In a previous post I posed some questions about David VanDrunen’s defense of Two-Kingdom (2K) doctrine and raised a general objection to his position (and to similar 2K views). In response to a comment on that thread, I tried to boil down the objection as follows. On my reading, VanDrunen seems to be committed to all of the following claims:
(K1) When living as citizens of the common kingdom, people should observe the moral standard of that kingdom.
(K2) The moral standard for the common kingdom is natural law (and only natural law).
(K3) When living as citizens of the common kingdom, Christians should observe the distinction between the two kingdoms.
(K4) It is not a deliverance of natural law that Christians should observe the distinction between the two kingdoms.
In a nutshell, my objection is that these claims form an inconsistent set: they can’t all be true. So the question is whether 2K advocates really are committed to all four claims, and if not, which do they reject.
(K1) appears to be a conceptual truth, given the 2K understandings of ‘citizen’ and ‘kingdom’. (K2) is stated explicitly by VanDrunen in A Biblical Case for Natural Law (see the quotes in my earlier post). (K3) seems to be an obvious entailment of the 2K doctrine expressed in VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms; it’s hard to see how any 2K-er could reject it. (K4) follows from the fact that the case for 2K doctrine (and its ethical directives) depends on theological categories (e.g., common/special grace, Noahic/Abrahamic covenants) that come from the Bible and not from natural revelation.
Dr. VanDrunen recently posted a clarification of his views on the moral standards for the two kingdoms. I don’t know what prompted that post, but since it’s relevant to my argument I’ll offer two observations: first, his clarification doesn’t really clarify the key issue; and second, it doesn’t resolve the apparent contradiction between the four claims above.
His post doesn’t clarify the key issue because it doesn’t state unambiguously whether or not Scripture serves as a moral standard for Christians when living as citizens of the common kingdom. VanDrunen says that Scripture is “authoritative for the common kingdom” in the sense that it speaks about the common kingdom and it does so authoritatively. He adds that his most recent book “explores Scripture extensively to identify many features of the common kingdom and their implications for how we should conduct ourselves within it.” This seems to confirm that he is committed to claim (K3).
Yet his next paragraph seems to take away with the left hand what he gave with the right:
But there are also certain senses in which Scripture cannot be taken in a simplistic manner as the moral standard of the common kingdom. For one thing, Scripture has always been delivered to God’s special covenant people, the Old Testament to Israel and the New Testament to the church. When Scripture gives its moral commands, it speaks to God’s covenant people and does not give them bare commands, but instructs them how to live as his redeemed covenant people.
I’m not sure what the phrase “in a simplistic manner” is meant to imply. (Is it that Scripture is the moral standard of the common kingdom after all, but only in a complicated manner? What would that mean?) The notion of “bare commands” also begs for elucidation. But leaving aside these points of detail, VanDrunen appears only to be reaffirming his earlier statements that Scripture “cannot be taken simply as the moral standard for the world at large” and “is not given as a common moral standard” (A Biblical Case for Natural Law, pp. 39, 53). In other words, he’s implicitly reaffirming his commitment to claim (K2).
VanDrunen goes on to say:
Unbelievers in the public square shouldn’t kill, commit adultery, or steal, but it’s because these things are prohibited in the natural law which binds all people as human beings, not because they’re in the 10 commandments which come to God’s special people he redeemed out of Egypt.
This is understood, but not relevant (at least to my concerns). The question at hand is whether believers in the public square (i.e., when living as citizens of the common kingdom) should observe natural law alone as their moral standard. If so, then (K3) and (K4) cannot both be true. If not, then (K1) and (K2) cannot both be true. Either way, one of the tenets of 2K theory has to give way in order to save the others. All this to say, VanDrunen’s clarification, insofar as it clarifies anything, only serves to reinforce the problem.