‘Two Cities,Two Loves’, a Look at Christians and the Culture

‘Two Cities,Two Loves’, a Look at Christians and the Culture February 27, 2024

Over the years, lots of ink has been spilled discussing the problem and tension between Christ and the culture.  Most notably, the classic work from H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ & Culture – this is one of those books that has books written about it! For all of the depth that Christ & Culture gives us in examining the various models and relationships of Christianity and the culture, I find it thin on biblical exposition. Now to be fair to Niebuhr, this was not his aim. He was more concerned with examining the complexities of the relationship models, their ethics, and their challenges. It’s an excellent book on the front – truly a classic in the genre.

Nevertheless, while I found Christ & Culture helpful in a model and ethics analysis, as a Christian looking for biblical guidance and practical wisdom on how to live faithfully in the fallen world, it is thin. That is why when I heard that P&R Publishing was going to rerelease Two Cities, Two Loves: Christian Responsibility in a Crumbling Culture by James Montgomery Boice, I was eager to read it.

The book is broken up into two parts. The first part uses scripture to give a spiritual, moral, and practical basis for the conflict between Christians and the culture. With no exaggeration, I found this aspect of the book absolutely fascinating; I could not put it down. Boice was connecting dots that I had never fully made on my own. But in doing so, he explained so much about the condition of the world we live in today.

Using Augustine’s City of God as a sort of prototype, he demonstrates how the history of God’s people has given us tension/conflict with the world. At the heart of the matter, God’s people and their “city”, aim to live to glorify God, while the world’s “city” (seen in scripture multiple times as Babylon) is out for personal gain and self-ambition. While this might seem obvious on the surface to some, Boice does a phenomenal job of breaking this down in scripture and historical timelines between The Tower of Babel, Ancient Babylon, and the Babylon portrayed in Revelation. All of these instances are connected in the sense that they are Satan’s way of contending against God.

He ends this section by taking a deeper look at the life of Daniel. Daniel was a God-fearing man who lived amid the evil, Babylon empire. There are many lessons we can learn from Daniel. God used him in many ways, several of them unconventional. Yet, despite being faced with all the pressure the world could throw at him, he lived faithfully for God. This chapter was a highlight of the book for me and one I plan to revisit.

Having established the biblical basis for our Christian/cultural reality, Boice begins to address how that applies to us today in the second half of the book. Using the lessons and examples of men in scripture, Boice paints of picture of how God’s people should live in a culture that is morally bankrupt and crumbling.

I believe this book was originally written in the 90’s and it was interesting how relevant so many of the topics and approaches still are. Boice looks at our relationship with social issues, moral issues, government issues, and more. One of the elements of his take that I found interesting was his analysis of how many evangelicals have gone about cultural engagement thus far. Essentially, he criticized Christians for approaching issues only for their benefit while often ignoring the argument that is the greater good of society.

He writes, “If Christians are to gain a hearing in the rough and tumble of the political arena, they must be willing to fill the gaps, showing how a suggested program best expresses and advances the desired principle. Moreover, Christians must argue their case with unbelievers, appealing to them on behalf of what is good for them and society.”

He adds that if we only quote scripture at them and call them heathens, we will make no ground. I think a balanced approach here is what is needed: scripture + reason and think of Wilberforce and his multi-year effort to abolish the slave trade. It was reason, guided by scripture, and aimed for the moral good of all peoples.  Boice ends the book with a detailed look at Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17 and how serves as a guide for how we must behave in a fallen world.

I don’t often give star ratings for books. But it seems appropriate here. I recommend James Montgomery Boice’s Two Cities, Two Loves to you and give it 4.5 stars. I won’t say it’s a perfect book. But it is an extremely helpful and needed piece on the topic of culture.

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