18 November 2011


Of all places, I've found myself in a kerfuffle on Facebook over the past couple of days. So, rather than posting about something important like, say, Tim Tebow, let me explain why everyone jumping me is confused or simply wrong (irony ON). (Warning: Don't try this at home.) (Double Warning: The following is way inside for folks who like to obsess about the intricacies of Reformed theology.)

Some time ago the Journal of Law and Religion published my review of David VanDrunen's book, "Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought." (You can download the review by going to my SSRN author page here.) To my satisfaction, VanDrunen proved as a matter of history that folks in the Reformed tradition of Protestant Christianity believed that God ruled his creation in two discernibly distinct but overlapping ways. On the one hand there was the kingdom of creation and providence found in the family, civil government, and society in general (collectively, the world). God's rules for this kingdom were found in general revelation (described under the rubric of natural law for hundreds of years) as corrected by Scripture. On the other was the redemptive kingdom, largely identified with the Church. The rules for living in the redemptive kingdom came almost exclusively from special revelation except for some basic matters of natural "common sense" law. The border between the two kingdoms was ever-shifting. This is what I understand to be the Reformed 2K approach.

Most Reformed folk today have opted for a single kingdom paradigm in which the redemptive kingdom, which includes but is not limited to the Church, operates on the world to redeem all of its aspects and institutions. The rules for the redeem(-ed) (-ing) world may come from both creation and special revelation. The mechanism and nature of the redemptive process is ever-shifting. This is the new, 1K, approach.

It's unfortunate that proponents of both approaches anathematize each other, particularly since often there are not many differences on (most?) particular issues of public policy (and what differences remain are probably unrelated to the particularities of their 1K or 2K beliefs). Mutual anathemas are rooted in the difference between theology and ideology. A theological approach works from the ground up, from particular texts to a general conclusions. Ideology, whether in the Church or the world of politics, comes from the top down; facts (texts) are irrelevant and inconvenient ones are either ignored or eisegeted into irrelevance.

Characterizing a 2K approach as "Lutheran" is a way the 1K folks do it. Never mind that the Lutheran understanding of "two kingdom" differs from that of the Reformed folks who held to the idea. (Briefly, the standard Lutheran account of the kingdom of the world is barely related to God and not connected to Christ as mediator or preserver. Anabaptists are simply consistent Lutherans. The Reformed 2K'ers firmly plant the kingdom of the world in God's continual providential ordering as mediated through the Second Person of the Trinity.) From the other direction, 1K'ers are decried as closeted theological liberals in Reformed sheep's clothing who want to devolve the Church into a program of social do-goodism.

Does anybody actually read what other folks are writing? (And by "writing" I exclude Facebook posts and even (most? all?) blog entries; I mean things like, you know, books.)

Two take-away points. First, I have regularly resisted requests to come out of the number-of-kingdoms closet. I'll let those who care to read what I write draw their own conclusions if they wish to do so. Second, the over-the-top nature of this debate illustrates the need for what James K.A. Smith describes as the obligation to get beyond perspectives. Reformed folks are notorious for being idea-centered but, as I noted here, Smith astutely observes that our behavior is less driven by ideas than it is by our affections. Reorienting our affections will reorder our lives, not debating the number of kingdoms.


  1. Hi David. It was nice to see you enter the "kerfuffle" this morning, and nice to meet you, if only virtually.
    I have to agree with your point about books vs. facebook, blogs, etc. The amount of scowling and superiority whenever someone mentions R2K sometimes seems to me way out of proportion with the actual amount that has been written, in a scholarly way, critiquing Van Drunen. Which is to say, almost nothing. Even “scholars” have not done a very good job with this. Frame wrote a critique of Van Drunen that I thought failed to do the single most important thing a critique should do (which your piece on DVD did remarkably better, I think), which is separate the good from the bad. If memory serves, Frame simply tries to break down every single distinction DVD draws, and then concludes the whole project is wrongheaded. No indication of what is the correct approach to the relation of church and state, which distinctions are correct, etc.

    I found somewhat better Wedgeworth’s piece in Credenda Agenda, which tried to reconstruct some of the differences between Calvin’s use of 2 Kingdoms and DVDs use of 2 Kingdoms. But I felt that DVD has been pretty good at pointing out, as well, that there are inconsistencies in Calvin’s thought, and that different reformers drew different lines regarding the proper boundaries of the 2 kingdoms. So Calvin thought that the civil authorities could protect and encourage the “true church,” but couldn’t decide on matters of doctrine. The problem is obvious: how can civil authorities protect the true church, unless they have some ability to decide on matters of doctrine? This is a foundational problem, and one that I strongly feel critics of R2K haven’t done much to solve, at least in what I’ve read.

    So I find it helpful to do the historical reconstructive work, but only to a point, because I just don’t think we are going to “discover” any single, coherent and satisfying “reformed” consensus on this matter dating from the 16th century. In fact, I’m 100% positive we will not. And that leaves us in the place of having to do some constructive theology, rather than just appealing to the extremely sparse confessional tradition, or the somewhat incoherent tradition present in the other writings of the Reformers. The approach that serves us well on other matters of doctrine, in other words, seems to be problematic when constructing a political philosophy or theology.

    Thanks again for your post and article.


  2. Can't argue with anything you write, Rob, except to disambiguate David (who wrote the book) and Scott (who reviewed it).