Piper writes with a simplicity and potency that beautifully illuminates the purpose of Christmas. April and I have used this book for our family devotions on more than one occasion. I encourage you to grab a copy of the book here. It gets even better. If your Christmas Bank Account has run dry or if you simply want to preview the book before committing to it, you can download it for free here.

Joy Upon Joy: An Advent Devotional

This short 128-page book features 25 Advent readings taken from the sermons of Charles Spurgeon. In typical Spurgeon fashion, the devotionals feature a short verse or phrase and then two pages of Spurgeon’s commentary on the meaning of the words followed by a few lines for notes and personal reflections. Spurgeon has a unique way with words that draw out the deep truths of Christmas. If you love Spurgeon, reading sermons, or desire to see Christmas through a slightly different and yet profound perspective, I encourage you to grab a copy of this devotional here. If you can handle reading the occasional old English phrase out loud, this book can well serve your family worship time. If you wish to explore Spurgeon’s Christmas sermons in more depth, I encourage you to visit the Spurgeon Library Website at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary here. And then, search for “Christmas”

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas

In this 142-page volume, editor Nancy Guthrie gifts her readers 22 devotions taken from sermons that have helped Nancy reflect upon the richness of Jesus’s birth. She taps into a wide selection of authors, featuring the thoughts of Augustine, Martin Luther, J.C. Ryle, Alistair Begg, and many more. The chapters feature a Scripture reading, followed by 3-5 pages of reflection, encouragement, and admonishment. Nancy designed her book to serve as a short evangelical Anthology of Advent that provides readers with the space and theology to taste the glories of Christmas anew. Though the volume does not translate well into family worship settings with little kids, I have benefited with the depth of this book and have referenced during my sermon prep. I encourage you to grab a copy here.

Book Review: The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Treager and Greg Gilbert

When Christians leave church on Sunday afternoon and step into office on Monday morning, many do so without the gospel. They leave that on coat rack at home with their kids’ backpacks. They will wear it again when they dive into their church’s midweek Bible study, pray with their family, or go to church. But the gospel seldom makes it to the work floor.

Sebastan Traeger and Greg Gilbert wrote The Gospel at Work: How Working For King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs to remind Christians that they need the gospel at work for it alone provides Christians with fulfillment. The two authors conclude,

No matter what you do, your job has inherent purpose and meaning because you are ultimately doing it for the King. Who you work for is more important than what you do .

They use the next 160 pages to tease out the implications of working for King Jesus.

The acessable book begins with a discussion of the two great errors that transform the beauty of God’s design for work into a mangled mess. Traeger and Gilbert warn, “we can let our job become our idol…on the other hand we can slip into being idle at work.” After providing the reader with six questions that will help him or her diagnose whether or not they have swerved into the ditches of either idolatry or idleness, the authors detail how the theology of the gospel should shape the Christian’s motivation for working. They encourage their readers to use their job as a means to love God, to love others, to reflect God through improving the world, to secure the money they need to care for their family, to find enjoyment, and to create a platform for gospel expansion. In short, Traeger and Gilbert believe the gospel can be boiled down to, “Work Hard, work smart, trust God (71).”

Though the gospel is simple, its influence upon the workplace is anything but trite. The authors reveal the extent of the gospel’s power as they wrestle with the following questions: “How do I choose a job? How do I balance work, church, and family? How do I handle difficult bosses and coworkers? What does it mean to be a Christian boss? How can I share the gospel at work? Is full time ministry more valuable than my job?”

These chapters highlight the book’s true value. The authors avoid the temptation to create a modern version of the 1950 homemaker books that turned societal expectations into morale codes. In the place of heavy burdens, the authors hand the readers freeing biblical principles that can be used by teenagers nervous about their first job and by executives looking for the next great thing. Concepts such prioritizing obedience to God and love for others above our felt needs shows the reader how to avoid jobs that will lead to to his or her financial or spiritual ruin. The decision-making pyrimid found on pages 77 and 81 alone makes the book a must have.

The authors show Christians that an effective work, church, and life balance consists of finding a job that enables one to provide for themselves, care for their families, and share with others. Successes is located in biblical principles as opposed to keeping up with this Christian or that Christian.

All these practical chapters are built around questions or principles that help the reader to tease out what is driving his or her perception of work. Each chapter also contains a list of questions that can be used by couples, counselors, or Bible study groups to further applicaiton and discussion.

The authors also reveal the sustaining power of God’s sovereignty. Instead of worrying about missing out on job opportunities or descending into petty office politics, the believer locates his confidence in the powerful hand of God who is working all things, even the dead-end job, together for his good. Traeger and Gilbert also note,

We compete by working at whatever we do with all our heart, not by undercutting and sabotaging the efforts of our coworkers.

The book should also be commended for addressing the bosses. While many books deal with complaining spirits and unbiblical competitiveness on the ground floor, few books speak to those who occupy the corner office on the second floor. Traeger and Gilbert’s go up the elevator. They remind employers that their authority comes from God. CEOs shuold use such authority to bless others though sacrificial service that should inturn create a platform for gospel expansion. In short, both the employee and the employer should view the jobsight as space for gospel living that will benefit others and facilitate evangelsim.

The authors believe God has sent Christians to career fields with a missional purpose. Christians who work can reach scores of people that would never pick up the phone if a pastor called. But the authors caution the Christian against merging either idolatry or idleness into one’s evangelism. Both the cutthroat Christian and the lazy Christian undermine the beauty of the gospel. To reach the lost, the Christian must work faithfully, speak honestly about God, and love others well while tapping into the resources of the church.

Though Traeger and Gilbert should be applauded for having given their readers a biblical understanding of how the gospel shapes work, their book could be enriched if they addresses issues related to gender. They only briefly touch on the role of motherhood as work. The also do not tease out how the roles of fatherhood and motherhood shape the discussion on work and life balance. Though the book could have been enriched, its content still proves helpful for both men and women who are thinking their work in light of the gospel.  

Those who bring the gospel to work with them will find work to be a joy because it ceases to be a race for money, power, or meaning. The authors correctly note, \

We don’t need work to make us loved or liked or accepted, nor do we need it to prove ourselves that we’re worthwhile. Why? Because all of that has already been secured for us by Jesus!

The Gospel liberates the Christian to work!

Do you know that joy? Are you bringing the gospel to your job?

If not or if you are like me need help thinking through the job-related questions that Traeger and Gilbert tackled, I would encourage you to read their book!