Kingdoms Apart: A Book for Providence

A three year work has finally come to fruition. This October, Dr. Ryan McIlhenny, professor of History and Humanities at Providence, received a box of 25 copies of the newly published book that he edited titled Kingdoms Apart: Engaging the Two Kingdom Perspective.

The book is unlike any other that has been written on the Neo-Calvinist or Two Kingdom perspectives. “I would say that there is a particular goal—not a thesis per se—in this work.  The intent is to defend and also offer a self-reflective critique or a sharpening of the tenets of neo-Calvinism,” says McIlhenny. Although there have been essays written in defense of the perspective, his is the first work in book form that defends Neo-Calvinism while still fairly engaging the Two Kingdom perspective.

Some readers may be wondering what “Two Kingdoms” or “Neo-Calvinism” mean. The introduction of Kingdoms Apart explains Neo-Calvinism and its roots. “Neo-Calvinism is equated with Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), who believed a well-worked out Calvinistic worldview was the best response to the secularizing tendency of modernism,” explained McIlhenny. This perspective acknowledges Christ’s sovereignty over every inch of creation, and therefore acknowledges that all of creation is part of Christ’s kingdom. If true, then Christians should engage creation as culture makers. This perspective would encourage institutions like Christian colleges.

The Two Kingdoms perspective asserts Christ’s rule over all creation, but believes that there are two Kingdoms within his rule—the kingdom of God and the civil kingdom.  The kingdom of God would be the church and activities within it and the civil kingdom would be temporary and earthly institutions and their activities, like schools or government. To people with the Two Kingdoms perspective, the kingdom of God is more important than the civil kingdom, because the civil kingdom does not deal with ultimate spiritual concerns whereas the kingdom of God does.

The idea for the book started with an essay McIlhenny had written examining Two Kingdoms and Neo-Calvinist theology. During a meeting with P&R Publisher’s Vice-President, Marvin Padgett, McIlhenny pitched the idea for the book. Padgett, as well as the Providence faculty, supported his idea and encouraged him to move forward with it.

McIlhenny began by sending out letters to academics who he believed would be interested in contributing to the book by defending the Neo-Calvinist position. After receiving little response, he sent out another letter and while he waited for responses, he began drafting the layout for the book and its description. McIlhenny asserts that waiting for writers to respond was perhaps the most difficult part of the process. He is glad to say that Dr. Scott Swanson, professor of Biblical Studies and Languages at Providence, never wavered in his commitment to the project.

The second letter he sent received more response. McIlhenny was pleased with the respondents, and the final draft of the book contains articles by scholars from several different reformed institutions. As mentioned before, one of the contributors was Providence’s own Dr. Swanson and another contributor was Providence alumni, Timothy Scheuers who is currently studying at Mid-America Theological Seminary.

The book is structured under three headings. The first defines the kingdom, the second looks at Christian citizenship in the kingdom, and the last section considers how Christians are to live as kingdom citizens. McIlhenny wrote the Introduction and the final chapter, and he edited the articles written by the other contributors. Each chapter contains a different topic written by a different author, but all the topics are interrelated.

Scheuers became involved in writing the book when McIlhenny and Swanson asked him to join the project in the summer of 2010, right after he graduated from Providence. Scheuers had written his senior capstone paper exploring the question, “How do we live as Christians in the public sphere?” Scheuers said, “Much of my chapter was composed in college and was revised and expanded for its inclusion in Kingdoms Apart.” He also commented on how privileged he was to be published among his professors from Providence and Mid-America.

Dr. Swanson’s article focuses on the meaning of the kingdom in the book of Revelation. He discusses the famous verse, “The Kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ” (Revelation 11:15). Swanson disagrees with most commentators on this passage, arguing that this verse is not a proclamation for the future but a declaration of the reality right now. He discusses the implications of how Christians should interact with culture if this is true.

Kingdom’s Apart has been recognized by a number of scholars and writers in the Reformed academic community. Gideon Strauss, Executive Director of Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary, Senior Fellow at Center for Public Justice, and former Providence adjunct professor, states, “This is not only an academic debate. Its outcomes will have broad implications for Christian schools, colleges, seminaries, and churches, and Christians in the academy, politics, business, the arts, and other realms of cultural activity. The essays in this volume contribute clarity to our understanding of what–and how much–is at stake.”

When asked why he dedicated the book to Providence, McIlhenny said, “Honestly, I never thought twice about the dedication page, which reflects the love I have for the Providence community.” Providence is located in one of the cultural centers of America, and even the world. “LA is a ripe field in which to bring kingdom witness,” explains McIlhenny. Part of Providence’s mission is to engage culture for the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel, which is a very Neo-Calvinist idea.

And what are Dr. Swanson’s words to the Providence community? “Just that it [the book] is awesome and everyone should buy it and read it. It’s not light devotional reading or anything but that’s good. You’re supposed to think.” And in his excitement, Dr. Swanson added, “Besides the kingdom is exciting!”

To purchase the book, click here