Two Kingdoms, Ten Commandments, One Objection

I recently read David VanDrunen’s A Biblical Case for Natural Law and Living in God’s Two Kingdoms. VanDrunen’s is the most scholarly, articulate, measured, and irenic defense of Two-Kingdom (2K) doctrine I’ve encountered. However, I have some questions about its application and a possible objection to it in principle.

VanDrunen argues that Christians live as citizens of two distinct ‘kingdoms’, both of which are instituted and governed by God. The ‘common’ (or ‘civil’) kingdom was instituted in creation and formally established in the Noahic covenant. It is inhabited by all humans regardless of their spiritual state, it is governed by natural law alone, and it will not continue into the eschaton. Post-fall, the common kingdom is the realm of common grace. In contrast, the ‘spiritual’ (or ‘redemptive’) kingdom is the exclusive realm of special grace, corresponding to the covenant of grace in its various historical administrations. It is inhabited only by believers and their covenant children, it is governed primarily by special revelation (i.e., Scripture), and it will endure for eternity.

I want to focus particular attention on what VanDrunen asserts about the role of Scripture in the two kingdoms. Although VanDrunen argues (correctly, in my view) that Scripture affirms the existence of natural law, understood as a divine moral standard revealed in the conscience and binding on all humans, he goes on to insist that the moral teachings of Scripture are intended only for those in the spiritual kingdom. Here are some representative statements from A Biblical Case for Natural Law:

Scripture is not the appropriate moral standard for the civil kingdom. (p. 38)

The Old Testament Scriptures were not given to the world at large but to the people of Israel. . . . Neither were the New Testament Scriptures given to the world at large but to the church, the new covenant people. Thus, there is a covenant reality — a redemptive reality — that grounds the moral instruction of Scripture. Biblical moral instructions are given to those who are redeemed and are given as a consequence of their redemption. The Ten Commandments, for example, provide not an abstract set of principles but define the life of God’s redeemed covenant people. (p. 39)

The point is that the moral instruction given in Scripture cannot be taken simply as the moral standard for the world at large. The purpose of Scripture’s moral instruction is to regulate and define the lifestyle of God’s redeemed covenant people. To lift the imperatives in Scripture from the context of the indicatives that ground them is to misuse Scripture and force it to serve purposes for which God did not give it. (p. 39)

Scripture is the sacred text given to God’s covenant people whom he has redeemed from sin. . . . Given its character, therefore, Scripture is not given as a common moral standard that provides ethical imperatives to all people regardless of their religious standing. (p. 53)

VanDrunen’s position couldn’t be clearer: Scripture serves as a moral standard only for the spiritual kingdom and not for the common kingdom.

Let’s consider then a point of application. Over the last decade or so, there has been heated public debate in the US over whether or not the Ten Commandments should — or even may — be posted on the walls of courthouses. I heard recently that Dr. Peter Lillback, President of Westminster Theological Seminary, once publicly protested against the removal of the Ten Commandments from one particular courthouse — and he did so as a citizen rather than as a pastor (which he was at the time). It seems to me that VanDrunen’s position on this issue must be diametrically opposed to Lillback’s. Given what VanDrunen says about the proper place of Scripture, surely the Ten Commandments should be removed from courthouse walls. (Note particularly what he says about the Ten Commandments in the second quotation above.) A consistent 2K-er shouldn’t be merely indifferent to the issue. No, he should positively oppose the display of the Decalogue on courthouse walls, because that would constitute a clear confusion of the two kingdoms. The Decalogue as such is not applicable in the common kingdom.

So my first question is simply this: Am I right about this application of 2K doctrine?

I imagine many Christians today wouldn’t find that stance unreasonable. After all, they might say, America can no longer be considered a Christian nation, if indeed it ever was. It’s a pluralistic society allowing freedom of religion and freedom of irreligion. Christians and Jews may well recognize the Ten Commandments as divinely revealed moral laws, but Hindus and Buddhists do not. Why then should those particular religious laws be exhibited in a public courtroom? If justice is supposed to be blind, shouldn’t that include blindness toward religious affiliation?

But consider instead a society in which all are professing Christians. This isn’t purely hypothetical; there have been numerous such societies over the course of Christian history. (I’m not suggesting that everyone in those societies was a regenerate believer, of course; only that everyone was a professing believer and a baptized member of the church.) In such a society, everyone would acknowledge the Decalogue as divinely given and authoritative. It’s entirely plausible that no citizens would object to the Ten Commandments being displayed in the courthouse as a testament to the divine moral law that undergirds public justice. Yet according to VanDrunen’s position it would still be wrong to do so. Not merely unwise or impractical, but morally wrong. This strikes me as quite odd.

Yet there is an even greater oddity here. VanDrunen’s 2K doctrine not only implies that he should oppose the display of the the Decalogue on a courthouse wall; it also implies that he could not oppose it as a point of public policy. Why? Simply because his 2K doctrine is based on the teachings of Scripture and not on natural law. (At any rate, VanDrunen makes his case for 2K doctrine from Scripture — it leans heavily on covenant theology — and it’s hard to see how one could make such a case apart from Scripture.) Since “politics is a matter of the common kingdom” (Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, p. 194) and the common kingdom is ruled by natural law alone, any point of public policy based on 2K doctrine cannot be defended in the civil sphere as a point of public policy. This strikes me as very odd.

These considerations suggest a more general objection to 2K theories — one that doesn’t depend on the specific policy issue considered above. It’s important to see that 2K theories aren’t merely descriptive; they make substantial normative claims. Specifically, they make ethical claims about how Christians should conduct themselves as citizens of the two kingdoms. Christians ought to recognize and rightly apply the distinction between the two kingdoms. Consequently, Christians ought not to appeal to Scripture in their moral dealings with unbelievers, because Scripture is intended only for God’s covenant people and thus it is “not the appropriate moral standard for the civil kingdom” (A Biblical Case for Natural Law, p. 38, my emphasis).

But this observation invites a question: According to which moral standard do these ethical directives apply? As I see it, there are three possible answers here: (1) according to natural law, the moral standard of the common kingdom; (2) according to Scripture, the moral standard of the spiritual kingdom; or (3) according to some higher law that transcends and encompasses both kingdoms.

The problem with (1) is that, as I’ve noted, it appears one cannot justify 2K doctrine on the basis of natural law alone; a fortiori, one cannot justify the ethical directives of 2K doctrine on the basis of natural law alone. So that option doesn’t seem remotely viable.

The problem with (2) is that Scripture only applies to the spiritual kingdom and therefore only applies to Christians as citizens of the spiritual kingdom. But the ethical directives in question must apply to Christians as citizens of both kingdoms. After all, when Christians act as citizens of the common kingdom rather than as citizens of the spiritual kingdom (e.g., when voting in a presidential election) they still have to act according to the ethical directives of 2K doctrine; but if those directives come from Scripture, that would involve an inappropriate application of the spiritual kingdom’s moral standard to matters of the common kingdom.

Finally, the problem with (3) is that 2K theories simply have no place for a higher law that transcends and encompasses the kingdoms — a third moral standard distinct from the standards of the two kingdoms. In other words, accepting (3) would amount to either a modification of 2K doctrine that leaves it unrecognizable or a wholesale abandonment of it.

Call this general objection to 2K theories the meta objection: 2K theories involve ethical directives that are either applied inconsistently or else depend on a meta-standard that calls the whole scheme into question. One tempting response to this objection is to say that Christians are always bound to follow the moral teachings of Scripture, even though unbelievers are not so bound (being governed only by natural law). Thus, while unbelievers are not expected to observe the ethical directives of 2K doctrine, Christians are expected to do so — at all times and in all circumstances.

The problem with this response is that it simply isn’t a consistent 2K response. As expounded by VanDrunen, the central thesis of 2K doctrine is not that the world is divided into two groups — Christians and non-Christians — with a different moral standard for each group. Rather, it is that the world is divided into two kingdoms — the common and the spiritual — with a different moral standard for each kingdom. Moreover, Christians are dual citizens. Thus, when Christians act as citizens of the common kingdom (e.g., when engaged in politics) they should observe the standard of that kingdom, and when they act as citizens of the spiritual kingdom (e.g., when engaged in church discipline) they should observe the standard of that kingdom. The whole point of the 2K doctrine is that we need to honor the two kingdoms and their distinct standards. But it’s precisely that ethical dualism which gives rise to the meta objection.

If I’ve properly understood VanDrunen’s position and its implications, this would appear to present quite a serious problem for it (and for similar 2K theories). If I haven’t properly understood it, I’d certainly welcome any correction! At any rate, I hope these animadversions will provoke further reflection on both the theory and the practice of 2K doctrine.

32 thoughts on “Two Kingdoms, Ten Commandments, One Objection”

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  3. So then what ethical standard are we to use when functioning as citizens in the earthly kingdom? Van Drunen and the 2k folk say an entirely different one than that given by scripture (not withstanding your point about the self-defeating nature of that argument, given the origin of the common kingdom ethic), but what do you say? Should a Christian apologize for rooting their public ethics in scripture when voting and advocating in the public space?

    I’m new to your blog and like this topic and post, BTW. My own blog: I’m a reformed political scientist considering these issues myself. This helps!

    1. I’m basically with John Frame on this. I think Scripture applies equally to all of life (which is not to say, of course, that Scripture addresses every topic with equal specificity) and Scripture provides the moral standard for every sphere. But that doesn’t mean that Christians must always appeal to Scripture to justify their views in the civil sphere. Sometimes it will be more appropriate or effective to appeal to natural law (i.e., the conscience). Each case must be considered on its own merits. There are no simple formulas.

  4. Two things to keep in mind here. 1 – DVD is stressing the difference between the church (not the Christian) and the common kingdom. This is the main issue (i.e. the church does not have authority over the civil kingdom and vice versa). 2 – When you turn to the issue of Christians and their role in the common kingdom, their activity is not restricted to anything as long as it is not sinful, due to their dual citizenship. Because every person has a conscience (as Paul points out in Romans) placed their by God, we don’t have to read the Bible to someone so they learn not to murder as they already know that. Regarding the public policy decision each believer must make on a case-by-case basis, I don’t see a problem with the view of the Christian in opposing the Ten Commandments on the wall. One, the law of the land (separation of church and state) could demand it, and Scripture tells us as Christians to obey the law. The issue could be different however if there was no legal separation between church & state. In other words, the application of 2K in a different country may look different. The Christian in this instance MAY oppose it but MAY not, as they are reminders of God’s unchanging moral/legal principles. Which by the way coincide with the actual laws of the land. My point is that the two kingdoms view does not create an invisible fence for our activities; rather it creates a guidepost for dealing with the natural tension and antithesis between living in the common kingdom and the kingdom of God. We’re not to eliminate the antithesis, but navigate and embrace it. Regarding an over-arching meta principle that governs the two kingdoms, since it is God who governs the two kingdoms, that’s quite enough for me.

    Some of these things I mention has been covered by the original poster, but I thought I’d cover it anyway. Sorry this post is a bit disjointed.

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      I’m not sure I see the relevance of your first point. My post noted at the outset that the spiritual kingdom corresponds to the church, not to individual Christians, so I’m not guilty of confusion on that point. Moreover, even a non-2K-er like John Frame would grant that the church does not have authority over the state and vice versa (see, e.g., his article “Toward a Theology of the State”) so that can’t be the main issue in the debate over 2K.

      As for the second point, you don’t seem to be engaging with the specifics of my argument. Doesn’t VanDrunen’s stated position entail that the 10Cs should not be displayed on a courtroom wall? If not, why not?

      Your comments suggest that 2K is nothing more than an affirmation of church-state separation. But even theonomists hold to church-state separation in some respects. 2K makes much stronger claims.

      Finally, I don’t see how your remark about God governing the two kingdoms addresses the meta objection. That God governs everything is a given. The issue is: How does he govern?

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  7. I recently finished Cornelis Venema’s Accepted and Renewed in Christ, and his chapter “Law and Gospel” contains information that makes a 2K view look doubtful for Calvin. You said that 2K believes that “the ‘common’ (or ‘civil’) kingdom was instituted in creation and formally established in the Noahic covenant. It is inhabited by all humans regardless of their spiritual state, it is governed by natural law alone, and it will not continue into the eschaton.”

    Here are the contrasting quotes from Venema:

    “Calvin’s use of the term “law” is exceedingly diverse, yet the root idea from which his particular uses of the term derive is that of the law as God’s orderly will for creation.” (229)

    “Though Calvin does not develop a natural ethic or assume that this law is rightly apprehended or obeyed apart from God’s gracious action in Christ, he nowhere sets the obedience of redeemed humanity against that of God’s original intention for his creatures. Rather, as one would expect, Calvin interprets God’s redemptive dealings with humanity as consistent with his creative purpose.” (230-1)

    These conclusions are congruent with Venema’s overall interpretation of Calvin’s theology:

    “By adopting this distinction and arrangement, Calvin attempts to fulfill two objectives, both of which witness persuasively to the grace of God the Redeemer in Christ: first, to establish the identity, albeit not absolute congruity, between the knowledge of the Triune Redeemer and Creator, and thereby suggest that redemption involves God’s free decision to remain faithful to his creative purpose, despite the sinful creature’s unfaithfulness and willful disobedience; and second, to establish the inexcusability of this unfaithfulness in contrast with the gratuitous mercy exhibited in God’s redemption in Christ.” (51)

    “The Mediator of creation and redemption is one and the same, and his restoration of fellowship between God and humanity in redemption represents, in this respect, the reassertion of his claim and rightful place as Mediator of creation.” (70)

    So, if Venema’s interpretation of Calvin is correct, then 2K seems to press a greater distinction between natural law and spiritual (?) law than Calvin would have allowed.

    1. Thanks for this, Charlie.

      I’m no Calvin scholar, but this sounds right to me. It’s clear enough that Calvin affirmed natural law (in some sense) and carefully distinguished church (spiritual) government from civil government. But those two ideas alone don’t get you to a full-blooded 2K position. Moreover, in the Institutes Calvin says that civil government has “the duty of rightly establishing religion” (4.20.3) and that the magistrates should enforce (or at least promote) “both Tables of the Law” (4.20.9). That doesn’t strike me as consonant with VanDrunen’s 2K perspective!

      Of course, whether or not Calvin can be claimed by the 2K camp isn’t the important issue.

      I should also mention, for what it’s worth, that I agree with much of what VanDrunen says in Living in God’s Two Kingdoms. He offers some excellent insights and correctives. But it seems to me that the parts I agree with don’t depend on 2K doctrine (although they are compatible with it).

  8. I haven’t read any 2K literature, but I wonder how they would deal with a passage like Mark 6:18: “For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.'”

    As the ESV study Bible notes: “‎Herod Antipas was not a Jew, yet John did not hesitate to tell him that he had violated the moral law of God (cf. Lev. 18:16).”

    Was John the Baptist violating the two kingdoms? Did 2K not apply in that era? Was John arguing from natural law? Or would 2Kers say this is irrelevant since John wasn’t saying that it should be against public policy?

    Any thoughts?

    1. Jonathan,

      I can’t speak for the 2K crowd, but my hunch is they would say that John is appealing to natural law. However, it’s questionable whether natural law can support such a specific denunciation of incest.

  9. James,

    Thoughtful post. You should send Van Drunen a copy and see if he would offer a response. I think this is kind of interaction he was hoping to generate.

    I’ll offer a few thoughts as one that finds some some aspects of Van Drunen’s exposition convincing and some less so.

    First, I’m still trying to get my arms around your a priori argument. I suspect VanDrunen sees his 2K taxonomy as Scripture’s own way of dividing the playing field, similar to say the way Scripture divides all revelation into two different types (general and special).

    IOW, I think Van Drunen’s objection would basically be the same, whether it’s the common kingdom trying to impose the Biblical rational of the 4th commandment upon all men OR whether it’s the common kingdom trying to use the Bible to prove whether the world is round or flat. In both cases, I think he would say Scripture is being used in a way it never was intended.

    To maybe state it a different way, the question of whether the world is flat or round is ultimately a question of general revelation. That category of revelation itself is defined by Ps. 19, Romans 1, etc. But when it comes to actually look at the limited question of flat earth vs. round earth, it won’t do me any good to then go back and look at the details of the Book that established ‘general revelation’ as a category in the first place. So just because Scripture defines the category of revelation that leads to a question about the earth’s shape, it doesn’t decide the question at hand for us — for that we have to rely on general revelation.

    Maybe I’m reading DVD differently OR maybe I’m missing your argument, but that’s how I’ve always understood Van Drunen’s 2K taxonomy. Just because Scripture defines the existence of two such kingdoms (just like it defines the existence of two such revelations) DOESN’T necessarily mean that Scripture therefore becomes the defacto authority that answers all questions about each kingdom. Just because one doesn’t appeal to the Bible in deciding whether the earth is round or flat DOESN’T necessary mean that general revelation question is being pursued in an autonomous manner.

    Second, I think this changes somewhat your own taxonomy of 3 options at the end. I don’t think Van Drunen makes any bones about trying to establish 2k doctrine on the basis of natural law — if anything, it’s the other way around. It’s the 2k doctrine, as he sees it being taught in the Scripture, that gives rise to the whole notion of natural law that governs the common kingdom.

    Third, is the root of your objection whether one can say that natural law (as defined by Scripture as a category) is then capable of ethical directives on matters of politics *without* returning to Scripture as it’s immediate authority? As I understand it, this seems to be the root of Frame’s critique of Westminster West on this point.

    Fourth, how would your argument against Van Drunen *differ* from say Bahnsen’s arguments against those who argue that the civil OT laws can’t be directly applied to modern civil governments?

    Fifth, in these kinds of discussions, I’m always reminded of Bahnsen’s repeated maxim “If not theonomy, then autonomy!” Rhetorically, it’s a brilliant move….until you actually try to work it out. As most of the Reformed world would say, things are more complex than such an either/or. I think the same applies here, which is why I’m willing to live with disagreements on this issue for how to relate the common kingdoms to the redemptive kingdoms.

    In your taxonomy of 3 options, we can definitely take the third option off the table, at least for the defenders of 2k doctrine I know. I suspect you were raising that as a hypothetical (for sake of argument), which is fine. But as his ‘Biblical Case for Natural Law’ shows, there’s no ‘higher law’ in Van Drunen’s understanding of common kingdom ethics. But like with the issue of theonomy, I think there maybe more positions of nuance needed than simply (1) and (2).

    Last, it’s easy to make Van Drunen look like a ‘cultural antinomian’ for denouncing the 10 Commandments being hung up on a United States courthouse. But the opposite has to be asked — just what then do those 10 Commandments mean in that sort of context, if they should remain? What would the 1st Commandment or 4th Commandment look like in the common kingdom? I think that’s the flip side desire for consistency — If the 10 Commandments should be hung back up in a courthouse, just how exactly are those law sanctions suppose to be imposed?

    This is where I’m sympathetic with Van Drunen, even if I don’t know that I would articulate things exactly like him. If the 10 Commands belong back up on an Alabama courthouse, then why aren’t people being charged for violating the Sabbath? Or do we simply have the 4th commandment around as ‘window dressing’ with no ability to actually enforce it? This goes back to the Van Drunen’s insistence on the covenantal context, built largely Kline’s notion as “scripture as covenant document”! Covenant documents entail covenant stipulations…and stipulations entail sanctions.

    The 4th commandment again is a good example — it makes sense to me how to understand and apply it viz a vie the covenant community. But it’s not entirely clear to me how I would enforce that law in the common sphere with unbelievers!

    In the end, I think Van Drunen’s insistence that the 10 Commandments don’t belong in public courthouses is the *same* basic argument Machen made about why prayer should be taken out of public schools. Now, a few big on ‘cultural Christianity’ or ‘America as a Christian nation’ might object to Machen’s objection, but most I think most understand Machen’s point — prayer is *covenantal* redemptive language, not common grace language! And hence, it’s only appropriate for those in covenantal union with God to partake in such an activity. Is the argument for why the 10 commandments be left out of public courthouses all that different?

    I look forward to your reply.

    Cordially in Christ,

    1. Thanks for these excellent comments and questions, Matt. For now I will just say that even if I didn’t have a good alternative to DVD’s position, my objection would still need to be addressed. It’s a question of the internal coherence of 2K theories, which is logically independent of the virtues or vices of the various non-2K positions. However, I will try to make time to address your points in more detail later on.

      1. James,

        Fair enough.

        (1) I suppose one remaining question I have is this — is there a Reformed view out there of cult/culture and church/state that *doesn’t* have to routinely field off charges that something is not internally inconsistent? Speaking for myself, I haven’t seen one that solves everything. In some ways, I think it’s exactly like the Days of Creation debate — every view has ‘difficulties’ that have to be accounted for somehow, but those explanations are rarely (if ever) satisfactory to people who don’t already agree with the position first.

        (2) I’m still trying to see if I understand why you find 2k’s own logic self-contradictory in its own terms. I hear your position essentially doing something like this:
        * DVD sees Scripture defining both of these Two Kingdoms as such: the holy and common
        * DVD says Scripture is not authoritative to govern one of those kingdoms: the common
        * Ergo, DVD’s view of Scripture is self-contradictory because it claims to define a realm that it can’t subsequently govern.

        That’s different from Frame’s objection. Frame would disagree that the Bible teaches the existence of the two kingdoms in DVD’s taxonomy of views. You seem to be saying, even if Van Drunen is right in seeing that the Bible does define these two kingdoms as such, the argument breaks down via the second premise.

        (3) One other question….It seems to me that DVD sees his views of 2K related to his understanding of Reformed natural law. It sounds like on that point, both of you might agree. Further, I’ve heard DVD talk highly of Michael Sudduth’s book on natural theology that you gave a mostly-positive (as I recall) review in Themelios earlier this year.

        IOW, I think Van Drunen bases a big part of his 2K argument on what he sees as the Bible’s own understanding of natural theology, the point that Frame seems to really seize on in reviewing DVD’s first book (i.e. a suspicion that the Bible teaches ‘natural law’ in the way DVD describes it). But clearly you don’t see natural theology leading down the 2K road that he takes you on. So I’m wondering if you might comment further where you see yourselves agreeing (if at all) and where you think Van Drunen’s understanding of natural law gets him into trouble.


        1. Matt,

          Responding to your three points:

          (1) I’m not aware of any internal inconsistency in John Frame’s views on church/state (see “Toward a Theology of the State” and chapter 32 of DCL). While all positions may have difficulties, all difficulties are not created equal. An inconsistency in the basic tenets of a position is quite a serious difficulty!

          (2) I don’t think your summary captures my objection. I’m not sure how I can state it more clearly than I did originally, but here’s another way to put the point. As I read him, VD seems to be committed to all of the following:

          [1] When living as citizens of the common kingdom, people should observe the moral standard of that kingdom.
          [2] The moral standard for the common kingdom is natural law (and only natural law).
          [3] When living as citizens of the common kingdom, Christians should observe the distinction between the two kingdoms.
          [4] 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 [1]-[4] form an inconsistent set.

          (3) Natural law is necessary but not sufficient for 2K doctrine. So one can consistently hold to a theory of natural law while rejecting 2K doctrine. As for natural theology, that’s not the same thing as natural law (the former concerns what we can know about God based on natural revelation alone, the latter concerns what we can know about morality from natural revelation alone). They’re interrelated, of course, but neither commits one to 2K doctrine.

          As I suggested in the original post, the problem with VD’s position isn’t the commitment to natural law but rather the ethical dualism that follows from the 2K scheme.

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  11. Matt,

    On (3), I’m not sure you want to invoke Sudduth’s book, and I highly doubt DVD could use it to the end that you seem to think he can. First, he doesn’t seem to base any of his argument, as far as I can see, on natural theology (in fact, he claims his argument is based on special revelation), and second, Sudduth’s *dogmatic model* of NT isn’t remotely congenial or analagous to DVD’s argument. Given the dogmatic model Sudduth proposes, James’ argument wouldn’t apply.

  12. James (and Paul),

    My apologies for not asking (3) above in a very cogent manner. I’m more at home translating Hebrew poetry than understanding philosophy….so bear with me.

    I suppose I was curious for you to elaborate your comment: “Although VanDrunen argues (correctly, in my view) that Scripture affirms the existence of natural law…”

    I noticed the two books referenced at the beginning of this brief objection left out DVD’s ‘Natural Law and Two Kingdoms’ work that came in between….so I was hoping to get any further comments on Van Drunen’s understanding of ‘natural law’ and how you see that factoring in his overall argument. From what I’ve heard him say, he sees all three books as part of an extended project.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on the middle book, especially after reading your Sudduth review (which I liked, btw). I realize Sudduth and Van Drunen may very well be coming at natural theology from very different angles. But both seem to be responding to the leading objections raised by the Dutch Calvinists (Kuyperians), the Neo-Orthodox (Barthians), and the Reformed Epistemologists (Plantinga). So I suppose my question is this — how do you see Sudduth succeeding and Van Drunen failing in their broader application of their ‘natural law’ projects?

    I realize these may be big questions, but they are ones I wrestle with as I try to unbury myself from Niphal and Hophal nuances! ;)


  13. Matt,

    I realize you’re mainly asking James, but I’ll offer two brief thoughts on the two things you’re asking, (1) Nat Law, (2) Nat Theo:

    (1) NL: I think some aspects of natural law are correct (for example, that nature is not just mechanical but normative, i.e., has a purpose or function), but this tradition is huge in the ethical literature and there are just dozens of questions that would need to be asked of DVD’s proposal for us to even properly evaluate the case.

    Now, as I see things, DVD has basically given us a historical claim along with an assertion needing argument. The historical claim is that many early Reformers held to NL. The assertion is that there is a natural law. Now, N.L. has functioned largely as an I.O.U. To avoid being considered irrelevant, 2K had to distance themselves from the claim that they were saying “anything goes” in the civil sphere, i.e., that they were allowing moral relativism to “rule” that realm. Theonomists and others were asking, “what’s your standard?” Theonomists were giving 2K what they had received for so long, i.e., “how do you determine the morality or punishment of some X?” The answer given has been, “natural law.” It was the assertive claim again, i.e., we have a standard.

    But it’s coming close to time to make good on the I.O.U. Until then, it’s hard for one to really comment on the merits of the 2K case at this point. DVD recognizes this, he writes:

    Natural law arguments have always been easier to dispute than to defend, and the present social context surely exacerbates the difficulty of constructing good natural law appeals. Thus this promises to be a major task for future exponents of historic Reformed categories. One particular aspect of this difficult task was raised above in the discussion of Kline’s theology: if the moral obligations of the first four commandments of the Decalogue are part of the natural law, yet Christians believe on the basis of Scripture that these moral obligations are not to be enforced in contemporary civil law, then how ought Christians make arguments in the public square for religious liberty and disestablishment of religious institutions? From a somewhat different angle, are Christians to argue from natural law itself that some aspects of natural law should not be enforced by civil law, and, if so, how would this be done? Or do Christians have nothing but Scripture upon which to defend publicly their views on such issues? These are challenging questions indeed.

    So I think time will tell how it features into his overall argument. What we have so far is by no means sufficient to make that decision, and DVD seems to somewhat agree. So, let’s see what a rigorous and spelled-out 2K NL theory looks like and then we’ll take it from there. DVD has said that NL isn’t “the Catholic” version, and I assume it’s not Aristotelian or Lockean, so what is it?

    (2) NT: Given (1), I hope it’s easy to see that the two questions really have nothing to do with each other. It’s not a question of how we can say Sudduth succeeds while DVD fails, it’s that, in part, DVD hasn’t put forward anything detailed and rigorous enough to succeed or fail.

    It is true that Sudduth was responding to Barthian and neo-Calvinist criticisms of NT, but that’s a slender reed to hang any robust parity on. If I may ever-so-briefly put forth Sudduth’s project: Is there any Reformed objection to NT per se, or are the only objections model-specific objections, i.e., criticisms of specific models or approaches to NT that are not entailed by the basics of the NT thesis? Sudduth says there are no objections to NT per se. The objections that seem to hit their mark by arising from confessional Reformed tenants are those aimed at models of NT that are autonomous, that leave special Revelation out of it, not guiding or setting the parameters of the project. In other words, those that are not normed and governed by special revelation. Dogmatic models of NT are governed and guided and limited by Scripture. NT is worked out according to that tradition, and within its confines. These models escape many of the so-called Reformed challenges to NT. Obviously much more needs to be said, but that’s a decent brief summary.

    So given that summary we can see the disanalogy between Sudduth’s NT and DVD’s 2K/NL. On Sudduth’s view, Scripture is intimately involved, guiding and governing the task, providing the project with its content and setting up walls to hedge in the project. Moreover, the project, according to Sudduth, may only be systematically carried out and achieved by regenerate Christians, not pagan unbelievers—though they may be able to correctly hit on aspects of NT. All of this is contrary to how DVD argues for his 2K and NL, and so it’s simply not even close as to how one might be able to see one succeed and not the other.

    Anyway, longer than expected, but I hope somewhat helpful on these narrow aspects of your question. James may of course say something different here than me (though I hope not!), as well as answering your other specifically-James-directed questions.

  14. Sorry, the DVD quote is from Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought (Eerdmans, 2010, p. 433)

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  16. It’s quite sad. (R)2K proponents are even more extreme than the old Voluntaries (who would at least support Sabbath legislation).

    One obvious problem with his construction is that the family (creation ordinance) formed the first political and ecclesiastical organization. Acknowledging the state to have its origins pre-fall, I would likewise argue that the church’s origins are pre-fall, as well. Adam and Eve were bound to worship God, observing His instituted ordinances and appointments. The Sabbath was given them as a creation ordinance, not merely as a day of rest from physical labor, but to consecrate to His praise. The fact that all of this occurred pre-fall simply meant that worship was not mediated through Christ; that has no bearing on the question of whether mankind as such was bound to worship God in a collective capacity. Before the fall, their conduct as a church was capable of being directed by natural revelation; after the fall, special revelation became absolutely requisite.

    The state and the church therefore do not have a correspondence to the covenant of works and the covenant of grace respectively (since both were instituted under the covenant of works); and special revelation is just as requisite to the right ordering of the state as it is for the right ordering of the church.

    “It is granted that ‘civil order and its authority are not founded in grace.’ But from this it does not follow that ‘the recognition of no principle, peculiar to the system of grace,’ can be considered necessary to the validity of its constitution and administration, in a nation enjoying the light of revealed truth. This may be illustrated by reference to an analogous case — the religious homage which we owe to God,” etc.

    1. This is a great point. My only quibble is that I would argue, following Van Til, that special revelation was also necessary before the fall. But you are absolutely right that the church, as a worshiping body, preceded the fall.

  17. Couple of things I noticed. Though I don’t believe you do it on purpose, you seem to misrepresent the R2K position. This is the problem with logical arguments: if your presuppositions are faulty everything you build upon them are likely to be faulty as well.

    You write: “VanDrunen’s position couldn’t be clearer: Scripture serves as a moral standard only for the spiritual kingdom and not for the common kingdom.”

    On the contrary, it’s not that it’s not applicable to all areas of life, it’s just not enforceable upon all people. You present it as though 2K folks only believe that scripture speaks into the spiritual realm. On the contrary, (as far as I know) they believe it speaks to all areas of life but that only those who have chosen to enter into a covenant relationship with God (i.e. the Church) have a sufficient reason for submitting to the teaching of the scriptures. For those who have entered into this relationship, scripture speaks to all areas of their lives – all of their actions and decisions including their participation in the common realm. It dictates what the life of a Christian living as a pilgrim among non-believers ought to look like. For those who haven’t entered into relationship with God, they find the contents of the scriptures meaningless and without authority or relevance to any aspect of their life. It is not the church’s role to forcibly coerce the unregenerate to live as though they were regenerate. I think the VanDrunen quote you include above nails it: the obedience to the commands of God (the imperatives) are predicated upon and grounded in the indicatives (the grace, regeneration, sanctification, justification, etc., that we receive through the finished work of Christ). It’s not that the scriptures are any less true or any less binding on unbelievers (truth is truth, and they will one day undergo judgment for their rejection of that truth), but that apart from faith they will consistently reject the truth that is from God. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned and the unspiritual cannot understand them (at least not fully). And then the question becomes, scripturally, what is to be our response to their rejection of God’s truth. Some argue (though I’m not accusing you of this) that we must install God’s law as the law of the land by any means necessary including violent force. However, the scriptures seem to indicate that we are to seek a peaceful existence in the land we find ourselves, and to even love to our enemies. And in 1 Cor 5 Paul makes plain that it is not his role to judge those outside of the church, but rather those within the church. Why? Because by their profession of faith they have submitted themselves to the authority of the scriptures. To those who are outside the church, during this age we preach the good news of the gospel and call them to repentance and faith. For those that reject the message and choose to live wickedly, their judgment comes from God at the eschaton, not by our hands in the present. Vengeance belongs to the Lord (Rom 12).

    Next, you describe a hypothetical society in which all members were professing Christians but not all were regenerate. However, I must ask, if they were unregenerate could they truly “acknowledge the Decalogue as divinely given and authoritative,” as you say, or would they just be paying it lip service. Or perhaps they would merely refrain from revealing how they really felt for fear of being put to death as a heretic.

    Finally, I found fault with your attempt to argue that 2K thought is self-refuting based on your assertion that there are only three possible options: “(1) according to natural law, the moral standard of the common kingdom; (2) according to Scripture, the moral standard of the spiritual kingdom; or (3) according to some higher law that transcends and encompasses both kingdoms.”

    Once again, you argue against #2 as though 2K people believe that scripture only applies to the spiritual kingdom, but this is not so. Scripture is the higher law that encompasses and is applicable to all aspects of life (spiritual and common), but it is only binding for (or enforceable by the church upon) spiritual people. You believe that you’ve logically dismantled the position, but you’ve just misrepresented it.

    1. Two comments in response:

      1. Your reading of my intentions is rather uncharitable. I made no claim to have “logically dismantled the position”. Rather, I shared what appeared to me to be an objection to 2K doctrine and invited comments. I even indicated at the end that my objection could be based on a misunderstanding, and if so, I would welcome correction. But as it is, I haven’t yet seen a convincing answer to the objection from 2K advocates.

      2. Ironically, it is you who have misrepresented me. I nowhere claimed that according to 2K the Bible is “not applicable to all areas of life”. That’s not the issue at all. Nor does the issue have anything to do with whether the church has the authority to enforce civil law or whether the state has the authority to enforce ecclesiastical law. These are all red herrings. No, the issue is precisely as I described it: whether the Bible functions as a moral standard for the civil kingdom in any substantial sense. I suggest you re-read the post and try to represent the argument correctly in future.

      Perhaps it would help if you also read my follow-up post.

  18. @James

    Thank you for responding. I apologize if you felt my comments uncharitable. I firmly believe that we are bretheren in Christ and assume that we may discuss our varying viewpoints without malice. Let me assure you that it wasn’t my intent to offend or mischaracterize you in any way. I am merely interested in engaging the ideas you presented in your post. Your response, however, simply seems to deflect the objections I raised rather than engage them. I assume the fault lies with me (and the inherent ambiguity of language). Let me try to explain again, hopefully with more clarity this time. And you did welcome correction, so please be willing to engage in a dialogue and consider what is being said. (fyi, I have read both posts.)

    First, I acknowledge that you nowhere used the phrases “logically dismantled the position” nor “not applicable to all areas of life.” Those were my summations or paraphrases of what I preceived to you to be communicating. Now if those were completely incorrect I am willing to be corrected. But let’s be reasonable in our attempt to read, understand, and engage one another. You simply write that you didn’t say exactly those things in quotes and end the discussion, but there is perhaps more that could be said.

    No, you didn’t say your intent was to “logically dismantle the position,” but in both posts you present a list of possible options and attempt to show how they are not logically compatible with 2k thought. In this post you present three options and argue that none of them are compatible with 2k thought; in the other post you list 4 things you believe 2k people hold to and argue that one cannot hold all four without contradiction. In light of that, was my choice of words really so incomprehensible or inappropriate? I think not. You were attempting to show logical inconguity in the 2k position, were you not? Am I wrong?

    Also, you didn’t say that 2k people don’t believe that scripture is “not applicable to all areas of life,” but you did say that “the problem with (2) is that Scripture only applies to the spiritual kingdom and therefore only applies to Christians as citizens of the spiritual kingdom.” Those are your words: “only applies to the spiritual kingdom.” Again, was my phraseology so far off as to be unintelligible? I just point this out to show you that you’re focusing on and creating difficulties over something unimportant like my word choice, when we could be discussing real issues of substance relating to this issue. I ask that you please respond in a way that is conducive to furthering dialogue rather than writing in futility.

    So, finally, on to the heart of the matter. My assertion is, to put it bluntly, that the position you have argued against is a straw man. As a result of the way in which you have presented the 2k view you have shown it have logical failures, but those that hold to the 2k view would not recognize their own position in your writings. Of course, part of the problem is that the 2k system is not a monolith, just like all systems tend not to be monolithic in thought (you will see variations of reformed thought, covenant theology, dispensationalsim, etc.). But still, it seems to me that you have dealt a logical deathblow to a position that no one holds.

    If you feel like most of my objections were red herrings…fine, let’s just focus on the most important one. You write that the main issue is “whether the Bible functions as a moral standard for the civil kingdom in any substantial sense.” Here’s the thing – as a 2k advocate I would argue yes! For the believer, scripture (special revelation) is the plumb line by which everything may be measured. It lights our path and guides our feet in all that we do. It is absolutely authoritative for all of life. It dictates how we are to live as part of the covenant community of believers, and it also dictates what the life of a Christian living as a pilgrim among non-believers ought to look like. It is the authority for all things in both the spiritual and common realm.

    You wrote: “The problem with (2) is that Scripture only applies to the spiritual kingdom and therefore only applies to Christians as citizens of the spiritual kingdom. But the ethical directives in question must apply to Christians as citizens of both kingdoms.” I would say that scripture does apply to Christians as citizens of both kingdoms. You also wrote: “Thus, when Christians act as citizens of the common kingdom (e.g., when engaged in politics) they should observe the standard of that kingdom, and when they act as citizens of the spiritual kingdom (e.g., when engaged in church discipline) they should observe the standard of that kingdom.” Now, I may be wrong here, but it seems that you are indicating that there is a sort of either-or here in 2k thought; that at times people act within one kingdom, and at other times they act within the other. They change hats depending on the situation, redefining their normative standard or authority depending upon the situation. In otherwords, the Christian would adhere to natural law in the common sphere, and special revelation in the spiritual sphere. This simply isn’t the case. A Christian is simultaneously part of both kingdoms all the time, always. I am a citizen of the United States (I have a Social Security card, my residence is geographically located here, etc.) and have been since the day I was born, but I am also a citizen of heaven (Phil 3:20), and am seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6). As a Christian I am bound by God’s word all time, always, in everything that I do. I am to be a good and law abiding citizen of the earthly nation in which I reside. I am to obey the commands of the civil government so long as they do not conflict with the commands of God. And I am to obey the commands of God in everything I do. Christians are dual citizens, living simultaneously as part of both kingdoms. Unbelievers exist only within the common realm. They are not united to Christ and thus are not members of his Kingdom. We, like Abraham, are strangers and exiles in a land that is not our own (Heb 11:13) awaiting the fulness of the promises that God has made.

    In your other post you wrote: “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.” As you could probably surmise by this point, as a 2k person I would argue a giant no! We as Christians should not observe natural law alone as our moral standard. Our standard is not natural law. We have been given special revelation, the very word of God, and it is the authoritative standard for us at all times and all places and all situations. But the way we are to handle certain issues as Christians (immorality for instance) is different when dealing with fellow believers as opposed to non-believers (see 1 Cor 5).

    That’s enough for now. Look forward to hearing back from you.

    1. Thank you. This is a more constructive response.

      In reply:

      1. My objection was directed against VD’s position, from whom I quoted directly, and any other 2K position which likewise holds that Scripture does not function as the moral standard for the civil kingdom. You haven’t tried to show that I have misread or misrepresented VD’s position, so your complaint that I have argued against a straw man rings hollow, I’m afraid.

      2. If you maintain that Scripture does indeed function as the moral standard for the civil kingdom — at least, for Christians in the civil kingdom — then I will happily concede that my objection does not apply to your position. But then my question is: Why do you consider yourself a 2K person? For on your view, the crucial distinction is not between two kingdoms but between two groups: Christians (for whom Scripture serves as the moral standard at all times and in all circumstances) and non-Christians (for whom natural law serves as the moral standard at all times and in all circumstances).

      In other words, your position is not recognizable as a genuine 2K position. Can you point to one acknowledged (and preferably published) 2K advocate who would take the line of defense that you have and who would agree that Scripture serves as the moral standard for Christians even when engaged in the public square? This is not a rhetorical question; I would really like to know about any 2K scholars who take that line.

      To put the point another way: even John Frame — nay, even a theonomist — would agree that Christians are dual citizens, citizens of both an earthly kingdom/nation and a heavenly kingdom/nation. So do they count as 2Kers too? If so, what Reformed theologian wouldn’t count as a 2Ker?

      Again, these aren’t rhetorical questions. I’m eager to learn whether I have misidentified the bounds of 2K doctrine. But please don’t just repeat the claim that you consider yourself a 2Ker. I want to know: (1) what is distinctively 2K about your position; and (2) where I can find your position represented in the 2K literature.

  19. Crawfodc,

    In your other post you wrote: “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.” As you could probably surmise by this point, as a 2k person I would argue a giant no! We as Christians should not observe natural law alone as our moral standard. Our standard is not natural law. We have been given special revelation, the very word of God, and it is the authoritative standard for us at all times and all places and all situations.

    1. Does this go for Christians in government too? Those who make laws? Those who judge the rightness and wrongness of actions?

    Can you find respected, contemporary 2Kers who would agree with this claim?

    Hart shows here, contrary to DVD, the sharp dichotomy between what special revelation governs and what general revelation governs. SaysHart (on his blog):

    But which is more silly, to think that Christ governs the existing age through two kingdoms, one subject to Scripture the other to general revelation . . .

    or, take this:

    “It also teaches that the nature of genuine religion is precisely private, personal, and not something for public display or consumption. . . .Which invites the question: If it is possible to keep such essential aspects of faith as prayer and almsgiving private, even within the privacy of one’s devotional life, why wouldn’t it be possible for a serious believer to keep that faith bracketed once entering the public square or the voting booth? The very essence of faith, at least the Christian variety, might be that it is private, personal, and something to keep distinct from expression in the public arena of politics. –A Secular Faith, pp. 176-177.

    2. Also, can you find me a Theonomist would would disagree with your claim here?

    Odd, this is; you are presenting a non-straw man 2K—as opposed to James’ alleged straw man of 2K—that 2Kers would not agree with and Theonomists would agree with.

  20. Pingback: Two Kingdoms, Ten Commandments, One Objection by James Anderson : Puritan Rising

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