I have for some time wanted to offer a little response to Matthew Tuininga’s first (and good) piece on two-kingdom theology for the confessing evangelical allies. The essay is not all about me — shucks — but he does interact with several of my arguments. The reason for responding now is that Matt observed a tendency in my writing that has also recently spawned criticism of Dave VanDrunen (by none other than Cornel Venema in the book that has anti-2kers breathless in anticipation of its imminent release). The criticism that Venema and Tuininga (note all of the Dutch Reformed genes at play here) register is 2k theology’s fault of bifurcating the religious and political realms. Here’s how Matt describes a tendency in my work:
Part of the reason that Hart’s version of the two kingdoms doctrine is somewhat controversial is that at times Hart has pressed the distinction between the two kingdoms to the point of separation. Indeed, if the classic two kingdoms doctrine denoted the difference between two ages and two governments, Hart has often written about it as if it amounted to a distinction between two airtight spheres, one the sphere of faith and religion, and the other the sphere of everyday life. While it is clear that Hart views these two spheres as expressions of the two ages, by speaking of them in terms of separate spheres he ends up downplaying the overlap between the two ages. This tendency becomes all the more marked in Hart’s more polemical moments.
Venema detects a similar weakness (or is it error?) in VanDrunen (via the international Calvinists):
For Calvin, the spiritual and the civil government of God do not stand independently alongside each other. The civil government or jurisdiction, although it is not to usurp the distinct spiritual government that Christ exercises through his Spirit and Word, has the task within God’s design to secure the kind of public order and tranquility that is indispensable to the prosecution of the church’s calling. In this way, the civil jurisdiction serves the redemptive purposes of God by protecting the church and ensuring its freedom to pursue its unique calling under Christ. Furthermore, as servants of God, civil magistrates have the task of ensuring that both tables of the law – the first table dealing with the service and worship of God, the second table addressing the mutual service of all human beings to each other – are honored and obeyed. Although the civil magistrate is not authorized to usurp the distinctive prerogatives of the spiritual kingdom, namely, the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word in renewing human life in free obedience to God’s law, it does serve to advance the redemptive purpose of the spiritual kingdom by requiring an outward conformity to the requirements of God’s moral law.
In case I am missing something, both objections apparently stem from the neo-Calvinist aversion to dualism. As one recent graduate of a neo-Calvinist college summarized the problem of dualism:
“Dualism” is an incredibly dirty word. Why? For two reasons: A) Dooyeweerd’s non-dualist and non-monistic, non-reductionistic philosophy of modal spheres, B) Kuyper’s insistence that all things be reclaimed under the Lordship of Christ, which means there is no such thing as a dualism between “sacred” and “secular.” All spheres of life should be reclaimed under the dominion of Jesus Christ.
I for one continue to be stupefied by the reflexive dismissal of dualism since distinctions between the physical and spiritual, secular and sacred, temporal and eternal appear everywhere in the Christian religion, not to mention the history of the West. Jesus himself seemed to justify some kind of differentiation between sacred and secular matters when he spoke about what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar. He did not immediately qualify himself by saying “of course, everything belongs to God,” but let his assertion dangle. Neo-Calvinists, of course, won’t, suggesting an apparent discomfort with the very words of Christ.
Then there is the apostle Paul and that two-age construction which distinguishes between the eternal and the temporal (secular) so much so that he could say “to die is gain.” Paul also wrote: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor 4:17-18 ESV) If Paul affirms dualism, it’s okay but if 2kers do then it’s bad? Or maybe neo-Calvinists don’t read Paul outside those cosmic “all things” passages.
And then there is the classic distinction between the earthly and the spiritual in the Belgic Confession:
Now those who are born again have two lives in them. The one is physical and temporal– they have it from the moment of their first birth, and it is common to all. The other is spiritual and heavenly, and is given them in their second birth; it comes through the Word of the gospel in the communion of the body of Christ; and this life is common to God’s elect only.
Thus, to support the physical and earthly life God has prescribed for us an appropriate earthly and material bread, which is as common to all as life itself also is. But to maintain the spiritual and heavenly life that belongs to believers he has sent a living bread that came down from heaven: namely Jesus Christ, who nourishes and maintains the spiritual life of believers when eaten– that is, when appropriated and received spiritually by faith.
To represent to us this spiritual and heavenly bread Christ has instituted an earthly and visible bread as the sacrament of his body and wine as the sacrament of his blood. He did this to testify to us that just as truly as we take and hold the sacraments in our hands and eat and drink it in our mouths, by which our life is then sustained, so truly we receive into our souls, for our spiritual life, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Savior. We receive these by faith, which is the hand and mouth of our souls. (Art. 35)
The distinction between things secular and sacred is everywhere in the history of the West, even if its usage does not always match. Augustine had his two cities, Gelasius his two swords, and Christendom its pope and emperor. Some kind of dualism is writ large in the Christian tradition. Neo-Calvinists may not like it but that’s too bad.
But what makes this suspicion of 2k all the more annoying is that the language employed to describe the neo-Calvinist idea of sphere sovereignty places church and state and family in separate realms with their own — get this — sovereignty. The two kingdoms can’t be distinct but need to bleed into each other lest dualism surface. But the spheres can be as distinct as Holland, Michigan and Pella, Iowa.
In the introduction to Kingdoms Apart, the book that will be the kinder, gentler version of John Frame’s Kuyper warrior-children manifesto, describes sphere sovereignty this way: “God has created distinct social, economic, cultural, and political spheres that have their own unique functions. . . (xxvi)” Then follows a quote that describes sphere sovereignty as “each sphere possess[ing] its own authority within itself.” Shazam! That’s a lot of distinct authority. The introduction goes on, “state, church, business, family, and academic institutions . . . ‘have the liberty to function on their own according to the divine ordinances God has established for each one.” (xxvi-xxvii) Because neo-Calvinists say that these sovereign, liberated, and autonomous spheres receive authority from God, I guess the distinctions are somehow permissible. But when have 2kers ever said that the temporal kingdom is independent from God? Straw man comes to mind. But divine sovereignty notwithstanding (never thought I’d write that) it is remarkable that sphere sovereigntists can divide the world up into such tidy spheres but won’t give 2kers the same freedom. And, by the way, the 2kers claims go much deeper than late nineteenth-century Netherlands.
What makes 2k superior to sphere sovereignty is that 2kers are really willing to live with distinctions. For sphere sovereigntists the distinctions are only skin deep. The spheres exists, but they are all under God, so religion needs to inform all the spheres thus raising important questions about which members of which spheres are introducing religion into a sphere since religion won’t do it by itself. Do I bring religion to bear on politics as an elder, husband, historian or citizen? In other words, does my functional identity change when I go from one sphere into another? It may, especially Scripture’s claims on me as citizen are thin compared to its teaching about overseeing the flock. But I don’t hear neo-Calvinists talking about these bugs in their system. Maybe it’s because they are too busy looking at the bugs in the paleo-Calvinist’s eye.
To illustrate how complicated religion’s relationship is to the various spheres, I appeal to a review I wrote for Ordained Servant:
Life in modern society is tough. In any given week, an average American may have to decide which is the best and prettiest paint for the exterior of his house, what are the best and most affordable tires to put on his car, whether to replace a deep filling with another filling or with a crown, whether to diversify the investments in his retirement portfolio, and which candidate from the Republican Party is the best to run against a Democratic incumbent in the upcoming presidential election. No single American has sufficient knowledge to make all of these decisions simply on the basis of his own learning and reading. In addition to confronting these dilemmas, this person likely has a full-time job that occupies much of his time, and a wife and children that take up most of his spare time—not to mention incredibly difficult choices about bad influences on his son at school, whether his daughter should play field hockey, and consulting with his wife about his mother-in-law’s declining health and the best arrangements for her well being. If he is a Christian with responsibilities at church, he may need to wade through files of applications for a pulpit search committee, or consult with architects and engineers about plans to expand the church’s parking lot.
Complicating further this average American’s decisions are the accompanying choices to be made over which advice to follow. For in addition to life’s complicated questions are a bevy of advisors, available on the radio and television, folks such as Oprah, Rush Limbaugh, and Dave Ramsey—people who seem to have a lot of insight into life’s difficulties. But which of these advisors to heed raises an additional layer of decisions.
Throw the Lordship of Christ and biblical interpretation into these various decisions and related evaluations and you have the potential for nervous breakdown (maybe that’s what happened to Abraham Kuyper). For negotiating the regular world — the temporal kingdom, that is — I’ll take 2k any day. Neo-Calvinism leaves me with sphere schizophrenia.