Posted by Brad Littlejohn at 11:52 AM
May 13, 2010
Now, VanDrunen starts out by seeking to relate Calvin to what has gone before, telling us that “Lying behind Calvin’s discussions of the two kingdoms is an Augustinian two cities paradigm...a fundamental antithesis divided Christians from non-Christians” (71). This, however, is not what his two kingdoms are about. “Both of Calvin’s two kingdoms are God’s, but are ruled by him in distinctive ways....Christians are members of both kingdoms during their earthly lives. Calvin perceived a clear difference between these two kingdoms but not a fundamental antithesis” (71). Alright, so what are these two kingdoms? VanDrunen quotes the famous passage from Institutes III.19:
“Let us observe that in man government is twofold: the one spiritual, by which the conscience is trained to piety and divine worship; the other civil, by which the individual is instructed in those duties which, as men and citizens, we are bound to perform....the former species has reference to the life of the soul, while the latter relates to matters of the present life, not only to food and clothing, but to the enacting of laws which require a man to live among his fellows purely, honourably, and modestly. The former has its seat within the soul, the latter only regulates the external conduct. We may call the one the spiritual, the other the civil kingdom” (III.19.15, quoted on 72).
If he were merely drawing a distinction, but not making a separation, then we might deem it a somewhat unhelpful distinction, but I could live with it. But then Calvin goes on to say (and VanDrunen goes on to quote him), “Now these two, as we have divided them, are always to be viewed apart from each other. When the one is considered, we should call off our minds, and not allow them to think of the other. For there exists in man a kind of two worlds, over which different kings and different laws can preside” (ibid).
Now this is the sort of thing that, to my mind, only makes sense when read as a rhetorical overreach for a specific goal. Do we as Christians really want to say that our Christian faith affects only our souls, and that, when considering it, we ought to call off our minds from any consideration of external conduct? To suggest that the “life of the soul” is unrelated to “matters of the present life” can only be read, in my mind, as a foolish rhetorical excess or as dangerous Gnosticism. Now, to be fair, VanDrunen much later on expresses some reservations about this language, saying (I will quote him in full): “One question that may be put to Calvin briefly at this point is whether his distinguishing the two kingdoms in terms of things that are ‘external’ and ‘internal’ or that concern the body and the soul accurately captures his intentions in regard to the institutions of church and state. Calvin surely did not mean to suggest that the spiritual kingdom is concerned only about things that are immaterial, since he assigned to the church tasks such as diaconal relief of the poor and administration of the sacraments....one wonders whether this less than precise language contributed to the lack of full consistency between his theology of the two kingdoms and his views on concrete social matters” (91). But, if VanDrunen doesn’t think this is quite the best way of identifying the dividing line between the two realms, I’d like to hear him articulate carefully where the line is, since so much weight is being put on it. What are these “spiritual” things that have nothing to do with civil, temporal things, with matters of everday life? This is no trivial question.
Some light (but little comfort) is provided as VanDrunen lays out “three important attributes of each kingdom that display the contrast of one with the other. The three attributes of the kingdom of Christ are its redemptive character, its spiritual or heavenly identity, and its present institutional expression in the church. The three attributes of the civil kingdom are its non-redemptive character, its external or earthly identity, and its present (though not exclusive) expression in civil government.”
So, first, let’s see what he says about this redemptive/non-redemptive business (hint, it’s pretty wild stuff, and piqued my interest about as piquantly as anything has piqued it all week). VanDrunen wades into this topic via Calvin’s discussion of Christian liberty. To be concise, I’ll just say that VanDrunen points out how Calvin invokes the two kingdoms doctrine in III.19.15 of the Institutes as a way of clarifying how the doctrine of Christian liberty is not supposed to overturn all human authority. He summarizes Calvin’s point thus: “the redemptive doctrine of Christian liberty applies to life in the spiritual kingdom but not to life in the civil kingdom. No human authority can bind the believer’s conscience in regard to participation in the spiritual kingdom of Christ....In the external things of the civil kingdom, in contrast, salvation in Christ does not at all diminish Christians’ obligation to obey magistrates” (74). Now, whether or not VanDrunen is interpreting Calvin rightly here, I have major questions about the attempt to broaden this principle into the dictum: “God rules the spiritual kingdom as its redeemer and the civil kingdom as its creator and sustainer” (74).
I must confess that I just don’t know how to make sense of this kind of statement. I ask, is the civil kingdom not then fallen? Presumably VanDrunen must admit that it is fallen. Then I must ask, is God happy for it to remain fallen? Where there is economic injustice going on, are Christians not to seek to bring redemption and Christ’s love to that situation? Where there is violence and political oppression going on, are Christians not to seek to bring redemption and Christ’s love to that situation? Where falsehood is being taught in schools, are Christians not supposed to bring the light of Christ’s truth there?
I suppose I know how VanDrunen would have to respond here. He would insist that yes, each of these situations must be remedied, but not redeemed. They must be remedied in accord with the natural law, not redeemed by evangelical law. So, where there is economic or political injustice, Christians should join with unbelievers in seeking reform according to the natural laws of equity; Christ’s love is not necessary to fix the problem. Where falsehood is being taught, Christians should appeal to reason to prove the truth, rather than proclaiming special revelation. But this doesn’t seem to do the trick, for at least three reasons. For one, assuming the natural law to be sufficient, is it not true that our ability to grasp it properly has been undermined by sin? We need the light of redemption to be able to see natural law rightly, to make use of it in reforming our fallen world. For another, even if we have perceived natural law rightly, the strength and purity to apply it rightly and steadfastly is impossible without the grace of redemption. Finally, assuming we have perceived and applied the natural law rightly, is this really enough for Christians? If the Gospel reveals to us a justice that is made perfect in mercy and love, are we to be satisfied with a civil kingdom ruled by justice alone, without the perfection of mercy and love? From my reading, it seems to be that many people would be; many Christians would be happy if the “civil kingdom” operated according to sub-Christian standard of justice and morality, while reserving Christian virtues for the Church alone, but I admit I am unable to think that way.
In any case, this way of looking at things is much more problematic if you understand the “civil kingdom” not as “the civil magistrate,” as VanDrunen wants to take it, but to mean “external conduct,” as Calvin puts it. I can’t imagine even VanDrunen wanting to say that “external conduct’ does not belong to God’s work of redemption. But these are big-picture questions about VanDrunen’s whole undertaking, and I’ll lay them aside again for now to attend to his argument in this section, which starts getting really interesting in the next page or two.
VanDrunen asks whether this dualism he has just presented fails to give us a “religiously unified” or “Christological” view of life, as the neo-Calvinists object. He replies that it does not; Calvin gives us a unified Christological account, but one that is cognizant of the “fundamental distinction between God’s non-redemptive work of creation and providence through his Eternal Son and his redemptive work through the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ” (75). “Yes, but these two works are two moments in the life of the same person, the second of which brings the first to completion,” we want to object--but VanDrunen will not let us even get past “Yes, but--” before he has an answer for us--the infamous extra Calvinisticum, or if, you really need a translation, the “Calvinistic extra.” This key point of Reformed Christological doctrine maintained, against the Lutherans, that even when he was on earth, Christ’s divine nature was not confined to his body, but existed “etiam extra carnem (‘even outside of his flesh’).” In other words, even while Christ the God-man was stretched out upon the cross, Christ the divine Son was simultaneously in heaven (or rather, in all places), upholding the heavens and the earth by his power.
Now, having been raised as a good Calvinist, I do believe that this doctrine serves to safeguard certain important points that have to be clung to (which is, after all, what Christology is all about), but I do recognize that it is a rather scary and potentially problematic way of expressing things. It’s like a cross-beam that you have to put into your theological structure to hold it all together, but if you put too much weight on it, the whole thing will collapse. And reading VanDrunen, I understood finally why the Lutherans have always been so uncomfortable about the Calvinistic extra and unwilling to go that route.
Here’s what he says,
“This gives Calvin categories for affirming that the Son of God rules one kingdom in a redemptive manner and the other kingdom in a non-redemptive manner. In his description of Calvin’s social thought, John Bolt helpfully explains: ‘As mediator, the divine Logos is not limited to his incarnate form even after the incarnation. He was mediator of creation prior to his incarnation and as mediator continues to sustain creation independent of his mediatorial work as reconciler of creation in the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth.’” (75)
Now this is some pretty scary stuff--it looks like what we have here is the development of a “Christology” that can be abstracted from the concrete man Jesus Christ, in whom alone the Logos has been manifested to us; a gulf is being opened up between the immanent Christ and the economic Christ. Now, the way I learned the extra Calvinisticum, the point was to safeguard the idea that Christ was still fully divine while incarnate, not to drive a permanent wedge between the non-incarnate Christ and the incarnate Christ. And the way I learned theology, the whole point of affirming that the same Christ was both creator and redeemer was to help us understand that redemption was new creation, was the Son’s bringing to fulfilment of the work that he had begun in creation--the Son’s work of redemption was his perfection of his work of creation, and in his redemption lay the revelation to men of his creating and sustaining. But now VanDrunen and Bolt want to tell me that far from comprising a unified work, they are two totally different activities that just happen to be done by the same person, much as I study theology most of the time but also do part-time work for my dad and I’s investment advising firm from time to time. And they want to lay all this on the slender and tender thread of the extra Calvinisticum. Perhaps I’m overreacting, but I found myself having to take some slow deep breaths after this section.
Whatever the case, VanDrunen has stretched his argument well beyond Calvin at this point. While he claims that later Reformed theologians did indeed develop this notion of dual mediation (which is still not necessarily the same thing as the extra Calvinisticum) as a basis for a two kingdoms doctrine, he can say no more of Calvin than that he “laid the groundwork.” And even there, if you look at the footnotes, you find this: “While I suggest here that Calvin’s understanding of the extra Calvinisticum is theologically coherent with and in some sense precedent for the later Reformed doctrine of the two mediatorships of Christ, W.D.J. McKay has argued for an element of discontinuity between Calvin’s understanding of Christ’s kingship over the nations and the understanding of seventeenth-century Reformed thought” (76). In other words, “Actually, it turns out that my whole thesis here may be fundamentally flawed, but let’s just pretend that it isn’t.” Sorry, VanD, I’m not going to let you get away with this one.