The Shelf Life of 2k — Part Four

Here’s the last intallment. You can read the others here, here, and here.

1. People often struggle with the entire 2K vs. Kuyperian/transformational debate because they are both advocated in rather abstract ways. It can sound like privileged white dudes reading Chesterton and finding holy ways to thumb their noses at the poor (2Kers) or balding men with ponytails growing soul patches and blogging in Starbucks about how ‘incarnational’ they are being (Kuyperians). Neither caricature really addresses the real world challenges of living out our faith corporately and individually amidst the challenges of, let’s say, rural poverty, or urban degradation. How would you suggest 2K thinking should play out so as to avoid sounding like we are advocating a laissez faire attitude to real social ills?

First, I’d reassert that rural poverty and urban degradation are not as important as man’s guilt before God and the eternal punishment that awaits all men. I don’t want to sound fundy or pietistic, but I really think this point needs to be stressed. We may fix family farms and we may turn Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell (two great characters from the HBO series, The Wire) into productive citizens. But family farmers and reformed drug dealers still await a judgment day. In that case, if the church lets the problems of this world cloud the reality and urgency of its preaching the gospel of forgiveness of sin and eternal life, then we are in a boatload of trouble.

Second, I do not see why J. Gresham Machen is not a good example of how individual believers can be involved in politics or society while still affirming the spirituality of the church and the enormity of the church’s burden to preach the good news. Machen was active in Democratic politics, wrote lots of letters to editors, joined political organizations, testified before Congress to oppose the Federal Department of Education. He was an active citizen, even while saying the church should not be engaged in politics. Here the distinction between the church’s calling as a corporate body versus the calling of individual Christians was key.

Now, of course, lots of contemporary transformationalists will not like Machen’s politics any more than they will like his ecclesiology. And that is a really interesting point here as well because if transformationalists (or any Christian) is going to advocate a certain policy or endeavor as being Christian, they are also making claims about what other Christians should do. And yet, if they do not have a biblical warrant for what they are claiming, if they are simply baptizing their own ideals about the good society with the sanctified motivation of Christianity, then they are actually violating Christian liberty by implicitly bind the consciences of Christians who do not share their view of the good society. In other words, it would be wrong to say God is a Democrat. And it would be wrong to say God is a Republican. He’s a divine right monarchist who transcends policy and legislation.

2. Can you ground 2K in scripture for us? Is this the teaching of the Bible?

If it doesn’t sound too defensive, I’d start by saying that a 1 kingdom view has not been shown to be the teaching of Scripture. It is curious to me that lots of people who object to 2 kingdom views go ahead and live with a two-kingdom reality. They are not insisting that the church rule over all things, or that Christians must be elected to public office, or that every cultural expression must come from a regenerate artist. Critics of 2 kingdom theology like to protest against it, but it hardly ever involves a one-kingdom argument instead. This may simply be an inconsistency. I think it also an acknowledgement of the limits of church power, and the reality of living in societies where believers and non-believers cohabit and must get along in some fashion.

The specific passages I go to for support for a two-kingdom view are obvious ones like Christ’s instruction, “Render unto Caesar. . .” along with his rebuke to Peter for using the sword against the ruling authorities. In fact, the gospels are replete with a recognition – it seems to me, of Christ submitting to earthly authorities, whether Jewish or Roman, all the while establishing his own kingdom. My own pastor has been preaching through Luke and it sounds like the distinction between what’s going on in the civil and national realm and what’s being inaugurated by Christ’s work and ministry is a theme from which one cannot escape in Luke, and that to try to turn Christ’s ministry into a program of social justice or political engagement really misses the point and grander significance of what he came to do. I believe the gospels show that Christ’s kingdom was spiritual and many Israelites could not fathom that because they were looking for a one-kingdom world where religion and the state would be fused

And then there are passages like Romans 13 where Paul tells Christians to submit to the magistrate – a heretical and persecuting magistrate at that. It certainly suggests that Paul was not thinking the rule of the state was on redemptive grounds. And when he says that the task of the magistrate is to punish evil, he is clarifying a function that is very different from the church’s which is to forgive sin.

I’d also point to the Great Commission as supporting a two-kingdom view. They way that the church disciplines the nations is not through political rule but through word (teach) and sacrament (baptize).

Some people object to the two-kingdom view for its dualism. I find it hard to read 1 Cor. And Paul’s distinctions between temporal and eternal things and not see that some kind of dualism is entirely fitting with biblical teaching

My pastor is also preaching in the evenings through Ecclesiastes. He is by no means a committed two-kingdom guy. He is simply trying to be a faithful minister and preach the text. And throughout this book – all is vanity – I keep wondering if the transformationalists have ever read Ecclesiastes, if it is for them what James was for Luther, an “epistle” (wrong genre) of straw

Last, I have in A Secular Faith used the example of Daniel to suggest how pilgrims and exiles negotiate the two powers. Daniel submitted to Chaldean rule and even excelled in their culture. But he drew the line at worship. His case suggests that Christians can engage with non-Christians in a host of common endeavors and that worship clarifies where such cooperation must cease.

3. Coming from Scottish Presbyterianism I have been accustomed to strong statements about the spirituality of the church. The language of 2 Kingdoms has a long and noble pedigree in Scotland (witness Andrew Melville plucking the sleeve of James the VI, calling him ‘God’s sillie vassal’ and reminding him that there are ‘two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland. There is Christ Jesus the King and Head and His Kingdom the Kirk, whose subject King James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom not a king, not a lord, not a head, but a member.”)

The Covenanters saw themselves as defending ‘the crowns rights of the Redeemer’ against the impositions of the State. The Free Church at the Disruption of 1843 likewise stood on the spirituality of the church over against Erastian claims by the British government. Yet in all of those versions of 2 Kingdom thinking a strong linkage between Church and state was advocated. The Westminster Standards likewise advocated a strong Church-State connection, especially on the role of the civil magistrate (so strong that the Scots demurred saying it referred only to “kirks not settled” and the American church re-wrote that entire section of the Confession). Nevertheless the claim is often made that contemporary 2K thinking is the more historically reformed and Confessional position. How would you defend that statement in the light of older 2K ideas that favored religious establishments?

I never pretend to tell the British how to run their affairs – that’s the point of American independence. So I will rely on an Irish Covenanter to answer this question. In his contribution to a festschrift for the American Covenanter theologian, Wayne Spear, David McKay wrote that the RPCI’s testimony of 1990 was at odds with Samuel Rutherford’s understanding of Christ’s kingship. The RPCI affirmed that nations are “required to acknowledge and serve [Christ] in all their ways, and submit to His mediatorial authority as it has been revealed to them.”

But Rutherford, while committed to the Covenanter doctrine of Christ’s kingship over the nations, taught that “the Magistrate as a Magistrate is not the Deputie of Jesus Christ as Mediator.” In fact, Rutherford described what would become the modern Covenanter view of Christ’s kingship (as a mediatorial expression) as “the heart and soule of Popery.” [From Popery to Principle: Covenanters and the Kingship of Chirst,” in The Faith Once Delivered (P&R Publishing), p. 136]

The point is that one could affirm Christ’s kingship over the magistrate but regard it as part of his rule as creator rather than mediator, thus preserving the uniqueness of the visible church as the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ (WCF 25.2).

4. It is often pointed out by transformationalists that the spirituality of the church was a distinctive of the Old School Southern Presbyterian Church, and that this doctrine was used to justify the church’s advocacy of the status quo with regards to slavery. While the abuse of a doctrine is not in and of itself proof that the doctrine is in error, do you think this sorry episode nevertheless exposes a danger for 2K thinkers?

It may pose a danger, but so might abortion, or prohibition. The point of the spiritual doctrine of the 19th century was that the church could not speak where Scripture was silent. It may look convenient for slave holders to say that the Bible is silent on slavery. But even northerners like Charles Hodge believes that slavery was not a sin. The link between slavery and spirituality of the church is overdone and can also be used against the transformationalists – the Social Gospel abandoned the gospel and was part of a transformational agenda.

So if we avoid the genetic fallacy and try to figure out what is at stake, it seems to me the question is whether we can be content with what the church is called to do. If we think that various social ills are of momentous concern and that the church needs to be enlisted for the cause, I think the question is still whether there is a biblical warrant for the church joining the cause. The other aspect here is whether the social cause of such great significance is of the same significance as the eternal verities of whether men and women know Jesus Christ as their savior. Such men and women may be poor or rich, may be free or suffer under tyranny, but ultimately those earthly conditions will not be as important as their relationship to Christ. This is not an excuse for the church to be silent or to harbor sin where Scripture is clear. Nor is it a case proves all suffering is evil and must be eliminated. (I sometimes wonder if transformatoinalists have considered that God actually uses suffering and are willing to accept it. Dick Gaffin has a great piece on this point, making it against theonomists, in the Westminster Seminary response to theonomy – it is that suffering may be that to which the church is called, and so eliminating suffering may not be the proper goal of the church.)

5. If we wanted to investigate further this idea of the 2Kingdoms can you suggest any books to read?

There are various entry points into this literature, none of them directly being classified as “two-kingdom” literature.

First are books on Natural Law which suggest that the Reformed tradition has always used creational norms, as opposed to biblical commands, for politics.

Stephen Grabil, Recovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics (Eerdmans)

David VanDrunen, A Biblical Case for Natural Law (Acton Institute)

I should mention that VanDrunen has a very big and good book coming out with Eerdmans next year on natural law and two-kingdom theology.

Second, are books on the differences between the covenant of grace and the covenant of works that have a bearing on the relationship between Christ and Culture.

Meredith Kline’s Kingdom Prologue (Two-Age Press??)

Michael Horton, God of Promise (Baker)

Third are the works of Reformed theologians from the past who articulate the 2k perspective in ways that contemporary Reformed Protestants often overlook.

Calvin’s Institutes should be consulted, especially where he discusses the kingly office of Christ, and book IV, chapt. 20 where he lays out the differences between Christ’s spiritual kingdom and the kingdoms of this world.

J. Gresham Machen’s essays on the church and society in Selected Shorter Writings (P&R Publishing)

Fourth are works on the doctrine of the church.

The Book of Church Order of the OPC, for instance, is very clear in chapter three about the spiritual nature of the church’s authority.

Stuart Robinson, The Church of God, An Essential Element of the Gospel (OPC, Christian Education). Robinson was a nineteenth-century Presbyterian whose book is arguably the best on the spirituality of the church from a redemptive-historical perspective, and a great biblical theological case for divine right Presbyterianism.

Geerhardus Vos, The Kingdom and the Church (Eerdmans). Vos only goes wobbly (read, neo-Calvinist) on a couple of pages. Otherwise, it’s a great expression of the spirituality of the church.

Fifth, the spirituality of the church also shows up when the church is doing its own reflection on the work to which it is called. The OPC’s Study Committee Reports are one example of this.

OPC Minority Report on Medical Missions (by Meredith Kline), General Assembly (1964) pp. 51-55.

OPC Report II on Women in the Military: http://www.opc.org/GA/WomenInMilitary.html#ReportII

Sixth are books from a Reformed outlook on religion and politics explicitly):

Darryl Hart, A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State (Ivan R. Dee)

Seventh, the spirituality of the church is part of an understanding of Reformed piety that stresses the Christian life as pilgrimage rather than one as crusader.

R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession (P&R Publishing)

D. G. Hart, The Lost Soul of American Protestantism (Rowman & Littlefield)

Finally, not to be missed are works by other Christians and Protestants.

Augustine’s City of God is a classic statement on the double nature of Christian life in this world lived in tension between the desire of the nations and the work of the church.

Lutherans have also much to teach Reformed Christians about the two kingdoms:

Render Unto Caesar and Unto God . . . A Lutheran View of Church and State (LCMS Report from the Commission on Theology and Church Relations)

The Anonymous God: The Church Confronts Civil Religion and American Society (Concordia Publishing)

Finally Time to Re-Think Establishment Principle

Barna Report conducted a study of Christianity in Scotland and the results have some discouraged even if not surprised:

31% say Scotland is a Christian nation

52% identify as Christian – although 70% of them don’t believe the basics of Christian doctrine

17% of Scots claim to be born again Christians…1 in every six is a born again Christian- committed to Christ. “The presence of more than 800,000 Scots—17 percent of the population—who report they have confessed Jesus as Saviour and have made a commitment to him that is still important in their life today—even though nearly half of them do not currently attend church”

17% of Scots regard the bible as totally accurate or authoritative.

24% of 18-24 year olds do. 23% of young 18-24s say that faith has changed their lives, as compared with 12% of all adults.

One in 8 Scots attend church once a month – i.e. they are practicing Christians but only half of those say their faith has transformed their lives – which surely indicates that they should be called ‘churchgoers’ rather than Christians. If following Christ doesn’t change your life then what does?!

David Robertson blames the churches of Scotland for this state as much as any other factors:

Something is missing. I am trying to work out what that is, and I am not clear yet…but let me have a go. Strangely enough I think it is because they seem very inward looking and are more about transforming the Church than transforming Scotland. I guess that if the Church is transformed then it will have a transformational effect upon the whole country. But I would love to have added to the nine points education, biblical ecclesiology, prophetic preaching, mercy ministries, creative arts and perhaps above all, repentance.

Scotland is in the state it is in, not because of the ‘world’ or the culture…we are in the state we are in because of the Church. We need to repent of our lukewarmness, unbelief, hypocrisy, lack of zeal and lovelessness. We need to realize that we cannot do or say anything that will fundamentally change the situation. Without the Spirit of Christ we are lost. We can write Ichabod over our nation. But we are promised the Spirit of Christ. There is hope: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

What also may be missing is an attachment by Scottish Presbyterians to the Establishment Principle (see point 10), the idea that the state has a duty to promote the true religion both through churches and schools. As most people who study the evangelization of Europe know, the way to get a people to “convert” was to make the king a Christian. From there the rest follows. Peter Leithart thinks the same dynamic is at work in Africa (he quotes Andrew Walls):

Religion was always in Igboland directed to the acquisition of power; the gods were followed in as far as they provided it. So the combination of military defeat by the British, the desirable goods and capabilities in the power of the whites; and the association of all this with the power of the book now on offer to them declared the inferiority of the traditional religious channels. There was every religious reason to abandon them.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if the world of the voluntary church that we have in the United States will make the rest of the world properly blessed. We have as much superficial Christianity in the United States as other parts of the world have serious resistance to belief.

But if you want to hurt the cause of Christ, it sure seems to me that identifying it with the political establishment is a long term losing proposition. Does anyone in the United States take public education seriously? And these teachers and principles are only subject to local governments. Imagine tying them directly to the feds and see conservatives, libertarians, and Christians flock to the private and home schools.

Turns Out this Liturgical Calendar Thingy Is Complicated

First — hello — Advent is not Christmas:

There’s a segment of evangelicalism that’s increasingly drawn to liturgy, especially the Anglican tradition, said Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College. But he thinks that’s a part of the Advent boom. “There’s also undoubtedly a commercial element as well,” he said. “As the popularity of the practice grew among an influential segment of the evangelical community, that popularity was cashed in by the Christian publishing, manufacturing, and retailing industries. The visibility of Advent wreaths, candles, banners, books, tracts, etc., undoubtedly had a major impact on a lot of folks’ awareness, tolerance, and embrace of the practice.”

I see the modern adaptation of Advent as a wonderful entry point to the riches of ancient Christian tradition: the church year, sacraments, and liturgy. Indeed, I’m one of those new Anglicans Eskridge refers to—but I got there via a hip Baptist church that introduced me to the seasons of the church year (and cofounded Advent Conspiracy).

But sometimes I find myself befuddled by a particularity of this movement. As a season of the church year, Advent is intended to prepare us for Christmas—a 12-day celebration, a season in itself. Advent is traditionally the fast before the feast. But I see few recent adopters of Advent keeping the feast. Thirty days of waiting, anticipation, preparation—and then when the person on whom you’ve waited arrives, Alright, we’re done here. Pack up the Christmas tree. What are you doing New Year’s Eve?

Fast between Thanksgiving and Christmas? You have to be kidding.

But if you can mix politics into whether or not to observe the Christ Mass, you might be on to something:

. . . when we look to the seventeenth century, we see some evidence of the Kirk making progress in convincing even lay persons that celebrating Christmas really was naughty. One significant factor working in the Kirk’s favor was, somewhat ironically, King James’s new-found conviction that Scottish Christians really should celebrate Christmas. James put significant pressure on the General Assembly of the Kirk meeting in Perth in 1618 to adopt, among a variety of liturgical/practical reforms, a religious calendar consisting of at least a handful of religious days, one of which was Christmas. For James, getting the Scots to celebrate Christmas was one small step towards creating uniformity of religious practice in his lands, which as of 1603 had come to include England. In any case, so far as the common people and their proclivity to celebrate Christmas went, it turned out that telling them they must celebrate Christmas was the surest way to keep some of them at least from doing so.

But if you are a neo-Calvinist, it’s easy peasy:

But let’s think about this for a second. As Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!’” That includes Christmas. It is, and always will be, his. It is as possible to remove Jesus from Christmas as it is to remove him from the church.