A popular political commentator published a book a few years ago titled Shut Up And Sing, in which she argued that famous athletes and other entertainers should keep their political and cultural opinions to themselves and not seek to use their fame to gain a political or cultural advantage. Recently a correspondent made a similar complaint in the comments on the Heidelblog. He complained that I should stick to history on the Heidelblog, that by commenting on (or apparently, even posting posting quotations from other sources and writers) on topics other than history, I am risking my reputation as a scholar. My initial response was to appeal to two basic facts: 1) I am an American and as such I bristle at being told what I should or should not say in public; 2) I, like all Christians, live in what Calvin called a twofold government (duplex regimen). The first spiritual and the second is secular. These categories are not very familiar to us anymore for a variety of reasons but they were considered basic in the classic period of Reformed theology and they are still necessary and useful today. See what I did there? That is history but I am not content merely to repeat stories about the past and to let people do with them what they will. I am also a preacher (ordained in 1988) and it is part of my vocation to apply the text, which, in this case, is the past to the present. This is where preachers always get into trouble and I am no exception. When I began trying to become a historian (an unfinished task) I expected to tell stories about the past and let people do with them what they will. To be sure, when I am writing professionally, academically, that is what I do. It is not my job, when doing history academically to tell people what to think theologically or how to practice the faith. When I am writing popular or ecclesiastical history or applying history here, in this space (or other such spaces), it is incumbent upon me to do more than to tell stories just as it is incumbent upon me as a preacher not merely to recite the history of redemption and to let the listener do with it what she will, so it is here. This is why I cannot stick to history.
There is more to be said, however. When I comment on cultural and political (secular) matters I do not make partisan political comments, i.e., I do not make comments about this or that political party or candidate as such. That is outside the bounds of my office as a minister. I do, however, think I have a right and even a duty to try to help the reader think cultural and political issues within the framework of the Christian faith. E.g., I have written about the challenges some Christians faced as they considered voting for a Mormon and I did the same when confronted with the prospect of voting for a certain New York real estate developer cum television personality.
I also think that all citizens of the common, secular sphere do have an interest in civil liberties (e.g., free speech and religious liberty). I do not agree that Christians have a unique insight into monetary policy or into whether the city council should pave this road or that. Yet, there is a Christian worldview (see the resources below) and that worldview, that interpretation of the significance of things in light of God’s Word, does inform how we look at things. I am also convinced that since we live under God’s sovereign twofold government of all things, that cultural and political (as distinct from partisan) questions, i.e., questions about human beings ought to live together in common in the secular sphere of God’s government of things are fair game. Calvin’s “twofold government” rubric gives categories by which to think about all of life.
Another benefit of the “twofold government” approach to analyzing both sacred and secular issues is that it leaves room for Christian liberty. We are bound to God’s Word and Reformed confessing Christians are bound the the Word as confessed by the churches in the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dort, and the Westminster Standards. Where we do not confess a conviction, we are free to think what we will. It is ok to disagree. In broad evangelicalism there are no boundaries and in fundamentalism there is not liberty. In the Reformed faith, we have boundaries and liberty.
And Another Thing
I am seeking to try to apply Calvin’s rubric in a post-theocratic, post-Constantinian (or more properly, post-Theodosian) age. The question is this: what does it mean to live under God’s twofold government while not being a part of a state-established church? This is the situation in which the Apostolic Church found itself. This was the circumstance of the church until the Emperor Theodosius (since all Constantine did formally was to legalize Christianity).
Thus, there is one more thing to say this morning. Recently I saw yet another someone talking about “radical 2 Kingdoms theology.” Almost without exception, when I see this language I know a few things:
- This person has never read book 4 of Calvin’s Institutes or if she has, she has misunderstood or rejected it.
- This person is unacquainted with the Reformed natural law tradition generally or else he would know how widely the Reformed used these categories.
- This person is is almost certainly a theonomist or a theocrat, i.e., he thinks the state should enforce religious orthodoxy (theocracy) or he thinks the state should also enforce the Mosaic judicial laws (theonomy).
- Calvin was no antinomian and it was he he who made the basic conceptual distinction. The theocrats and theonomists seem incapable of appreciating this fact.
- The Reformed inherited the category natural law from the broader Christian tradition and shared it with all the magisterial Reformers. To reject it is to reject the mainstream approach to Christian ethics.
- Theonomy and theocracy are a cul-de-sac.
The astute reader will notice that I have not used the language “two kingdoms” for several years, except to describe what some are saying. I have been arguing that Calvin’s expression “twofold government” or “twofold kingdom” is a better way to approach these issues. Is there a substantive difference? Perhaps but duplex regimen is a better conceptual pair of categories. It was in this sense that many of the older Reformed theologians spoke of one covenant with two administrations, the covenant of works (law) and the covenant of grace (gospel). They were technically monocovenantal in their theology but not in the sense in which we use the term today, i.e., with reference to Norman Shepherd and his Federal Vision followers, who deny the distinction between law and gospel and between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. This lot typically denies the existence of the covenant of works altogether. In the traditional sense, the argument is that God is one and he has one covenant but as we experience it and as he administers it in history, we may speak of two covenants, works and grace. So too, as God is one there is but one kingdom but in that kingdom are two distinct spheres.
Some people clearly infer from the phrase “two kingdoms” that there is a kingdom over which God is sacred and a kingdom, in their view, over which he is not. This is not an accurate inference. Those who speak of “two kingdoms” affirm God’s sovereignty over both kingdoms but want to distinguish how he rules each. Some of the critics will not be satisfied, however, with anything less than theocracy and theonomy. To these I can only say, get over it. The Apostles were not theocrats. The early church was not theocratic. Christendom did become and remain theocratic for about a millennium but it was a very long, and very costly mistake. The Apostles also not theonomists nor was the Patristic church, the Medieval church, or the Reformers. The old Reformed were theocrats but they were not theonomists. To imply that they were theonomists is simply false and ignorant of the historical record. Further, theonomy is contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith (19.4). In it we confess that the judicial laws “expired” with the death of Christ. They are no longer in force. The Reformed argued consistently that general equity means “natural law.” The judicial laws are only in force insofar as they agree with natural law. As Wollebius (that liberal!), a Swiss Reformed Old Testament scholar and theologian said that the judicial laws have no more force than the laws of any other nation. For more on this see the resources.
The “Christ and Culture” problem is perhaps the greatest question facing Christians in the early 21st century. The familiar ground of Christian privilege and influence has shifted beneath our feet. The old WASP Mainline Protestant hegemony, from which evangelicals and even marginal Reformed grounds once benefitted, is in hospice care (and does not seem to know it). Most Americans are almost entirely ignorant of even the most rudimentary aspects of the Christian religion and history. Indeed, as we see from the news, any sense of shared history is being wiped out before our eyes as statues of Lincoln and even the most anodyne figures (e.g., Pete Wilson in California) are toppled and replaced with amnesia.
Thoughtful Christians need a serious, thoughtful approach to relating Christ and culture (nature and grace). Evangelicals and cultural tranformationalists seem bent on repeating the old models:
- cultural flight (grace obliterates nature)
- cultural transformation (grace perfects nature)
There is a third, Reformed option:
- cultural engagement (grace renews nature in salvation; common grace preserves nature in the interim)
We should be content to live cheek-by-jowl with our pagan neighbors, seeking to love them, and to give witness to the faith as we have opportunity. We should engage our communities, states, and nation but we should do so on the basis the natural, universal revelation God’s moral law. Like Paul, we should live with a consciousness that we have a twofold citizenship (Phil 3:20; Acts 2:28).
© R. Scott Clark 2020. All Rights Reserved.
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- Calvin On The Twofold Kingdom
- New Resource Page On The Twofold Kingdom
- New Resources Pages On Common Grace And The Sacred/Secular Distinction
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- Of Worldviews And Christian Liberty
- There Is A Christian Worldview
- Resources On Theonomy And Reconstructionism
- Resources On Natural Law
Well said! Keep talking.
Dr Clark, wasn’t it Andre Melville who said, famously, that there were two kingdoms? I think he might have been reformed, but I bow to your judgement on this.
Indeed he did:
AFAIK, Melville was Reformed. Is there some reason to doubt that he was?
Only that he used the prhase “two kingdoms” instead of “twofold kingdom”!
This post is unencumbered truth. Frame it…proclaim it, and let it set you free!
I hardly go a Sunday without, in some aspect, touching upon this theme.
A “tip o’ the hat” to you!
Well said, Dr. Clark. Thank you for such clarity.
I believe an argument can be made that claims theonomic and progressive liberalism are but two sides to the same coin. In both cases, what has been and what is are merely stepping stones to a newer, brighter future. In both cases as well, all we need do as a culture is abide by a concrete set of principles, as understood by a select few, whether we like it or not.
I have seen others write about it before, progressive liberalism and all the sects it entails are religions in their own right, whether they realize it or not.
Thank you for this Dr. Clark! For some time now I have also been trying to advocate for the language of “twofold kingdom” or “twofold government.” It’s a hard sell as it doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely.
However, as I have argued, this better reflects Calvin’s position, as well as the majority position of RO. If interested, my dissertation on this has been recently published (finally!) – see here: https://brill.com/view/title/56849
Great to hear from you and congratulations! This is outstanding. I’m very interested. I will order it and I’ve asked the library to get a copy too.
Thank you! Let me know if you are ever in GR area; would love to catch up.