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June 25, 2010
If you're getting tired of VanDrunen, I don't blame you.  I did too, as you'll see in the next installment after this one that I'm going to post.  The new website is still under construction, but should be up soon.  In the meantime, anyone out there who's really into two kingdoms theology in the 17th century can read on.

In the concluding section, VanDrunen endeavours to reconcile this two kingdoms theory with its practical application in seventeenth-century Reformed political thought.  At this point, he finally turns to take note of documents such as the National Covenant, and cites passages in Althusius, Rutherford, and Turretin where they insist upon a relationship of mutual harmony and support between Church and State, each assisting it in its duties, and correcting it if it fails.  VanDrunen is certainly troubled by all this, and regarding the Church’s instruction toward the civil authority, he says, “if there are even different primary standards of authority in the civil and ecclesiastical realms (natural law and Scripture, respectively), then there seems to be reason to doubt that ministers, whose training lies in spiritual things, have the competence to offer useful and even authoritative instruction on political matters” (195).
 However, he does not want to simply dismiss these figures as completely inconsistent; while acknowledging that there was certainly some inconsistency, he wants to show the way they articulated this relationship is in many ways consistent with the kind of two kingdoms theology and natural law theory they propounded.  I appreciate VanDrunen’s honesty at this point, though as I argued earlier, his flawed methodology inevitably distorts the picture, since, instead of trying to understand their doctrine in light of their practical application of it, he tries to establish it on independent theoretical grounds, and only at the end makes certain adjustments and concessions in light of the practical application.  This means that the significance of these adjustments and concessions is easily lost, and in the conclusion, VanDrunen quickly moves to reassert his master-narrative, suggesting that these thinkers were hindered by their Christendom context from drawing the proper conclusions from the theological groundwork they had laid.
What are some of the adjustments/concessions made in this section?  Well for one, we find that these thinkers reconciled the magistrate’s care for religion with their two kingdoms thinking by distinguishing “between caring for religious affairs civilly or spiritually, externally or internally, with respect to the body or the soul.  Repeatedly, Reformed orthodox writers permitted the magistrate care of religion only in a civil, external, bodily way, never in a spiritual, internal, or soulish way” (199).  In other words, yes, these thinkers did believe there were two kingdoms, but the division between the two kingdoms was drawn between oversight of the body and its actions on the one hand and oversight of the soul and its actions on the other, not between “secular” affairs on the one hand and “religious” affairs on the other.  Now, I’ll be the first to admit that drawing the distinction this way is a very problematic way to draw the distinction, and one that will land you in contradictions before long, but this is clearly how these thinkers intended to draw the distinction.  It will not do for VanDrunen to come along and say, “Well, what they really meant to say was that one kingdom was civil and therefore secular, and the other was spiritual and religious.”  Reformed theologians gave an enormous amount of thought to political theology, and had a good idea of what they wanted to say about it, and that is clearly not what they meant to say.  Now, if VanDrunen wants to say, “The Reformers provided certain categories and arguments which we can use in order to argue that one kingdom is civil and therefore secular, and the other was spiritual and religious,” well, then, more power to him, but in that case, he needs to very clearly separate his historical claims from his contstructive theological claims, something he has yet to do.
Another adjustment/concession regards the use of natural law.  Natural law, claims VanDrunen, particularly in the form of the Decalogue, rather than Scripture (the irony in that sentence is not lost on me, but I’ll leave it to VanDrunen to try and resolve it) was the source for their teaching that the magistrate should have the care of religion.  Now, even if VanDrunen can successfully make that argument (which does not prove very easy to make), what are we left with?  Well, we’re left with a doctrine of natural law that tells us rather a lot about how religious affairs should be conducted, not a natural law that restricts itself to secular civil affairs, which is clearly the kind of natural law that VanDrunen wants to propound.  Again, it will not do to say, “Oh, well, what they meant to say regarding natural law was that it tells us simply of moral, civil duties toward our fellow man, and not of how we ought to conduct ourselves toward God and in the Church.”  That is clearly not what they meant to say.  
To my mind, these fellows are not very inconsistent with themselves, at least not in the ways that VanDrunen feels compelled to admit; however, they are very inconsistent with the alien paradigm VanDrunen seeks to foist upon them.  In his concluding remarks, VanDrunen laments that “Reformed orthodoxy, like Calvin, seems to waver between two ways of speaking.  It speaks in Diognetian, Augustinian terms of a civil realm whose characteristics imply a common area between Christians and non-Christians, and it speaks in Gelasian terms of the civil realm as part of a unified Christian society which, alongside the spiritual realm, is governed by two complementary authorities” (207).  Perhaps there is a simpler way of putting it.  Perhaps what all these thinkers are trying to say is that Christianity is not of the esse of the civil realm, but it is of the bene esse.  Yes, it is possible for unbelievers to form a civil society, and to function passably within it on the basis of what they can grasp of natural law; however, for those who have the benefit of Christian truth, it is clear that civil society will function much better if it it oriented toward the pursuit of the true religion.  This is a fairly clear, consistent way of putting the matter, and certainly seems to make sense of everything these fellows are saying.  And yet, VanDrunen seems unwilling to put it this way, as he seems personally convinced that the bene esse of civil society consists in remaining formally secular.  Once again, the historical task gets clouded by the constructive theological task.  


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