A Word About “R2K” (2): History

So far I have been explaining, in part, why the early Reformation (e.g., Luther) distinction between “two kingdoms” and Calvin’s (beginning in 1536) distinction between two spheres in one kingdom has met with such resistance in our time: (1) The Reformed have become disconnected from our own sources and traditions; (2) the vacuum left by the abandonment of the tradition has been filled by the neo-Kuyperian transformationalist movement and their sometime allies in the TheoRecon movement. The former of these has a considerable institutional presence in America. There are at least two universities and several colleges in North America which are more or less devoted to the neo-Kuyperian paradigm. The investment among many Reformed Christians in North America to those institutions and to the neo-Kuyperian “world and life view” rhetoric and associated agendas makes it difficult for them to hear any alternative. For many, the neo-Kuyperian program is Reformed orthodoxy and they do not much care to hear about how Calvin or the orthodox might have spoken about the relation of Christ to culture (e.g., by distinguishing the sacred and the secular) or about how the two spheres of God’s kingdom relate. They are deeply committed to an ideology of transformation and thus to a particular view of nature and grace that is less indebted to the magisterial Protestants and their orthodox successors than to other influences. The TheoRecons are typically postmillennial and the neo-Kuyperians are typically amillennial but both movements have an eschatology that looks forward to future earthly-cultural transformation and to a more or less glorious age on the earth before the return of Christ.

Earlier I asserted but did not show that speaking of two kingdoms or a twofold kingdom was a traditional way of speaking among the Reformed. Jonathan Beeke has shown that this way of speaking occurred in the first edition of Calvin’s Institutes (1536),1 in 6.13:

Therefore, in order that none of us may stumble on that stone [of Christian freedom], let us consider that there is a twofold government in man (duplex esse in homie regimen): one aspect is spiritual, whereby the conscience is instructed in piety and in the worship of God; the second is political, whereby man is educated for the duties of humanity and civil life 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 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 honorably and temperately. For the former resides in the mind within, while the latter regulates only outward behavior. The one we may call the spiritual kingdom (regnum spirituale), the other, the political kingdom (regnum political). Now these two, as we have divided them, must be examined separately; and while the one is being treated, we must call away and turn aside the mind from thinking about the other. There are in man, so to speak, two worlds (mundi duo), over which different kings (varii reges) and different laws (variae leges) have authority.2

Calvin used this distinction in other places in this chapter of his first edition of the Institutes. He did not defend it at length. He simply articulated it and then proceeded to explain it. He did not regard it as controversial because it was not. Remember, in 1536 Calvin is largely repeating what he has learned from the older Protestants, e.g., Luther, Bucer, and Melanchthon. That Christ is Lord over all things was never in question among the Protestants. Where they differed from the Romanists is how Christ administers his kingdom on the earth and they also differed among themselves on how to talk about that administration. Luther spoke of “two kingdoms” and Calvin’s rhetoric varied from that. For him there is one kingdom with two spheres of administration. That said, under the one kingdom he spoke freely of two distinct kingdoms and laws.

Calvin preserved this paragraph almost verbatim in the various editions (e.g., 1539, when the Institutes took their more familiar form, and 1559). In the last Latin edition of the Institutes he wrote:

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.3

That this passage remained completely in tact through the decades, from the beginning of his writing until the end, seems significant. It seems to suggest that this way of thinking was a fixed part of his theology and ethics. Strangely, however, as I explained last time, this way of speaking and thinking has become foreign to us. As Beeke notes, against “the Anabaptists, Calvin argued that the spiritual kingdom does not obliterate the political kingdom, nor does the spiritual government eliminate civil government.”4 The Anabaptists got this wrong because they misunderstood the relations between nature and grace. For them, nature must be obliterated, i.e., painted over or even destroyed, by grace. This was not Calvin’s view nor was it the view of his orthodox successors who argued vigorously against the Anabaptists by quoting the Thomistic dictum, “Gratia non tollit naturam sed perficit” (grace does not destroy nature but perfects it). Arguably, they meant something rather different by that phrase than Thomas had, but it is significant that they invoked it against the Anabaptists in defense of the distinction. Have the neo-Kuyperians and the TheoRecons maintained this classic Reformed distinction? They have not. Typically, what one finds in that literature are stern denunciations of “nature/grace dualism.” On this score anyway, it is not the advocates of the twofold kingdom who have changed Reformed theology.

Calvin’s way of speaking formed the conceptual background to Guy de Bres’ framing of the Belgic Confession art. 36. On the relation between art. 36 and the two kingdoms, Danny Hyde writes,

By using this language, the Belgic Confession grounds the civil government in God’s goodness, not his grace, in creation, not redemption. God rules over all things, but in two different ways, as the two kingdoms doctrine of the Reformers expressed. This doctrine was that God rules what Calvin called the civil kingdom and what Luther called the kingdom of the left hand as creator and sustainer of temporal, earthly, and provisional matters, while he rules the spiritual kingdom or kingdom of the right hand (Calvin and Luther respectively) as creator, but especially as redeemer of the eschatological kingdom. 5

In his Corpus Doctrinae, Zacharias Ursinus taught substantially the same distinction in his explanation of Heidelberg Catechism Q. 83. He put the question thus: “In what does the power of the keys of the kingdom differ from civil power?” He answered:

The points of difference are many, and such as are apparent.

1. Ecclesiastical discipline is exercised by the church; civil power by the judge or magistrate.

2. In the state, judgment is passed according to civil and positive laws; in the church, according to the divine law or word of God.

3. The power of the keys committed to the church depends upon the word of God, and the church exercises her power by the word, denouncing the wrath of God upon the impenitent; punishes the obstinate with the word of God alone, yet in such a way that this punishment takes “hold even upon the conscience: civil power employs the sword, and compels the refractory to submit to its authority by temporal punishment alone.

4. The church has different steps of admonition, and if the offender is brought to acknowledge his sin and repents of it, it does not proceed to execute punishment in his case; the magistrate punishes the offender even though he repent.

5. The church in the exercise of discipline, looks to the reformation and salvation of the offender; the magistrate to the execution of justice and the public peace.

6. As the church exercises discipline in the case of none except the obstinate and disobedient, so it is bound to reverse its decision, and to remove the punishment, whenever there is sufficient evidence of repentance on the part of the offender. The magistrate when he has once inflicted punishment neither reverses the decision, “nor removes the punishment. The thief that repents upon the cross, or in the hour of death, is received by Christ into Paradise; the magistrate proceeds to the execution of the punishment to which he is sentenced, and sends him into exile. So Christian discipline often takes cognizance of things which the state does not notice, as when the church casts out of her communion those who do not repent, and refuses to recognize them as her members, whilst the magistrate, nevertheless, tolerates them; and so, on the contrary, the state may banish those whom the church receives. The magistrate may, for instance, inflict capital punishment upon adulterers, robbers, thieves, etc., and yet the church may receive them, if they give proper evidence of true repentance. The difference, therefore, between ecclesiastical and civil power, is clear and apparent. 6

The “civil and positive laws” to which Ursinus referred were distinct from special revelation or “the divine law or the law of God.” Like Calvin and the rest of the Protestants of the era, Ursinus had a natural theology and a doctrine of natural law that undergirded not only his understanding of the prelapsarian covenant of works but also his ethics. As his colleague Caspar Olevianus wrote repeatedly, the moral law that God gave at Sinai was, in substance, identical to the natural law and it is that natural law by which the magistrate governs.7 This may be shocking to some modern Reformed sensibilities but it was standard Reformed theology in the 16th and 17th centuries. Ursinus’ distinction between the spheres of authority and the standards of judgment in no way, in his mind, lessened the authority of Christ over both spheres.

This way of speaking was pervasive among the classic Reformed theologians. In his commentary on Hebrews 11, William Perkins (1558–1602), wrote, “We must know that there be two kinds of kingdoms, a spiritual kingdom and a politic, so there be two kinds of peace, a spiritual and a politic. Spiritual peace is inward in the church, and politic peace is outward in the commonwealth. Spiritual peace is begun and preserved by the spiritual means of grace in the ministry of the church, but war is an ordinary means for the establishing and preserving of politic peace. “8

In Perkins we hear echoes of both Luther and Calvin. For Perkins, war is the secular “ordinary means” i.e., the divinely ordained means, for obtaining peace in the secular realm just as the preaching of the gospel and the use of the sacraments are the sacred “ordinary means” to advance God’s kingdom in the spiritual kingdom. Perkins was hardly denying Christ’s lordship. Rather, he was explaining how Christ has willed to administer his twofold kingdom.

Later, in the 17th century, the great Scottish Reformed theologian George Gillespie (1613–48) rejected the Scottish Covenanter position, the so-called “Mediatorial Kingship of Christ” that Christ is Mediator over the nations in precisely the same way he is mediator over the church. He wrote:

One Instance more of his mis-alledging and perverting of testimonies. In the close he cites a passage of Mr. Case his Sermon August 22. 1645. “He (Christ) is King of Nations and King of Saints. As King of Nations he has a temporal Kingdom and Government over the world, etc. and the rule and regiment of this Kingdom he has committed to Monarchies, etc. Here is Erastianism, (says Mr. Coleman p. 38.) a step higher then ever I or Erastus himself went. And I desire to know of Mr. Gillespie, if he will own this as good divinity.” Yes Sir I own it for very good divinity, for my Reverend Brother Mr. Case, says not that Christ as Mediator is King of Nations, and has a temporal Kingdom in the world, and has committed rule and regiment to Monarchies or other lawful Magistrates, (which is the point that you and Mr. Hussey contend for, being a great Heterodoxy in Divinity) but he says of the Son of God, that he is King of Nations, and has committed Rule to Monarchies, which I own with all my heart. The distinction of the twofold Kingdom of Christ, a universal Kingdom, whereby he reigns over all things as God: and a special economical Kingdom, whereby he is King to the Church only, and rules and governs it, is that which being rightly understood, overturns, overturns, overturns the Erastian principles.9

It would be exceeding strange to see someone suggest that Gillespie, by distinguishing between the two spheres of Christ’s kingdom, was denying Christ’s Lordship over all things since he was, by using the distinction, defending that very idea. What he was denying is the Covenanter doctrine that there is no distinction between the spheres. If distinguishing is denying, then we must indict virtually the entire Reformed tradition from 1536 to the end of the 17th century.

In Franciscus Junius the elder (1545–1602) and in other Reformed writers after him, the language of a “twofold kingdom” (duplex regnum) became widely used under the head of Christology (doctrine of Christ).10 It was used by the Leiden theologians after the Synod of Dort (e.g., in the Synopsis of Purer Theology).11 Francis Turretin (1623–28) also invoked Christ’s twofold kingdom to explain his administration of all things. In Institutes 14.16.2 he explained:

But before all things we must distinguish the twofold kingdom, belonging to Christ: one natural or essential; the other mediatorial and economical. Christ possesses the former over all creatures with glory and majesty equal to that of the Father and Holy Spirit. The latter (according to the economy of grace) he administers in a peculiar manner as God-man (theanthrōpos). The former extends equally over all creatures; the latter is terminated specially on the church. That is founded on the decree of providence, this on the decree of election. That is exercised by Christ inasmuch as he is God (Theos) and the Logos (Logos); this inasmuch as he is God-man (theanthrōpos). Hence it is called his “mediatorial and economical kingdom” because it is a dominion peculiar to the Mediator and as it were his own according to the dispensation of grace. The other belongs to him by nature and is on that account called “natural.” The mediatorial belongs to him from the free institution of God because he constituted him King over the church (Ps. 2:6). 12 (emphasis added)

For Turretin, the twofold kingdom (duplex regnum) the natural sphere is that which belongs to as God. The mediatorial sphere is that which belongs to him as the God-Man. Under the natural sphere is his general reign over all creatures. Under his mediatorial reign is his government of the elect, in the church.13 Here again we see how important the classic Reformed distinction between nature and grace are to understanding the classic approach to Christ’s twofold kingdom. Could it be that the neo-Kuyperians, after jettisoning much of their theological and conceptual heritage from Reformed orthodoxy are now unable to understand our older writers? This is surely the case with the TheoRecons.

Thus far we have seen that the language and conceptual distinction between two spheres in Christ’s kingdom is well and deeply established in 16th and 17th century Reformed theology. However unfamiliar it may have become to some modern Reformed Christians, it certainly is no novelty, and there is no evidence that speaking this way led the Reformed to downplay Christ’s dominion over all things.

Next time: What is really at stake in the current debate and how should that debate be conducted? (link will be live when the article is posted).


1. Jonathan D. Beeke, Duplex Regnum Christi: Christ’s Twofold Kingdom in Reformed Theology. Studies in Reformed Theology, Volume 40. (Leiden: Brill, 2021), 77.

2. The quotation is revised from John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. and ed. Ford Lewis Battles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 6.13. NB: Neither the edition of the 1536 Institutes Opera Calvini (in the Corpus Reformatorum) nor that which appears in vol. 1 of the Opera Selecta use paragraph numbers. The Latin text for this quotation appears in 1.232–33.

3. Institutes, 3.19.15 (1559; Battles edition).

4. Beeke, Duplex Regnum Christi, 81.

5. Daniel Hyde, With Heart and Mouth: An Exposition of the Belgic Confession (Grand Rapids: Reformed Fellowship, 2008), 481.

6. Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharius Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, 3rd American Edition. Trans. G. W. Williard (Cincinnati: T. P. Bucher, 1851), 450.

7. In his 1576 commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, Caspar Olevianus freely invoked and evoked Luther’s language about two spiritual kingdoms in the world, the Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of Satan. See Caspar Olevianus, An Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed, trans. Lyle Bierma. Volume 2: Classic Reformed Theology, ed. R. Scott Clark (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2009), 9.

8. William Perkins, A Cloud of Faithful Witnesses Leading to the Heavenly Canaan or A Commentary Upon Hebrews Chapter 11 in The Works of William Perkins (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 3.351.

9. George Gillespie, Male audis or, An answer to Mr. Coleman his Malè dicis: Wherein the repugnancy of his Erastian doctrine to the word of God, to the solemne league and covenant, and to the ordinances of Parliament…. (London, 1646), 55. [spelling modernized] Andrew Melville made a two kingdoms argument to the Scottish crown. Vid.

10. On this see Beeke, Duplex Regnum Christi, 125–31.

11. Beeke, Duplex Regnum Christi, 135ff.

12. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–97). See also J. H. Heidegger, The Concise Marrow of Christian Theology, trans. Casey Carmichael, Classic Reformed Theology, ed. R. Scott Clark (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2019), XIX.xxi–xxii.

13. Beeke, Duplex Regnum Christi, 161.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.



  1. You write, “ As his colleague Caspar Olevianus wrote repeatedly, the moral law that God gave at Sinai was, in substance, identical to the natural law and it is that natural law by which the magistrate governs.”

    In your understanding of the correct application of a reformed 2K, should the civil government be enforcing the 4th commandment? If so, what would that look like in practice?

    • Maybe not the focus of the article, but didn’t most Western countries have some type of blue laws up until the late 19th/early 20th century? Not stating that they were successful, but it is not as if it wasn’t attempted.

    • Dr. Clark, as you state, clearly many (most) of even Reformed churches aren’t practicing the 4th commandment. My question is more about how we might rightly understand the principle of the 4th commandment as a natural/creation law in practice in the civic realm?

      You wrote, “ As to practice, what does it look like now in practice? Which Christian churches or social organizations are clamoring for the magistrate to protect the Christian Sabbath? Which Christians are actually keeping the Sabbath?”

      If we as Reformed we were more consistent in our practice of the 4th, would that include Christians/clergy calling for some sort of legal requirement in the civic realm as we have with the 6th commandment and abortion?

    • Doug,

      I doubt that churches as institutions have a role in calling for the recognition of the Sabbath but Christian organizations, composed of Christian citizens, have every right to petition legislators, to lobby, and to try to persuade other citizens to recognize the Sunday Sabbath. I doubt that the church, as an institution, has a vocation to speak to legislators about much except persecution. The early church was well aware of abortion. They taught against it to their own members and forbad it in their church orders (e.g., The Didache) but I am aware of not a single appeal by the Apostolic or early post-Apostolic church to the Empire regarding abortion. What they did was to demonstrate the difference by disciplining people who did attempt chemical abortions etc.

      Christian citizens have every right to band together and to advocate for the protection of the unborn. I have done and I’ve advocated for the life of the unborn in this space. My argument, however, has been from nature and natural rights, rather than from Scripture. My pagan neighbors and I disagree fundamentally on most things but we are supposed to agree that “all men are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights…”. I can and do freely appeal to that great American natural law tradition.

      Likewise, the chief function of Christian clergy is to persuade their own congregations of the benefit of the Sabbath. Were I a pagan legislator I would ask Christian pastors, who came to me to lobby for a Sunday Sabbath recognized in secular law, “Pastor, how many services do you hold on Sunday? What do you teach your congregation about Sunday? I see a lot of members of your congregation in my restaurant every Sunday and I see some of them at the mall and at the movies and golf course. Why isn’t your plea for a Sunday Sabbath special pleading? Your observance of Sunday does not seem any different from mine.”

      When pastors, sessions/consistories start upholding the Sabbath in their own churches and disciplining their own members, in their own sphere, they might have a stronger argument before pagan legislators.

    • Doug,

      One of the biggest mistakes people make about the various expressions of “2K” (I prefer Calvin’s phrase, “twofold kingdom”) is to assume that it’s monolithic or that advocates all agree one outcomes. It isn’t and they don’t. As I suggest, they don’t even agree on how to speak about it.

      Yes, I’ve argued that a Sabbath principle is a natural/creational principle.

      Can I persuade the magistrate, on the basis of nature and reason that it must be on the Christian Sabbath? I cannot but neither could or did the Apostles or the early post-Apostolic church, neither of which argued with the magistrate for the Christian Sabbath, which was not recognized as a holiday until Constantine.

      This is another part of what we’re experience, the death of Christendom and with it the privileges and blessings (and some curses) associated with it. It’s painful and uncertain.

      As to practice, what does it look like now in practice? Which Christian churches or social organizations are clamoring for the magistrate to protect the Christian Sabbath? Which Christians are actually keeping the Sabbath? My impression is that no more than 10% of this country goes to church weekly and half of that goes twice weekly. The PCA has practically abandoned the Sabbath and I hear very little outcry about. Presbytery after presbytery admits candidates who take exception to the Standards on the Sabbath.

      Probably one practical ally in this debate will be the unions, who have an interest in demanding a day off for workers. The laissez-faire (or, more accurately, vulture) capitalists don’t care a whit about the Sabbath. Christian workers could potentially unify in some sort of union and use that as leverage to keep Sunday as a day of rest. We certainly have to stop expecting venal federal legislators, who hardly do their jobs now, to protect it. We are more likely to get support from local and state legislators where Christian organizations might get a better hearing.

  2. I have a question on how this confessional Reformed view of two-kingdom theology touches on apologetics. Forgive me for veering off-topic, but I am trying to figure out if the classical school approach with recent adherents such as Sproul and Gerstner is correct, or if Van Til’s approach is correct. I have always held to Ligonier’s treatment of it, but have since been told to be truly consistent with reformed theology I must hold to CVT’s type of apologetic. I have tried to understand CVT’s take on it, and am having trouble doing so. There always seems to be a bigger issue at play that also touches on why some side with R2K and others oppose it. It seems most who adhere to one view of 2K also hold to the same apologetic versus their opponents who hold the opposite views on both subjects, and I don’t understand why. Sorry if I opened up a can of worms. I am just trying to grasp the big picture at play.

    • Michial,

      I’m an advocate of a “twofold kingdom” approach to ethics and a Van Tillian. I think they’re compatible. It will help to distinguish ethics, eschatology, and apologetics. They are related but it’s not as if the one necessitates the other.

      I appreciate that Van Til wants to defend, from the outset, the Triune God and not a generic God and then the Triune God. Most Van Tillians I’ve known could use a little help (myself included) in the use of evidences, about which CVT wrote.

      It will also be helpful if we don’t all start speaking like idealists, as CVT did. His popular work on Acts 17 (Paul at the Areopagus) is very good as is his intro to apologetics. Further, unlike Gerstner, CVT agreed with the Reformed on Creator/creature distinction and the free offer of the gospel.

      These are difficult issues and you will need to be patient as you work through them.

    • Thanks Dr. Clark. As I write this I am watching a Guilt,Grace and Gratitude podcast with Dr. Fesko that aired today. He is R2K and not Van Tilian. He keeps citing Turretin and other Reformed Scholastics as pro natural theology and not opposed to Thomas on natural theology. He quotes Calvin starting with Cicero and natural theology. Like I said it is very confusing and discouraging to be honest. Thank you again.

    • Michial,

      There is more than one way to be Van Tillian (I would rather say presuppositionalist). Why do you think that Turretin is not consistent with presuppositionalism? I learned a good bit about apologetics from Turretin. One problem here is that we’re working with categories that developed in the wake of the Enlightenment. Turretin wrote before the Enlightenment or right on the cusp of its beginning.

      Presuppositionalism doesn’t require us to reject all natural theology (though it has to be kept in its place). CVT didn’t reject all natural theology. Being a presuppositionalist doesn’t require one to accept CVT’s history of theology, which is not very good at all. He was a philosophical theologian, not a historian of doctrine. Much of what CVT says about Thomas is not true or accurate. There are Van Tillians who are devoted to defending every syllable CVT ever wrote, which is a mistake. We can learn from him without repeating his mistakes.

      To say that we can’t criticize CVT and simultaneously learn from him isn’t scholarship. It’s a fetishism.

  3. This is simple, the state was once more aligned with the church. There was greater harmony. That is no longer the case. There are some groups that may have been opportunistic or premature in their overreaching approach. But it’s not surprising. I think it’s helpful to examine the cultural cause context. The disconnection has a real time basis that should be acknowledged. It doesn’t excuse anything but that is part of the reality.

  4. Dr. Clark,
    Thank you for your various contributions in Reformed thought and practice! Here’s a question I’m wrestling with as a 2K myself: Should the magistrate govern according to the natural law (I think yes)? Does the natural law correspond to the ten commandments (also yes)? If so, doesn’t that require the whole table (I don’t think so but I’m not sure why yet)?


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