January 8, 2014

2K Theology and Theonomy

By In Blogs, Politics, Society and Culture

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.

At the same time however, and against the 2K theology as it has been formally expressed, we do say that the ethical stipulations of the moral law are binding upon all people at all times and thus we must call out the unethical activities of the State.  We do not base these stipulations on Natural Law (and we reject this concept), but rather on the Biblically demonstrated moral law.  Thus, no individual may murder (abortion/war), steal (taxation), or breach the property of any other individual.  Those individuals who make up the government should not be excepted from this rule.  Therefore, the Scripture does talk about the limitations of the government and we as Christians ought to vocalize that.  But we should not have the Church as an institution involved in politics.  Only individuals should be involved in calling out the politicians for the crooks they are.  We seek not to takeover government, only to keep it accountable with the law that applies to all individuals.
We take a mixture of both, finding truth in both.  I do appreciate the efforts of both sides of this debate but do not think either are completely accurate in total.  The Reformed Libertarian position is more ideological than the 2k, but the ideology is a different flavor than the Neo-Kuyperians.
That was a very rough overview.  Please ask questions and demand that I clarify!!

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
  • Scott

    First, glad to have found your blog. I think we agree on most things, except I may (at the moment) lean more “Neo-Kuyperian” than yourself (though I find the all-out traditional Theonomist view incompatible with Libertarianism and our Constitution). If pure R2K were left and pure old-school Theonomist were on the right, perhaps you lean left of center and I right of center?

    As I mulled over your essay above, it struck me: The 2K theology appears as nothing more than re-hashed gnosticism. Darrow Miller in his book Lifework does an excellent job of revealing how deep gnosticism still pervades evangelical thinking. The clearest, most concise, counter-evangelgnostic passage is Mark 16:15b: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (I realize there is controversy over this particular passage weather it was a part of the original manuscript. Numerous fuller arguments can be developed from other passages, this is the most concise for this context).

    So if Christ came to restore our relationship with all of creation (and not just to God the Father), how can we divide the two kingdoms into Spiritual & Physical? I don’t think it matters WHEN you believe Christ will reign victoriously over all creation (both kingdoms if you insist), we’ve been given our marching orders. We are assured Christ will be victorious. We’ve been instructed to cultivate the land. Yes, the tares will remain until the time of harvest. But until orders are given to the reapers to gather them, we have no business doubting our mandate to have dominion over all creation.

    As I indicated above, I’m working this out. Feel free to persuade me otherwise.

    • cjayengel

      Hey Scott thanks for dropping by. You’ve brought up some very complicated topics that cannot fully be addressed in comments. I suppose if you threw the two views to left and right, then I’d be somewhere towards the center, sure. Although I do have a psychological phobia of ever being considered a centrist:-)

      Your bringing in Gnosticism is fascinating, although I’d have to think more about it. And given that I haven’t read the book you cited, I have no context with which to deal with your thoughts. But in noticing your refusal to divide the two kingdoms into spiritual and physical, it does seem that you might misunderstand 2k theology a tiny bit. After all, did not the Physical kingdom of the Roman Empire exist? Or was that a spiritual kingdom? I think it is categorically necessary to divide up physical and spiritual kingdoms. The difference between 2K and Theonomy is really in how it plays out eschatologically. This makes me presume (correct me if I err) that you are a postmillennialist.

      You do affirm that we are instructed to cultivate the land. This I deny. And then I point out that there is a difference between cultivating and spreading seeds. I think it would take a follow up essay to pursue more persuasion:) But let’s keep talking.

      • Scott

        I am mulling over your response, jotting down notes, and looking forward to putting them together into a coherent thought. I see you’ve just posted a good essay on the various breeds of Theonomy which I look forward to reading.

        So I’m not lighting fire to straw men, what is the difference between cultivating the land and spreading seeds? Or more to the point, is our obligation to the dominion mandates changed and if so, why and how? is the DM totally un-applicable today (if so why?) or do you and I have a different understanding of it? Perhaps you can point me to another post you’ve made or another essay that fleshes out your distinction between cultivating and spreading seeds.

        • Scott

          I read your Reformed Libertarian and Theonomy Question as well as Importance Difference between State and Government. That helped me understand where you’re coming from. We have very much in common. Where we differ (for now) is if time spent trying to bring the State under God’s Law is worthwhile.

          The U.S. Federal (i.e. covenantal) government was originally a government by the people. In fact, there were some Puritan Romans 13 sermons that said “hey rulers, you are subject to the people. Get in line, submit and obey the people!” While it never was perfect, the old Constitutional Republic was a lot like the voluntary government you described. Of course the Civil War proved just how “voluntary” the participation was and today it is a Democracy with Mob Rex instead of Lex Rex.

          I think it’s a stretch to say that all States are evil. It looks a lot like Gnosticism to me. All bodies do evil things; therefore the flesh is evil and only the spiritual is good. All States do evil things; therefore the State is evil and only self-government is good. Just because you know you will never have final victory over sin in this life doesn’t mean you don’t constantly work to sanctify the flesh. Just because the State won’t ever be perfect doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to sanctify it.

          When we sinned, all relationships were broken. I think you would agree that Christ came to restore all relationships; not just our relationship with God. Succinctly stated by Isaac Watts in Joy to the World, “He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found”.

          Yes, ideally, everyone would have Christ ruling in their hearts and no State would be necessary. Everyone would be self governing. With that view, it is easy to see how the government truly sits on His shoulders. While we’re not there yet (and likely won’t be until His second coming), would you agree that the general trajectory over the past 2,000 years is towards more self government and less central government?

          I too believe this issue is closely tied to your eschatology. Honestly, I can’t say if I’m Post or Amil. I lean Postmil because I like it (which is dangerous, I know). But I can’t defend either position because I haven’t studied it enough.

          I do believe that Satan is bound and that he can’t deceive the Nations as he once did. Therefore, just as it is worthwhile to reform our living and bring our flesh under His rule, I believe it is worthwhile to reform the State and bring it under His rule.

          I’d love for someone to convince me otherwise. Then I wouldn’t feel guilty for not signing the latest Liberty petition or donating to the newest Libertarian candidates!!

          • cjayengel

            Scott, I wish I had more time to interact with your comment in full, but for now I’ll say something about only one piece:

            You wrote: “I think it’s a stretch to say that all States are evil. It looks a lot like Gnosticism to me. All bodies do evil things; therefore the flesh is evil and only the spiritual is good. All States do evil things; therefore the State is evil and only self-government is good. Just because you know you will never have final victory over sin in this life doesn’t mean you don’t constantly work to sanctify the flesh. Just because the State won’t ever be perfect doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to sanctify it.”

            I think you might be a little confused on two things. First, my argument was not that all states are bad because they do bad things. My argument is that States are bad because it is in their very essence to monopolize the God-given role of government authority. Obviously this means that I strike a difference between the State (and institution) and government (a role in society). The State is the institution which mandates that all under its jurisdiction adopt it’s own autonomous determination of right and wrong. A government on the other hand can choose whether to enforce God’s law, or something else. Jefferson’s line “the right of the people to abolish it” can only be applied to a government, not the State, which denies that such a right exists. Now, of course, I take this to its logical conclusion to say that government should exist on the free market, but even if one does not take it as far as I do, I hope he realizes the content of my point-of-view. (Here is more on this difference: http://bit.ly/1pz2jqw)

            Secondly (and therefore), I don’t believe that only self-government is good. There are also church authorities, family authorities, and corporate governments. And I believe that the individuals in society have every right to take another individual to court with a criminal claim. this implies the existence of “government,” even if that government is not the State.

            I completely and passionately agree that we ought to work both toward our own sanctification and toward a better State. But I do not think that it is our chief role to change the State, only to speak truth regarding its deeds and misdeeds.

          • Scott

            Ahh yes, but for the old City Gate where we could discourse all day long… Alas! It’s been replaced by Facebook and the Internet…

            Agreed, our chief end is to glorify God & enjoy Him forever. Our chief end is not to live peaceful, happy lives free from coercion. We probably agree that the best way to glorify God and enjoy Him is in a “libertarian” society. And the tendency is to make the reform of the State our chief end and look for our messiah in the latest political candidate. So I understand the caution.

            Setting aside where we may disagree fundamentally, where the rubber meets the road, do we differ? For example, I Baptized my infant children, you probably didn’t. But day in / day out, there is probably little difference in how we’re raising them and what we teach them.

            So how do you speak the truth regarding the State’s deeds & misdeeds? On your blog only? Not saying that’s wrong, but would you say that someone who goes to a city council meeting, votes, signs a petition to stop tyrannical legislation, financially supports a particular candidate. etc is acting contrary to what a Christian should be doing? Perhaps you have another post that deals with this?

  • “I only want to participate by speaking truth, but Christ will be the winner, not me, not here, and not now.”


  • From E. Calvin Beisner’s Facebook page:

    “two kingdoms” theory for the 16th and 17th century Scots was NOT what neo-2K (Escondido) theory is today. Today’s neo-2K theory essentially says the Bible teaches nothing about shaping the social/political order and that the “spirituality of the pastoral call” prohibits pastors’ preaching and teaching anything about public policy. Both of those are about as far opposed to the Scottish Presbyterians’ thought as can be imagined. (My Ph.D. was in Scottish history, specifically on the political thought of the late 17th-century Covenanters, and involved a thorough reading of the whole history, in primary documents, of the Calvinist Resistance Theory aspect of the monarchomachs.)

    Just in case anyone wonders: I’m most definitely not a Theonomist, and proclaimed myself publicly thus in an appendix to my book PROSPERITY AND POVERTY back in 1988. The Theonomists forget that the judicial/civil law was given to Israel as a body politic THAT WAS ALSO a “church under age.” There is no such body politic today, anywhere, so the civil law doesn’t obligate any people beyond the principles of equity (justice, the moral law) reflected in it.

    …Thanks for checking, though, Paul, on the precise wording in P&P, which I didn’t look at again before I wrote my note. You’re right, my memory was wrong. I hadn’t decided against theonomy at that point. But by shortly thereafter I definitely had–as a student found when he asked me to supervise an independent study on it and was surprised to find me opposed.


  • David

    What exactly is the relationship between the “religious right” and the Neo-Kuyperians?

    There’s a LOT of rhetoric among the “religious right” elements of the neo-con movement that at least pretends to appeal to Christianity and Christian culture. So, why are these guys not Neo-Kuyperians? What IS a Neo-Kuyperian exactly? I mean, I know you tried to address it in the OP, but I don’t see how your definition excludes the religious right (Of course, I mean that this group CONSIDERS itself to be trying to restore Christian principles, I would argue that only anarcho-capitalists and voluntarists are actually doing so, theonomists, conservatives, neo-cons, the religious right, whoever else is NOT doing this to varying degrees.)

    In other words, I guess, while theonomy is less evil than neo-conservatism, both fail to actually advocate for Christian principles, so I’m not sure why we’d take one group’s claim to do so at face value and not the other’s.

    For what its worth, based on what I know of these two philosophies, while Neo-Kuyperianism seems like a bad idea to me, the alternative (R2K) seems even worse at face value. I can’t imagine anything, even a REALLY AWFUL attempt at trying to conform the State to Biblical principles (This cannot be done, as the State cannot exist under Biblical principles), as being worse than flat out rejecting any kind of moral standards for government altogether. That said, I’m guessing the R2K folks are inconsistent, because based on your description of them they’d have to even say Adolf Hitler was simply “non-pragmatic” or something. Can you clarify because I don’t think I get it?

  • tom s

    if the pcus could have seen fit to excommunicate those who supported slavery and jim crow perhaps the nation could have avoided a civil war. therefore i can’t buy 2k as a libertarian. how our forefathers in the faith could have stood by while slaves were prohibited to read (the bible), get married, or have their children baptised and preach covenant theology with a good conscious is grave sin. all social ills are violations of the moral law and 2k reduces discipline to sexual misconduct. Can’t see it.

  • Great post! You might also enjoyed this one by Tim Bayly which includes this quote:

    “No. No one will escape. There will be no place to run, no place to hide. There will be no private sphere where Christians will be free to express their private opinions. There will be no private forum where so-called “hate speech” will be protected by our Bill of Rights.

    To repeat myself, C. S. Lewis was dead on when he warned believers they will tell us we can have our religion in private and then make sure we are never alone. Not in our apartments, not in our homes, not in our workplaces, not in our sanctuaries, not in our books, and certainly not in our blogs, our tweets, and FB pages. Our privacy is gone and any place God’s prophets of righteousness engage in “hate speech” calling men to repentance, they will be disciplined by the law’s growing totalitarianism just as they were under the Jerusalem elders and the Roman Empire.”