Chapter 5 is easily the longest so far, weighing in at a meaty 62 pages, which attempt to cover the whole seventeenth century. I have a feeling that it will take quite a while to review properly, though, since its claims and its weaknesses are quite similar to those of Chapter 3, there is much ground that will not need to be covered all over again.
VanDrunen proposes in this chapter to study the themes of natural law and the two kingdoms in three leading Reformed theologians and political theorists during the seventeenth century: Johannes Althusius, Samuel Rutherford, and Francis Turretin. Of course, restricting his study to just these three fellows, representative and important though they may be, leaves him open to the criticism that he cannot prove any claims about “Reformed thought in the seventeenth century” by pointing to the views of only three men. He anticipates this criticism and pleads in response that obviously it is impossible to be comprehensive, so he has chosen the three most representative figures he can find, and has tried to fill in the cracks with some citations from other sources as well. And he admits that, because of the limited test sample, the conclusions of this chapter will necessarily be tentative. On the whole, I’m not inclined to press him on this point. 62 pages was long enough for me (at least, since I was on vacation), and a suitably comprehensive study would’ve been impossible; moreover, the three figures he has chosen do seem to be broadly representative of Reformed thought as a whole during this century, a century in which Reformed thought seems to have achieved a remarkable degree of homogeneity despite its geographical dispersal. My concern here is more methodological, as I shall explain in a moment.
In the Calvin chapter, you may remember, I was irked by VanDrunen’s tendency to consider Calvin’s theory (stark separation between the two kingdoms) and his practical application of it (close cooperation between them) in abstraction from one another and indeed in opposition to one another, and then to insist on letting the theory (the “real” Calvin) trump the practical application (the “inconsistent, careless” Calvin). The same thing happens in this chapter. VanDrunen spends the first 43 pages expounding the theory of these three gentlemen, and then offers 14 pages describing their contradictory applications, and then trying to either reconcile or minimize the latter. This seems to me to be a fundamental methodological flaw. Theological theory and practical application are mutually conditioning, and although, at the end of the chapter, VanDrunen makes a token attempt to integrate these two halves once he has already bifurcated them, he failed to convince me that he was really attaching sufficient weight to the practical application side and was not merely allowing the theoretical political theology to trump the applied political theology.
Which leads to my methodological concern about the figures he has selected for consideration in this chapter. In the course of the seventeenth century, Reformed folks were engaged in quite a few political battles, preeminently in Scotland and England. These battles were, largely, about the proper relationship between the Church and the State. Now, if I was interested in figuring out what Reformed people thought about the two kingdoms in the seventeenth century, I would zero in on these conflicts--I would look at the Scotch Covenanters, I would look at the English Puritans, I would look at Reformed moderates who opposed them, I would look at all the mess surrounding the English Civil War and what various Reformed theologians were saying should be done. Now, admittedly, VanDrunen does use Rutherford’s Lex, Rex, as one of his key sources, and he occasionally draws on some Covenanter documents, but he abstracts them from their polemical context and marginalizes some of their practical applications. The practical, on-the-ground debates about these issues are much less important to VanDrunen than the rarefied systematic theories, as we can see in VanDrunen’s clear favoritism toward Turretin. This should perhaps come as no surprise, given the dualism inherent in VanDrunen’s system, which focuses theology and the church on “spiritual” rather than “earthly” things. But, given that VanDrunen is trying to do history, this is a rather unsatisfactory way to proceed.
The treatment of natural law in this chapter continues to bother me in the ways described in the review of chapter 4--he majors on the minors and minors on the majors. We hear quite a lot about what these folks said about natural law, but little of it seems to be to the point. There are a few points about natural law that are essential for VanDrunen’s thesis, as I explained above in chapter 4. These fellows would have to say that natural law could be universally recognized as binding by pagans and Christians, that natural law is independently authoritative on its own, and that natural law is a fully sufficient basis for political life. In the discussion of natural law in this chapter, he did not appear to establish all three of these points...perhaps not any of the three. In particular, I was intrigued by his linking of the natural law with the Mosaic law, which seems to me to undermine his case. Why’s that? Well, if for all of these thinkers, the natural law is summed up in, contained in the Mosaic law, the Ten Commandments to be precise, then I must ask, which one has epistemological priority? That is to say, can we discern the content and authority of the natural law because we have the Ten Commandments and can recognize these as summarizing the natural law; or do we discern the content and authority of the Ten Commandments because we first know the natural law and then recognize the Ten Commandments as a summary of it? Surely not the latter. Of course, it need not be the former...I suppose one might say that both are independently authoritative and discernible, and it’s just an interesting coincidence that they overlap, and I suppose that is what VanDrunen would say is going on. Nevertheless, the frequent equation of the natural law with the Decalogue in these thinkers raises these kinds of questions, which must be addressed rather more carefully than they are here. But more on this in due course.
Two other general concerns about the chapter are worth summarizing now, two which also surfaced in chapter three. The first is theological, not historical or methodological. At points, I am tempted to ask, “If Turretin jumped off a cliff, would you?” VanDrunen’s response seems to be that not only would he jump, but he would try to beat Turretin to the bottom. VanDrunen is not merely doing historical work, but is recommending many of the views he is describing, and I can’t but ask, “Why, for heaven’s sake?” In particular, his attempts to systematize some of their ideas about the dual mediatorship of Christ run into what seems like very dangerous Christological and Trinitarian territory.
Finally, you may remember from the review of Chapter 3 that VanDrunen offered, as his crucial contribution to this whole discussion, and the linchpin of his argument, a particular way of connecting the doctrines of natural law and the two kingdoms: natural law is authoritative over the civil kingdom, and the Gospel is authoritative over the spiritual kingdom. The problem was that Calvin never really seemed to put it that way, though VanDrunen seems to think he gladly would’ve put it that way if someone had suggested it to him. In this chapter, the same problem appears--VanDrunen again introduces this proposal at the end of the chapter, but again without clear textual support. It’s an interesting idea, sure, but it doesn’t seem to have been present in the thinkers VanDrunen is studying. This difficulty leaves VanDrunen uncomfortably suspended between carrying out a fundamentally historical task and a constructive theological task, a tension that has plagued the whole book thus far.