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.
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. They 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.
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.