26 March 2014

Two Articles on Reformed Two Kingdom Theology (I)

For some readers this is revisiting old ground. But some find it helpful to continually revisit these basic themes. These two posts are responses to two articles. The articles are fairly brief and helpful in providing a matrix for this discussion. I hope that those who are still struggling with understanding these issues can read these pieces and my responses and in the end come to a fuller understanding of just what is at stake.

The first piece is well written and helpful to those who are trying to understand something of the controversies that are raging over Two Kingdom theology. This is compounded by the fact that there are in reality several variations of this teaching, and some with significant differences.

In this piece Evans is dealing with some of the Reformed varieties which actually differ from my own position which is more akin to a Medieval or Anabaptist understanding of these issues.

Thus when Evans mentions people like Van Drunen and Michael Horton it must be emphasized that while they technically hold to a variety of Two Kingdom theology, there's is not the same as what I or many others would hold to. He also mentioned Daryl Hart who is sometimes referred to as a proponent of Radical Two Kingdom Theology by his enemies. Actually I would probably go even further than Hart but generally I am far more appreciative of his positions than those of Van Drunen or Horton. Hart is not alone, but his name is most often associated with the 'radical' label.

Since I believe the heart of this issue has to do with our understanding of the antithesis between the Kingdom of God and the world, 'radical' is a label I happily embrace.

Horton's position while certainly preferable to that of most Reformed ideas concerning the Kingdom stems from a mix of Lutheran theology and an adherence to the ideas of Abraham Kuyper. From my perspective it's a strange mix of Two Kingdom theology with a sort of Dominionist twist. Reading his books I find that I strongly agree with much of what he says in theory but then when he gets to application I find myself almost completely disagreeing with him.

There's a strict separation of the 'spheres' (a concept I reject) but more positively Horton definitely does not have an expectation of a complete victory for Christendom like what we might find with Postmillennialists. While that may sound strange that I wouldn't find that desirable, if you grasp the Christendom itself is a false concept, indeed a form of apostasy, then you will comprehend my meaning.

In terms of Kuyper's Sphere Sovereignty model, the problem lies in the fact that while Kuyper tries to separate the realms of authority and nature of mission between the spheres of state, church and family, it's all for nothing because the state and culture are still placed within the context of the Kingdom of God...the work of the Holy Spirit. This doctrine is alien to the New Testament.

Van Drunen is perhaps thinking along similar lines but has worked to emphasize the role of Natural Law for use in the formulation of social morality...the realm of the world that is not specifically Redemptive or redeemed by the Holy Spirit.

The difference would be that contrary to the caricatures given by Two Kingdom critics,  I believe that applying our faith to all of life will mean that there's much in the world that is simply beyond hope of redemption.  In fact I argue we're not even taught or told to think in those terms.

Our best hope is stable, peaceful functionality for the Church to preach the Gospel. Notions of justice, Godly ethics or some kind of Christian stamp on legislation are not only beyond the scope of the Church's mission but in light of Biblical theology completely futile.

At best we're just trying to make Babylon work a little better but even at its best, it's still just Babylon and that's all it will ever be.

A Moral Babylon is still at its heart pagan and evil. This is why it is very dangerous when we cover it with Christian trappings and try to sanctify its evil pagan deeds.

Evans emphasizes the Kingdom of God is something bigger than the Church. He would include the contributions of civilization. This view is contrary to the New Testament teaching that the Kingdom is Redemptive, that it is a work of redemption by the Holy Spirit. God has not come to redeem culture. The world will be redeemed and purified by fire and the Holy world we look for and its 'culture' are in Christ and in the Age to Come. At present that holy culture can only be found within the confines of the Holy Nation, the Temple of Zion, the Church of Jesus Christ.

Evans falls into the mistake of thinking that Two Kingdom theology is dismissive of the world or thinks that somehow our Christianity or Christian ethics are dispensed with as we go out into the world. On the contrary, we are deliberately conscious of the fact we are Christians and that there is an antithesis. The Scriptures tell us (the people in Covenant with God) how to interact with world in terms of power, economics, work and all the rest. The difference is we're going to say these things cannot be redeemed and thus there is no specific 'blueprint' or agenda in how to transform these things.

Detractors like Evans take that to mean that we're ignoring the issue or believe we just act like pagans with no moral understanding. Ironically I would point out that is in fact what they end up doing. Medieval Christendom followed the same pattern.

By viewing the world as the Kingdom or potential Kingdom they consequently sanctify a great many ideas and concepts that have no business being sanctified... or to put it another way, things are blessed and viewed as virtuous which are in many cases sinful.

Again I point to the idea that a dressed up Babylon with 'angels in the architecture' is in fact more dangerous and deceptive and in the case of Medieval Christendom anti-Christian. At least the thousands of persecuted Christians thought so and denounced the Papacy and Medieval Christendom as Antichrist.

They did not view knights, castles and cathedrals as manifestations of a glorious Christian civilization. This was the evil system they denounced and which persecuted them. This was little more than baptized idolatry and violence.

Today many have re-embraced the Medieval concept of Christendom. They do not wish to revisit it in terms of how it was conceptualized under the Papacy but they embrace the general idea. The debate in their circles is over how much to try and preserve/re-capture vs. whether to try and start anew.

Some Two Kingdom advocates have erred in trying to find historical roots in Augustine's City of God. While Augustine is certainly a bit more nuanced than some of the later alternatives, in the end his view proved more than compatible with the ascendant Constantinianism of his day. Augustine is to be appreciated on many fronts but not on this one.

The Lutheran version of Two Kingdoms is often cited by people like Horton and others who wish to criticize the more 'radical' version which I am an adherent of. When it's convenient they use Luther against us, implying we're not the 'real' Two Kingdom view. And when inconvenient some turn to deceit and blame Two Kingdom theology for the German Church's acquiescence to the Nazis. Both assessments are mistaken.

First, Luther's own teachings which are actually similar to Augustine were never followed. Cuius regio, eius religio or 'Whose realm, his religion' is not Luther's view and yet that became the dominant understanding of German religion in the centuries which followed. Basically this was state Christianity and this legacy continued even after German Unification in the 19th century as the Prussian Kaisers tinkered with the Protestant State Church as they willed.

If you wish to blame any one reason for the German Church's capitulation to Hitler it must be found in sanctified nationalism, the idea that Germany and German-ness were Christian and thus since Hitler was restoring and enhancing these ideas they could (at least in part) embrace his overall vision. That's what Niemoller and others testified. That's why the followed Hitler.

Sanctified Nationalism as I have called it is a direct fruit and necessary consequence of Sacralism, this form of thinking that confuses 'this world' with the Kingdom of God and believes everything in culture (and thus the state) plays a role in advancing the Kingdom.

It is a powerful force that produced not only Medieval Christendom, but the later Empires and was used to justify racist policies and certainly played no small role in the justification of slavery both in the American South and certainly in places like South Africa.

Evans blames Luther's view for the rise of secularism, but this is also reductionist if not misguided. The Roman Catholic social consensus had been eradicated and no one could agree on what the Bible actually taught. The divisions within Protestantism meant the Bible alone could not be the basis for a unified society.

This generated a new era of re-thinking and examination which would in the end (and certainly after a century of warfare) lead to the Enlightenment. The Reformation itself is indirectly to blame for the later rise of secularism.

Evans turns to Calvin and though some Two Kingdom advocates (mostly associated with Westminster West in California) have erroneously tried to claim the Genevan Reformer, the reality is Calvin was clearly an unabashed Theocrat. Evans would prefer this labeling and I will certainly not argue with him. Only those who are playing the heritage-claim game are going to display an interest in trying to read Calvin otherwise.

I found Evans' comments regarding the Lutheran Law-Gospel hermeneutic and how it differs from Reformed thinking to be helpful. While I wouldn't agree with Horton's understanding of Two Kingdoms, Evans indicates some Lutheran influence in some Two Kingdom thinking. This is true. In fact I would go further and say that Horton and some of those associated with him are in fact Crypto-Lutherans within the Reformed camp and yet are trying to still 'claim' themselves as the proper heirs of the Reformed heritage. Neither claim is of any interest to me as I have no stake in their struggle, but I appreciate Evans' comments.

The Southern Presbyterian Church is often blamed (at least in part) for the modern manifestation of Two Kingdom theology in Reformed circles. Their famous concept of 'Church Spirituality' is often cited. I think this assessment is myopic. First I don't think it has had a great deal of influence in Presbyterianism and even less so in the contemporary South where the Southern tradition is venerated.  

One thinks of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. This school perhaps more than any other wishes to perpetuate the Southern Presbyterian tradition. I can assure you the 'spirituality' doctrine is not something that is being presently emphasized. If anything it's a bit of a dilemma for them, a source of embarrassment. There are (or were) a handful of Neo-Confederates there, but the heart of that movement in today's venue is hardly a call for silence and retreat on political issues.

I think the 'spirituality' doctrine was largely a mechanism for disentangling the Southern body from the thorny politics of slavery and is effectively dead. On occasion I will hear some of the Westminster West men refer to it but it's hardly something they wish to evoke or emulate as the context is awkward.

Finally I found it ironic and not a little amusing that Evans would accuse Two Kingdom theology of not properly appreciating the 'dialectical' continuity between the Old and New worlds. To Evans we have over-emphasized the fact that passages like 2 Peter 3 clearly teach this world and all of its works will burn. Evans is one who would hope to see the contributions of so-called Christian culture in heaven. We will have Bach, Rembrandt, Newton and Wren in heaven. Thus since they are redeemed they are worth cultivating and fighting for.

Again it must be emphasized that it is Evans position which has rejected dialectical tensions and sees the Kingdom in 'Monistic' terms. His view is Sacralist and in the end destroys the notions of antithesis (itself a dialectic) and the idea that we are pilgrims dwelling in a world ruled by the prince of the power of the air.

While speaking that way is bothersome to some it is in fact Scriptural. Paul made his statement after the Ascension and enthronement of Christ. There is a dialectical or dynamic tension as we live in the world and yet are not of it.

Evans and those like him fail to distinguish between the Reign of Christ which is 'Already' universal but at the same time 'Not-Yet' in terms of time and space. He reigns as YHWH the Creator and ultimately the Judge. But his Holy Realm is the Kingdom of God which is not of this world or this age.

The dialectical tension exists between This Age and the Age to Come. This is at the heart of the antithesis between the Church and the world. We are not of this world and thus this world and its works are not part of our Kingdom. Civilization is not in Covenant with God. It has not and in fact cannot be redeemed by the work of the Holy Spirit. Where do we read that Christ died for culture, the arts and sciences or political constructs? It is Evans who has failed to grasp this dialectic and the many more concerning the Kingdom which run throughout Scripture.

Evans ends with a statement regarding the Reformed Tradition. And that's what this fight is really about. If you're outside their camp as I am they have no interest in even interacting with you. You are dismissed as a Gnostic or Anabaptist of which I am neither. Ultimately this fight is political within the battlefield of denominations and the narratives attached to Confessional traditions.


Cal P said...

Good reminder post. Always happy to read and revisit and turn over, again and again, of knowing what the Kingdom is, being in the world not of it.

I suppose we'd disagree over Augustine and Luther! I see the former of understanding things better, but his ideas being grafted onto a triumphalistic, syncretic Eusebian conception of the church and Caesar/Roman-society. Of course Augustine was born in that world already, so he's molded by such assumptions.

Luther significantly changed after Worms. While later Lutherans would systematize him, he had already thrown his lot in with the princes. His two-kingdoms did in some ways become a "Sunday-Christian" approach. You've been redeemed, in spirit, but you're an earthly citizen. So go be the best hangman, if you are to be a hangman, that you can be.

Luther's willing to talk of the Kingdoms as the two-hands of God instead, as Augustine does, as two distinct cities, one under the direct reign, and the other as providentially maintained.

What gets lost at times is that while the believer is holy, she can handle things that are unholy and profane them. It's a matter of the heart. It takes ethics out of a rigid doctrinaire formula and places it in the purview of wisdom.

While Calvin may have been the theocrat, in a smaller, renaissance sort of way, he wasn't the only voice amongst the Reformed. Of course, that ought to draw a big question mark over people who squabble over owning the legacy. It's too broad. It ends up being a "I'm of Paul; I'm of Apollos" discussion.

The question is who is being faithful to the Lord's teaching, not whether you can fit in this or that box.


Anonymous said...

I am exasperated with every reformed person who I have ever heard or read criticize my "apolitical" faith. They all say that "we" end up withdrawing from the world, or overspiritualizing the role of the Church, or that we are gnostics, or end up not making any influence nor impact on the world. Not so! Not at all. And even by lobbing that criticism, aren't they using utilitarianism rather than Scripture in their critique? As if they just take it as a given that the Church is to transform this world; and since our theology won't, it must therefore be wrong. But the root question they should be considering is: Is it Scriptural that the Church is to transform this world, its systems, and its wisdoms? We say no. Rather that the mission of the Church in and to this world IS THE SAME AS HER MASTER'S and BRIDEGROOM'S! Jesus came to seek and save, to redeem, to live out by the Spirit the redemptive will and power of God, to TRIUMPH OVER the ruler of this world by submitting Himself to the Father's will in being the LAMB Who laid down His life--totally opposite of the wisdom of the world which seeks power to rule and exploit and promote self.


Anonymous said...

The issue is about covenant: who/what comprise the covenant people of God? Not states nor cultures nor denominations; only regenerated called-out individuals living corporately.

I'm glad to read you emphasizing the antithesis between world and Kingdom, because that is what sacralism lacks and obscures. And that lack of Scriptural antithesis IS historic to first-century church and persists, yea in minority pockets at times, through all of church history. But these theologians and their followers are ignorant of that history.


Anonymous said...

I am not very familiar with the reformed 2K positions. I come to my convictions from a decidedly NON reformed angle, a more Anabaptist type understanding I think. Luther, Calvin, and Horton are not even in my radar. Evans' article helps me understand why I have gotten the responses from reformed guys when we've tried to argue our position from Scripture. Why are they calling me a gnostic and assuming I have no impact on the world? Truth is, I've done more works of real preaching, mercy, and helps with great impact in more remote and difficult places on earth at greater personal cost than most of them probably have. Now that's to the glory of the Lord and a humble honor to me that I don't deserve. But I did those works not to make the world a better place, but because the love of the redeeming God constrained me and enabled me. In simple words, I just did it because I love Jesus and He loves them and He offered me the opportunity to continue His works.

Our ministry and effect comes from the fact that Jesus has already secured His Kingdom, and bids us to co-labor with Him via the Holy Spirit in bringing people into it; whereas their view is that we must strive to bring the Kingdom rule to people. Actually, for all their Calvinistic touting of grace and Sola Fide, their practice smells kinda of works salvation to me. It is often haranguing the sheep to "do more" but usually by way of voting and signing petitions and picketing and cluck-clucking our tongues about those reprehensible sinners and such.

Interesting that Jesus said we should SEEK the Kingdom, (and preach the kingdom)but I don't think we're ever told in the New Testament scriptures to "advance" His Kingdom. ("Advance" is a very popular word in those circles.) Each of those verbs will result in quite divergent attitudes and postures!


Anonymous said...

Another huge point this author doesn't mention, is the issue of scriptural means. They have baptized unscriptural means for the Church (well sure, because they pursue an unscriptural end!) And this, I would contend, is the main reason why we say they make the Church ineffective. We think they dissipate the energies of the Church into soulish activities that cannot bring the true Blessing. One of the OT prophets writes about the false shepherds who lead the people from mountain to mountain but don't lead them to nourishing pasture--I will look that up. Makes me wonder about the 7 mountain mandate transformationalist concept which is quite prevalent, even in reformed streams, (if Christian radio is any indication)though it may not go under this blatant label. Sphere authority, dominionism, culture war, patriots--they all have this basic hallmark of monistic view. Many nag and drive their sheep to go from "mountain to mountain" with fear-mongering, guilt tripping, and terrible exegesis.

I'll bring this ramble to a close here. Thank you for allowing me a chance to think out loud. I hope anyone rading can follow my ramble and perhaps the Lord will continue to lead us into all Truth together, as iron sharpens iron. Great read, Proto. I can't wait to read part 2.