Two Kingdoms

John Murray on the Christian State

Some readers will be aware that I have criticized the Two Kingdoms (2K) view of Christianity and culture in a few places. In 2019, I gave a lecture in which I argued that three distinctive tenets of a Reformed worldview (a biblical revelational epistemology, the absoluteness of God, and the lordship of Christ) point us away from a “Two Kingdoms” paradigm and toward a “One Kingdom with Different Administrations” paradigm — basically a Kuyperian “sphere sovereignty” paradigm but expressed in terms of Christ’s kingship.

John MurrayBrandon Smith, archival editor at Westminster Magazine, recently brought to my attention a 1943 article by John Murray entitled “The Christian World Order” (originally published in The Presbyterian Guardian).1 Murray is best known for his deeply exegetical approach to systematic theology, with a particular focus on Christology and soteriology, and not often as someone who pronounced on matters of political theory and contemporary cultural engagement. But in this remarkably forthright and lucid article, Murray sets forth an indisputably Kuyperian vision of the three societal institutions of family, church, and state. The entire article is worth your time, but I was particularly struck by the section on the state, which makes essentially the same argument I made in my 2019 lecture, albeit with Murray’s characteristic elegance and economy of words. I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing that section here (but read the whole thing).

Everything below the line is from Murray’s article, although I’ve emboldened parts of the text for emphasis.2

  1. The article can also be found in Collected Writings of John Murray, Volume 1: The Claims of Truth (Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), pp. 356-66.
  2. Note that Murray’s position should not be confused with “Christian nationalism” as the term is commonly used today (whether by its defenders or its detractors). There is nothing ‘nationalist’ about Murray’s view of the state.

2K or not-2K?

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.