23 March 2011

A clever attempt to refute Two Kingdom theology

The author of this post has been receiving quite a bit of attention. To many his argument deals a mighty blow to the advocates of Two Kingdom theology. It's worth a read and consideration. I've left it mostly intact, with a few responses. I have not read the Van Drunen book he is interacting with though I have certainly heard of it and have some familiarity with him. I've listened to some lectures and things and overall I am quite appreciative of where he's coming from.---Proto

Two Kingdoms, Ten Commandments, One Objection

9 February 2011

I recently read David VanDrunen’s A Biblical Case for Natural Law and Living in God’s Two Kingdoms. VanDrunen’s is the most scholarly, articulate, measured, and irenic defense of Two-Kingdom (2K) doctrine I’ve encountered. However, I have some questions about its application and a possible objection to it in principle.

VanDrunen argues that Christians live as citizens of two distinct “kingdoms”, both of which are instituted and governed by God. The “common” (or “civil”) kingdom was instituted in creation and formally established in the Noahic covenant. It is inhabited by all humans regardless of their spiritual state, it is governed by natural law alone, and it will not continue into the eschaton. Post-fall, the common kingdom is the realm of common grace. In contrast, the “spiritual” (or “redemptive”) kingdom is the exclusive realm of special grace, corresponding to the covenant of grace in its various historical administrations. It is inhabited only by believers and their covenant children, it is governed primarily by special revelation (i.e., Scripture), and it will endure for eternity.

I want to focus particular attention on what VanDrunen asserts about the role of Scripture in the two kingdoms. Although VanDrunen argues (correctly, in my view) that Scripture affirms the existence of natural law, understood as a divine moral standard revealed in the conscience and binding on all humans, he goes on to insist that the moral teachings of Scripture are intended only for those in the spiritual kingdom. Here are some representative statements from A Biblical Case for Natural Law:

Scripture is not the appropriate moral standard for the civil kingdom. (p. 38)

The Old Testament Scriptures were not given to the world at large but to the people of Israel. . . . Neither were the New Testament Scriptures given to the world at large but to the church, the new covenant people. Thus, there is a covenant reality — a redemptive reality — that grounds the moral instruction of Scripture. Biblical moral instructions are given to those who are redeemed and are given as a consequence of their redemption. The Ten Commandments, for example, provide not an abstract set of principles but define the life of God’s redeemed covenant people. (p. 39)

The point is that the moral instruction given in Scripture cannot be taken simply as the moral standard for the world at large. The purpose of Scripture’s moral instruction is to regulate and define the lifestyle of God’s redeemed covenant people. To lift the imperatives in Scripture from the context of the indicatives that ground them is to misuse Scripture and force it to serve purposes for which God did not give it. (p. 39)


I especially agree with the last sentence. This practice is the 'thrust' behind much if not most of  Christian culture war. The proponents of this view have a definite cultural agenda and they employ philosophical arguments in order call their positions Biblical. Their hope is that through proper teaching even the unbeliever will act to lesser or greater degrees...as Christians. They have two choices, either unbelievers help them shape the transformation they seek, or somehow there won't be unbelievers in the picture.

To do this and yet maintain the Reformed or Protestant tradition as well as a coherent philosophical model, they must use Scripture as Van Drunen says, "to serve purposes for which God did not give it."
And to do so contradicts the theology of the Scripture itself. The unbeliever cannot please God. His worship in any form, whether it be ecclesiastical, or in terms of Calling is unacceptable to God.

He cannot please God. He cannot understand His commands for they are rooted in His character and wisdom. Even if the Transformationalist notions concerning cultural transformation are rooted in Scripture they have a dilemma, because if they are 'Biblical,' then they especially don't apply to the unbeliever.

I would argue their whole paradigm is wrong and thus they're asking the wrong questions.

He continues:

Scripture is the sacred text given to God’s covenant people whom he has redeemed from sin. . . . Given its character, therefore, Scripture is not given as a common moral standard that provides ethical imperatives to all people regardless of their religious standing. (p. 53)

VanDrunen’s position couldn’t be clearer: Scripture serves as a moral standard only for the spiritual kingdom and not for the common kingdom.


I don't want to put words into Van Drunen's mouth. But Scripture serves as the STANDARD for the spiritual Kingdom, but that doesn't mean it is silent in regard to the world.

The Scriptures speak to the world…the message is- Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord. Repent and Believe.

It's a redemptive message. It is the standard, but the gospel serves as the gateway for the lost. The only standard the world needs to know is Repent and Believe.

After that...then we can start to talk about how the Christian relates to things like money, art, or politics.
He continues:

Let’s consider then a point of application. Over the last decade or so, there has been heated public debate in the US over whether or not the Ten Commandments should — or even may — be posted on the walls of courthouses. I heard recently that Dr. Peter Lillback, President of Westminster Theological Seminary, once publicly protested against the removal of the Ten Commandments from one particular courthouse — and he did so as a citizen rather than as a pastor (which he was at the time). It seems to me that VanDrunen’s position on this issue must be diametrically opposed to Lillback’s. Given what VanDrunen says about the proper place of Scripture, surely the Ten Commandments should be removed from courthouse walls. (Note particularly what he says about the Ten Commandments in the second quotation above.) A consistent 2K-er shouldn’t be merely indifferent to the issue. No, he should positively oppose the display of the Decalogue on courthouse walls, because that would constitute a clear confusion of the two kingdoms. The Decalogue as such is not applicable in the common kingdom.

So my first question is simply this: Am I right about this application of 2K doctrine?


I appreciate Lillback's carefulness in this matter even though I completely disagree with him. I also listened to the programme. The Ten Commandments should be removed and it is not at all inconsistent for a Two Kingdom proponent to say so.

The Law of God pertains to Scripture, to the economy of Redemption and when the state dares to take up the Covenant-Word when it ought not to….then the Church speaks and loudly.

Now perhaps our ideas of 'speaking' are different. Should the Church hire a lobbyist? File a lawsuit? Campaign for a referendum or a proposition? No.

The Church speaks on the issue and if asked makes its position clear. When all the Christo-Americans gather to pray at the Ten Commandment adorned Courthouse for a prayer vigil under the flag…the Two Kingdom Church won't be there. When asked why…they have an answer.

When a politician who supported their placement approaches members of the congregation looking for votes, it will be explained to him why they won't be voting for him.

When a member of the congregation attends the prayer vigil…it might be a matter for the elders to take up. That's open for debate.

The Church speaks and speaks on all these issues. The Church needs to be aware and informed and challenged to think about the issues….but the message to the world is Repent and Believe.

For those who dare to commit sacrilege by placing the Ten Commandments on their government building….a very loud Repent.

Can the Church take a similar position regarding abortion? Of course. Does that mean we picket, lobby, file lawsuits, and the rest? No. Those aren't the weapons the Church uses.

He continues:

I imagine many Christians today wouldn’t find that stance unreasonable. After all, they might say, America can no longer be considered a Christian nation, if indeed it ever was. It’s a pluralistic society allowing freedom of religion and freedom of irreligion. Christians and Jews may well recognize the Ten Commandments as divinely revealed moral laws, but Hindus and Buddhists do not. Why then should those particular religious laws be exhibited in a public courtroom? If justice is supposed to be blind, shouldn’t that include blindness toward religious affiliation?


Well said.

He continues:

But consider instead a society in which all are professing Christians. This isn’t purely hypothetical; there have been numerous such societies over the course of Christian history. (I’m not suggesting that everyone in those societies was a regenerate believer, of course; only that everyone was a professing believer and a baptized member of the church.) In such a society, everyone would acknowledge the Decalogue as divinely given and authoritative. It’s entirely plausible that no citizens would object to the Ten Commandments being displayed in the courthouse as a testament to the divine moral law that undergirds public justice. Yet according to VanDrunen’s position it would still be wrong to do so. Not merely unwise or impractical, but morally wrong. This strikes me as quite odd.


A society in which all are professing Christians is a Church that has apostatized. It isn't hypothetical I agree…it's impossible.

Ah, I see we have to redefine Christian. It's interesting because on the one hand I'm arguing with Baptists trying to get them to understand ideas like Covenant and Means and not trying to peer into people's hearts in order to see who is regenerate….

But on the other side I feel I have to argue against a lowest common denominator brand of Christianity where it is basically equated with a culture. I'm white. I'm Anglo-American, therefore I'm Christian.

95% of the people in the town I live would profess to be Christian. 99% of that 95% don't have a credible profession. How is that helping the state of the Church to acknowledge them as brethren, to treat their false churches as if they were somehow viable?

Constantinianism is destructive. The Church loses its identity and becomes one with the culture. While this is rapidly disappearing from urban and suburban America, I assure you it lives on strongly in rural America where I live.

Why would anyone want to put the Ten Commandments on the side of their building? Who told them to do that? A Christian Society? What is that? Where can I read about that? Is it somewhere in the gospels? The epistles?

Or is it a result of logical deduction flowing out of system commitments?

It strikes me as very odd that any Christian would want to hang the Decalogue on the side of a building. We're not under the Mosaic Covenant.

He continues:

Yet there is an even greater oddity here. VanDrunen’s 2K doctrine not only implies that he should oppose the display of the the Decalogue on a courthouse wall; it also implies that he could not oppose it as a point of public policy. Why? Simply because his 2K doctrine is based on the teachings of Scripture and not on natural law. (At any rate, VanDrunen makes his case for 2K doctrine from Scripture — it leans heavily on covenant theology — and it’s hard to see how one could make such a case apart from Scripture.) Since “politics is a matter of the common kingdom” (Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, p. 194) and the common kingdom is ruled by natural law alone, any point of public policy based on 2K doctrine cannot be defended in the civil sphere as a point of public policy. This strikes me as very odd.


While this seems clever it demonstrates once again that Dominionists cannot grasp a position that doesn't assume their goals, definitions and objectives.

The Church speaks to Redemptive issues. The State taking up the task of proclaiming the Word is huge. The State has not only taken up the Beast mantle, it's turning the Church into the False Prophet. The Whore (as it were) is crawling onto its back, joining it in its Pseudo-Kingdom quest. As I was teaching my children tonight when we were discussing Matthew 5...it's when people take the verse about the City on the Hill and instead of applying it rightly to the Chuch, they apply it to a so-called 'Christian' State.

We're warned of it in Scripture. It leads to the fulfillment of Apocalyptic imagery. The Church speaks and speaks loudly against this.

But again…do we hire a lawyer? Lobby? Get behind a politician?

We would never stoop to such a level and employ such absurd means to build the Kingdom of God. We proclaim it with power and warn those, especially those in a state that would dare to pervert God's Word.

That's not politics. That's proclamation.

To turn to culture war and politics to accomplish Kingdom goals is a lack of faith in the power of God's Word. I don't how else to put it.

He continues:

These considerations suggest a more general objection to 2K theories — one that doesn’t depend on the specific policy issue considered above. It’s important to see that 2K theories aren’t merely descriptive; they make substantial normative claims. Specifically, they make ethical claims about how Christians should conduct themselves as citizens of the two kingdoms. Christians ought to recognize and rightly apply the distinction between the two kingdoms. Consequently, Christians ought not to appeal to Scripture in their moral dealings with unbelievers, because Scripture is intended only for God’s covenant people and thus it is “not the appropriate moral standard for the civil kingdom” (A Biblical Case for Natural Law, p. 38, my emphasis).

But this observation invites a question: According to which moral standard do these ethical directives apply? As I see it, there are three possible answers here: (1) according to natural law, the moral standard of the common kingdom; (2) according to Scripture, the moral standard of the spiritual kingdom; or (3) according to some higher law that transcends and encompasses both kingdoms.


This is not accurate. We do appeal to Scripture in our dealings with unbelievers. That's why in many cases we can't participate in what they're doing. When Christians take oaths to uphold laws or codes and then try to subvert those laws or codes by imposing Christian ethics they prove themselves liars and violators of the oaths.

We walk in integrity and that will often mean we have to turn away from certain jobs and tasks. We employ Scripture with the unbeliever…proclaiming Jesus Christ. You want the unbeliever to change his behaviour? Get him converted.

He continues:

The problem with (1) is that, as I’ve noted, it appears one cannot justify 2K doctrine on the basis of natural law alone; a fortiori, one cannot justify the ethical directives of 2K doctrine on the basis of natural law alone. So that option doesn’t seem remotely viable.


That's not coherent. No one is trying to justify Two Kingdom theology from Natural Law. It's not about the Christian's application of ethics, it's about the expectation that we as Christians have with regard to the unbeliever.

We live by the Word of God…they cannot.

We live with them in the Common Realm…it's inescapable.

We proclaim the Word but live with them under Natural Law. That's the best that we can hope for from them. When they're converted, presumably by coming into contact with those proclaiming the Word, they will come under the authority of God's Word. They will do so willingly, in faith. One way or another all are under Authority, but apart from the Holy Spirit, they're under Judgment and Condemnation. Pretending to obey God's commands only increases their guilt and makes it harder for them to grasp the gospel. Why? The antithesis is blurred and the definition of what a Christian is becomes obscured.

The whole difficulty here is the author is still assuming the Transformationalist Social Agenda. If you're assuming that…then yes, Two Kingdom theology is problematic and won't work.

If Transformationalism is wrong…then the drivers behind most of your questions evaporate.

If the Two Kingdom model is correct, then not only do the Transformationalist concerns disappear, they're mindset and agenda are proven to actually be quite harmful and dangerous.

He continues:

The problem with (2) is that Scripture only applies to the spiritual kingdom and therefore only applies to Christians as citizens of the spiritual kingdom. But the ethical directives in question must apply to Christians as citizens of both kingdoms. After all, when Christians act as citizens of the common kingdom rather than as citizens of the spiritual kingdom (e.g., when voting in a presidential election) they still have to act according to the ethical directives of 2K doctrine; but if those directives come from Scripture, that would involve an inappropriate application of the spiritual kingdom’s moral standard to matters of the common kingdom.


It might mean that we can't vote. Or it might mean we vote knowing that both of the candidates are wicked and that we don't have a lot of expectation from either of them. There is no contradiction here.

On one level there was no one to vote for in 2008.

On another level I could say there was specifically someone to oppose…McCain/Palin. Their theological underpinnings were blasphemous. That doesn't mean that I'm saying the only alternative was to vote for Obama. Not at all.

Obama professes to be a Christian (as do all American politicians) but it's an open joke and not to be taken any more seriously than Regan, Bush I, Clinton, or many others.

Now if I can't vote for Obama, then I guess there wasn't anyone to vote for.

Third Party maybe, but there aren't any there I'd support either.

I don't like Obama…he's proved himself to be the third term of George Bush, but I could not vote for McCain/Palin. That was unthinkable.

He continues:

Finally, the problem with (3) is that 2K theories simply have no place for a higher law that transcends and encompasses the kingdoms — a third moral standard distinct from the standards of the two kingdoms. In other words, accepting (3) would amount to either a modification of 2K doctrine that leaves it unrecognizable or a wholesale abandonment of it.


And again we're back to…how does the unbeliever participate in the Kingdom of God? How do the unregenerate worship God?

There is a real failure here to distinguish between the Reign of Christ....as Universal Lord and Creator-King/Coming Judge and the Realm of Christ as the special Holy Kingdom ruled by a Risen Saviour King.

Christ is Lord of all to be sure, but pre-eschaton he relates to mankind very differently. Without this, a proper Biblical antithesis evaporates.

To be in the world but not of it becomes meaningless.
He continues:

Call this general objection to 2K theories the meta objection: 2K theories involve ethical directives that are either applied inconsistently or else depend on a meta-standard that calls the whole scheme into question. One tempting response to this objection is to say that Christians are always bound to follow the moral teachings of Scripture, even though unbelievers are not so bound (being governed only by natural law). Thus, while unbelievers are not expected to observe the ethical directives of 2K doctrine, Christians are expected to do so — at all times and in all circumstances.


The unbeliever is condemned for not obeying the commands of God. The difference is…I can't legislate his obedience.

What happened to the Holy Spirit?

He continues:

The problem with this response is that it simply isn’t a consistent 2K response. As expounded by VanDrunen, the central thesis of 2K doctrine is not that the world is divided into two groups — Christians and non-Christians — with a different moral standard for each group. Rather, it is that the world is divided into two kingdoms — the common and the spiritual — with a different moral standard for each kingdom. Moreover, Christians are dual citizens. Thus, when Christians act as citizens of the common kingdom (e.g., when engaged in politics) they should observe the standard of that kingdom, and when they act as citizens of the spiritual kingdom (e.g., when engaged in church discipline) they should observe the standard of that kingdom. The whole point of the 2K doctrine is that we need to honor the two kingdoms and their distinct standards. But it’s precisely that ethical dualism which gives rise to the meta objection.


That's inaccurate. Again I can't speak for Van Drunen, but we act as Christians ALWAYS.

The difference is expectation. I don't expect the unbeliever to act like a Christian apart from the redeeming work of the Holy Spirit.

I don't believe the Common Realm will be transformed into the Holy Realm.

So when I approach the Common Realm and lost people, I'm not looking for anything. I have zero hope that they will help me in building the Kingdom. Their dreams of nations and societies are dung, fit for the fire.

I'll help build the city, but I won't hope in it.

I'll pray for its peace, but my life, security, and happiness aren't dependent upon it.

I'll vote in their elections, participate in society…but I won't compromise my faith. What exactly does this participation look like? It's not always clear. It's not always concrete. We have to use wisdom. Sometimes I can overlook something because there's a larger issue. Other times I cannot. I'm not looking for perfection now or tomorrow. My expectations are low. My main task isn't to build Babylon, it's to build Zion. That's what really matters.

I'm not going to vote for a Hitler because he's against abortion. Could I vote for the guy opposing Hitler who is ambivalent about abortion? It takes wisdom, you decide.

We have an entirely different way of looking at all of this. We're not even remotely on the same page, but the dualism you're accusing us of is a bit of a caricature. There are dynamics all through Scripture. This is another instance, but to accuse Two Kingdom thought as embracing some kind of light and darkness principle found in Gnosticism as is often done is simply dishonest and unhelpful.

At no time is any Two Kingdom advocate saying that you cease to be a Christian or leave your Christian faith behind when you step out the door. That is inaccurate.

If making a distinction, a dualism between Christians and non-Christians is Dualism...then I'm guilty.

He finishes:

If I’ve properly understood VanDrunen’s position and its implications, this would appear to present quite a serious problem for it (and for similar 2K theories). If I haven’t properly understood it, I’d certainly welcome any correction! At any rate, I hope these animadversions will provoke further reflection on both the theory and the practice of 2K doctrine.


I hope anyone reading this can see the problem here. They have an expectation. They have presuppositions driving them to ask a multitude of questions I would argue the Scriptures give no warrant to ask. The expectations aren't there.

They cannot conceive of a Kingdom without this vision and thus they are completely baffled by those who reject it.

The author is quite intelligent and has thought out his argument and to be sure Two Kingdom theology under a Dominionist lens is completely non-sensical. That's basically what he's come up with.

But the same can be said for Dominionist Theology under a Two-Kingdom lens.

What is the Kingdom of God? What is the Common Realm? Will the Common Realm be transformed? Can a nation or society be Christian? Is Christendom a valid concept in light of Scripture? Do unbelievers help the Church build the Kingdom of God?

These are the questions that must be answered. Our answers are in diametric opposition so it is no wonder that when it comes to the application of ethics in something like the Ten Commandments on a wall or voting in an election that we're not even on the same planet.

Based on the Van Drunen quotes I've seen here…that's a book I need to pick up.


David said...

Couple of things I noticed. Though I don't believe he does it on purpose, he seems to misrepresent the R2K position. This is the problem with logical arguments: if your presuppositions are faulty everything you build upon them are likely to be faulty as well.

He writes: "VanDrunen’s position couldn’t be clearer: Scripture serves as a moral standard only for the spiritual kingdom and not for the common kingdom."

On the contrary, (and as you indicated above) it's not that it's not applicable to all areas of life, it's just not enforceable upon all people. He presents it as though 2K folks only believe that scripture speaks into the spiritual realm. On the contrary, (as far as I know) they believe it speaks to all areas of life but that only those who have chosen to enter into a covenant relationship with God (i.e. the Church) have a sufficient reason for submitting to the teaching of the scriptures. For those who have entered into this relationship, scripture speaks to all areas of their lives - all of their actions and decisions including their participation in the common realm. It dictates what the life of a Christian living as a pilgrim among non-believers ought to look like. For those who haven't entered into relationship with God, they find the contents of the scriptures meaningless and without authority or relevance to any aspect of their life. It is not the church's role to forcibly coerce the unregenerate to live as though they were regenerate.

He describes a hypothetical society in which all members were professing Christians but not all were regenerate. However, I must ask, if they were unregenerate could they truly "acknowledge the Decalogue as divinely given and authoritative," as he says, or would they just be paying it lip service. Or perhaps they would merely refrain from revealing how they really felt for fear of being put to death as a heretic.

Finally, I found fault with his attempt to argue that 2K thought is self-refuting based on his assertion that there are only three possible options: “(1) according to natural law, the moral standard of the common kingdom; (2) according to Scripture, the moral standard of the spiritual kingdom; or (3) according to some higher law that transcends and encompasses both kingdoms.”

Once again, he argues against #2 as though 2K people believe that scripture only applies to the spiritual kingdom, but this is not so. Scripture is the higher law encompasses and is applicable to all aspects of life (spiritual and common), but it is only binding for spiritual people. He thinks he's logically dismantled the position, but he's just misrepresented it.

Protoprotestant said...

Well said.

We're dealing with a different set of questions that flow out out of more fundamental questions...

What is the nature of the Kingdom?

Your answer determines your drivers...your driving and probing questions. Since I answer the Kingdom question differently, I'm not even entertaining half the issues many 1k/dominionist types focus on.

This issue is only going to pick up steam. I see a big rift coming in Reformed circles. It's already there, but it's going to get worse.