Anti-Modern Two-Kingdom Theology

In this post I outline my view of the two kingdoms. I, with Calvin and most others, widely separate the two kingdoms, but I do not follow the modern 2k advocates in saying that Christians and the Church have no social agenda. I argue that 2k theology calls for radical critique of modern life and political liberalism.

This is a brief sketch of my position. I’m not proving anything here. I do not use scripture for support. It is merely a description of the position.

Grace before the fall

The place of grace before the fall is crucial for one’s 2k position. There was grace before the fall in the following way. God called on Adam to bring creation to its natural potential, to bring it to maturity. Adam was not to, nor could he, bring the eschaton, or eternal life through his work. Eternal life was an addition of sorts, a promise from God to Adam that Adam’s completion of his task to bring creation to its natural completion would merit him eternal life. But this meriting, though performed apart from grace, is not in itself good enough for Adam to deserve blessedness. Eternal life was a gift, granted on the condition of Adam bringing creation to natural maturity. Grace, in the form of a gift, was necessary for Adam to receive blessedness, but grace was not required for Adam to fulfill the condition God condescendingly established for him. He could fulfill the condition of eternal life, but not the state of it, by his own natural integrity.

We see then two possible states of creation: 1) a process of becoming, through the work of Adam, toward its original natural potential apart from grace and 2) the blessed state, brought about exclusively through divine action by grace. Adam was to directly work to realize natural maturity, not the state of blessedness. For this was an impossibility. In other words, Adamic dominion can never, on its own, bring about the state of blessedness.

Christ and Sin

Sin prevents Adam’s race from completing the original task and therefore they cannot achieve the condition of eternal life, namely, the maturation of creation. Christ, as the Final Adam, achieved this. He dealt with both the condition of eternal life and the pollution of sin in man. By faith, then, one is already promised eternal life apart from works. But Christ also dealt with pollution, which restores man to his original purpose in creation. Hence, Christ restored Adamic dominion. The dominion mandate is still binding, not to be fulfilled for our justification, but as part of our sanctification. Part of our sanctification is to be good and proper political and social animals, to cherish society and seek the good of the city.

Two Kingdoms

Now, the state of eternal life can be called the eschatological kingdom (also called the “spiritual kingdom”), and it is characterized by spiritual equality.  It is purely futural, though you can get glimpses of it in the present through what I’ve called eschatological perception. Christians participate in this kingdom, but it is not to be brought down into creation through work. It is the same kingdom promised to Adam. The Final Adam completed the original Adam’s task. And just as Adam could not bring this eternal state to earth by this own work, neither can we. Bringing the spiritual kingdom of God down to social and political structures is not our task, just as it wasn’t Adam’s task. And, similarly, it is not possible. So the fact that there is equality in the spiritual kingdom does not necessarily mean that Christians ought to work for equality on earth.

The Christian’s work in the world — apart from the spreading the message of the coming spiritual kingdom of God and means of participating in it — is limited to the same limitations of Adam: the natural potential of creation. So, as part of our sanctification, we work towards the maturation of creation.

Our work in the civil kingdom

This is where I see inconsistency in 2k advocates. Some say that we have little to no social agenda as Christians and others have a quasi-liberal view of our role. It tends to be rather mild. 1378290They have failed, to my mind, to recognize and/or incorporate the views of the Reformers and many in the broader Christian tradition on nature as hierarchical. I have documented in this blog the fact that human society is divinely designed to be hierarchical, according to numerous Christians in various traditions. (Calvin even has a traditional notion of conformity to just customs.) From what I can tell, this is the most common position among Christians until perhaps around John Locke’s time and beyond.

If we take this tradition seriously, then much of our thinking must change. The maturation of creation is not the leveling of society, but one of harmonious hierarchy, the realization of the “beauty of order” as stated by Aquinas. Since hierarchy is natural, according to this tradition, then social equality is unnatural and it cannot be part of a matured creation. Our obsession with equality in our time is working against God’s created order, and it represents the failure to properly distinguish the two kingdoms.

It is the radical separation of the two kingdoms that necessitates a radically different view of civil government and society than our modern one. Only the blending of the two together could make equality such a preoccupation. At the same time, those who fancy that the radical separation gives the Church no social agenda are clearly wrong.

Conclusion

In summary, the two kingdoms that Christians recognize today are the same two kingdoms recognized by Adam in the state of innocence. Adam was to merit the spiritual kingdom by bringing creation to its natural potential. He could not spiritualize creation; he could mature it and God, through special divine action, would bring it to a state of blessedness (i.e., bring about the eschatological kingdom). Christ, as the Final Adam, fulfilled Adam’s task and by faith we fulfill it as well. And Christ dealt with the pollution of man, restoring believers by sanctification. This restoration includes Adam’s original task to mature creation. Hence, it is our duty to strive toward it, even if it will never be perfectly completed by us (nor need it be). Since the eschatological kingdom promised in Christ cannot be realized by human work, we are not to spiritualize or bring down the eschaton in creation. We must make a strict distinction between the spiritual and civil. But this means that we must reject many of our modern views of society. We need to be anti-modern.

We need proper distinctions in our 2k theology. We cannot let our notions of the spiritual/eschatological affect our actions in maturing the civil kingdom. They must be kept strictly separate.

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9 Responses to Anti-Modern Two-Kingdom Theology

  1. Dan Rowlands says:

    Can you provide some examples of those whom you would consider to be in the category of “…modern 2k advocates in saying that Christians and the Church have no social agenda?” Thank you.

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  2. Dan Rowlands says:

    Thank you. Perhaps I’m having trouble following your points but you quote Clark saying “The church as an institution…” then you write Calvin, “as a minister had a social agenda” but I’m not sure what you mean by “social agenda” and I’m not sure if you mean “as a minister” to be equivalent to “the church as an institution.” In fact in your “Calvin Social Agenda” post you write, “So the Gospel, for Calvin, does not appear to be social, at least not in the typical politically liberal sense. The distinction-less kingdom of God is not breaking into the civil realm to bring about social equality and liberal democracy.” In this quote you sound remarkably similar to Clark by apparently distinguishing between the church as an institution and individuals. That entire post of yours seems to be describing Calvin’s views toward individuals in their individual social standings, or callings. What I’m not finding is, like Clark distinguishes, yours or Calvin’s, “social agenda” for the church as an institution. What is yours (and Calvin’s) social agenda for the “church as an institution?” Where in general would we find it in Scripture?” I appreciate you taking the time to help here.

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  3. Dan Rowlands says:

    I also wonder what you think of Clark when he seems to writes in the post which you link to above that “Christians do have a place to engage culture…” which seems contra to what you wrote, using Clark as an example, that modern 2K advocates say BOTH “Christians and the Church have no social agenda.” I think Clark is pretty clear here that Christians as individuals (vice the Church, as an institution) may have a social agenda, in fact a duty it might seem. Would you disagree? Here is what Clark writes: “Under the rubric of Calvin’s “twofold kingdom” Christians do have a place to “engage the culture” and to speak to broader issues but they must be willing to do so in their capacity as private persons, as members of society, and not as representatives of the church. In other words, whatever social agenda a Christian pursues is one thing but leave the visible, institutional church out of it. The church, as a visible institution, as the embassy of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven, has no social agenda for the wider civil and cultural world.” Do you still believe Clark is in your category of “…modern 2k advocates in saying that Christians and the Church have no social agenda?” (My emphasis is on the “that Christians…have no social agenda.”) Do you have any other examples, other than Clark, who say BOTH “Christians and the Church have no social agenda?” Thank you again.

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  4. Dan Rowlands says:

    Again, I’m just trying to find out who, like my first post asked, are the “Some [who] say that we have little to no social agenda as Christians…”

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  5. Stephen Wolfe says:

    Mr. Rowlands,

    1. Thank you for commenting.

    2. The church as an institution has a social agenda because the Gospel is more than the proclamation of the eschatological/spiritual kingdom; it also proclaims the restoration of adamic dominion under the Final Adam. In other words, the Gospel not only announces the coming spiritual kingdom and the conditions of entering it, but also the renewal of believers to the natural order. This natural order is what Adam was tasked to bring to maturity. It was Adam’s social agenda, if you will. It was part of Adam’s holiness, to be proper social/political human animals in creation. **This is an essential feature of being human.** This means that our socio-political activity is part of our sanctification. And since the local church is a community committed to growing in sanctification, the church ought to proclaim a social agenda. Clack completely misunderstands this and seems to make a separation in duties as if the church has no business in natural duties, only supernatural duties. This is the implication of saying that the institutional church has no role in a social agenda: that natural duties (which includes the civic duties of a political animal) are not part of sanctification. The institutional church for Clark, at least so says his logic, is interested only in supernatural duties, not the natural ones.

    But what is clear from Calvin and his preaching is that the church has a role in shaping a Christian’s commitment to natural duties, including the duties that a Christian has to the political community. Clark fails to make the proper distinctions.

    And I would ask Clark what sort of duties guide his own private social activism, and why are these duties not part of sanctification, not part of a Christian’s conformity to the created order. If they are, then the church has a role. Are the Christian’s natural duties not part of the Gospel? Does the Gospel do nothing with regard to these? If they are part of the Gospel, then a social agenda is part of the Gospel, namely the social agenda of advocating for God the Creator’s original intent for the human political community.

    3. Now as to my comment on the Christians saying that we have little to no social agenda, what I have in mind are those whose activism extends no further than abortion and other issues, and who fail to critique the foundations of our modern liberal order. This is why I follow up my comment in the first paragraph with “I argue that 2k theology calls for radical critique of modern life and political liberalism.” And I say that they all tend to have “mild” agendas. I would include Clark and DG Hart in this. You’re right that I’m not clear and precise on this. But my point is that these are all weak, given the Christian tradition on hierarchical order. What 2k theology demands, in light of the broader Christian tradition, is a major critique of the modern liberal order. It does not call for short-term and minor political points and revisions.

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  6. Dan Rowlands says:

    Thank you. This is very helpful. Thank you for kindly answering my questions in my quest for understanding the issue here. It seems to me there is no critical disagreement concerning the role of Christian individuals in terms of “social agenda”, so I’m more focused on the Church as an institution and its social agenda.

    So it would be helpful to know HOW “the church ought to proclaim a social agenda.” What are the MEANS they should use to do this proclamation of a social agenda and what is the CONTENT of the social agenda? (I suppose I’m progressing to a desire for practical understanding in this matter.)

    Also, concerning the “first Adam,” when you say, “This natural order is what Adam was tasked to bring to maturity. It was Adam’s social agenda, if you will,” do you mean to say the Church as an institution should be pursuing the FIRST Adam’s social agenda, or should the Church as an institution be pursuing the “LAST Adam’s” (Christ’s) agenda?

    And if the church is to be pursing the Last Adam’s agenda, what is that agenda for the Church? In other words, how would I show from Scripture what his agenda is which the Church as an institution should be proclaiming?

    Lastly, is the agenda just to be proclaimed or are there activities the Church, as an institution, should also be doing, and if so, what are they?

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  7. Pingback: Natural Duties and the Two Kingdoms | Reformation500

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