June 11, 2017

Four Months of Silence and a Thought on Two Kingdoms

By In Articles, Society and Culture

I’ve been quiet since February. Blog posts were scarce, formal articles even more so. Not only that, I turned off my Facebook notifications and was silent in the RL group, in which I’m normally quite active. I didn’t read a single book or reflect on anything of real substance. In short, it was a time of rest and recovery from a major burnout. It was very good for me and I feel refreshed. In the meantime, I focused all my energy on my business, achieved some tremendous results with that, and even moved my family a town over– which was a tremendous blessing, we are extremely happy with that.

If there was one thing that was bogging me down prior to my break, it was a growing restlessness on the question of the relationship between a Christian worldview and political/social change. In years past, I’d been clear about certain epistemological concerns with the recently popular 2 kingdoms school of thought– preferring a form of Presuppositionalism (which should never, ever, be confused with Van Tillianism, a camp I am growing increasingly tired of). At the same time, I’ve also been quite clear that I deny one-kingdom thinking and agree with the two-kingdoms folks that there is a sharp distinction between the secular and the religious; or more precisely, between the elect/church and the non-Christians. I’m not sure how many long time readers of this site realize the emphasis that I now put on the two-kingdoms view. To be certain, I still to believe that the ultimate justification for philosophical conclusions lies in the Christian system (properly defined, of course [whose Christian system?]).

My reading prior to the break consisted of a lot of DG Hart, someone who many theonomists and neoKuyperians likely can’t stand. But I’ve very much come to love the secular-Christian distinction that he puts forward, small areas of dissent (or clarification) notwithstanding. As Christians, we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven, which is not to be confused with the temporary and physical “kingdoms” of the here and now. We are citizens along with other Christians in the heavenly kingdom, but we are also citizens along with Christians and non-Christians in the earthly kingdom. These are our communities, our neighborhoods and we are to participate in them with the freedom of pursuing non-religious ends. We can grow our wealth, protect the culture we love, enjoy many types of activities, without having to Christianize and spiritualize everything.

In his book Secular Faith, Hart includes a theme with which I agree more now than I did several years ago: Christianity doesn’t need to be a tool for cultural or political ends. Christianity is the philosophical framework by which we understand things and interpret the world, but it’s perfectly fine to have cultural values and goals without having to spiritualize everything. Not only is it a path to the corruption of political freedom, but it is also the path to undermining Christianity itself. Christianity certainly affects the way we live in the here and now, for all action starts in the mind. But it is not against the tenants of Christianity to have various secular (non-religious) ends: the food we like, the sports we play, the neighborhoods we build, the cultural habits we are attracted to.

And while I do think that a Christian philosophical system best supports ethical and epistemological theory, I don’t think one needs the Christian faith in order to agree on topics such as economics and political liberty. It is a matter of plain fact that there are non-Calvinists, non-Protestants, non-Christians, who hold the same conclusions regarding the free market. Perhaps the Christian system is needed to ultimately justify these things, or at least put them in a more rational context, but one doesn’t need to convert someone to Christianity before making the case for Austrian economics, property rights, or the non-aggression principle. In aiming for a better world, in aiming for a more prosperous society, there are Christians and non-Christians alike who have these goals. We are all part of the second, secular kingdom and we can all share in the fruit of the pursuit of liberty. Questions of political freedom are secular (even if their justification is Christian) because they concern members of the second kingdom which is not limited to the elect. In this way, pro-liberty secularists are more preferable than anti-liberty religionists.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com
  • Jared Leonard

    There’s a reason so-called theonomists and neo-Kuyperians can’t stand DG Hart: it’s because his theology is screwed on all catawampus, at least as it relates to what others call the public sphere.

    You say “We are citizens along with other Christians in the heavenly kingdom, but we are also citizens along with Christians and non-Christians in the earthly kingdom.” And is Jesus not Lord of all? Was not “all authority in heaven and on earth” given to Jesus after his resurrection? Also, what is a “non-religious” end? You seem to indicate that growing wealth, protecting culture, and general enjoyment of many types of activities are examples of non-religious ends, but this proposes an unsubstantiated assumption. Everything already has a spiritual element, if only for the simple fact that it all happens under the direction of God’s will. We can narrow that consideration down by limiting “everything” to anything involving humans but, again, here everything has a spiritual element because it is being enacted upon by creatures made in God’s image. Every single facet of human experience is religious, from the low-order “natural” functions of the body to the high-order of intentional functions of corporate worship.

    Christianity is *necessarily* a tool for cultural and political ends because the goal, the telos, is the final redemption of all creation; the doing-away with of sin. The very nature and effect of the gospel requires a social, cultural, and political shift from unrighteousness towards righteousness. Jesus isn’t just King over the Church. It isn’t only Christians that will take to their knees in the end; it’s presidents, chancellors, kings, princes, priests, and prime ministers. Why do you think Jesus teaches us to pray, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? Because he wanted to establish a discrete, invisible, non-world-affecting kingdom? The unsubstantiated assumption I mentioned above is this: humans can engage in non-religious acts. The assumption is that “secularism” and “non-religiosity” are tantamount to social/cultural/political neutrality. This is the straw that breaks two-kingdom theology.

    What do “non-religious” cultural values and goals look like? On what basis are they established? You note some explicit examples: “the food we like, the sports we play, the neighborhoods we build, the cultural habits we are attracted to.” None of these are religiously neutral endeavors. This can be easily shown by asking a simple question: Why? Not “why do we like such-and-such”, but “why do we engage in such-and-such?” What’s the purpose? When you can provide no objective foundation for purpose you open the floodgates of relativity. I can support free markets because they seem to work pretty good for lions in the Sahara. Or I can oppose free markets because look how productive insect colonies are! And you can’t reason with me on the grounds of Christianity, or rationality because, well, separate kingdoms and all. Your rationality is clearly a byproduct of holding a Christian worldview and, thus, is not suitable for making formative suggestions for how the “secular” kingdom should operate.

    Here in the U.S. we have the increasingly popular “value” of gender fluidity. We have the increasingly popular “value” of tolerance-unless-you-disagree-with-us-in-our-rainbow-box-of-diversity. We have the increasingly popular “value” of “democratic socialism”. These are all values pushed by secularism, pursued and postured as non-religious, and aimed to maximize the growth of wealth for everyone. Aimed to protect a culture of “love” and “acceptance.” Aimed to expand the enjoyment of many types of activities. And you have the gall to push back against these values? On what grounds? On the grounds of your citizenship in a wholly disparate kingdom? Because, according to your worldview (which was established and shaped in a completely different kingdom), these values are not healthy for society? Well, I hope that works out for you. Oh, you are pushing back on the “non-religious grounds” of merely a different opinion, formulated apart from your Christianity? We have to make sure your ideas and opinions about how the “secular” kingdom operates aren’t being colored by your Christianity, you know. We wouldn’t want any of that rational discrimination and bigoted thinking to influence you in any sort of externally meaningful capacity…

    Of course it is a “matter of plain fact that there are non-Calvinists, non-Protestants, non-Christians, who hold the same conclusions regarding the free market.” How on God’s green earth is this a justification for believing there are two kingdoms? I know atheists who are far more compassionate than some Christians, so obviously a Christian faith is not needed in order to establish a culture of peace and love (after all, that is the natural inclination of man…), right? You say Christianity certainly affects the way we live in the here and now, but you deny the power of that affection. If Christians live differently, then the culture formed by that living will be different. If the culture is different, then the government established by that culture will be different; culture and government (and politics) are *downstream* of religion. This means questions of political freedom are Christian because they concern salvation and protection from bondage and tyranny, which is not limited to the elect. Pro-liberty secularists are just as much of a fraud as anti-liberty religionists; they both need repentance. They both need to humbly bow in the presence of the one true King who is Lord over heaven and earth. Two-kingdom theology fails because even if there were two kingdoms Jesus would be king of both.

    • C.Jay Engel

      “And is Jesus not Lord of all?” Of course. One-Kingdom folks always ask this as if 2kers don’t believe it.

      What is meant by “non-religious” in this context simply means it per se doesn’t advance the kingdom of heaven as it is temporary and unrelated to eternal concerns. There’s no doubt that theres some spiritual element to things, or at least activities can have spiritual ramifications and relations, but there are some things, by definition, which are not part of the kingdom of heaven and so are relegated to the temporary kingdom. Or the City of Man, to use Augustine’s phrase.

      The gospel does not require a social and political shift— thats dominionism speaking. The gospel is strictly related to how the individual elect can be saved from the consequences of sin. The social and political realm is temporary and will be destroyed by God upon his final judgement. In short you are merely asserting one-kingdom theology but I disagree with all your assertions.

      Of course there are neutral activities. Eating a sandwich is in itself neither good nor evil. It depends on the circumstances. And besides, I never even brought up “neutrality.” You did. And whether social/political/culture are neutral depends on definitions and how we are using the word neutral.

      A value is just something that is consistent with what I like. I like normalcy and constants in my culture and therefore don’t like rebellions and leftist uproars. There’s no basis for a value except that I value it. Unless you’re talking about ethics and morality, in which case there is a basis, of course. So again, you’re mixing categories and blurring words around.

      I dont care how nonChristians argue for liberty, which was my point. I just want liberty. You say that they can’t find an objective foundation. Perhaps that is so. But one of the things you need to understand about 2kers is that we simply don’t care. I know the basis for liberty is in a christian worldview, but if a non-Christian doesn’t use that basis and therefore has none, I don’t care all that much. I just want liberty and to be left alone and all that.

      You’ve turned my piece into a claim that non-christians have no basis for rationality, in good Bahnsenite fashion. But I’m not even arguing with that. Im simply saying that political liberty is simply something I prefer in the here and now and so I’ll make allies with those who promote liberty on political issues, even though they aren’t citizens of the kingdom of heaven. You see my point?

      I think you are a bit confused about things, in reading your final paragraph. “How on God’s green earth is this a justification for believing there are two kingdoms?” Well, I didn’t use that for justification for two kingdoms so…. The point of my claim was that we have more natural allies for political liberty with libertarians than with other members of the kingdom of heaven.

      “Two-kingdom theology fails because even if there were two kingdoms Jesus would be king of both.” Yeah he is king of both. The way we say it on the site is “Jesus is Lord of both kingdoms, but he is king in a unique way over the elect.” Which you have to believe unless you are a universalist.

      I think you largely misunderstood my piece though and brought in all kinds of assumptions about me based on the way one-kingdomers will argue against someone like Van Drunen. Which is unfair to me.

      • Jared Leonard

        I assumed you would acknowledge Jesus as Lord of all; it’s one of those stable and staple Reformed propositions, regardless of what track of Reformed theology you find yourself riding in.

        I don’t believe I’ve misunderstood you at all. Repeatedly in this response you get at what I see are the two main points of the OP: 1) there is a sharp divide between the secular and the religious and 2) the religious can work with the secular to promote/establish liberty. The first point establishes some philosophical DMZ between the Christian and the non-Christian thus making the second point a possible activity. In my initial response, I pushed back on both points: 1) there is no DMZ (i.e., no neutrality, no non-religiosity) and 2) while the Christian and the non-Christian can work together, it’s going to be (and historically as been) a hot mess. Actually, it’s going to result in a culture that is not too dissimilar from what we currently live in because the non-Christian is going to keep pushing and pulling the Christian farther and farther away from Christianity. Now we have a large swath of Christians who have no qualms at all about voting for, and/or continuing to support, someone like Donald Trump. So, again, I don’t believe I have misunderstood you, nor have I brought in assumptions about you based on the way someone else might argue against another someone else who maybe sort of has some similar views to you. Nevertheless, I will apologize if you feel that I have been unfair in this regard.

        Moving on, the definition you give for “non-religious” assumes the existence of two kingdoms. Namely, you are assuming the existence of a “temporary kingdom”, one separate from God’s kingdom (the only one that actually exists). But the “kingdom of heaven” includes earth within its boundaries; this is the import of both the Great Commission and the statement “Jesus is Lord of all.” Near the end of your response you say “but [Jesus] is king in a unique way over the elect.” And he’s what, just a non-unique king over the non-elect? Perhaps he has different expectations of the non-elect than he does for the elect? Maybe a different set of laws and morals for the elect than for the non-elect? No, we one-kingdom folks know 2k peeps believe Jesus is Lord of both kingdoms. We just can’t figure out why you think the rules are different for each kingdom given the immutability of the king. Two-kingdom thinking here seems to me to be basically just an extremely high-order variant of Gnosticism where the Church/elect/religion is the “true truth” and, beyond that, nothing else really matters because, as you seem to believe, the rest of it is just temporary and disparate.

        Oddly enough, though, your original post explicitly states that “Christianity certainly affects the way we live in the here and now, for all action starts in the mind.” This isn’t dominionism or theonomy speaking (because you deny them both), it’s you (and, I believe, also the Bible). However, the logical extrapolation of this is that Christianity and the body of believers develop a distinct culture and, as such, will have a distinct impact or influence on government and politics. Maybe we need some further clarification on what you mean by “social realm” and “political realm.” If believers are to exist into eternity, then there will always be a social realm as we continue to create, build, and maintain relationships with one another. On the political side, Jesus does not cease to be King after the final judgement, or if he does then the crown is merely passed back to the Father. The point here is that the continued existence of a kingdom requires the continued existence of government. And the existence of government requires the existence of politics. So, I’m afraid I will have to disagree with your supposition that the social and political realms are temporary; there does not appear to be any biblical or theological grounds for it. I’m fine with agreeing to disagree here, it’s not critical to my argument against two-kingdom thought.

        You didn’t have to bring up neutrality, it’s implicit in the structure of two-kingdom thought. The fact that you are, in this response, explicitly confirming your belief that there are neutral activities is a verification of my assessment. I would like to point out that eating a sandwich is not a neutral activity precisely because it is an activity engaged upon by spiritual/moral beings. I would argue that “eating in itself” is a good (and necessary) activity. The various instantiations of eating will either agree or disagree with that inherent goodness. Again, bringing back your point that “all action starts in the mind”, and as all minds are either oriented towards righteousness (though mercy, grace, and faith) or oriented towards unrighteousness (through being “naturally” dead in sin), so the eating of a sandwich is either a righteous act or an unrighteous one depending on the individual’s relationship with God. I would grant that there are more factors to consider and a more complex discussion could be had; the goal here is to further establish the fact that there is no neutrality when it comes to human activities and endeavors. Even the most seemingly mundane or routine things have a spiritual/religious dimension, whether we are cognitively aware of it or not.

        As for values, problem isn’t that I am mixing categories or blurring words, it’s that you have disconnected the idea of “value” from ethics and morality. To avoid confusion here, let’s keep our sights set on ethics and morality. You say there is a basis for it and I, of course, agree. But the leftist doesn’t agree, or if he agrees he does not agree about what that basis is. You say a value is “just something that is consistent with what I like.” Is your valuing of “normalcy and constants” in your culture simply that you value them? Do “normalcy” and “constancy” have no ethical or moral moorings? If they don’t, then what’s your beef with the leftist who wants a variegated big government in his culture? If they do, then on what grounds do you attempt to establish your values instead of his? It can’t be “Christian” grounds because, in your view, that’s a different kingdom; there is, as you say, “a sharp distinction between the secular and the religious” so bringing your religious convictions to the idea marketplace is not permitted. Whenever you do so you are, as it were, jumping the shark.

        You go on to say that you don’t care how non-Christians argue for liberty, and that’s your point. I grant this, and it is the point I am pushing against. Because there is no neutrality, there is no mutually agreeable definition of “liberty” between the Christian and the non-Christian. This means the “liberty” that you want and the “liberty” that a non-Christian wants are fundamentally different. So are the “normalcy” and “constants” you like for culture to have. In other words, the social/cultural/political outworking of “liberty” (or “normalcy”, or “constants”) will look different when executed by Christians than it does when executed by non-Christians. Remember, Christianity affects how you live. You say you know the basis of liberty is in a Christian worldview, but, as I noted in the previous paragraph, you’re already (propositionally) committed to a sharp distinction between the secular and the religious. It must not be much of a commitment if you’re expecting to be able to collaborate with the secular in establishing liberty; presumably it is your (ironically) Christianized version of liberty that you would like established.

        I’ve not turned your piece into anything other than it is and, yes, I see your point(s) quite clearly. You believe there is some common (i.e. some neutral, non-religious, secular, etc.) discussion area where you and the non-Christians can rah-rah for liberty. Once again, this is the failure point of two-kingdom thinking. You say “The point of my claim was that we have more natural allies for political liberty with libertarians than with other members of the kingdom of heaven.” If those libertarians are Christian, perhaps, then sure. Otherwise the religious and the secular will continue talking past each other or the Church will made ineffectual via assimilation. Both of these things are happening in America. And the two-kingdom response? Well, it looks something like the Benedict Option which, it turns out, is just a speeding up of the irrelevancy of the Church. Salt isn’t effective as long as it remains in the shaker, nor is light effective as long as it remains behind closed doors.

        • C.Jay Engel

          Now I definitely know you misunderstand. And the proof is right here: “The first point establishes some philosophical DMZ between the Christian and the non-Christian” Not at all. Time and time and time again I’ve stated that there is no philosophical neutrality. When I use the religious/secular divide, I’m not talking epistemology. In fact, I address your misunderstanding head on in this blogpost: http://blog.reformedlibertarian.com/a-note-on-the-religious-and-the-secular/

          “And he’s what, just a non-unique king over the non-elect?” If you read what I said, I explained that he is Lord in a general, sovereign way over every human, but he is a king in a salvific way over his elect. Saying there is no distinction between Christ’s relationship over the elect is to deny the gospel.

          “Perhaps he has different expectations of the non-elect than he does for the elect?” No. That’s the problem with the typical 2ker today, as I’ve explained many times. God has the same ethical standards for every person because this is the same standard by which he judges the world.

          “Maybe a different set of laws and morals for the elect than for the non-elect?” Not at all. Again, what it appears you are doing is taking one-kingdom critiques of certain 2k representatives (such as van Drunen) and applying them to all 2kers everywhere. This is an uncareful way to approach these issues.

          Everything else in that paragraph has no applicability to me so I’m not sure where you got it.

          “You didn’t have to bring up neutrality, it’s implicit in the structure of two-kingdom thought.” No its not. 2kingdom thinking is a broad category. Again, you are taking something you know about some proponents of it, and assuming all 2kers agree.

          “As for values, problem isn’t that I am mixing categories or blurring words, it’s that you have disconnected the idea of “value” from ethics and morality. To avoid confusion here, let’s keep our sights set on ethics and morality.” This one is funny, I claimed you were confusing categories because you were forcing ethics and morality into an area where I wasn’t and then you respond by saying both that you weren’t mixing categories but we were going to focus on ethics. Lol! Anyways, philosophically only the Christian has proper grounds for ethics. How many times do I have to say this? But I don’t care what grounds the nonChristian bases his argument for liberty.

          You one-kingdomers suffer the same intellectual mistake as van drunen and others of the more popular 2k camp, which is ironic. Your mistake is that you assume that if there are 2 kingdoms (one with just the elect, and the other with all creation), there must be two codes of ethics, two epistemological standards, etc. The van drunenites agree with this, and embrace it. Your camp agrees with this, and therefore rejects 2 kingdoms. I am saying (http://reformedlibertarian.com/blog/why-pr2k/) this is not a logical necessity. We can have one standard, but still have 2 kingdoms.

          “Because there is no neutrality, there is no mutually agreeable definition of “liberty” between the Christian and the non-Christian.” Ah yes! You must be a Van Tillian. This is nonsense. The definition of liberty in this sense is “a lack of coercion against the property rights of the individual.” You don’t have to be a Christian to have a certain definition! (Though you have to have a Christian framework to justify the proposition as truth). That’s literally the meaning of nonsense. Hence why I prefer my presupposistionalism in the Clarkian variety, not Van Til/Bahnsen.

          On the Benedict option, consider this (http://blog.reformedlibertarian.com/the-benedict-option/) and this (http://blog.reformedlibertarian.com/the-benedict-option-isnt-two-kingdoms-enough/) for my view.

          In short, please don’t take popular versions of 2k (van drunen) and assume I agree with everything they say. They are right sometimes and on some things, but I have my differences.

    • Jared, out of curiosity, have you read anything else on this site related to two kingdom theology? Or is this the only thing?