As I’ve argued previously, “natural law” two kingdoms theology logically results in theocracy for anyone who recognizes WCF/LBCF 19.2.
Well Kim Riddlebarger has made my point for me:
Then there are those in the current debate who contend, in agreement with Calvin, that it’s the civil magistrate’s duty to enforce the first table of the law. Well, as important as Calvin is in understanding reformed political theory, when Calvin speaks of the role of the civil magistrate, Calvin could not even begin to conceive of a secularist democracy that now rules Europe. And therefore his value in terms of his understanding of how the church ought to relate to the magistrate is limited because of the change in circumstances. And that, I think, is self-evident in the fact that all of the reformed confessions written at the time of the reformation have all been changed in the United States in the articles that deal with the churches relation to the civil magistrate, because the situation here is entirely different than it was in the days of the reformation. And the reformed churches, both Presbyterian and Reformed, acknowledge that.
Let me play a bit of advocacy here: What if Calvin’s right about the civil magistrate? And by the way, I tend to think he is, he’s on the right track here. What would the magistrate enforcing the first table of the law look like in a real world of Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress? Do we really want the magistrate, in it’s current form, to protect the church, it’s gospel, and it’s doctrine? There is a law of unintended consequences and we have to think very, very carefully about the consequences of taking particular actions. It’s one thing to argue, “Yeah, Calvin says we should recover the first table of the law, enforced by the civil magistrate!” Ok, I think there’s a good, biblical basis for that, and I’m going to argue for it. But what’s that gonna look like in the United States? We no longer live in an America with a generic Protestant political establishment…
-Kim Riddlebarger, In the Land of Nod, Part 1: Why This Has Been an Important and Controversial Doctrine @49:30
While Adam is building this temple garden in Eden he is under probation, where God has commanded of him perfect obedience. The question is, perfect obedience to what? Well, I would say to the moral law, which is later enshrined and codified in the two tables of the law we commonly speak of as the 10 commandments… Natural law reflects the same commandments written upon the human heart and subsequently revealed on the two stone tablets at Mt. Sinai.
-Kim Riddlebarger, In the Land of Nod, Part 3: Adam in Eden – Tracing the Redemptive Historical Themes of the Two Kingdoms @21:30 and 38:50
I think we have to be realists. One of the things that we’ll talk about is, it’s one thing for Christians to very triumphally say “Well, you know what we need, we need to recover the law of God as the standard for civil government.” Well, whether that’s true in theory or not is a separate question. The reality is, “Are we in our lifetimes ever going to live in a country, in a situation where we are under a theocratic state as Israel was in the Old Testament. And the answer to that is “No.” So a lot of the discussion that goes on about the ideal is only so much time wasting because the question we have to deal with, at least that I have to deal with as a pastor having to answer questions for people in my church and in my pews, is “How do we survive in this current situation?” And I’m going to argue that keeping those two kingdoms distinct is a very, very important starting point… So throw out the ideal. We’ll talk about the ideal. The ideal is important, I mean, we ought to look at what the ideal is to understand what ought to be so we can think about a theoretic about how we ought to approach stuff. But the fact is we live in a time and place when we are going to be a minority, a small minority of a minority and we’re going to have to get the best deal that we can in the political kingdom, in the civil kingdom. And that’s just how it is.
-Kim Riddlebarger, In the Land of Nod, Part 4: Adam Cast From Eden – The Birth of the Civil Kingdom @52:30
Thankfully, for the coherence of discussion, Riddlebarger is consistent in his natural law theory. If the civil magistrate is to enforce natural law, then it is to enforce the 10 commandments.
Note: Natural Law Two Kingdoms will not get you to the non-establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution. It will land you in Geneva.
It is interesting to note Riddlebarger’s pragmatism. He says that the ideal (the enforcement of the 10 commandments) is not practical because we live in a different context under a secular government. He says the American reformed churches changed the confession because they were in a different context. But what led to this change in context? Was it the erosion of true religion? Was 18th century colonial American a pagan, secular society? No. 18th century America was very Protestant. What led to the change in context (change in government) is a change in how these men interpreted the Bible. It was not an appeal to natural law to the exclusion of Scripture. Rather, as Charles Hodge explains, it was primarily an appeal to Scripture, to an interpretation that disagreed with Calvin’s interpretation, that led to changes in how Calvinists viewed the state:
The American Church
The doctrine current among us on this subject is of very recent origin. It was unknown to the ancients before the advent. In no country was religion disconnected with the state. It was unknown to the Jews. The early Christians were not in circumstances to determine the duty of Christian magistrates to the Christian church. Since the time of Constantine, in no part of Christendom and by no denomination has the ground been assumed, until a recent period, that the state and church should be separate and independent bodies. Yet to this doctrine the public mind in this country has already been brought, and to the same conclusion the convictions of God’s people in all parts of the world seem rapidly tending. On what grounds, then, does this novel, yet sound, doctrine rest? This question can only be answered in a very general and superficial manner on the present occasion.
1. In the first place it assumes that the state, the family, and the church are all divine institutions, having the same general end in view, but designed to accomplish that end by different means. That as we cannot infer from the fact that the family and the state are both designed to promote the welfare of men, that the magistrate has the right to interfere in the domestic economy of the family; so neither can we infer from the church and state having the same general end, that the one can rightfully interfere with the affairs of the other. If there were no other institution than the family, we might infer that all the means now used by the church and state, for the good of men, might properly be used by the family; and if there were no church, as a separate institution of God, then we might infer that the family and the state were designed to accomplish all that could be effected. But as God has instituted the family for domestic training and government; the state, that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives; and the church for the promotion and extension of true religion, the three are to be kept distinctive within their respective spheres.
2. That the relative duties of these several institutions cannot be learned by reasoning a priori from their design, but must be determined from the Word of God. And when reasoning from the Word of God, we are not authorized to argue from the Old Testament economy because that was avowedly temporary and has been abolished, but must derive our conclusions from the New Testament. We find it there taught:
(a) That Christ did institute a church separate from the state, giving it separate laws and officers.
(b) That he laid down the qualifications of those officers and enjoined on the church, not on the state, to judge of their possession by candidates.
(c) That he prescribed the terms of admission to and the grounds of exclusion from the church, and left with the church its officers to administer these rules.
These acts are utterly inconsistent with Erastianism and with the relation established in England between the church and state.
3. That the New Testament, when speaking of the immediate design of the state and the official duties of the magistrate, never intimates that he has those functions which the common doctrine of the Lutheran and Reformed church assign him. This silence, together with the fact that those functions are assigned to the church and church officers, is proof that it is not the will of God that they should be assumed by the state.
4. That the only means which the state can employ to accomplish many of the objects said to belong to it, viz. pains and penalties, are inconsistent with the example and commands of Christ; with the rights of private Christians, guaranteed in the Word of God (i.e., to serve God according to the dictates of his conscience); are ineffectual to the true end of religion, which is voluntary obedience to the truth; and productive of incalculable evil. The New Testament, therefore, does not teach that the magistrate is entitled to take care that true religion is established and maintained; that right men are appointed to church offices; that those officers do their duty, that proper persons be admitted, and improper persons be rejected from the church; or that heretics be punished. And on the other hand, by enjoining all these duties upon the church, as an institution distinct from the state, it teaches positively that they do not belong to the magistrate, but to the church. If to this it be added that experience teaches that the magistrate is the most unfit person to discharge these duties; that his attempting it has always been injurious to religion and inimical to the rights of conscience, we have reason to rejoice in the recently discovered truth that the church is independent of the state, and that the state best promotes her interests by letting her alone.
- Charles Hodge, The Relation of Church and State originally appeared in Princeton Review in 1863. It is now taken from a recently re-released book of essays by a variety of authors edited by Iain Murray, The Reformation of the Church.
So it was not an appeal to natural law that led to the undoing of state churches, nor was it a degrading of religion in society, but it was the proper interpretation and application of Scripture to the question of civil government. In this regard, Ron Baines has an excellent essay in the first issue of JIRBS titled SEPARATING GOD’S TWO KINGDOMS: Two Kingdom Theology among New England Baptists in the Early Republic.
[We insist] that sin refers to moral fall and guilt, and further, that this fall consisted in three things: a darkening of the light of reason, an impairment of the power of the will, and a corrupting of our affections. From this it follows that without spectacles, as Calvin expressed it, the book of nature can no longer be read, such that neither from nature nor from the light of our reason can we know whether, and if so, in what way, there is any means whereby we may escape the power and guilt of sin. From this flows the need for a further special revelation to be added to nature, having two purposes: both to teach us to understand again the book of Nature, and to open for us the path to reconciliation with God. So we receive a word of God in twofold form: A word of God within the creation, and a word of God with which he adds to created things (Band aan het Woord, 10).
I agree (though I disagree with the term “book of nature”).
There is, to be sure, a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall, by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior. But this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him—so far, in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society. Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness. In doing so he renders himself without excuse before God.
Canons of Dort III.4
All of this is to say: Michael Horton needs to stop being “baffled” at these characterizations of the Two Kingdoms paradigm. They are taught explicitly and emphatically in the very book he is recommending. Having spent a good deal of time carefully reading VanDrunen’s book, Tim Keller’s generalizations (the immediate source of Horton’s ire) strike me as perfectly reasonable and fair.
In my carefully considered opinion, David VanDrunen argues for an almost complete dualistic split between heavenly and earthly callings. If Horton wants to put Humpty Dumpty back together again and view them as unified and complimentary, I suggest he walk down the hall and have a nice, long visit with his colleague. Because from the looks of Horton’s blog post, the right hand at WSCAL doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.
Matthew Tuininga has posted part 2 of his discussion of the two kingdoms doctrine at Ref21.
VanDrunen and other R2K advocates tend to narrow the reformed perspectives on church/state//Christ/culture to two: two kingdoms and transformationist. VanDrunen explains in his “Living in God’s Two Kingdoms” that transformationists believe Christians are to do what Adam failed to do as stewards of creation and that our work will transform creation in an everlasting way. With these “transformationists” in mind, Tuininga says:
any account of Calvin’s view of the way in which grace transforms nature has to come to grips with Calvin’s insistence that the goal of creation was always to be elevated and glorified into something greater than it was at creation. “For we cannot think upon either our first condition or to what purpose we were formed without being prompted to meditate upon immortality, and to yearn for the Kingdom of God (2.1.3). For this reason the gap between the present life and the kingdom is not simply a result of human disobedience; no matter how sanctified believers become, they still await the putting off of the mortal flesh and the transformation of the cosmos. [Which comes at Christ's return, not through our efforts]
An interesting tidbit I’d heard before and would like more info on (think Servetes):
In the 1536 edition of the Institutes Calvin argued that the sword should not be used to persecute heretics and false teachers (2.28). By the time the second edition came off the press he had already removed that passage (although it reappears, intriguingly, in the 1560 French edition). In all subsequent Latin editions he argued that government is to enforce the first table of the law as well as the second, both of which are expressions of natural law, the law of love, and of God’s timeless moral law, all of which for Calvin amount to the same thing.
Notice that for Calvin (and the confessions) natural law = moral law = ten commandments. In light of this, Tuininga challenges VanDrunen’s primary focus (trying to appeal to and reason from “natural law” without the aid of Scripture) by noting:
Finally, a third question pertains to Calvin’s distinction between natural law, or the moral law, and the written law of the Torah. Calvin believed it was insufficient to prove that civil government should enact a particular law or enforce a particular punishment simply because that law or punishment could be found in the law of Moses. Yet he clearly believed that Scripture is to guide Christian understandings of natural law. Contemporary two kingdoms advocates claim that in a pluralistic, democratic context Christians should be slower to use Scripture as a trump card in public debates, but they need to clarify how it is that Scripture informs Christian political engagement in a democratic and pluralistic society.
Of course, Tuininga is being a bit too kind. Radical 2 Kingdom’s argument is not that Christians should be slower to use Scripture in public debates, but that they should not use it at all. This is my main concern with R2K and has been the focus of most of what I have posted on this blog about it. I appreciate that Tuininga recognizes this problem and is doing what he can to push for revision/clarification. [update: Tuininga believes my concern is actually a widespread misunderstanding of VanDrunen. I disagree, but see what he says here: http://matthewtuininga.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/part-2-on-the-two-kingdoms-at-reformation-21/#comment-2065 ]
I’ll have some more thoughts/notes/quotes on R2K in the near future, Lord willing. In the meantime, you may be interested in reading Matthew Tuininga’s blog. I find plenty to disagree with there, but it gives you some perspective on where he’s writing from.
A good, irenic post at Ref21:
One of the ways in which modern advocates could strengthen the two kingdoms doctrine is by further emphasizing and clarifying its fundamentally eschatological character, particularly in light of the fact that the two kingdoms are often confused with two spheres into which life is to be divided. It may be that part of the problem is a conflation of the two kingdoms doctrine with Abraham Kuyper’s concept of sphere sovereignty. But Kuyper’s spheres denote different areas into which human life under Christ’s lordship are to be divided; they do not designate the eschatological distinction between this age and the age to come. As such, the concept of sphere sovereignty is a sociological concept that is consistent with but different from the two kingdoms doctrine. We confuse the two when we think of the two kingdoms as two spheres (because they denote two governments) but forget that they also denote two overlapping ages. As 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5-6 make clear, because Christians live between two ages, they cannot turn everything they do into the kingdom of God, but they are to do everything that they do in obedience to Christ’s lordship.
James Anderson has written a short blog post after reading VanDrunen’s “A Biblical Case for Natural Law” and “Living in God’s Two Kingdoms”. He does a good job of showing how Natural Law 2K is internally inconsistent.
Yet there is an even greater oddity here. VanDrunen’s 2K doctrine not only implies that he should oppose the display of the the Decalogue on a courthouse wall; it also implies that he could not oppose it as a point of public policy. Why? Simply because his 2K doctrine is based on the teachings of Scripture and not on natural law. (At any rate, VanDrunen makes his case for 2K doctrine from Scripture — it leans heavily on covenant theology — and it’s hard to see how one could make such a case apart from Scripture.) Since “politics is a matter of the common kingdom” (Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, p. 194) and the common kingdom is ruled by natural law alone, any point of public policy based on 2K doctrine cannot be defended in the civil sphere as a point of public policy. This strikes me as very odd.
Why is this good news for Darryl Hart? Well, because Darryl Hart believes very strongly that the Bible should never be used in determining public policy and state laws. It should never even influence people who make those laws. The problem is, it’s really, really difficult to find a society that is completely ignorant of and unaffected by the Bible – in other words, a society who relies only upon general revelation (which Hart says they must).
But now we finally have the solution! All we need to do is send someone into the jungle to observe how this tribe’s government functions, and then implement the same form of government here. That way we will finally be free of the Bible’s influence and we can finally have the type of government God wants us to have!
If you’re going to take political action that is going to compromise the gospel, then you are sealing your own doom. Over the past 50 years, conservatives have spent tens of billions of dollars lobbying, trying to elect candidates, trying to organize in various ways. When I was a kid, I was out passing out literature for Barry Goldwater, back in 1964.
And what has it gained? Are we any better off, to borrow a campaign slogan – are we better off today than we were 50 years ago? What have all those conservatives and libertarians done with those billions of dollars that has shown any improvement in the political or the moral climate of the country?
Now, if that money had been put into the preaching of the gospel – the uncompromised, unvarnished, pure gospel, perhaps there would be something completely different to show for it. But it was put into compromised political action, and there’s nothing to show for it. Absolutely nothing. Tens of billions of dollars – when you think of all the campaigns, all the organizations.
And I’ve been involved – my [PhD] degree’s in political theory, political philosophy. I’ve been interested in politics all my life and have been involved from time to time, working on Capitol Hill. And I learned a very good lesson on Capitol Hill – that what happens there is of little consequence. That if one is interested in changing society, you don’t go to Capitol Hill, you preach the gospel.
If anybody is operating under the illusion that political action is going to make a significant change in society apart from a sea change in the beliefs in the American people, then they’re condemned to futility. They will waste their lives.
I am strongly committed to the biblical understanding of two kingdoms: the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of earth. Paul did make it clear that the ministers of the sword (the state) serve God, but Christ also made it clear that His kingdom is not of this world. Here is a sermon I preached on John 18:28-38 http://www.porticochurch.com/messages/John_18_28_20071118.mp3 in which I speak against what I see as an unbiblical focus on transforming culture.
I make an effort to point this out because every time I address this issue I am simply mis-categorized as a “transformationist” or theonomist and thus ignored. I am neither, so please give me a couple minutes of your time.
Two Kingdoms Natural Law
A very prominent form of two kingdom theology today is advocated primarily by Westminster California, led by David VanDrunen. You can find a helpful overview on WSC’s Jan. 6 Office Hours Podcast. This view is largely a response to theonomy (the view that the Mosaic case laws, or judicial laws, ie stoning, should be enforced in detail by every nation on earth). They correctly oppose theonomy by pointing out the distinction between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of this earth. (They could also counter theonomy by adopting A. W. Pink or John Owen’s views of the Mosaic Covenant)
However, they take this view one step further and say the kingdom of heaven is ruled by the Bible and the kingdoms of earth are ruled by natural law. This is precisely where I disagree. Such a view is nonsensical. Natural law, the law written on the hearts of all men, is the moral law, the 10 commandments. This is the unanimous Reformed view as stated particularly in the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 19
I. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it; and endued him with power and ability to keep it.
II. This law, after his Fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables; the first four commandments containing our duty toward God, and the other six our duty to man.
Therefore, to say the kingdoms of this world are ruled by natural law and should enforce natural law is to say that they are ruled by the 10 commandments and should enforce the 10 commandments.
Two Kingdoms Theocracy?
The result of such a view winds up exactly where they claim to not want to be: a theocracy. R. Scott Clark wrote a post against homosexual marriage called Natural Law, the Two Kingdoms, and Homosexual Marriage in which he appeals to the state’s duty to enforce the creation laws regarding marriage.
The magistrate has a right and a duty to enforce marriage and divorce laws in order to enforce natural, creational boundaries in the same way he has a duty to protect a society from theft and fraud… I argue that the state should regulate marriage on the basis of natural, creational law and that those who advocate pushing back the boundaries of marriage to include homosexual marriage are advocating the recognition of the violation of natural, creational law…
Such a statement would seem to be subject to my criticism above. If the state has a duty to enforce natural law, the law of creation, then it has a duty to enforce the moral law. To say one is to say the other. Clark anticipates this objection and says:
To anticipate an objection, this is not a theocratic argument. It is not the magistrate’s duty to police every sort of violation of natural law and sin. For example, no one but theocrats want the state enforcing obedience to the first table of the law. The magistrate’s natural sphere of concern and authority is in the second table.
If that is R. Scott Clark’s view, then how is it any different from those who say the state should enforce the second table of the moral law (such as John W. Robbins and J. Gresham Machen)? Answer: It’s not different.
Clark even states 2K Natural Law does not mean the state should enforce every natural law. Well, if that’s the case, then again, what is the point in making a distinction between moral law and natural law and then saying the church is ruled by one and the state is ruled by the other? There is no point. It is an invalid distinction.
[Note that D. G. Hart's precise criticism of Kloosterman in this post http://oldlife.org/2009/12/21/if-not-two-kingdoms-two-decalogues/ is that he divides the the Decalogue into two tables. Thus Hart's criticism would equally apply to Clark's natural law position, which Hart is supposedly defending.]
Lee Irons makes the same criticism of the 2K Natural Law view (though at this point I do not agree with Irons’ conclusion regarding the duty of the state):
Clark seems to be saying that the state has a moral obligation or duty to enforce the moral law (= natural law), a duty that itself derives from moral/natural law. My problem with this is that, if logically carried through, this will lead to a view of civil government that is just as theocratic as that desired by the theonomists. The only difference so far as I can tell is that on Clark’s view there would be more leeway in the specifics of the penal code…
…Most theonomists would be perfectly happy with a state run on natural law principles, since they argue that the general equity of the Mosaic Law is identical with natural/moral law as revealed via general revelation (cp. Bahnsen, No Other Standard, pp. 206, 222).
Again, I agree with the Reformed doctrine of natural law. It is biblical (Romans 1). I’m merely objecting to the claim that it is the moral duty of the state to enforce it in society.
But R. Scott Clark is too smart to miss this point. So what is he really trying to say? Well, his practical position is really that the state is obligated to enforce laws that are derived from fallen man’s observation of himself. I cut his quote short earlier. Here it is in its entirety:
I argue that the state should regulate marriage on the basis of natural, creational law and that those who advocate pushing back the boundaries of marriage to include homosexual marriage are advocating the recognition of the violation of natural, creational law [recognized in the West by pagans and Christians for two thousand years.]
Thus, the argument against homosexual marriage is not a “theocratic” argument, but an argument from the nature of things grounded in natural revelation, in the most fundamental observations about how human beings relate to one another, about what it is to be human, about what it is to be a civil society, about what a family is, and ultimately, that there really is such a thing as nature or creation itself that limits the choices of sovereign, ostensibly autonomous late modern humans.
This is the inevitable conclusion that “natural law” must lead to. Natural law will ultimately find no need and no place for God, precisely because it is natural law, not supernatural law. It is quickly reduced to fallen man looking inside himself and at others to decide “what is right in his own eyes.” Irons notes:
Another problem with the appeal to natural law as the principle for determining the positive enforcement duties of the civil magistrate is that we live in a pluralistic society in which the very content of natural law itself is highly contested at critical points. Many citizens believe, for example, that committed same-sex relationships are not in any way sinful. Again, I affirm that the these people are wrong, and that deep down they know they are wrong. I know that because I believe the Bible’s teaching concerning the content of natural law (e.g., Romans 1). But such an appeal to Scripture will have minimal persuasive value in the public square. A natural law theorist may not go out with the intention of making a naked appeal to Scripture. He may try appealing to various arguments that support his interpretation of natural law, keeping his biblical beliefs out of play to achieve maximum rhetorical effect. But since the ultimate epistemic basis for his interpretation of natural law is Scripture, at the end of the day this will come to light at some point in the argument and it will become evident that he is not really making a good-faith religiously-neutral appeal.
Here are two related posts of mine to elaborate on this problem, and comments I made on D. G. Hart’s blog:
If Not Two Kingdoms, Two Decalogues (note Hart’s fundamental misunderstanding of natural law. He rejects WCF’s definition and instead argues that natural law is that which we can observe in ourselves and others. It may be true that the foundation of the state should be our observations of nature – but that is not the same thing as the law of creation.)
Then What Are We to Do?
This is not an easy question to answer. Appealing to natural law in opposition to Scripture is erroneous, arguing for theonomy misunderstands the Mosaic covenant, and arguing for theocracy misunderstands the kingdom of heaven. I am not certain I have arrived at an answer, but J. Gresham Machen’s words (echoed by Gordon Clark and John W. Robbins) make sense.
What then is the remedy for the threatened disruption of society and for the rapidly progressing decay of liberty?
There is really only one remedy. It is the rediscovery of the law of God.
If we want to restore respect for human laws, we shall have to get rid of this notion that judges and juries exist only for the utilitarian purpose of the protection of society, and shall have to restore the notion that they exist for the purposes of justice. They are only very imperfect exponents of justice, it is true. There are vast departments of life with which they should have nothing whatever to do. They are exceeding their God-given function when they seek to enforce inward purity or purity of the individual life, since theirs is the business only of enforcing – and that in necessarily imperfect fashion – that part of righteousness which concerns the relations between man and man. But they are instruments of righteousness all the same, and when that is not recognized, disaster follows for the state. Society will never be preserved by attaching savage penalties to trifling offences because the utilitarian interests of society demand it; it will never be preserved by the vicious practice (followed by some judges) of making ‘examples’ of people is spasmodic and unjust fashion because such examples are thought to have a salutary effect as a deterrent from future crim. No, we say, let justice never be lost from view – abstract, holy, transcendent justice – no matter what the immediate consequences may be thought to be. Only so will the ermine of the judge again be respected and the ravages of decadence be checked.
-The Christian View of Man p. 193
[Update: I just read a very helpful post over at Feeding On Christ that I highly recommend: Theonomy, Two Kingdoms, and a Middle Road)
Modern Two Kingdoms theology has never, ever made sense to me. In very short summary, the position of Two Kingdom advocates (spearheaded by David VanDrunen) is that there is no such thing as a Christian worldview. They are emphatic that the Bible is only supposed to be used in the church and that it must not be used in issues of civil government, work, or even family.
The most absurd part is that they argue everything that is not governed by the Bible, which is everything except church, is to be governed my natural law. It does not matter if you point out to them that natural law is simply the law of God written on the hearts of all men, the same law that has been clarified for us in the Bible.
When I attempted to point this out to a Two Kingdoms advocate recently at Darryl Hart’s blog, they insisted that natural law provides us with all kinds of information necessary to live life. Because this person was a plumber, his example was plumbing:
Anyway, Christian plumbing is my turf here, your talking to a 4th generation plumber (I worked on the business end mostly though). I would argue that observation and natural revelation and all true domains of human knowledge are inextricably linked. General revelation functions to point to a Creator who sets up a functional cosmos; it also informs us on how the cosmos functions. All cosmic functions necessarily operate within the laws of nature whether they are moral or amoral. Plumbing is entirely dependent on natural revelation/natural law even though it is amoral. Let me explain…
There are many laws of nature that have to me navigated in even the most simple plumbing process such as soldering copper pipe which has taken mankind a few thousand years to master. It takes a understanding of the metallurgical properties of copper that make it desirable as a potable water delivery system: copper is malleable and resistant to corrosion and relatively abundant and easy to extract (which makes it inexpensive in relation to other non corrosive metals). Soldering itself requires an understanding of welding, which in this case requires the binding of two different metals to form a seal sufficiently tight so as to be impenetrable by water molecules, which again is governed by fundamental laws of chemistry. I could go on to explain how hydro-mechanical principles govern waterflow, but I won’t bore you with more details. I am sure though that nearly every vocational discipline, including the justice system interact so much with natural law that it would be staggering to draw out the processes in entirety.
When I pointed out that the “law” of gravity is something completely different than the law of God, and advised not to confuse the two, I received the following reply:
We must be using different dictionaries. I am really not sure how you can maintain that functionally physical laws and moral laws operate on different planes. They can be violated, but there are consequences. Yes, I do agree that natural law includes the moral code written on the human heart, but that is simply because these exist in a larger cosmic system where God created a good universe that worked just as he designed it to. It is precisely because of this that governments operate off of general revelation even if imperfectly and/or unknowingly. Why else would we have similarities in Hammurabi and Moses, Roman law and American law. Discontinuities are a given, but the commonality of law, and prevasively political nature of human history even in the absence of special revelation testifies to the sufficiency of natural law in the political arena.
I’m not making this stuff up. I suggested we go ahead and look at the dictionary, naively thinking it would help clarify things with this man:
law: 1a: a rule or order that it is advisable or obligatory to observe
synonyms law, rule, regulation, precept, statute, ordinance, canon mean a principle governing action or procedure. law implies imposition by a sovereign authority and the obligation of obedience on the part of all subject to that authority
Precept: 1 : a command or principle intended especially as a general rule of action
2 : an order issued by legally constituted authority to a subordinate official
That is what law means when we talk about the law of God and natural law. Way down in definition 6 is a different definition for things like the “law” of gravity:
6 a : a statement of an order or relation of phenomena that so far as is known is invariable under the given conditions
synonyms: see in addition hypothesis
God’s law is not God’s law because God saw what would naturally occur if we committed adultery and he wanted to protect us from those natural consequences. It is God’s law because He sovereignly imposed it on those bearing His image as a rule for what ought and ought not to be done.
Furthermore, are you suggesting that the “law” of gravity is just a statement of what ought to be done? Are you suggesting that we should all obey the law of gravity, meaning we should not violate it by floating around? I didn’t think so.
one definition is prescriptive, the other is descriptive.
The prescriptive nature of moral law is something that I believe flows from the descriptive nature of natural law…
…The prescriptive command: “Don’t jump off of a cliff” presupposes (the is) gravity. Assuming a person values his life, the moral implication of the isness of gravity is that one ought not act out in a way where gravity becomes a life-threatening reality. I would argue that the Decalogue extrapolates its prescriptions from the ises of God’s character and from the world he creates.
How else can the psalmist claim that the heavens tell of the glory of God if there is no revelatory value in nature itself that cannot be extracted from even cursory observation?
So the Decalogue is really just a hypothesis about nature. Maybe God should have submitted it to a peer review journal?
See related: Karl Popper and the Emperor’s Clothes
I have spent the last week down at Westminster Seminary California auditing the “Baptist Symbolics” class at IRBS. This weekend they are having a conference on Two Kingdoms theology and I saw that David VanDrunen’s long anticipated book on natural law and two kingdoms was just published. In honor of that, I wanted to post an essay that I wrote critiquing VanDrunen’s previous work on the topic. The essay was written for the 2008 Trinity Foundation Christian Worldview Essay Contest, the topic of which was John W. Robbins’ book Freedom and Capitalism: Essays in Christian Politics and Economics, and has been slightly revised for this post.
Truth is God thinking.
History is God acting.
Law is God commanding.
Against these propositions, secular philosophers muster all the forces at their command.
So begins Robbins chapter on natural law in his book “Freedom and Capitalism”, though it might just as well have introduced the work as a whole. John Robbins did not see economics and politics as simply a practical matter. He recognized that all thought, including economic and political, is a reflection of one’s submission to God. If one fails to bring every thought captive to Christ, one fails to obey Christ’s command and ultimately, to glorify God.
I believe the most effective way to show the value of Robbins’ book is to apply its principles and example to current challenges facing us today. In his forward, Robbins mentions the threat posed by David VanDrunen’s attempt, as a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary California, to revive natural law theory in Reformed theology. However, due to the fact that “Freedom and Capitalism” is a collection of previously written work, VanDrunen’s work was not specifically mentioned or critiqued beyond the forward. Thus I will endeavor to apply what I have learned from Robbins to the case of David VanDrunen’s book “A Biblical Case for Natural Law.”
In his introduction, VanDrunen notes several objections against natural law that he intends to address in the book. Two of these are: (1) that natural law detracts from the authority and priority of Scripture, and (2) that the use of natural law does not take seriously the fact of human sin and its dire impact on moral reasoning. He does this by arguing that God has established two separate kingdoms, that the image of God was not lost in the Fall, and that natural law is to govern the civil kingdom.
VanDrunen argues that God has established two different kingdoms through two different covenants with two different purposes. He argues that God established the civil kingdom through His covenant with Noah and the spiritual kingdom through His covenant with Moses (The nation of Israel was not a spiritual kingdom. See links at end). He states: “According to the principle of the Noahic covenant of common grace, the cultural task is to be pursued by the human race as a whole… [Christians] must pursue a common cultural task with the world at large.”ii He claims that special revelation’s supremacy over the nation of Israel was temporary, while the natural law that governed pagan nations throughout the Old Testament is to be the standard used today by members of the New Covenant, in matters of civil rule. (VanDrunen ignores the fact that the Noahic Covenant contained special revelation, not natural, and that the special revelation was directed specifically at civil law: Gen 9:5-6 – ironically a command the majority of civil rulers relying on “natural law” reject today). In support of this claim, VanDrunen cites Jeremiah 29:1-9, in which Jeremiah commands exiled Israelites to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile.” From this passage, VanDrunen derives a common purpose, a common cultural task to achieve peace and prosperity.
He rightly notes that “such a command must have been bracing for these Israelites who had been told that they were not to seek the peace and prosperity of the Moabites and Ammonites who sought fellowship in the Promised Land (Deut. 23:3-6) and who would later be told, upon returning to the Promised Land after exile, not to seek the peace and prosperity of the pagans then inhabiting that land (Ezra 9:12).”iii However, contrarty to VanDrunen’s assertion, Jeremiah 29 does not teach that Israelites are to pursue a common task with the Babylonians because of a common covenant made with Noah. Jeremiah instructs Israelites to seek the welfare of Babylon, not for Babylon’s sake, but for their own. “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Quite contrary to VanDrunen’s belief that “all human beings, of whatever religious commitment, are to intermingle and cooperate in pursuit of cultural progress,” distinct from God’s redemptive purpose, this passage teaches that civil peace is to be sought for the benefit of God’s people.
VanDrunen argues that the image of God is righteous dominion. Because man was created in the image of God, a righteous ruler, he was created to righteously rule over creation. In “Freedom and Capitalism” Robbins briefly shows Gary North’s error in believing that the image of God is dominioniv. He has elsewherev argued that dominion is not the image of God, rather, dominion is given to man because man is the image of God.
On the other hand, there is much to affirm in VanDrunen’s argument that the image of God is man’s innate knowledge of what is righteous. He musters Romans 1:18-32 and Romans 2:14-15 to his defense, noting that “Paul teaches that there is a natural law that continues to bind all people and that people actually know something of this law.”vi However, VanDrunen’s conclusions from this argument are not to be commended. VanDrunen attempts to overcome the problem of sinful suppression of knowledge of God’s law by citing Romans 1:32. He emphasizes that all sinful men know God’s law. However, unlike VanDrunen, the Apostle Paul emphasizes that though all men know this law, all ignore it and insist they do not know it.
Romans 1 cannot be used to defend the claim that a theory of political philosophy can be derived through fallen man’s unaided reason precisely because such men will ignore any such knowledge. Robbins notes: “Paul says that men suppress the truth in unrighteousness; they refuse to glorify God; they are ingrates, fools, and do not like to retain God in their knowledge… Men cannot construct theories upon this innate information, for their intellects are depraved (Romans 8:7).”vii
The result of VanDrunen’s understanding of natural law is that we are to look to fallen man to determine what is right and what is wrong. Robbins shows how this has worked out historically by quoting the Marquis de Sade:
“Nature teaches us both vice and virtue in our constitution… we shall examine by the torch of reason, for it is by this light alone that we can conduct our inquiry.”… de Sade concludes that, “there is just as much harm in killing an animal as a man, or just as little, and the difference arises solely from the prejudices of our vanity.” Since it is nature that prompts us to murder, steal, slander, and fornicate, and since we have a “natural inclination to such actions and ends as are fitting” – to quote Thomas Aquinas – none of these things can be wrong, for Nature is normative. The logic is commendable; the conclusion, reprehensible.”viii
Even more problematic is what VanDrunen claims is the content of this natural law that has been written on the hearts of all men. The Westminster Confession of Faith (which I assume VanDrunen professes to hold to as a faculty member of Westminster Seminary California), states: “God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity, to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.”ix Among the Scriptural support offered by the Confession is Romans 2:14-15. The Confession continues: “This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments…”x Thus the Confession identifies natural law with the Ten Commandments.
However, VanDrunen argues that special revelation “is not meant to serve as the moral standard for the civil kingdom.”xi He claims, “Biblical moral instructions are given to people who are redeemed and are given as a consequence of their redemption.xii The Ten Commandments, for example, provide not an abstract set of principles but define the life of God’s redeemed covenant people… The point is that the moral instruction given in Scripture cannot be taken simply as the moral standard for the world at large.”xiii With this statement, VanDrunen is in direct opposition to his Confession: “The moral law does forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof.”xiv
What is amazing is that VanDrunen calls upon this very same Confession in support of his argument. He cites WCF 19.4, which states that Israel’s judicial laws have expired, and claims it supports his assertion that “Christians cannot rightly appeal to the moral lifestyle set forth in Scripture as directly applicable to non-Christians.” (p. 40) I agree with VanDrunen that we must not simply apply every command in Scripture to all people of all times. We must be sensitive to the context. But VanDrunen is not arguing simply that we shouldn’t apply all commands in Scripture to all men. He is arguing that we should not apply any commands in Scripture to all men, and he uses 19.4 to support that assertion. Yet, 19.3 prefaces 19.4 by explaining that it is not referring to the moral law, which remains binding on all men. That VanDrunen accidentally skipped 19.3 in his reading of the Confession is not likely.
VanDrunen’s denial that the natural law written on the hearts of all men is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments may perhaps be motivated by a desire to appease the minds of fallen men. If he believes we are to work with unregenerate sinners in a common task, he must set aside Scripture, for Scripture is foolishness to the world and “the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7).
He acknowledges that any attempt to define natural law apart from Scripture “demands limited and sober expectations.”xv VanDrunen then proceeds to use Scripture in an attempt to show how a common, natural moral standard was used to govern the civil kingdom during the time of the Old Testament patriarchs. He cites Genesis 20 as evidence that Abimelech knew “what ought not to be done” in regard to taking someone else’s wife. Rather than simply acknowledging that the 7th commandment was written on Abimelech’s heart, and that this was just as much a spiritual issue as it was a “civil” issue (Gen 20:6 “sinning against me”), VanDrunen prefers to develop a shadowy form of a possible natural law consisting of the protection of marriage as well as a prohibition against sexual violence (referring to an additional example in Gen. 34:7). Such a view is so incredibly forced that it boggles my mind why so many people appeal to it.
VanDrunen ends his book with the bold and absurd conclusion that “natural law and unbelieving interpretation of natural law become an important part of biblical ethics in the spiritual kingdom.”xvi In support of this claim, VanDrunen references the pagan phrases found in Proverbs and the fact that Hammurabi’s laws predated the Ten Commandments (the reason for which is blatantly obvious to anyone who has read WCF 19.1, 2, 5). He concludes by commending Christians to learn what is righteous from their neighbors who are in rebellion against God’s righteousness. So much for trying to retain the authority and priority of Scripture. Robbins’ conclusion provides a much more biblical answer: “Natural law theory is, in the final analysis, a form of idolatry. What has nature to do with law? Nothing. Law is God commanding.”xvii
In striking contrast to VanDrunen’s work is Robbins’ “Freedom and Capitalism.” Robbins’ collection of essays is clear, powerful, and most of all, built upon the foundation of God’s Word. I rejoice that John W. Robbins has entered God’s rest and has ceased from his works, yet I pray that the Lord has not left us without a servant to continue his work. The radically biblical worldview presented in “Freedom and Capitalism” needs to be proclaimed and applied throughout the land.
i “For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any books however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.vi.1.
Freedom and Capitalism (Robbins’ essay on natural law is incredibly good and it’s not available online)
I am not a theonomist (and neither is Robbins). For some reasons why I am not a theonomist, and to elaborate on my comment that the nation of Israel was not a spiritual kingdom, please review these posts:
The Mosaic Covenant is Typological
Mixing Types and Antitypes in the Blender
The Westminster Confession of Faith is Dispensational
Obedience in the Covenants
For some more of my thoughts in regards to the pagan literature in the Proverbs, see my response to Greg Koukl’s essay:
The Cure of the Psyche
To see some of the arguments in my essay fleshed out against some living, breathing 2K advocates (including Jason Stellman) see the comment sections of these two posts:
Is Transformationism Postmillenial?
Two Kingdoms: Natural Law
(and the posts that preceded that discussion):
The Two Kingdoms, Part One: Theocracy
The Two Kingdoms, Part Two: Exile
Two Kingdoms, Part III: Exile, Cont’d