June 24, 2010
In the section on the doctrine of the two kingdoms in the age of Reformed orthodoxy, my suspicion is immediately aroused by VanDrunen’s invocation of the Scottish Presbyterians as leading proponents of two kingdoms thinking. These Scottish Presbyterians are often known as “Covenanters” for their signing of the National Covenant in 1638, a document that united both civil rulers and churchmen in the task of protecting the Reformed religion in Scotland. This document repeatedly blurs together civil and ecclesiastical concerns, going so far as to cite passages such as these from Parliamentary Acts:
“Seeing the cause of God's true religion and his Highness's authority are so joined, as the hurt of the one is common to both; that none shall be reputed as loyal and faithful subjects to our sovereign Lord, or his authority, but be punishable as rebellers and gainstanders of the same, who shall not give their confession, and make their profession of the said true religion” and “That all Kings and Princes at their coronation, and reception of their princely authority, shall make their faithful promise by their solemn oath, in the presence of the eternal God, that, enduring the whole time of their lives, they shall serve the same eternal God, to the uttermost of their power, according as he hath required in his most holy word, contained in the Old and New Testament; and according to the same word, shall maintain the true religion of Christ Jesus, the preaching of his holy word, the due and right ministration of the sacraments now received and preached within this realm, (according to the Confession of Faith immediately preceding,) and shall abolish and gainstand all false religion contrary to the same.” These passages are quoted, mind you, not in order to contest them, but as the legal basis upon which the Covenanters take their stand. They go on to pledge their resolve to faithfully serve both the King and the cause of true religion, since these two are inseparably conjoined, and to resist equally enemies of the king and of the true religion.
Documents like this should be enough to tell us that, whatever the sense in which these fellows may speak of “two kingdoms,” it is certainly not in the sense VanDrunen has in mind. Nevertheless, it is certainly true that some of these fellows have some troubling things to say. For instance, we again find some strikingly dualistic language. Turretin is at pains to state that the redemptive kingdom “is not mundane and earthly, but spiritual and celestial” (177) and “Rutherford distinguished between one kingdom ruled by God as creator (and hence temporal and mundane) and the other kingdom ruled by God as redeemer (and hence spiritual and heavenly)” (177). Now this “and hence” befuddles me--both of them do. Why should creation necessarily be merely “temporal,” and thus, in this context, temporary? In this picture, it is as if God just created a physical world for kicks as something he was just going to dispose of a little later on in favor of a “spiritual, heavenly” world. On such a model, how are we to take the current creation seriously at all, or attribute any significance to life in the body? And why should redemption be necessarily “spiritual” and “heavenly,” as if God could not possibly redeem this earth or our earthly existence, but could only redeem us out of it, or redeem some “spiritual” dimension of our existence that floats uneasily above this world? This sounds more like Manichaeanism than Christianity. Of course, Turretin and Rutherford are far from the only Christians to speak this way--such dualism has been a long-standing malady in the Church. But inasmuch as much recent theology has helped us to break free of it and return to a more Biblical, creation-affirming stance, I find it bizarre that VanDrunen wants to lead us back into captivity, as it were.
But there are still more troubling problems in this section. Remember that whole scary bit about the extra Calvinisticum and the dual kingship of Christ back in the chapter on Calvin? Well, VanDrunen finds all this more systematically and explicitly stated by Turretin. He summarizes Turretin’s statements thus: “Christ rules the one kingdom as eternal God, as the agent of creation and providence, and over all creatures. Christ rules the other kingdom as the incarnate God-man, as the agent of redemption, and over the Church. The latter kingdom is redemptive, the former is non-redemptive. The latter is exclusive, the former is inclusive” (177). This kind of sharp separation of two distinct roles in Christ raises significant questions of Christology and Trinitarian theology. Such sharp discontinuity implies that these two different kingships of Christ have no essential relation to one another; they are just two different offices that happen to be filled by the same person, just as (to use the example I used above in chapter 3) I happen to be both an investment advisor and also a research student in Reformation political theology, two widely distinct roles that have little effect on one another. Such hat-wearing may be common enough in human affairs, but orthodox theology has long recognized that it is problematic for theology. The heresy of modalism was condemned precisely for such a hat-wearing view of God. God, the modalists claimed, was not really three distinct persons, but was one person who opted to reveal himself under three different guises, carrying out three different offices. Now, that’s not what’s going on here, but the same basic concern presents itself. The problem with modalism, orthodox theology contended, was that it asserted a sharp discontinuity between the immanent and economic trinity, between who God was and how he revealed himself. God manifested himself in history as three agents, and yet he was only one agent--if this was true, then God had not truly revealed himself. Don’t we have the same the same problem with this bifurcation in Christ? Christ manifests himself in Jesus of Nazareth as redeemer, and this self-revelation bears little or no relation to his pre-existent role as the eternal Son who governs a creation without redeeming it. How does Jesus Christ faithfully reveal to us the Father, then, if he is not even a faithful witness of himself?
Moreover, we might well ask, what exactly is the theological point in asserting that it is Christ, the second person of the Trinity, who executes this kingship over creation, “as eternal God, as the agent of creation and providence, and over all creatures”? This office bears no relation to his distinctively Christological work, to his distinct second-personhood within the Trinity, but rather appears simply as a function of his generic God-ness. In what sense is it Christ who exercises this particular kingship and not rather God the Father? This turns out to be no mere idle question when we see how Samuel Rutherford assigns the two kingships--to “God as creator” and “God as redeemer.” VanDrunen takes note of the distinction in language: “while Turretin speaks of the temporal kingdom as ruled by Christ as God, with the Father and Spirit, Rutherford simply speaks of this kingdom as ruled by God (the creator). But the theological idea expressed by these theologians is substantively identical” (178).
He returns to it later, at more length: “Rutherford’s language is similar though not identical to Turretin’s, and their substantive theological claims are the same. As noted above, Rutherford put the temporal kingdom under ‘God the creator’ and spiritual kingdom under ‘Christ the Redeemer and Head of the Church.’ In speaking futher about the former, he writes that it is ‘not a part’ of Christ’s spiritual kingdom and thus states bluntly that the civil magistrate ‘is not subordinate to Christ as mediator and head fo the church.’ Along similar lines, he says later that ‘magistrates as magistrates’ are not ‘the ambassadors of Christ’ but ‘the deputy of God as the God of order, and as the creator.’... In light of this evidence, I suggest that Turretin and Rutherford teach the same doctrine in these passages, though from somewhat different angles. Turretin answers Yes to the question whether Christ rules the temporal kingdom, but with qualifications (i.e., that he does so only as eternal God, with the Father and Holy Spirit, as creator/sustainer); Rutherford answers No to the same question, but with qualifications (i.e., that God the creator does rule this kingdom). When the qualifications of each are compared to the other’s, the effect is the same. To put it as precisely as possible, they both teach that the Son of God rules the temporal kingdom as an eternal member of the Divine Trinity but does not rule it in his capacity as the incarnate mediator/redeemer” (181).
In his haste to reconcile Turretin and Rutherford here, VanDrunen has, in my view, stumbled headlong into what looks like serious Trinitarian heresy. Rutherford’s viewpoint, whatever its weaknesses, seems to me to at least be theologically coherent and safe, if I am correct in interpreting “God the creator” to mean for him “God the Father.” In this model, God the Father creates and governs the world, and delegates authority to magistrates as governors of the world, and God the Son redeems this creation, and delegates authority to the Church as a redeemer of the world.” This basic model certainly needs work, but it is reasonably stable and has been frequently employed in political theology. But what Turretin (and certainly what VanDrunen) is saying seems different. They posit a disjunction between what the Son does in his own person, and what he does as a member of the Trinity, as generic God. This suggests that there are four agencies in the Godhead--one for each of the persons, and one for “eternal God”--the unity of the three persons, thus turning the three-in-oneness of orthodox theology into a three-plus-oneness. Moreover, it suggests that, while one of the Son’s offices is executed coordinately with the Father and Spirit (that of governing creation), another is unique to him as Son (redeeming the world), thus violating the fundamental dictum of Trinitarian orthodoxy: “in the opera ad extra, the works of God are undivided.” We must affirm that, in all his work, the Son works both uniquely as himself, and coordinately with Father and Spirit as a member of the Trinity. Finally, we have here what looks like undisguised modalism: a sharp rift between what the Son does (and thus, who he is) as incarnate mediator, and the Son as “eternal member of the divine Trinity”--in other words, the incarnate mediatorial work of Christ turns out to just be a hat-wearing, an identity fundamentally separate from the eternal life of the divine Trinity, and of the Logos himself. To put it simply: for VanDrunen, Jesus Christ the Son of God does not even really show us himself, the Logos, much less show us the Father, as he claimed to do. He is merely an avatar.
The only way to avoid this frightful conclusion, it seems to me, is to insist, with the New Testament, on the deep unity between Christ’s work as creator and as redeemer, as the one “by whom all things were made” and the one who “makes all things new.” The opening to the Gospel of John makes this all as clear as one could wish (what follows is my own translation, as literal as possible):
“1 In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
2 This one was in the beginning with God.
3 All things came to be through him and without him nothing came to be that came to be.
4 In him was life and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness overtook/understood it not.
6 A man named John came to be, being sent from God.
7 He came for a witness so that he might bear witness concerning the light that all might believe through him.
8 That man was not the light but he came that he might bear witness concerning the light.
9 He was the true light who lightens every man who is coming into the world.
10 He was in the world and the world through him came to be and the world did not know him.
11 He came unto his own and his own received him not.
12 As many as received him, to them he gave power to become sons of God, to those who believed in his name,
12 As many as received him, to them he gave power to become sons of God, to those who believed in his name,
13 those who not from blood nor from the will of the flesh nor from the will of man but from from God were born.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the unique one from the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 John bore witness concerning him and cried out, saying, "This was of whom I said to you that he coming behind me should become before me, because he was earlier than me."
16 And from his fullness we have all received and grace because of grace.
17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth through Jesus Christ.
18 No one has seen God at any time, but the unique Son, who is in the bosom of the father, that one has exegeted him.”
This passage is uncompromising: it is the Word who was God and through whom all things came to be that himself became flesh, whose glory, that is to say, whose true dynamic identity, we witnessed, from whose fullness we received grace. In him from the beginning was the life that by his life he brought to the world. From the beginning he shed the light of his grace in the world, and finally he came to offer in himself the fullness of grace to the world which he had created. In so doing, he perfectly revealed (“exegeted”) not only himself as he had been from all eternity, but also God the Father. This Word who becomes flesh is not only the Creator from all eternity, but is redeemer from all eternity, and comes into the world so that men his creatures might become “sons of God”--what they were created to be in the beginning.
Now, how exactly all this cashes out in terms of the nitty-gritty of political theology, and of Church and State, still needs a lot of work. But it is at least clear that, however we cash this out, we cannot do so in a way that seeks to drive a wedge between Christ the creator and Christ the redeemer.