Neo-Calvinist lions have buried the hatchet with two-kingdom lambs, at least according to Matt Tuininga’s report on Mike Horton’s roundtable discussion of 2k with Covenant College faculty earlier this week:
When it comes to the two kingdoms doctrine and Christian liberal arts institutions like Covenant College (the college of the Presbyterian Church in America) in Lookout Mountain, Georgia there may not be that much conflict after all. That, at least, is the conclusion to which one might come in response to a panel discussion on the topic yesterday between Michael Horton, a professor at Westminster Seminary California, and several Covenant College faculty.
The proof of agreement (though Dr. K. is not buying) comes from a list of propositions that Horton believes 2kers and neo-Calvinists affirm. I paste them below italicized but offer comments in normal font. I do so not to be disagreeable but to attempt to clarify the disagreements (I still regard Mike as a better drinking companion than Mark Dever, and now we have a lot to discuss over adult beverages):
1) Both clearly distinguish the form of cultural and political engagement obligatory on Christians from the model of Old Testament Israel.
If neo-Calvinists look to the Bible for models of political engagement, where are they looking other than the Old Testament since the New Testament is silent on political strategies unless you count “my kingdom is not of this world” as a form of political engagement. In which case, the neo-Calvinist insistence on biblical politics (see James Skillen) paves the way for theonomy even if Kuyperians are uncomfortable with Greg Bahnsen.
2) Both maintain a sharp critique of the militancy and culture war mindset that marks much of the Christian Right, which has its own version of the social gospel.
Since many neo-Calvinists do actually denounce 2kers for not lending adequate support to the culture wars or for criticizing statements like the Manhattan Declaration (think Chuck Colson, Nancy Pearcey, and some disciples of Francis Schaeffer — say, didn’t Schaeffer have a connection to Covenant?), I am waiting to see the neo-Calvinist critique of culture war militancy. Criticizing the evangelical baptism of the Republican Party and George W. Bush does not count.
3) Each perspective affirms basic neo-Calvinist concepts concerning common grace, the antithesis, and sphere sovereignty.
This is one of the more agreeable affirmations in the list, but the fine print is important. Since some neo-Calvinists construe the antithesis in a way that obliterates the proximate goods of the earthly secular city, or insist that special revelation must interpret general revelation (fine, but what if the Bible is silent on plumbing?), affirmation of antithesis is not going to produce synthesis. Meanwhile, this 2ker finds the notion of common grace unhelpful. Christianity already has good doctrines — creation and providence — that teach what common grace attempts to affirm. Adding grace to something common only gives license for speaking about realms like culture and politics redemptively. As for sphere sovereignty, see here.
4) Both seek to distinguish the work proper to the institutional church (church as organization) and the way in which believers serve Christ and witness to his kingdom in every area of life (church as organism).
Perhaps, but all of that talk about kingdom work and every member ministry leaves me thinking that neo-Calvinists share with evangelicals an inability to understand the kingdom of Christ aright, that is, as a realm of redemption (as opposed to creation and providence). In other words, the American Historical Association is not but the visible church is, as the Westminster Confession teaches, the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
5) Both agree that Christians cannot bring the kingdom of God to earth through their cultural work.
If this is true, why did Abraham Kuyper describe the cultural task as holy?
6) Each perspective insists that Scripture has much to say about how Christians should be involved in culture through their vocations.
Maybe, but 2kers are much more cautious about reaching for their Bibles to justify their political, philosophical, or scientific convictions and tasks. That is to say, that 2kers come closer to the Belgic Confession’s distinction between the books of general and special revelation than Kuyperians do. Those cosmological passages (e.g. Col. 1:15-20) give neo-Calvinists inches that look like the entire canon.
7) Both agree that the church must proclaim what the word of God says about God’s law to the state, while avoiding false claims to expertise in matters of economics or policy.
Actually, 2kers are much more inclined to cite Westminster Confession chapter 31.4 on the church’s duty to refrain from meddling in civil affairs, while neo-Calvinists (or those inspired by its broad claims) are inclined to tell government officials how they are godless nincompoops.
8) Both affirm that while the actual objective work of Christians often looks similar to that of unbelievers, in terms of motivation, worldview, and sometimes objective results such work is profoundly different.
Some 2kers wonder whether anyone can be as self-conscious as w-w language suggests. They even think that when a mother sees her child spill a plate of spaghetti over the new dining room carpet she is not necessarily thinking about how she can glorify God or extend Christ’s Lordship when she instructs little Sammy about the importance — for the eleventh time — of staying in his chair, sitting up, and not playing with his food. Some 2kers even think that this believing mother will act to rear her child in ways common to most female parents (as part of the created order) rather than consulting a Kuyperian handbook on child discipline and carpet cleaning. (She may wish for a neo-Calvinist cookbook that would yield a recipe for spaghetti sauce that little Sammy would eat.)
9) Both affirm the value of Christian parachurch organizations like colleges and seminaries, while at the same time preserving the liberty of Christians to participate in non-Christian organizations as well.
The irony here is that denominational colleges like Covenant and Calvin fail to meet neo-Calvinist criteria of sphere sovereignty and in so doing put their respective churches in an awkward place of having to oversee matters over which their pastors and elders have no competence (such as the arts and sciences, since the Bible does not reveal German, Shakespeare, or Austrian economics).
I apologize if these comments rain on the warm and fuzzy fog that descended on Lookout Mountain, but many points of disagreement remain to be clarified.
And one of the greatest is the very criticism that 2kers regularly endure from neo-Calvinists. Notions of sphere sovereignty, church as organism or institute, w-w, and cultural engagement are not in the Reformed confessions. In other words, they have never been confessional matters, that is, until neo-Calvinists expressed shock — simply shocked — that 2k thinking is going on here. Do 2kers ever receive praise for defending the gospel (as in justification by faith alone), the regulative principle (of Reformed worship), the importance of keeping the Lord’s Day holy, what the Second Commandment says about images of God, or maintaining a lively opposition to the errors Roman Catholicism? 2kers have taken positions on all of these pieces of Reformed faith and practice that have been central to Reformed Protestantism’s development and witness. Neo-Calvinists, in contrast, have been largely silent on these same topics. Yet, neo-Calvinists react to 2k as if its teachings were a denial of the fundamentals of the Christian religion.
That is why some 2kers (me, anyway) are not going to join any common affirmation with neo-Calvinists until Kuyperians show that they can tell the difference between Reformed Protestantism’s central and peripheral matters.
Postscript: Matt also summarized Horton’s presentation with these lines about the spirituality of the church:
[Horton] clarified that the two kingdoms doctrine does not amount to a distinction between material and immaterial things but between the present age and the age to come. For that reason he rejected versions of the doctrine of the spirituality of the church that have been used to argue that the church should not speak out against patent evils like the racial slavery of the Antebellum South.
This is the second time within the last month or so that Mike has taken a swipe at the spirituality of the church. Without getting into a lengthy discussion, I would try to correct this assertion by noting that the reason some Presbyterians did not speak out against slavery was not to preserve the spirituality of the church. The reason was that Paul and Jesus and Abraham and Moses did not speak out against slavery. Whether or not Presbyterians read the Bible correctly, they were starting with Scripture and from that followed the spirituality of the church — as in the church may not speak where the Bible is silent. It is the same idea that led and leads some Presbyterians to oppose the church’s support for the Eighteenth Amendment and the church’s ban on women serving in the military.