Bavinck on Two Kingdoms

Shane has some interesting quotations on Bavink’s distinction between “the kingship of power” and “the kingship of grace.”

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  1. Do you think Kloosterman showed (e.g., in his comments on VanDrunen at the Bavinck conference) that Bavinck doesn’t hold, or strongly hold, to the two kingdoms view? Do you have any thoughts on the debate over which side Bavinck falls on?

    • Hi Patrick,

      Well, what does Bavinck say here? Does he distinguish between two kingdoms or two aspects of Christ’s kingdom? What does the text say? What does it mean?

  2. Well, what does the text say? Bavinck never once, to my knowledge, speaks of “two kingdoms” anywhere in his corpus.

    And describing two aspects to the one, unified, kingdom of Christ does not qualify, and never will qualify, as “two” kingdoms.

    And, yes, RSC’s final question is a good one: what does Bavinck mean? It would have been nice to hear something of an answer in VanDrunen’s presentation.

    For Bavinck, common grace sustains a world corrupted by sin until, and in order that, it might be restored and renewed by grace.

    For VanDrunen and others, as far as I can tell, common grace sustains a world corrupted by sin. As to why is anybody’s guess. It is just “there,” with no organic connection to Christ’s spiritual kingdom. Dualism, precisely where Bavinck sought, his entire career, to destroy dualism. Ironic. And also problematic for anyone seeking to portray Bavinck as favorable to the recent “two kingdoms” theorizing out of WSCAL.

    • Brian,

      Do you really believe that’s what VanDrunen argues or are you just being provocative?

      Do you know the expression, “straw man”?

      Do you intend to say that Bavinck has to say the magic words “two kingdoms” to teach anything like a distinction between the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of power?

      • Isn’t it also provocative to pluck a quote from Bavinck out of context and construe it as proof that Bavinck teaches the Van Drunen/Clark version of two kingdoms? Dr. Van Drunen was much more forthright when he stated in his Calvin presentation that he saw an inconsistency in Bavinck’s thought, given that Bavinck is undeniably neo-calvinist in his theology. Dr. Kloosterman’s response essentially challenged Van Drunen’s reading of Bavinck and showed how his thought is not inconsistent, and that Bavinck’s understanding of the two kingdoms/natural law (indisputably Reformed ideas) is not in tension but rather fits coherently with the great themes of his dogmatics.

  3. Of course I’m being provocative. As far as what I believe, usually using the language, “as far as I can tell” indicates the tentative nature of one’s conclusions, although here I probably should have put “it seems to me.” Now, I’ll grant you a mulligan, because – it seems to me – that stating things tentatively isn’t something you’re overly familiar with.

    Yes, it does appear, given Dr. VanDrunen’s Bavinck paper, and more specifically, his inaugural lecture at WSCAL, that in his view the “two” realms, nature and grace, common and special, church and state, Word and sword, have virtually, if not literally, nothing to do with each other. Now, at least he gives the strong impression that this is the case. I certainly hope it isn’t his view, because it bears little relation to Bavinck’s view.

    Finally, I expressly said that Bavinck teaches a twofold (plural) kingdom (singular), so where would you get the impression that I think he needs to say magic words? Besides, it is completely irrelevant to what Bavinck *means*, which was your initial question, and to which I supplied a tentative answer: not at all obviously the same thing as VanDrunen. And if you take the dismissive view that raising that question is prima facie a “straw man,” then that is very unfortunate.

    • Brian,

      If one starts with the a priori that there is only one approved way to speak about these things and if VanDrunen or Clark or anyone else fails to say the shibboleth, I can see how it might seem that way.

      If, however, one takes a dispassionate look at what VanDrunen actually said and asks, “What sorts of distinctions is VanDrunen making and why is he making them?” then I think one arrives at different answers.

      Why don’t you try the second approach and see what happens?


      I didn’t suggest anything of the sort. I simply posted a link to a quotation.

      Did Bavinck distinguish between the kingship of grace and kingship of power or did he not?

      • ps. I used the word “strawman” not because I don’t think anyone could ever object but if one doesn’t recognize one’s own view, then it’s a strawman.

        Before you criticize a view, the first obligation in a discussion like this is to be able to represent fairly and accurately the other view.

  4. I find it interesting that Shane in his review of the matter found that Lutheran and Reformed types are in complete agreement on this matter of the two-kingdoms. And he pointed to each confessions to prove his point. It is certainly one thing we do not have to waste time with useless debate over. This two-kingdom issue has been a very clarifying issue to me in regards to how I now view my participation in political issues. Like Zrim often says- politics main role is to make sure we get from point A to point B without killing each other. Other than that politics is not one of our ultimate concerns. It is a concern but not an ultimate concern.

  5. RSC,

    Good grief. I am the one positing only one a priori way of looking at these things? I am the one pointing out the *diversity* between what Bavinck means and what VanDrunen means, and am suggesting that they are not the same thing. I haven’t made any dogmatic declarations as to which is right, which is wrong, something of a combination of the two, et cetera. I’ve just pointed out that Shane’s and VanDrunen’s mere observation of language that can be construed as “two kingdoms” does not get us very far.

    As far as dispassionate readings that ask, “What did so-and-so mean?” “Why did so-and-so say that?” I am the one suggesting that Bavinck be read with those very questions in mind. And when that is done, one will see that Bavinck’s doctrine of nature and grace is decidedly *not* VanDrunen’s doctrine of nature and grace.

    You are the one who responded, somewhat snarkily, to the first commenter: “What does the text say? What did Bavinck mean?” When I answer that question, and suggest that he means something different, I’m accused of not being “dispassionate.” Is this because you, in fact, believe that there is only one way of speaking of these things, and if two people use similar language, they must mean the same thing?

    Finally, you omitted a possibility with regard to straw-men. It is possible (and I’m not saying that this is the case) that one does not recognize oneself because one is self-deceived or mistaken about one’s own beliefs and conclusions. And that’s the point, isn’t it, of iron sharpening iron? If one is not interested in hearing that Bavinck has a substantially different take on nature and grace, and responds to all such suggestions with the “straw man” epithet, then one is not engaging in theological discourse in good faith.

  6. Brian, you said that Van Drunen’s view of the two kingdoms seems to entail that
    the “two” realms, nature and grace, common and special, church and state, Word and sword, have virtually, if not literally, nothing to do with each other.

    “Nothing to do with each other” is rather extreme language that I don’t think describes anyone fairly, and reading him with that prejudice is hardly constructive to the discussion.

    It seems to me when Jesus says things like in John 18:36, “my kingdom is not of this world…,” that every Christian acknowledges some sort of difference or distinction to be made. “Two kingdoms” is a way to articulate the difference and distinctions between the common grace and saving grace realms as well as their relations. It’s not a boogie man to get Christians to live cloistered lives, but it seeks to delimit the unique authority of the church in wielding the keys to the kingdom. It seems to me, that’s the question Van Drunen is exploring in regard to Bavinck.

  7. In this connection, I would point to reply #6 to Brother Lems’ remarks. Whatever distinction Bavinck recognized between the civil and ecclesiastical realms, it wasn’t a distinction that would silence God’s (written, & handed down from Sinai) Law in the presence of this world’s kings.

    And that’s no strawman.

    • Doug,

      As a matter of historical theology, we should recognize that Bavinck made this distinction.

      No one that I know in this discussion wants to silence God’s Word. The point of the discussion and the distinction is to rightly understand God’s Word and apply it.

      Are you suggesting by your comment that someone does want to silence God’s Word?

      • Brother Barnes said Bavinck’s distinction would not have God’s law being “silenced in the presence of the world’s kings”. He didn’t suggest anyone in this discussion would have God’s written law silenced completely and in all places. Everyone understands that even you, Horton, Hart, and Van Drunen would acknowledge the Bible speaks authoritatively over the visible church.

  8. Darren,

    It certainly describes Anabaptists accurately, for one. And it frankly is helpful to discussion to note the extremes and question whether somebody’s proposal tends, in principle, toward an extreme. I’m sure VanDrunen is quite capable of handling himself here. All I’ve done is raise the natural concern (which you yourself return to in your final paragraph). If he can distinguish his view from a dualistic, Anabaptist view, then three cheers. But he doesn’t get to delimit beforehand, nor do you, nor does RSC, which questions are appropriate and which are not, nor what characterizations are “extreme” and “unhelpful” or not.

    I haven’t read anybody with a particular prejudice. I got the questions raised in my mind by listening to and reading VanDrunen, before I knew a single, solitary thing about him, and while knowing a whole lot about Herman Bavinck. I still don’t know any more than what I’ve heard and read, and I’m happy (let me say it again: H-A-P-P-Y) to be wrong. I just haven’t seen anything that alleviates my particular concern. And just being assured that this version of a 2Kingdoms view is not a boogie man bent on re-instituting monasticism will not be enough. No offense.

    All the stuff you’ve said about John and the two kingdoms is beside the point. The question is what *Bavinck* means by his distinctions. And it is not at all clear, obvious, or beyond question that he means the same as, say, Horton or VanDrunen’s concept of nature and grace. Quite the contrary, it seems to me. And, given that I highly doubt Horton and VanDrunen are claiming to be Kuyperian Neo-Calvinists, they themselves would *have to* differentiate their view from Bavinck.

    Which means… well, well: I haven’t said anything controversial at all.


  9. RSC,

    Well, I’ve cited two things specifically already. But…

    For the record: I never once accused David VanDrunen, who seems like a very fine gentleman whom I’ve had the distinct privilege of meeting, of being Anabaptistic. I wrote, now on numerous occasions, that “it appears to me” and “it seems to me” that some of his formulations do, in principle, run that direction, and are thus not commensurate with Bavinck’s view of nature and grace (which is not, in itself, a problem. Bavinck isn’t God). Is that too shaded or subtle? Or is it all black-and-white?

    If you can examine, say, the inaugural lecture (and, if I recall correctly, a recent ModernRef article on the 2Kingdoms) and not have a clue why somebody might worry about an unhealthy sacred/secular, nature/grace dualism, then either you are A) being obtuse (for lack of a better word), or B) your question is not honest, or C) some combination of both, and which, in any of those cases, I’ll be of no help to you.

    Besides, weren’t we talking about Herman Bavinck’s formulations? I’m no expert in the theology of David VanDrunen, and I’m not particularly interested in debating it, wherever it can be found.


  10. Brian,

    Lighten up a bit, brother. No one is suggesting that Van Drunen and Bavinck are identical on the two kingdoms, and Van Drunen himself isn’t trying to claim such a thing. As far as I understand, he’s identifying common two kingdom threads; I don’t see him running roughshod over the differences (but maybe you can illuminate us on that?).

    I’m not sure where you get the idea that I’m claiming some kind of authority to delimit discussion. Perhaps it’s just my (two kingdoms) mindset that assumed that there is some sort of common (grace) sense and common reasonability that within Reformed orthodoxy (I’m not talking about Anabaptists here but a professor at a confessional seminary), we can charitably understand that no one is saying that the common grace and salvific grace realms have nothing to do with each other, and no one is saying that they are identical.

    If this common charity is missing, then I suppose then yes, I lack ground to say that something is extreme or unhelpful. Otherwise, perhaps it might be even just a tinsy-winsy controversial to suggest, even implicitly, that Van Drunen is anabaptistic?

  11. oops, I wrote my post before I saw your last response clarifying that you didn’t intend to say Van Drunen is anabaptistic. Apologies there.

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