I received an email from a reader who wants to know my position on the so-called “Reformed Two Kingdom” theology (R2K) which deals with the Christian’s relationship to the State and Culture, among other things. I figured I’d have to deal with this eventually. There is a lot of talk on both sides recently. Unfortunately for the world which awaits the rise of the “Reformed Libertarian” movement (I kid, I kid), I have a real job which requires that I put the fun stuff (i.e. this website) on hold while I earn a living. Nonetheless, the question is a good one and anyone claiming to hold to a confessionally Reformed understanding of the Christian Faith while being a self-proclaimed Rothbardian libertarian will need to have an answer ready. I do want to be brief –in hopes of coming back to this debate.
One simple way of understanding the distinction between the R2K folks and their opponents is the title of a summary blogpost by Kevin DeYoung: Two Kingdom Theology and Neo-Kuyperians. While I don’t think DeYoung’s portrayal of each side is entirely accurate, I do think it is accurate to say that the debate is a divide between “Two Kingdoms” proponents and the “Neo-Kuyperians.” The debate is about the relationship between the Kingdom of God, over which Christ reigns, and the kingdoms of this world. Interestingly, this debate can, in a very general sense, be seen as a reflection of the differences between Westminster Theological Seminary on the East Coast (and those sympathetic to that seminary) and Westminster California. Thus, we’ve got people like Michael Horton, R. Scott Clark, D.G. Hart, and (especially) David VanDrunen over on the West Coast advocating for Two Kingdom (2k) theology and then we have those East Coasters responding to them including Cornelius Venema, John Frame, and, naturally, the Van Tillian theonomists at places like The American Vision (like Gary DeMar and Joel McDurmon).
What is going on here is that the 2K folks want to emphasize that fact that God reigns simultaneously over two kingdoms and handles them both differently. So the Scriptures provide for Christians and the Church, God’s eternal kingdom, the ethics, stipulations, and knowledge necessary for the Christian life. However, there is also the temporary kingdom in which all people, including the elect, are part of by virtue of their being humans. In this realm exists the State, the family (because it is temporary –no marriage in heaven), and other institutions that have arisen in various cultures and settings. The State then, has as its limitation, via the so-called natural law. Most of my readers are aware, I am sure, of Natural Law, found primarily in the tradition of the Spanish Scholastics, chief among that tradition would be Thomas Aquinas. As Christians, according to the 2K folks, we are supposed to let the political world be and not demand that the State adhere to our Christian principles, which are primarily intended for the Church. While we can engage in politics, our arguments for certain policies should be more pragmatic and less ideologically strict and not based on ethical standards.
On the other side, we’ve got the neo-Kuyperians (I apologize if they would want to distance themselves from that name –it seems helpful to me although I am willing to edit) who consider that, while there is certainly God’s kingdom and the kingdoms of this world presently, the role of the Church is to redeem all of culture and government so that it the earthly kingdoms fade away and God’s kingdom becomes prominent. The State ought to be redeemed with the Christian worldview, the culture war ought to be fought and won, influence of the church ought to spread out to all society. Think about the message and goals of the theonomists. Not all neo-Kuyperians are Theonomists but theonomy is one conclusion of much of this side of the debate. Christian activism must be bold and every non-Christian influence in the world ought to be challenged because it is by this means that the end, a Church age, will be reached. I do want to point out that, contrary to popular belief, the “Religious Right” and the Fascist Neocons are not part of this movement. Most of the neo-Kuyperians oppose Bush and Cheney and their government thugs.
Now, before I offer my own stance on all this, please notice the eschatological implications of both viewpoints. I think that this debate has not spent enough time pointing out the differing eschatological commitments in all this. The neo-Kuyperians, in aiming for the Church age, are post-millennials and while the 2kers are more satisfied in the amillennial and historical premillennial camps (although amillennialism is becoming more popular as of recent). What we find is that if one’s eschatological commitments are in post-millennialism, that will have a drastic effect one his role in culture. Same goes for amillennialism. UPDATE note: After more consideration, I should also note that there are indeed amillennialists in the Kuyperian camp. However, the primary difference between the flavor of amillennialism in each camp is that the Kuyperians tend to be optimistic while the 2K folks tend to be pessimistic (I am in this latter camp).
Now, because I am a (pessimistic) amillennialist, I see no reason why we ought to work to redeem culture or the present State. Christ will return in judgement in due time and thus my perspective is more of that of a pilgrim. I do not belong to this world and my citizenship is in heaven. Any act of submission now (paying taxes) is based on the “turn the other cheek” principle. This might seem to put me more in the 2k group. However, as 2K theology has been expressed formally, that is, in regards to Two Kingdom Theology proper and portrayed by its leading proponents, I have some problems here too. For instance, even though I think that the State belongs to this world, I think that the ethical standards of morality and God’s law ought to be applied to every single individual. “Thou shalt not steal” applies to you, me, and those people who are part of the government. My goal is not to redeem the State, but rather to call people to repentance for their actions. Now, it is important to note in all of this, that whereas I do speak about culture and the culture war and the State and its politics, my goal here is not to win. Christ has already won and I await the coming of my King patiently. When I stated above that the neo-Kuyperians wanted to fight the culture war and win, I only want to participate by speaking truth, but Christ will be the winner, not me, not here, and not now. This is the middle ground perspective between the two I suppose (but this does not make me a moderate=] ). In agreement with 2K, we affirm that there are two distinct kingdoms and that this will remain until the completed passing of the present age. We believe that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world that that earthly kingdoms are not to be Christianized as such an attempt would be a denial of the fact that our primary focus should be on the Kingdom of Heaven and the health of the Church. The kingdom in which politics takes place then is not to be overrun by Christians who seek to bring the earthly kingdom under the Church.