Bill Evans is baaaaaaaaaack with another dismissive post about 2k. I am not sure why he grinds this ax, though I have ideas. Also, I detect another attempt to tarnish 2kers with unmentioned and unmentionable implications of their position — the guilt by association technique:
We will cheerfully admit that 2K advocates have some legitimate concerns, particularly that the mission and witness of the church not be hijacked by political and cultural agendas. But in this instance the cure is worse than the disease. While 2K theology may well scratch the itch of Christians who need a theological excuse to remain silent in current cultural conflicts, it is both less than biblical and less than faithful to the decided weight of the Reformed tradition.
Evans shows that he still does not understand 2k. Plenty of 2kers talk about law and politics. The point is for the church only to speak or declare what God has revealed, and in the case of gay marriage, for instance, the Bible does teach what marriage, and that Israel and the church are to enforce biblical norms. But Scripture does not say what a constitutional republic’s marriage policy is supposed to be.
And this gets to the heart of the disagreement — not to mention where Evans not only fails to understand 2k but also the Reformed tradition. If the entire world is Christ’s kingdom, then we would expect all lawful authorities to enforce God’s revealed will. But the Bible tells us quite clearly that the entire world is not Christ’s kingdom — the world consists of believers and unbelievers. The Bible also tells us — contrary to mid-twentieth-century western foreign policy — that Israel no longer exists as the covenant people. The church is now the new Israel, and the church does not have temporal jurisdiction. That means that the church transcends national borders and magistrates’ rule. In other words, what goes on in the church is different from what goes on in the state — the state of Russia, the state of Canada, the state of Japan. Christian’s should expect the church to practice God’s law. But whether Christians should expect non-Christian governments to enforce God’s law upon people who do not fear God is a very complicated question.
The problem is that Evans fudges this very question when he says — in direct contradiction of the Confession of Faith:
. . . the kingdom of God and the institutional church are wrongly equated by 2K advocates. There is a rough consensus among New Testament scholars that the kingdom of God is a much more comprehensive reality than the institutional church, and this misidentification of the church and the kingdom has all sorts of unfortunate results, such as confusion over the nature of “kingdom work” and the silencing of Christians from speaking to societal issues.
Well, how would Evans rewrite this if he considered what the Confession — pre-1788 revision — does say?
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. (25.2)
That’s not exactly the same thing as the kingdom of God. But when the Confession goes on to say — again, pre-1788 revision, “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, (25.3), it is saying that the kingdom of Christ and the visible church are doing something distinct from what the state or magistrate does — “the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evildoers” (23.1). And this distinction between the spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom (remember “my kingdom is not of this world” anyone?) and the temporal nature of the state’s rule, also explains why the Confession (pre-1788 revision again!) says the church should stay out of the state’s bee’s wax:
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. (31.4)
So the notion that 2k is outside the Reformed tradition on the nature of Christ’s kingdom is wrong.
In fact, those who expand the kingdom the way that Evans does under the influence of either Kuyper’s every-square-inchism or Finney’s millenialism are the ones who are outside the Reformed tradition and who threaten the gospel. And this goes to the heart of what animates 2k — a desire to preserve the integrity of the gospel and the church’s witness by not identifying the gospel or Christian witness with matters that are not Christian or redemptive but are common or related to general revelation. Once you begin to expand the kingdom as Evans so glibly does, you wind up doing what Protestant liberals did when they attributed to economics or agriculture or medicine on the mission field redemptive significance or what Social Gospelers did when they identified Progressive policies as signs of the coming of the kingdom. Only the church has the keys of the kingdom and all the Reformed confessions state explicitly that the magistrate may not hold them.
That means that the kingdom of Christ comes through the ministry of the church, not through the administration of the state or the advancement of Western Civilization or the building of the metropolis. Preaching and the sacraments establish the spiritual kingdom, not Broadway, the Tea Party, or a Supreme Court ruling.
Does this mean that 2kers agree with Calvin, Beza, or the Divines on the nature of the magistrate? No 2ker has said that they do. But we have it on good revised confessional authority that the Reformed churches no longer believe about the magistrate what the sixteenth and seventeenth-century Reformed pastors and theologians did. That change is not a minority position only held by 2kers. Proponents of 2k along with all the NAPARC churches, for instance, do not believe that the magistrate should enforce both tables of the law. Surprise!
But the question for the likes of Evans is whether (if he believes that the magistrate should shut down Mormon Temples and Roman Catholic basilicas) the state is actually establishing God’s kingdom. Calvin and the Divines did not believe that politics (or medicine or higher education or New York City) has “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints.” Only the church has this power and ministry.
And that is why 2kers are so insistent on the dangers of transformationalism in whatever guise it comes. It attributes to human activities other than the church, no matter how good or legitimate they may be, transformative powers that Scripture gives only to the church and her ministry of word and sacrament.
So I wish Bill Evans in future comments on 2k would consider the weakness in his own understanding of Reformed Protestantism, not to mention the dangers that come from confusing the spiritual and temporal spheres.
Postscript: Evans also needs to give up the Lutheran-vs.-Calvinist mantra, at least when it comes to politics. One of the arresting parts of John Witte’s argument in The Reformation of Rights (a fairly whiggish and neo-Calvinist rendering of Calvinist resistance theory) is that Calvinists learned resistance from Lutherans: “It is significant that Beza cited the Magdeburg Confession (1550) as his ‘signal example’ of how to respond to political abuse and tyranny. For the Magdeburg Confession was a major distillation of the most advanced Lutheran resistance theories of the day, which the Calvinist tradition absorbed. (106)”