Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Dr. Mike Horton on the City of God and the City of Man

Recently I was preaching on the Hebrews 12:18-29 and the concept that believers are “receiving a kingdom” (v. 28) and the fact that all the kingdoms of this age will be shaken (vv. 26-27).  In his work The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way, Dr. Mike Horton offers an important and helpful insight about life in this present age.  Tucked into a section exploring biblical metaphors for the church he writes this as he discusses the metaphor of “city” as it is found in various places in Scripture:

“As the paradigmatic City of God, Eden was to expand outward from the garden itself until the glory of God filled the whole earth.  This was humanity’s commission in Adam…Eden, Like Adam and Eve themselves, was an earthly image of the heavenly reality, an analogue of God’s home and of God’s own triune communion…The fall shattered this unity of cult and culture: humanity now lived east of Eden, as the cherubim guarded the tree of life, barring reentry from all directions with a flaming sword (Gen. 3:24).  Living under a common curse, creation also shares in God’s common grace, which preserves all that God has made, even those who will not finally be preserved from God’s wrath on the last day.  The pseudo-temple of apostate civilization symbolized by Babel from Genesis 11 to Revelation 18 and 19 would be overthrown…

The goal of all biblical eschatology is that God’s dwelling would be with humanity.  After the fall, the cultural and cultic activities diverge into two distinct cities, with Cain’s line and Seth’s line, respectively.  Cain builds a city recognized for its cultural achievements (Gen. 4:17-24), while of Seth’s line we read, ‘At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD’ (v. 26).  The interaction between these two cities becomes the theater for the repeated showdowns between Yahweh and his covenant people (‘the seed of the woman’) on the one hand and Lucifer and his allies (‘the seed of the serpent’) on the other. 

Given the fact that cultural activity was part of the holy work of the cultural mandate in creation, building cities and civilizations is not inherently evil.  Rather, it is the corruption of the fallen heart that erects violent, oppressive, unrighteous, and idolatrous cities that are not only properly distinct from but rivals to the City of God.  Incapable of creating, Satan can only distort that which God makes, imitating God’s city-building while also using his antichurch as a means of destroying the true church.  We see this contest at the Tower of Babel with its sacred skyscraper attempting to conquer heaven as well as in the rivalry between Yahweh and Satan represented by Moses and Pharaoh, and in the conquest of Canaan with its holy wars in anticipation of the last judgment.  Of course, this trial reaches its apogee on Good Friday, and its outcome is secured on Easter morning, yet skirmishes continue to the end of the age.  Only on the last day will the cities of this world be made the City of God."   Pilgrims on the Way, pp. 727-728.

What I like about this quote is how Horton explains the City of Man, ruled by Satan, is a rival to the City of God.  Properly understood, this makes me wonder about common phrases like "redeeming the culture" or "redeeming the city" which are tossed around in reformed circles.  If the City of Man is at war with the City of God and is trying to supplant it, why do we go to such pains to get cozy with the culture?  Why do we look for church-planters who are good at contextualizing the Gospel instead of men who understand this tension and antithesis?  

I also like Horton's description of Satan's antichurch - false churches that wage war against the true church.  This puts into perspective the long list of churches that have gone astray.  They were infiltrated by the enemy and over time he has brought them down.  Some of them have fallen so far that they persecute those who preach God's Word.  This ought to be a stern warning for those who believe that it couldn't happen to them or to their denomination. 

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