R. C. Sproul, Jr published a post on Thursday 26 September answering the question, “What is 2k Theology?” (HT: David Murray). It gets some things right, some of what it says is a matter of opinion and debate, and some of what it says isn’t helpful.
What It Gets Right:
- He gives a reasonably fair account of what most R2K (Reformed Two Kingdom) folk are trying to say when he recognizes that most are saying that Christ is Lord over all things. He writes, “It affirms that God’s law and His Son rule the world in two related but distinct ways.”
- He recognizes that R2K advocates are trying to distinguish the way Christ rules over his church from the more general way he rules over all things.
- He recognizes that R2K folk appeal to natural law as part of their account of how God’s rule is to be administered in the realm outside the visible church.
- He recognizes that, according to advocates for the R2K view, the visible “church is to be about the business of Word and sacrament”
- He notes that R2K theology “rightly reject[s] the common temptation among evangelicals to wrap up our theological convictions in the American flag, to confuse God’s kingdom with these United States….”
Debatable Points (With Responses)
- He writes, “The function of the state is to support and operate under “natural law.” The Bible is of little use in this context as it was given to God’s people specifically. Natural law was given for all men everywhere.”
The claim that “the Bible is of little use in this context” is exaggerated. Of course Christians are guided by Scripture in everything they do. We interpret reality through the lens provided by Scripture. There is a Christian worldview. Yet there are limits to the proper use of Scripture, as Sproul himself acknowledges in his post. He himself says that too often people have identified policy details as if they came directly or even inferentially from Scripture when, in fact, they are prudential judgments about which Christians may well disagree. There are other practical limits to the use of Scripture in public policy matters. One might read from Scripture at a city council meeting but to what end? Whether one ought to do so is a matter of wisdom.
- He characterizes the R2K view as arguing that “what the church is not to do, however, as the church, is speak into the first kingdom. The church, according to this view, is neither called, equipped, nor permitted to prophecy against the sins of those outside the kingdom.”
Even the Westminster Confession of Faith, written in a context where the magistrate was expected to enforce the first table of the law, recognizes that there are limits to what the church as a visible assembly, as an organization (as distinct from organism) can address. Thus WCF 31:4 says:
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
I’m not aware of any advocate of the Reformed Two Kingdoms analysis who disagrees with this language or sentiment. Sproul seems uncomfortable with the very idea of the spirituality of the visible church, fine, but the idea that the visible church is limited in the way she addresses the magistrate is hardly a 2K distinctive.
As to addressing broadly cultural issues and developments, that is a matter of debate. For my part, I preach the text of the Word of God as it is before me. If it speaks to abortion (or whatever) then I speak to it. Should the church as church speak to particular social issues? It is interesting that our confessional documents did not do so extensively. Certainly we must apply God’s Word to all of life and we must apply the moral law carefully and extensively, on analogy with our confessions and catechisms. More on this below.
- He suggests that R2K, “at its worst” tends to silence the prophetic voice of the church.
What counts as the “prophetic voice” of the church is a subjective matter. Confessional folk used to be concerned about becoming “social gospellers” and for good reason. Historically, when the church has adopted someone’s “social gospel” they have tended to lose the actual gospel. If we think that we can adopt a “social gospel” without losing the actual gospel, that we’re different from Rauschenbusch et al, that liberalism won’t happen to us, then we’re naive.
The there are practical questions as well as theoretical problems. Once the visible church begins to speak to social ills specifically, where does it stop? Let’s say we begin at abortion. What about human trafficking and the sex trade? What about genetically modified foods (GMOs)? I’m not suggesting that abortion and GMOs are morally equivalent but having begun to speak to “the issues” as ecclesiastical entities, how do we stop?
Should we condemn Herman Ridderbos for writing?
[The] absolutely theocentric character of the kingdom of God in Jesus’ preaching…implies that its coming consists entirely in God’s own action and is perfectly dependent on his activity. The kingdom of God is not a state or condition, not a society created and promoted by men (the doctrine of the ‘social gospel’). It will not come through an immanent earthly evolution, nor through moral action; it is not men who prepare it for God. All such thoughts mean a hopelessly superficial interpretation of the tremendous thought of the fullness and finality of God’s coming as king to redeem and to judge. —Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (HT: Reformed Reader)
Where in the New Testament does one find a single unequivocal example (or even good and necessary inference) of the visible, institutional church speaking to any one of the social ills that plagued the Greco-Roman world? Was the Apostolic church guilty of silencing the “prophetic voice” of the church? What about the second-century, post-Apostolic church (i.e., the so-called Apostolic Fathers)? The Treatise to Diognetus (c. 150 A.D.) certainly seems more like a 2K ethic than a transformational ethic:
For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric way of life… For while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. The live in their own countries but only as nonresidents, they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh. They live on earth but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws. They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted. —Epistle to Diognetus (c. 150 AD), 5.1–11.
There is nothing in the Treatise to Diognetus or in the Epistles of Ignatius, or Barnabas or 1 Clement to indicate that those pre-Constantinian Christians thought of the role of the visible church in society in the way that Sproul seems to suppose to be the orthodox way of thinking of such things.
What Doesn’t Help (With Responses)
- To his credit, he recognizes that, in the contemporary discussion, R2K has two senses: Reformed Two Kingdom and Radical Two Kingdom. Then he uses the acronym without indicating in which sense he’s using it.
I suppose there are “radical” proponents of the two kingdoms analysis but I should like to know who they are. Presently they seem more like straw men than real participants in the discussion. Calvin (see below) distinguished clearly the two kingdoms at their root (radix). Why wasn’t he a “radical” proponent of two kingdoms? He concludes his post by writing,
- “[m]ay we who are Reformed ever affirm this radical truth- there is one King, and one Kingdom.”
Certainly he is free to argue for his own view but in the context in which he is ostensibly trying to present issues clearly and fairly to a someone new to the discussion it seems odd to conclude in a way that gives the impression that the most orthodox thing is to affirm one King (about which there is no question) and one kingdom.
The distinction between two kingdoms is a basic Protestant distinction that was used by Luther and Calvin in the 16th century. RC Jr’s account completely omits that fact and the fact that the many mainstream Reformed writers employed this distinction since Calvin. Here is what Calvin wrote about this distinction:
Therefore, in order that none of us may stumble on that stone, let us first consider that there is a twofold government in man (duplex esse in homine regimen): one aspect is spiritual, whereby the conscience is instructed in piety and in reverencing God; the second is political, whereby man is educated for the duties of humanity and citizenship that must be maintained among men. These are usually called the “spiritual” and the “temporal” jurisdiction (not improper terms) by which is meant that the former sort of government pertains to the life of the soul, while the latter has to do with the concerns of the present life—not only with food and clothing but with laying down laws whereby a man may live his life among other men holily, honorably, and temperately. For the former resides in the inner mind, while the latter regulates only outward behavior. The one we may call the spiritual kingdom, the other, the political kingdom. Now these two, as we have divided them, must always be examined separately; and while one is being considered, we must call away and turn aside the mind from thinking about the other. There are in man, so to speak, two worlds, over which different kings and different laws have authority (Institutes 3.19.15; Battles edition).
To be sure, Calvin employed this distinction in a different context, i.e., in a Constantinian context in which it was assumed that the magistrate would enforce Christian orthodoxy by using the power of the civil sword to punish heretics and other violations of the first four of the Ten Commandments (i.e., the first table of the law). Since the 18th century, however, most orthodox Reformed folk have recognized that Calvin and much of the Reformed tradition was wrong about their view of the magistrate in this respect. Few Reformed folk have argued since the 18th century that the magistrate should enforce the first table. In the 18th century the American Presbyterians revised the Westminster Confession. In the 19th and 20th century the Dutch Reformed Churches revised the Belgic Confession and acknowledged the error of Constantinianism.
Calvin was not alone in speaking this way. William Perkins used the same categories in A Cloud of Faithful Witnesses (1607):
This serves to descry unto us the blind errour of many ages afore us, wherein it hath been thought, and is by Papists at this day, to be a state of perfection, to live a Monke or Hermite out of all societies, in some desart place, and there to spend their whole life in contemplation only, and that voluntarily: and they magnify this estate so much, that hereby they think to merit eternal life at the hands of God. But these believers did neither voluntarily, nor with opinion of merit, betake themselves to this solitary life, but on necessity. And indeede this kind of life hath no warrant in Gods word: for every Christian is a member of two Kingdoms; of Christs Kingdom of grace, and of that particular state where he dwelleth: and by reason hereof, hath a twofold calling; a temporal, and a spiritual calling. In both of which, he must walke diligently, so long as he can, doing the duties both of a child of God, and of a member of that commonwealth where he liveth. Now, when a man goeth voluntarily to lead a solitary life, he forsaketh his temporal calling altogether, and performes the other but negligently: for he withdrawes himself from many duties of piety, whereby the people might be furthered to Godward; which none can do with a good conscience (p. 195).
David Paraeus, Collegiorum Theologicorum Decuria Una (1611), 403 uses the same categorical distinction.1 George Gillespie, Male Audis (1646), 55 employed the two kingdoms distinction against the Erastians.2 Johannes Cloppenburg, Gangraena Theologiae Anabaptisticae (1684), 220–221 used it,3 and Thomas Watson, A Body Of Practical Divinity (1692), 458–59 used this distinction.4
Even though this way of speaking and thinking was uncontroversial among confessional Reformed writers for centuries, nevertheless I’m happy to speak of one kingdom with two spheres. I’ve been arguing this since 2009.
- Perhaps the most objectionable aspect of the column is the beginning, where he lists a series of bewildering acronyms: “…iaoc to npp and fv (that is, the imputation of the active obedience of Christ to the New Perspective on Paul and Federal Vision), now comes R2k.”
There’s nothing wrong with listing acronyms, of which 2K is now one. What is wrong, however, is the nature of the acronyms used. There are a number of acronyms he might have used, which wouldn’t prejudice the discussion, but he chose instead to contextualize his discussion of 2K (two kingdoms) by invoking the Federal Vision (start here) and New Perspective errors. These are both serious errors of theology that all the confessional Reformed churches have repudiated. Whatever one thinks of the attempt to revive and employ Calvin’s 2K distinction for our time, to associate it with doctrines that have damaged the gospel is most unhelpful, to say the least. It seems like guilt by association.
The use of a distinction between two kingdoms as a way of analyzing questions regarding church and state has a long and distinguished pedigree in Reformed theology. It may be mistaken but, unlike the FV and NPP, it has not been judged to be so by confessional Reformed churches.
This is a difficult debate. Why make it more difficult needlessly?
For further reading/listening:
- Here is a resource post for understanding the two kingdoms debate.
- Here’s an interview with David VanDrunen on this topic.
- Here’s Heidelcast ep 14 on the revision of Belgic Confession art. 36.
- Here’s Heidelcast ep 21 on the relation of the Kingdom of God to the Church
- Here’s Heidelcast ep 40 on Christ, Culture, and Confession
- Here’s an interview with Bob Godfrey and David VanDrunen on the topic.
- Here are all the posts on the topic “two kingdoms.”
- Here are all the posts on the topic “church and state.”
- Here are all the posts on the topic “Christ and culture.”
- Here’s a resource post on Christ and culture.
1. I. Duplex regimen in homine statuitur: Unum in anima seu interiore homine positum, aeternamque vitam respicit: quod verbo Dei & operâ ministrorum Ecclesiae peragitur: Alterum ad instituendam civilem externamque morum iustitiam pertinet, quod circa politicum magistratum situm est. Nam huius etiam praesertim si sit Christianus, ministerio uti solet Deus, ad suae Ecclesiae gubernationem, conservationem atque protectionem.
2. The distinction of the twofold Kingdom of Christ, an universal Kingdom, whereby he reigneth over all things as God: and a special Oeconomical Kingdom, whereby he is King to the Church only, and ruleth and governeth it, is that which being rightly understood, overturneth, overturneth, overturneth the Erastian principles.
3. V. In Ecclesiis Reformatis creditur ex verbo Dei, fuisse à Deo iam olim in V. T. institutum duplex Regimen, duplici officio gubernationis, quâ Politicae, quâ Ecclesiasticae, distinctum. Ut quantumvis nonnunquam Officium utrumque sustineret Persona una, vel partim vel in solidum: tamen distinctâ ac geminâ ad id vocatione divinâ opus fuerit: absque qua non magis Regi fas erat invadere Propheticum aut Sacerdotale munus, quam Prophetae aut Sacerdoti Regnum.
4. Resp. Negat. 1. He doth not mean a Political, or Earthly Kingdom. The Apostles indeed did desire, 1. Christs Temporal Reign, Acts 1. 6. When wilt thou restore the Kingdom to Israel. But Christ said his Kingdom was not of this world, Joh. 18. 36. So that when Christ taught his Disciples to pray, Thy Kingdom come, he did not mean it of an Earthly Kingdom, that he should reign here in outward Pomp and Splendor. 2. It is not meant of Gods Providential Kingdom; Psal. 103. 19. His Kingdom ruleth over all; that is, the Kingdom of his Providence: This Kingdom we do not pray for, when we say Thy Kingdom come; for this Kingdom is already come: God exerciseth the Kingdom of his Providence in the World, Psal. 75. 7. He putteth down one, and setteth up another: Nothing stirs in the World, but God hath an Hand in it; He sets every wheel a working; He humbles the Proud, and raiseth the Poor out of the Dust, to set them among Princes, 1 Sam. 2. 8. The Kingdom of Gods Providence ruleth over all; Kings do nothing but what his Providence permits and orders, Act. 4. 27. This Kingdom of Gods Providence we do not pray should come, for it is already come: What Kingdom then is meant here, when we say, Thy Kingdom come? Answ. Positively, there is a twofold Kingdom meant here. 1. The Kingdom of Grace, which Kingdom God exerciseth in the Consciences of his People; this is Regnum Dei μικρὸν, Gods lesser Kingdom, Luke 17. 21. The Kingdom of God is within you. 2. The Kingdom of Glory, which is sometimes called the Kingdom of God, Luke 6. 20. and the Kingdom of Heaven, Mat. 5. 3. When we pray thy Kingdom come, (1.) Here is something tacitly implied, That we are in the Kingdom of Darkness; 1. We pray that we may be brought out of the Kingdom of Darkness. 2. That the Devils Kingdom in the World may be demolished. (2.) Something positively intended, Adveniat Regnum Gratiae & Gloriae, 1. We pray that the Kingdom of Grace may be set up in our Hearts, and encreased. 2. When we pray Thy Kingdom come, we pray that the Kingdom of Glory may hasten, and that we may in Gods good time be translated into it: These two Kingdoms of Grace and Glory, differ not specifically, but gradually, they differ not in nature, but only in degree; The Kingdom of Grace is nothing but the inchoation or beginning of the Kingdom of Glory; the Kingdom of Grace is Glory in the Seed, and the Kingdom of Glory is Grace in the Flower; the Kingdom of Grace is Glory in the Day-break, and the Kingdom of Glory is Grace in the full Meridian; the Kingdom of Grace is Glory Militant, and the Kingdom of Glory is Grace Triumphant: There is such an inseparable Connexion between these two Kingdoms Grace and Glory, that there is no passing into the one Kingdom, but by the other. At Athens there were two Temples, a Temple of Virtue, and a Temple of Honour, and there was no going into the Temple of Honour, but through the Temple of Vertue: So the Kingdom of Grace and Glory are so close joyned together, that we cannot go into the Kingdom of Glory, but through the Kingdom of Grace. Many People aspire after the Kingdom of Glory, but never look after Grace; but these two which God hath joyned together may not be put asunder: The Kingdom of Grace leads to the Kingdom of Glory.