The Shelf Life of 2k — Part Three

This is the third in the four-part interview David Strain did with mmmmmeeeeeEEEEE. We finally get to 2k:

1. Would you briefly state the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms (2K) for us?

I should have a handier definition than I do. I guess I would describe it this way.The church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ (WCF 25.2) outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. Communicant and non-communicant church members are part of that kingdom, the kingdom of grace (which is different from the kingdom of Satan and which is playing a part in hastening the kingdom of glory – the Shorter Catechism speaks of these three kingdoms, Satan’s, grace, and glory in explaining the second petition of the Lord’s prayer.

The kingdom of the civil realm has its own rules and sovereignty, and has criteria for membership that vary in places and across time.

The kingdom of grace operates according to the doctrine of forgiveness. The church is to minister the message of forgiveness of sins that comes through trusting in Christ and repentance from sin. The state operates according to standards of justice and is supposed, no matter how imperfectly, to punish wrongdoing.

Confusing forgiveness and justice is a huge example of category confusion. Granted, the forgiveness the church administers is premised on the justice that Christ underwent in suffering for the penalty of sin. And granted the magistrate’s ideals of justice are a type of the eschatological justice that will be administered on the Last Day.

In other words, you can’t understand the church or the state apart from God’s righteous standards, that is, his law.

But the church is involved in the work of reconciling God and man through Christ. The state has no direct role in that project of reconciliation. It may create and sustain an environment in which the church can minister. But the aim of the state is fundamentally different from that of the church. I recommend J. Gresham Machen’s essay, “The Responsibility of the Church in the New Age,” as a brilliant elaboration of this argument. It can be found either in his Selected Shorter Writings or as the appendix of Hart and Muether, Fighting the Good Fight: A Brief History of the OPC.

2. If you were to summarize the central points of debate between Kuyperians and Two Kingdoms advocates what would you say were the major areas of contention?

One major source if misunderstanding is the Lordship of Christ. 2k people want to distinguish Christ’s redemptive kingship (the church) from his creational and providential lordship (the state and the family). Kuyperians often hear 2kers as denying Christ’s lordship over “every square inch.” We don’t deny this at all. Christ is lord over all things. But we do distinguish, as Calvin and Ursinus do, for instance, between different aspects of Christ’s lordship. Confessing Christ as savior and lord (which happens in the church) is a different proposition from submitting to Christ’s rule through the work of magistrates and parents. You don’t need to confess Christ to submit to your dad. You should submit to a parent whether you are a Christian or not. And non-Christians do submit no matter how imperfectly. Plus, it’s not as if Christians are better submitters to parents and the state than non-Christians are.

A second point of tension concerns the creation mandate. Most Kuyperians appeal to Gen. 1 and argue that it is still in effect and guides the cultural endeavors of believers. 2kers tend to look at the creation mandate through the lens of the fall, and see that mandate as now being seriously altered because of sin. This means that cult (faith) and culture (secular endeavors) are now in a paradoxical relationship. In other words, you cannot chart the coming of Christ’s kingdom by looking for “progress” in cultural life. (Actually, Christians will likely disagree on what counts as progress. Does is mean a Republican in the White House, does it mean universal health care, does it mean literacy, does it mean lots of family farms and healthy local economies?) Connecting the effects of “good” culture to signs of the kingdom is a sure recipe, from a 2k perspective, for a social gospel and liberal Christianity. Kuyperians seem to be a lot less worried about this recipe because they are less willing to admit a paradoxical relationship between cult and culture.<

3. In 2K thought, Christians are citizens of both kingdoms simultaneously, right? We belong to both the kingdom of creation and the kingdom of redemption. What are the duties incumbent upon Christian citizens of the Kingdom of creation?

It depends. The early church did not have citizenship in the earthly kingdom. Paul was unusual in this regard. Christians in the United States, for instance, are members of both kingdoms. As citizens in the republic, Christians have various obligations and responsibilities, many of which will depend on their vocations. Some may actually run for and hold public office. Others might believe the state is so corrupt or has erred so far from its founding principles that they will have less to do with politics and legislation. I think one of the important contributions of the 2k perspective is to recognize Christian liberty in the realm of politics. This is a particularly attractive position at a time when the Religious Right has implied a one-size-fits-all approach to national politics, as if there is one Christian position on a host of public policy, economic, and cultural programs.

4. Whenever I’ve spoken about the Two Kingdoms I have generally been met with concern that I am advocating passivity among Christians when it comes to their involvement in civic society, or that I think the church should withdraw into some kind of religious ghetto and let the world rot. How would you respond?

First, I think it is important to acknowledge that the world is rotting and that various efforts to help humans flourish will not prevail over the rotting effects of sin. I mean, even Lazarus died after Christ raised him from the dead. I do wonder if the transformers actually see that eliminating poverty, hunger and war will not conquer the legacy of sin and its consequences which will be apparent to all people at the Last Day.

Second, human flourishing is a good thing. It is better to have lower crime rates than not. Christians working for lower crime rates is a good thing, and it depends on their vocation whether they will be actively engaged in crime prevention. After all, not everyone is called to be a cop, a district attorney, a judge, or a warden.

But the church as church, as the institution responsible for administering forgiveness through word and sacrament, is not called to reduce crime. The church actually has a much more important work to do, which is to worry about the criminals who will be facing the ultimate judge on the Judgment Day.

Inability to see the difference between eternal and temporal crimes is another case of missing what is important to the gospel and the church. If people want to the church to be engaged in civil society, I wonder if they have overestimated the importance of earthly affairs. I cannot understand how the work of the church needs to be made “relevant” by engaging in works of cultural renewal or crime prevention. If the church is ministering word and sacrament, she is doing the most important work one can imagine. If she doesn’t do it, who will? (Again, the Machen essay mentioned above is hugely effective in making this case.

5. I’ve never met a theonomist who was not also a postmillenialist (though such may exist out there someplace). Postmillenialism seems to be the only consistent eschatology for someone with a ‘transformationalist’ vision of the church’s mission. Would you say there was a similar connection between eschatology and 2K thinking? Is amillenialism a necessary implicate of 2K ideas?

Amillennialism is an acquired taste, though a form of it has been present in the church since Augustine’s arguments about the differences between the city of God and the city of man. But to recognize that God’s kingdom advances even when affairs in this world are going to hell in a handbasket (such as the fall of the Roman Empire) is crucial to understanding the work of the church and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Postscript (as of January 26, 2017): I have renounced the phrase “human flourishing.” What was I thinking?

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17 thoughts on “The Shelf Life of 2k — Part Three

  1. This, again, is where I can agree wholeheartedly with you, yet I identify neither as Hart2K, Kuyperian, or Theonomist/CR.

    In most the Establishmentarian works I’ve read (Establishmentarianism ≠ CR) the authors go out of their way to make clear that the Separation of Church and State is paramount. The Kingdom of Grace and the Kingdom of Creation (to use the terms used above) have wildly different responsibilities and roles to play in the World. The Church has the keys of the kingdom and the means of grace. The State does not. The State is given the sword and is to administer justice and peace. (Rom. 13:1-7). The Church does not and is not to take on those responsibilities. The Minister of the Gospel is to preach Christ and Him Crucified from the pulpit. The President is not. The President/Congress/Supreme Court (to use an American example) is not to meddle in the Sacraments or in ecclesiastical affairs. Each “Kingdom” must stay in their lane and care for the work they are given to do by the King for the blessing of His Bride. (Eph. 1:22, 2 Chron. 26:19, Isaiah 49:23).

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  2. Ben, but the magistrate is to enforce both tables, right?

    If so, why would you let a none Christian interpret and apply God’s word (unless you only have orthodox Christians serving in state)?

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  3. DGH–It depends. The early church did not have citizenship in the earthly kingdom. . .Christians in the United States are members of both kingdoms.

    mcmark–Not all two kingdom ethics are the same, because some 2k people (not only Protestant Reformed but also some Lutherans) do NOT concede that the law ever becomes grace in the “creation kingdom”. At all times and it does not depend which situation—law increases sin not only the knowledge of sin. This is true, no matter if you listen to Jesus Christ as creator and lawgiver, or if you think sinners have a pass to ignore Jesus Christ when redemption (or a true church) is not involved.

    Lutheran Mark Seifrid—-Calvin is able to speak of the condemning function of the Law with the same vigor as Luther himself ( Institutes 2.7.1-7). Yet in his eagerness to resolve the question of the unity of Scripture, Calvin speaks of the Law as ….not bringing death but serving another purpose. ..The embedding of the Law within grace qualifies law’s demand—while the Law works the death of sinners, it has a different effect on the righteous. For the Reformed the Law is no longer a “hard taskmaster,” who exacts full payment. It rather urges believers on to the goal of their lives, exciting them to obedience.

    Seifrid–In describing how the regenerate experience the Law, Calvin appeals directly to Psalms 19 and 119. Calvin regards the Law as addressing the believer as a regenerate person. This “regeneration” is not fully effective in us, but weak and impeded by the “sluggishness” of the flesh. The “flesh” is present as a power that exerts partial influence on us. The law no longer works our death, but furthers the new life which is partially present in us already.

    Luther finds a radically different anthropology in Scripture. There is no “intermediate state” in which we receive instruction but escape condemnation… The Law speaks even to us who are regenerate as fallen human beings. This perspective robs “progress” of its ultimacy. This displacing of “progress” from its place of primacy prevents us from taking upon ourselves burdens that we were never meant to bear. What those need who do not feel themselves to be sinners is the careful, gentle, yet direct exposure of their sins—not merely the faults of our society or problems in our culture but the root sins of self seeking, pride, lust, envy, greed by which we deny God and mistreat one another

    Nehemiah teaches us that a wall needs to be built.
    http://www.rawstory.com/2016/07/megachurch-pastor-robert-jeffress-would-vote-for-trump-over-jesus-the-bible-calls-for-a-strongman/

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  4. Walter Sobchack claimed Abraham for his father.

    When Smokey’s toe went over the line, Walter insisted that it be marked as a zero. Water pulled out a loaded gun and threatened to shoot if it is marked as an eight.

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  5. Abraham Booth essay on the Kingdom of Christ:

    Now, as the immunities, grants, and honors, bestowed by the King Messiah, are ail of a spiritual nature; his faithful subjects have no reason to wonder, or to be discouraged, at any persecutions, afflictions, or poverty which may befall them. Were his empire of this world, then indeed it might be expected, from the goodness of his heart and the power of his arm, that those who are submissive to his authority, zealous for his honor, and conformed to his image, would commonly find themselves easy and prosperous in their temporal circumstances. Yes, were his dominion of a secular kind, it might be supposed that an habitually conscientious regard to his laws, would secure from the oppression of ungodly men, and from the distresses of temporal want. — Thus it was with Israel under their Theocracy. When the rulers and the people in general were punctual in observing Jehovah’s appointments, the stipulations of the Sinai Covenant secured them from being oppressed bv their enemies, and from any remarkable affliction by the immediate hand of God. Performing the conditions of their National Confederation, they were, as a people, warranted to expect every species of temporal prosperity. Health, and long life, riches, honors, and victory over their enemies, were promised by Jehovah to their external obedience.[ 64] The punishments also, that were denounced against flagrant breaches of the Covenant made at Horeb, were of a temporal kind.[ 65]

    In this respect, however, as well as in other things, there is a vast difference between the Jewish, and the Christian economy…

    It must indeed be acknowledged, that as vicious tempers and immoral practices have a natural tendency to impair health, distress the mind, and waste the property; to the exercise of holy affections, and the practice of true godliness, have the most friendly aspect on a Christian’s own temporal happiness, (except so far as persecution intervenes) and on the welfare of society. But then it is evident that this arises from the nature of things, and from the superintendency of common Providence; rather than from the dominion of Christ, as a spiritual monarch. For, so considered, spiritual blessings are all that they have to expect from his royal hand.

    By the prophetic declarations of our Lord himself, and by the history of this kingdom, it plainly appears, that among all the subjects of his government, none have been more exposed to persecution, affliction, and poverty, than those who were most eminent for obedience to his laws, and most useful in his empire. The most uniform subjection to his authority, and the warmest zeal for his honor, that ever appeared upon earth; were no security from bitter persecution, from pinching poverty, or from complicated affliction. Our divine Lord, considered as a spiritual sovereign, is concerned for the spiritual interests of those that are under his government. His personal perfections and royal prerogatives, his power and wisdom, his love and care, are therefore to be regarded as engaged, both by office and by promise, — not to make his dependents easy and prosperous in their temporal concerns; but– to strengthen them for their spiritual warfare; to preserve them from finally falling by their invisible enemies; to make all afflictions work together for their good; to render them, in the final issue, more than conquerors over every opposer; and to crown them with, everlasting life.

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  6. To give another example as to why this all gets confusing fast:

    Speaking of fallen man’s knowledge of general revelation, Calvin warns

    in the perverted and degenerate nature of man there are still some sparks which show that he is a rational animal, and differs from the brutes, inasmuch as he is endued with intelligence, and yet, that this light is so smothered by clouds of darkness that it cannot shine forth to any good effect… it is true that this love of truth fails before it reaches the goal, forthwith falling away into vanity. As the human mind is unable, from dullness, to pursue the right path of investigation, and, after various wanderings, stumbling every now and then like one groping in darkness, at length gets completely bewildered, so its whole procedure proves how unfit it is to search the truth and find it. (2.2.12)

    Since man is by nature a social animal, he is disposed, from natural instinct, to cherish and preserve society; and accordingly we see that the minds of all men have impressions of civil order and honesty. Hence it is that every individual understands how human societies must be regulated by laws, and also is able to comprehend the principles of those laws. Hence the universal agreement in regard to such subjects, both among nations and individuals, the seeds of them being implanted in the breasts of all without a teacher or lawgiver. The truth of this fact is not affected by the wars and dissensions which immediately arise, while some, such as thieves and robbers, would invert the rules of justice, loosen the bonds of law, and give free scope to their lust; and while others (a vice of most frequent occurrence) deem that to be unjust which is elsewhere regarded as just, and, on the contrary, hold that to be praiseworthy which is elsewhere forbidden. For such persons do not hate the laws from not knowing that they are good and sacred, but, inflamed with headlong passion, quarrel with what is clearly reasonable, and licentiously hate what their mind and understanding approve. Quarrels of this latter kind do not destroy the primary idea of justice. For while men dispute with each other as to particular enactments, their ideas of equity agree in substance. This, no doubt, proves the weakness of the human mind, which, even when it seems on the right path, halts and hesitates. Still, however, it is true, that some principle of civil order is impressed on all. (2.2.13)

    the intellect is very seldom mistaken in the general definition or essence of the matter; but that deception begins as it advances farther, namely, when it descends to particulars. That homicide, putting the case in the abstract, is an evil, no man will deny; and yet one who is conspiring the death of his enemy deliberates on it as if the thing was good. The adulterer will condemn adultery in the abstract, and yet flatter himself while privately committing it. The ignorance lies here: that man, when he comes to the particular, forgets the rule which he had laid down in the general case… Moreover, when you hear of a universal judgment in man distinguishing between good and evil, you must not suppose that this judgment is, in every respect, sound and entire. For if the hearts of men are imbued with a sense of justice and injustice, in order that they may have no pretext to allege ignorance, it is by no means necessary for this purpose that they should discern the truth in particular cases. (2.2.23-24)

    Calvin is clear (and correct) that natural, fallen man cannot be relied upon to accurately understand general revelation, even in matters of civil justice. They can agree in general that justice is good, but when they get to particulars, they err because of their sinful tendencies. And civil law is quite interested in particulars.

    Take libertarians for example. They’re quite good at recognizing that murder is wrong (for all men) and that murderers should be punished. But ask them about abortion and you’ll get some pretty bizarre answers. Walter Block’s “eviction” theory of treating an infant in the womb as an intruder is a wonderful example of Calvin’s observation that “when he comes to the particular, [he] forgets the rule which he had laid down in the general case.” Block argues that a woman may “evict” an unborn child from her body as an exercise in property rights and that she is not responsible for whether the child survives outside of her body or not. Should we humbly submit to Block’s better knowledge of general revelation on this point, recognizing that we may be in error? No, we go to Scripture and see that he is wrong. We may seek to gain insights from these men, but we always, always judge whether they are right or wrong by comparing what they say with Scripture!

    For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any books however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly. (Calvin, 1.6.1)

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  7. In what sense do you see the church as kingdom of Jesus Christ (WCF 25:2)? That is, do you think the divines saw it as the other worldly kingdom? The temporal-this worldly kingdom? The sign and seal of the other-worldly kingdom existing in the temporal-this worldly kingdom? Or in some other sense?

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  8. The church is the this-worldly manifestation of an other-worldly reality. They are right, who see various churches as so many embassies of a far-away homeland. Its officers are ministers of another Man’s government, whose kingdom is not of this world. Its people are presently pilgrims, whose God goes with them and before them by his Spirit, in order to bring them to himself.

    The church is the kingdom, inasmuch as it acts in administration over its expatriate citizens; and it represents faithfully to its own members and to the powers of this age the will of the Authority of the age to come.

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  9. Donald, I see the church the way the Confession describes it (well, isn’t that convenient?):

    1. The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.

    2. The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

    3. Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.

    4. This catholic church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.

    5. The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a church on earth, to worship God according to his will.

    6. There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof.

    I see in that nothing about politics, the arts, nation-states, cities, farms, or plumbing. Amazing how adaptable it is since it involves God and his people and those undershepherds he has appointed for their good.

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  10. Thanks Bruce and DGH. Very helpful. But of course I must agree with the WCF or step down as an elder in my PCA church. Presently, I am engaged in talking the leadership of my church/denomination down from the cliff of racial reconciliation. Bill Smith (Just a Curmudgeon) has some very persuasive blog posts on the subject. I would agree with Luther that Scripture maintains that the law of God is intended to crush/slay us, to die in Christ that we may live in Him. If so, the church must teach all men to die to their identity as defined by visible means, and live to their identity as defined by invisible means. Therefore, the ministry given by God to the visible church should have nothing to do with fighting for social justice in a world wherein we are called by God to die to ourselves. Conversely, we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Your thoughts?

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