Do They Really Want What They Want?

Steven Wedgeworth over at Credenda Agenda has registered a critique of two-kingdom theology that uses David VanDrunen’s new book on natural law and the two kingdoms as the object of critique. Some of the usual federal vision suspects have lined up to promote Wedgeworth’s piece. Rabbi Bret writes:

Wedgeworth also spends time exposing how the Two Kingdoms, as defined by the Magisterial Reformers, covered different realities then the Two Kingdoms of Escondido fame. For the Magisterial Reformers the Two Kingdoms were defined as such that there was a diversity in unity. For Escondido the Two Kingdoms are defined in such a way that there is diversity (Nature realm vs. Redemptive realm) with no unity. (Hence the constant charge of Dualism.)

So you know it must be good.

Wedgeworth has two main complaints – one is that the idea of a spiritual and a temporal kingdom (or Augustine’s two cities) do not correlate with the church and the state. Wedgeworth writes:

It was precisely because the visible church existed in the temporal kingdom that Christian magistrates had a duty to protect and reform them. The princes were not to personally involve their office in crafting doctrine or worship, but they surely were involved in financing, defending, and promoting certain visible churches to the exclusion of others. Since all Christian laypersons were priests, the Reformers saw no problem with allowing princes to function as Christians in their particular vocation and to make use of their superior ordering abilities in the visible church. All of the Reformed confessions are in agreement on this point, as well, and so it seems impossible to remove this feature from the ecclesiology of the Reformation.

What Wedgeworth fails to acknowledge (aside from an inordinate fixation on Calvin as the standard of all things Reformed) is that Zurich and Geneva differed over the respective powers of the city council and church authority. Zurich was much closer to (if not guilty of) an Erastian model, with the magistrates reserving the right of excommunication, while Geneva worked hard to gain for the church the spiritual power of excommunication. In other words, the responsibility of the state to preserve the true religion is much more a legacy of Zurich than of Geneva and the difference is evident in the way that the Geneva Confession (1556) and the Gallican Confession (1559) refuse to attribute ecclesiastical powers to the magistrate the way, say, that the Westminster Divines did when in the original version of their Confession (subsequently altered by American Presbyterians in 1787) gave the magistrate the right to call and preside over synods and councils of the church. Can anyone imagine George Bush or Barack Obama presiding over the General Assembly of the OPC? (For that matter, can anyone imagine why a president would care to preside over a gathering of 160 pastors and elders?) And yet, that was the kind of power that a Zurichian arrangement bequeathed to one side of the Reformed brain.

(By the way, for the record this would make the Federal Visionaries pro-Zurich on political theology but pro-Geneva on the Lord’s Supper. Can you say “dualism”? Sure you can.)

While Wedgeworth’s point that the spiritual and the temporal do not equate to church and state, it’s pretty hard to read Calvin on the two kingdoms and not think that the civil and ecclesiastical polities lined up pretty neatly with the visible church and the visible state.

Therefore, to perceive more clearly how far the mind can proceed in any matter according to the degree of its ability, we must here set forth a distinction: that there is one kind of understanding of earthly things; another of heavenly. I call “earthly things” those which do not pertain to God or his Kingdom, to true justice, or to the blessedness of the future life; but which have their significance and relationship with regard to the present life and are, in a sense, confined within its bounds. I call “heavenly things” the pure knowledge of God, the nature of true righteousness, and the mysteries of the Heavenly Kingdom. The first class includes government, household management, all mechanical skills, and the liberal arts. In the second are the knowledge of God and of his will, and the rule by which we conform our lives to it.

Of the first class the following ought to be said: since man is by nature a social animal, he tends through natural instinct to foster and preserve society. Consequently, we observe that there exist in all men’s minds universal impressions of a certain civic fair dealing and order. Hence no man is to be found who does not understand that every sort of human organization must be regulated by laws, and who does not comprehend the principles of those laws. Hence arises the unvarying consent of all nations and of individual morals with regard to laws. For their seeds have, without teacher or lawgiver, been implanted in all men. (Institutes, II.ii.13)

Since Calvin puts government and household management – and not the church – under earthly things, it looks like the distinction between church (spiritual) and state (temporal) was in Calvin’s mind (and not just VanDrunen’s or Luther’s). Heck, it was even in the minds of the Westminster Divines when they wrote:

Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate. (WCF 31.5 original)

In other words, even in an Erastian environment with a king or parliament calling the church’s shots, Reformed churchmen were able to distinguish the differences between the civil and the ecclesiastical in ways that leave today’s Christendomians (read: theonomists) tripping.

To see how much the Reformed tradition identified Christ’s kingdom with the church you only need to look at the way that the Reformed catechisms treat the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer or Christ’s kingly office. Here is the Larger Catechism’s rendering of Christ role as kind:

WLC Q. 45. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in calling out of the world a people to himself, and giving them officers, laws, and censures, by which he visibly governs them; in bestowing saving grace upon his elect, rewarding their obedience, and correcting them for their sins, preserving and supporting them under all their temptations and sufferings, restraining and overcoming all their enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory, and their good; and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel.

In other words, the Reformers, whether influenced by Zurich or Geneva, were jealous to preserve the spiritual rule of Christ from being confused with the rule of the state, and to locate the spiritual rule of Christ with officers of his visible church.

Wedgeworth’s other objection to VanDrunen’s book is the distinction between Christ’s mediatorial (i.e. redemptive) and his creational rule. Wedgeworth believes this sets up an impossible scenario of a divided self where a Christian is “guided by his cultural spirit and imagination at certain moments of his life and by his religious spirit and imagination at others.” Why this is so hard to imagine I do not know. After all the Christian father who is also an elder treats his son differently when appearing before the session or when addressing him in the home, just as a Christian gynecologist treats a naked woman differently depending on whether he’s married to her and he’s her physician. Christians make distinctions of office and vocation all the time. If we can imagine doing it, why not someone who is more adept at juggling human affairs and diverse responsibilities than we are – namely, Jesus Christ.

But not to be missed is that if Wedgeworth wants to collapse the mediatorial and creational rules into one power, he is guilty of Roman Catholicism. At least, that was how David McKay explained it when expounding Samuel Rutherford’s account of church-state relations. McKay writes:

. . . Rutherford does maintain that Christian magistrates have a duty to promote the well-being of the church. He also insists, however, that “the Magistrate as a Magistrate is not the Deputie of Jesus Christ as Mediator,” a view that he goes on to describe as “the heart and soule of Popery.”(McKay, “From Popery to Principle: Covenanters and the Kingship of Christ,” in The Faith Once Delivered, p. 136)

Later in this essay, McKay also quotes George Gillespie to the following effect: Christ has all power “by the eternal generation, ad by the declaration of him to be the Son of God with power, when he was raised from the dead, Rom. 1:14.” According to McKay, Gillespie agrees that Christ has power to subdue the enemies of his church, but “as Mediator he is only the church’s King, Head, and Governor, and hath no other kingdom” (p. 139).

So while the Federal Visionaries and neo-Calvinists keep figuring out ways to redeem all of life – with the aim, I guess, of putting Christians in charge of everything so believers can be the ones calling synods and councils – they should remember first that the magisterial reformation started with the magistrate, not the church. Zwingli, Bucer, Calvin, Ursinus served at the good pleasure of the state; they did not call a church council and send petitions to the magistrates to adopt pro-Protestant policies. And if Federal Visionaries want the same circumstances today as those that informed the Reformation, they better start working on getting Doug Wilson or Neil Plantinga to run for office – preferably with a little more clout than the district superintendent of public recreation.

Or they could simply follow Calvin’s advice and remember that the effects of salvation are first, foremost, and ultimately, not cultural, political, legal, medicinal, or agricultural but spiritual. As Calvin put it at the beginning of his discussion of the magistrate, the problem with Federal Visionaries and neo-Calvinists is their addiction to the Judaic Folly:

But whoever knows how to distinguish between body and soul, between this present fleeting life and that future eternal life, will without difficulty know that Christ’s spiritual Kingdom and the civil jurisdiction are things completely distinct. Since, then, it is a Jewish vanity to seek and enclose Christ’s Kingdom within the elements of this world, let us rather ponder that what Scripture clearly teaches is a spiritual fruit, which we gather from Christ’s grace. . . (Institutes, IV.xx.1)


42 thoughts on “Do They Really Want What They Want?

  1. “the effects of salvation are first, foremost, and ultimately, not cultural, political, legal, medicinal, or agricultural but spiritual.”

    But is this enough to distinguish your views from that of theocrats? They could agree with that. They would say the effects of salvation are secondarily, indirectly, cultural, etc.


  2. Vern, that’s not the way I read them. They think that the cultural/political necessarily follows the spiritual, and that the spiritual is lacking if not made visible.


  3. What about what Wedgeworth says: “All of the Reformed confessions are in agreement on this point…Christian magistrates had a duty to protect and reform…the visible Church”?

    I’ve heard your helpful lectures on the changes the American Presbyterians made to WCF 23. But I wonder whether you think the language that remains (and it is very similar to the language of Belgic Confession 36) accurately summarizes what the Bible teaches. Do you think Barack Obama has an obligation to protect, defend and reform the visible Church and its sacred ministry? That’s not how I read Scripture.


  4. Yes they think it necessarily follows, but that does not mean they think culture is “first, foremost, and ultimately” as you’ve expressed it.

    So your position is that culture doesn’t necessarily follow from salvation? But does that leave room for accidentally follow?

    To put it in concrete terms: do you think culture would be different if Christians were in charge or Aztecs were in charge?


  5. Chris, the Dutch Reformed revised Belgic and American Presbyterians revised the WCF. I don’t know what you’re asking since no church — except for maybe the Covenanters — thinks the magistrate has a duty to maintain the true religion.

    Vern, if you’re asking if European culture is different from native American, well, sure. But don’t you need to include the Greeks and Romans in the heritage of the West? And what about Roman Catholics? Since those groups didn’t get the gospel right, and since the gospel is at the core of the Christian cult, can you really say that Christian culture in the West is related to the ultimate truths of Christianity?


  6. dgh, the American version of WCF 23 includes this language: “Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger.”

    The version of the Belgic in use by the URC at article 36 says “Their office is not only to have regard unto and watch for the welfare of the civil state, but also to protect the sacred ministry,* that the kingdom of Christ may thus be promoted. They must therefore countenance the preaching of the Word of the gospel everywhere, that God may be honored and worshipped by every one, as He commands in His Word.”

    Now I know this gets into matters of confessional subscription, but I’m particularly sensitive to the claim on the part of Federal Visionaries, neo-Calvinists, theonomists, et al, namely, that the Reformed Confessions are very clear about the magistrate having a duty to maintain the true religion. (This is the point Kloosterman and Wilson make in the Christ & Culture debate) To put my concern another way: if “no church — except for maybe the Covenanters — thinks the magistrate has a duty to maintain the true religion,” then why do we keep in it our confessions?


  7. Chris, the American version of WCF goes on to say that the magistrate has a duty to protect all persons, even unbelievers. I don’t see how that’s a blue print for upholding and enforcing the true religion.

    According to Scott Clark, the URC does not have an official version of the Belgic. Here is the revised version of article 36 in use in the CRC:

    And being called in this manner
    to contribute to the advancement of a society
    that is pleasing to God,
    the civil rulers have the task,
    subject to God’s law,
    of removing every obstacle
    to the preaching of the gospel
    and to every aspect of divine worship.

    They should do this
    while completely refraining from every tendency
    toward exercising absolute authority,
    and while functioning in the sphere entrusted to them,
    with the means belonging to them.


  8. Vern, your question wasn’t clear or begged other questions. Do you think Christianity alone is responsible for the West? And if you do, which Christianity? The one propagated by Rome? Come on, don’t play games. You asked about Christians affecting culture. Well, which Christians? The ones like us who came from W. Europe? Or the ones in the Coptic church? You make it seem as if religion alone is the only shaper of culture.

    So why not ask you question clearly.

    Don’t you think culture would be different if John Piper was in charge? Or what about if DGH was in charge? Do you really think that Christianity is the sole factor directing culture?


  9. Daryl, your r2k position seems to be — though it’s not easy to tell — that salvation has NO effect on culture, politics, etc. You seem to be anti-transformational, yet your “well sure” makes no sense in light of that. I instanced the Aztecs as an obvious counterexample. I didn’t mention western culture. I deliberately contrasted Christians with Aztecs, not Westerners with Aztecs. If you don’t think salvation makes a difference in this rather obvious case, I’d say there’s something radically flawed in your understanding of the 2k view.


  10. Vern, and your view seems to be that salvation makes all the difference in the world for culture, politics, etc. Then along comes a question about which Christian, or whether Christians shaped culture alone or maybe relied a good deal on Greeks and Romans. And then you insist that it has to be either Christian or Aztec culture. Huh?

    Here’s the rub, Vern, since most Christians disagree on most cultural and political matters, and do so for good religiously informed reasons, then what becomes of your salvation-shapes-culture argument?


  11. Vern,

    The problem with “the church is the soul of the world (and that’s good because it means a better world)” view is that it doesn’t have nearly a high view enough of human sin. But if it’s true that even justified-being-sanctified-but-not-yet-glorified sinners will always be more sinful than not, how does that immediately benefit the world? Isn’t the best we can do for now is hold out the gospel in Word and sacrament instead of thinking the Holy Spirit leaks out our finger tips making everything we touch better?


  12. Daryl, where did I say that salvation makes all the difference in the world for culture, politics, etc? Why do you defend your extreme position by thinking those who criticize it hold to the opposite extreme position?

    Zrim, don’t know what you are referring to. Where did I say the church is the soul of the world?
    I’m just asking a simple question. Would culture be different if it were produced by Christians or by Aztecs? If you can imagine that there would be a difference, you might then see that a completely non-transformational conception of the gospel is a non-starter.


  13. Vern,

    Would culture be different if it were produced by Christians or by Aztecs? If you can imagine that there would be a difference, you might then see that a completely non-transformational conception of the gospel is a non-starter.

    How about Christian-Aztecs? See, part of the problem with your question is that “Christian” is a cultic term and “Aztec” is a cultural term. Christians don’t make culture, but Aztecs and Asians and Greeks and Irish do. If you can see that distinction, you might see that a transformational conception of the gospel is pretty silly and is the stuff cultural Christianity is made of.


  14. Well, Zrim, maybe the term “transformational” is throwing you off. How about reformational? Let’s see, Aztecs can make culture but Christians can’t. I’ve heard of cultural retreat, but this is wholesale surrender.


  15. Vern, please let us all know the moderate ways in which you are reforming the culture. I don’t think I’ve seen any news about this. Or is it that you simply find fault with those who take our Lord seriously when he said “my kingdom is not of this world”? Sounds extreme, no?


  16. Vern,

    Use whatever term you like, it’s the meaning I find dubious. I mean, what gives with the antagonism against maintaining, cultivating and participating (in) culture and protagonism for transforming, reforming or improving culture? But the reason you think my assertion about culture making is surrender is that you still haven’t distinguished the cultic with cultural. The Aztec part of the Christian-Aztec can make culture, but his Christian part is waiting for the city built by God alone. Moreover, the making he does as he waits for a better creation seems a lot closer to cultivating than transforming.


  17. Darryl, I’ve been trying to reform philosophers and accountants for years now, instructing them in righteousness and morals. The results have been mixed. It’s true that the media have not acknowledged my contributions, but I’m convinced they’ll get around to it eventually. People only appreciate things when they’re gone.


  18. You may want to revise your wording above. Rev. McAtee is not a FV’er as you insinuate in your sentence “Some of the usual federal vision suspects have lined up to promote Wedgeworth’s piece. Rabbi Bret writes:”

    Also why the epithet “Rabbi” to mark an Ordained Minister in Christ’s church? I have seen yourself and Dr. Clark use this moniker to refer to Rev. McAtee and in Dr.. Clark’s case Dr. Bahnsen and Gary North as well as R.J. Rushdoony. Why “Rabbi”?


  19. Ben, thanks for the correction. I did not mean to tar the good Rabbi with the FV brush.

    Rabbi, btw, is a term of endearment since it refers to the whimsical way in which Bret constantly falls prey to what Calvin called the Judaic Folly — that is, looking for spiritual fruits in the externals of this world.


  20. Noticed you have not changed the wording. I realize you think you are being “cute” by using the word “Rabbi” but let us not kid ourselves about any “endearment”. You have no intention of actually winning Rev. McAtee to your position, just to mock him using childish taunts.

    By the way was John Calvin himself caught in the “Judaic Folly” when he advocates the civil magistrate to put adulterers to death? (See his commentary on John 8:11)


  21. Ben, Muslims advocate similar policies. So that makes them Calvinist?

    Speaking of Calvin, would you prefer I refer to Bret as a “dog”?


  22. Benjamin,

    Despite popular belief, there is such a thing as a bad question. I think theonomy is a function of unbelief, which Calvin said resides in all saints.


  23. Ben, I’d have to say cousin since Bret’s in the CRC. You don’t want to get into that whole Ortlund-Raja feng shui, do you?


  24. Baus, the first interesting thing about the essay is the relationship between Wedgeworth and Escalante. Are they the same person? The second interesting thing is that they claim Hooker is a Reformed theologian of first rank, except no one but they read him. If they think Hooker says everything that Calvin says, then why the infatuation with Hooker? Or could it be the case that they are reading Hooker into Calvin. Given W’s, E’s, and Littlejohn’s abiding interest in Hooker, I suspect that most of what they read turns up Hooker.


  25. Is Christ King of heaven and of earth? Does He have a law that agrees with that of His Father given to Moses, or is He at odds with His Father? Has God commanded all men everywhere to repent? Does that command exclude the civil magistrate? Did God command His people to eradicate the culture of Palestine? If we can’t use the sword today to eradicate Canaanite culture (all false religion, toleration of which the original Catechism condemned as sin) from our land, then can we use the influence of Christian culture? Does God bless the advancement of His Word? Does the word of God inform Christian culture? If not, then what does? And what can we use to eradicate Canaanite culture?


  26. Win, no. But that solves nothing when the public official is also serving who don’t believe men are required to obey God. Should a God-obeyer defend the rights or liberties of a God-disobeyer? In case you haven’t noticed, that’s a question that has absorbed the modern West for almost 600 years. Welcome to the dilemma.


  27. It’s only a dilemma – a situation requiring a choice between equally undesirable alternatives or any difficult or perplexing situation or problem – if you don’t know your bible. The Israelites were in a dilemma before Goliath because they and their king lacked faith. One young man changed everything, and all Israel decided to follow him – to victory. If he had lacked faith, like their political leader who didn’t obey God, the Israelites would have been discussing how to live under the domination of the Canaanite unbelievers, just as you are discussing how to live under American unbelievers. I’d rather follow the Son of David.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.