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April 27, 2010
I have been asked to review David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought for the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, and so I will be blogging through the book in detail as I read it; of course the final review will be far more condensed than what I offer here.  So here is the first post, which doesn’t get us past the first page (don’t worry--it will go faster after this!).
In this book, David VanDrunen attempts to lend scholarly weight and sobriety to the growing chorus of Lutheran-esque Reformed theologians who are decrying the takeover of Reformed circles by Kuyperianism and Christian worldview thinking.  Darryl Hart has perhaps been the loudest and most recurrent voice in that chorus, but many of his colleagues at both Westminster Seminaries and elsewhere have voiced similar concerns, lamenting that Reformed Christians now see the need to apply their Reformed faith--their “worldview”--to every area of life, instead of recognizing the necessity of a large secular realm of politics, economics, science, and more, a realm governed by the natural law, rather than by specifically Christian principles.  VanDrunen wishes to rehabilitate the notions of natural law (commonly dismissed as a Catholic doctrine) and the two kingdoms (commonly dismissed as a Lutheran doctrine) as historically Reformed doctrines.  He proposes to offer a narrative in which the two kingdoms was taught by the Calvinist Reformers and their theological descendants all the way up to the end of the 19th-century, at which point the spectre of ubiquitous secularism frightened Reformed folks into adopting the “neo-Calvinist” (Kuyperian) innovation.
I must admit up front that I not only find his conceptualization of nature and grace, creation and redemption, to be theologically incoherent, but also am highly skeptical of his historical narrative.  The Protestant Reformers, with the close marriage of Church and State that they taught and lived, seem an odd place to look for a pristine bifurcation of secular and sacred kingdoms; perhaps VanDrunen would do better to recruit Marsilius of Padua and John Locke as allies.  Nevertheless, this book promises to be a work of thorough scholarship, and I will seek to withhold my skepticism as I wait to see how VanDrunen fills out his narrative.
Let’s look now at chapter 1, “The Untold Story of Reformed Social Thought.”  He begins, prudently and helpfully, with definitions of the two doctrines he wishes to recommend to us, “natural law” and “the two kingdoms.”  The first he defines as the “belief that God had inscribed his moral law on the heart of every person, such that through the testimony of conscience all human beings have knowledge of their basic moral obligations and, in particular, have a universally accessible standard for the development of civil law.”  The second conceives “God as ruling all human institutions and activities, but as ruling them in two fundamentally different ways.  According to this doctrine, God rules the church (the spiritual kingdom) as redeemer in Jesus Christ and rules the state and all other social institutions (the civil kingdom) as creator and sustainer, and thus these two kingdoms have significantly different ends, functions, and modes of operation.”  
I will refrain for now from voicing the Biblical and theological objections to these definitions that immediately suggest themselves, since VanDrunen’s main point in this book is historical rather than theological.  As a historical point then, I object that both of these definitions are rather too vague, especially the second.  Many theologians, such as the natural theologian par excellence, Aquinas, would have agreed that natural law provides a universally knowable standard for basic moral obligations and for civil law, but they did not thereby conclude that it formed an altogether self-sufficient bubble that ought not to be permeated and transformed by evangelical law.  Natural law may provide a sufficient bare minimum for the unredeemed to function morally in civil society (though I confess I am more inclined to an Augustinian pessimism on this point), but that does not mean it is a perfect standard for civil morality all on its own.  This is why, for instance, the Reformers could argue that the Turkish emperor was a legitimate monarch, but could nevertheless insist that princes in Christendom should seek to arrange their societies in many ways according to specifically Gospel principles.  To argue that there is such a thing as natural law is not necessarily to show that natural law is entirely perfect in its own sphere, which is, I believe, what VanDrunen wishes to show (though if I turn out to have misunderstood him, I shall let you know). 
The ambiguity is even worse in his definition of the “two kingdoms.”  I should mention now that nowhere in this opening chapter do I see a recognition by him, that, although it has become a common shorthand, this term is not a proper translation of Luther’s doctrine, which is generally taken to be the foundation of “two kingdoms” theory.  Scholars recognize now that Luther’s doctrine should actually be translated “two regimens,” which makes a crucially important difference.  “Two kingdoms” sounds like the Augustinian idea of two incommensurable cities--the society of the city of man and the society of the city of God--and raises the objection that surely one could only be a citizen of one city at a time (which is clearly Augustine’s point).  “Two regimens” suggests two kinds of rule within one kingdom, one society--a spiritual form of rule and a temporal form of rule.  In such a conception, it certainly seems that one could be a subject of both rules at once, which are both carrying out their God-ordained task within a single, Christian society.  And yet, fundamental as this translation distinction is, nowhere do I see VanDrunen make it; perhaps he will return to make it later, but his failure to do so here at the outset leaves us with a puzzling ambiguity.  On the one hand, VanDrunen wants to insist, with the Lutheran “two regimens” conception, that the Christian is genuinely a citizen of civil society, which frankly seems hard to do on the Augustinian model.  On the other hand, he wants to insist on the radical incommensurability of these two, and is adamant, against the neo-Calvinists, that these are not simply two different forms of rule within the same kingdom.  It seems like he wants to have his cake and eat it too.

But, back to my questions about his definition.  The contrast between creation and redemption, although it is intended to clarify the distinction between the two kingdoms, simply makes things foggier in my mind.  Because the crucial question here, it seems to me, is how we conceive the relationship between creation and redemption.  The Anabaptist might well agree that there are two kingdoms, one belonging to creation and one belonging to redemption, but if (as in at least some forms of Anabaptism) the purpose of redemption is to rescue us out of creation, then this means that the Christian’s task, as a redeemed person, is to withdraw from the civil kingdom.  Or the postmillenialist might agree that there are two kingdoms, one belonging to creation and one belonging to redemption, but if redemption is a new creation, designed to completely renew and remake the old creation, then the Church’s task is to wholly supplant the civil authority; or perhaps, to transfigure the task of civil authority into something wholly redemptive.  What VanDrunen seems to envision is a particular kind of amillenialist account of creation and redemption, in which the purpose of redemption is to save one part of our being (the “spiritual” side) from sin, while leaving the rest of us firmly planted within the old creation, which remains as it always has, until Christ returns.  Whatever the case, I would like to see VanDrunen recognize that simply invoking “creation” and “redemption” does not solve anything, since the crucial question is the theological question of how these two relate.  
The same sort of problem comes with his language of “significantly different ends, functions, and modes of operation.”  Now, the “functions” and “modes of operation” is not terribly significant in this definition.  Deacons and elders have different functions and modes of operation, and yet we see no need to characterize them as occupying two different kingdoms, and most any understanding of Church and state would grant that civil authorities have a different function than ecclesial ones.  It is with the language of different “ends” that a crucial point is raised, and this language has been a crucial point of discussion for political theology.  This language can help clarify things for us, but VanDrunen will need to unpack it a lot further, since the mere fact that the ends are different tells us little.  Is one end subordinated to another?  Are both ends ultimate ends, or is the civil end merely a “proximate” or “provisional” end?  Consider the following three relationships of differing “ends”: 1) the construction foreman and the bricklayer have different ends, since the goal of the former is to construct a building, while the goal of the latter is simply to lay bricks; yet the latter “end” is subordinated to the former, so that the bricklayer’s task is incorporated within the task of constructing a building, which thus provides his ultimate end.  2) The bricklayer and the carpenter have different ends, since the task of one is to lay bricks, and of the other, to construct wooden frames; but the ends of both are subordinated to a larger end which both share.  3) The bricklayer and the farrier have different ends, that are, for all practical purposes, entirely unrelated to one another.  
No doubt many more different relationships of differing ends could be proposed, and lest anyone should doubt that this is indeed a thorny question when it comes to issues of nature and grace, civil and ecclesial society, let him take a look at the wranglings of Aquinas scholars over the past half-century.  
All of this is not intended, at this point, as an indictment of VanDrunen; after all, you can’t expect him to deal with all this on the first page.  But I am trying to flag up some of the key points of ambiguity that VanDrunen will have to resolve at some point if he wishes to put forward this Reformed two kingdoms theory as a viable model for Church and State, and one that can be used to critique other proposals.  
In the next post, I shall deal with the remaining bulk of chapter 1, where VanDrunen situates his task against the background of contemporary proposals for Church, State, and society, and outlines what he is going to do in the rest of the book.  


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