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Alister Torrens

Separated Kingdom?: Can recent debate over the new Two Kingdoms model improve our understanding of how the Church should relate to the world today?

An overview of a C21st Reformed debate on Christ and Culture



How should the church understand its relationship with the wider culture? For at least the past century, most Reformed Christians have followed Kuyper and Bavinck in holding that grace restores and perfects nature, and that Gods goal of redemption encompasses not merely the bodies and souls of the elect, but also the renewal of the entire creation, which though created good, was then tainted and corrupted by sin and the curse of the Fall. A new teaching, the two kingdoms doctrine has challenged key aspects of this Kuyperian position in recent years. This article attempts a brief overview and assessment of the two kingdoms teaching, and a clarification of how the church (and her members) should relate to the world today.



How should the church understand its relationship with the wider culture? Are Christians to isolate themselves from culture, to embrace the culture, to seek to transform it, or to engage with culture in some other way? Does the church have a legitimate voice concerning the affairs of civic society and government? Since H. Richard Niebuhrs book of the same title, these and similar questions have usually been considered under the rubric of Christ and Culture. The topic is a complex one that has been much debated throughout the history of Christianity,[1] but for the Protestant church in post-Maidan Ukraine, its importance and relevance is perhaps as clear today as at any point in recent history.

A previous Protestant consensus in the CIS of separation from the wider culture,[2] has been eroded to some degree over the past ten years, as more believers have become active in the civic sphere. Over that same period, the broad[3] consensus within Reformed theology of Christ restoring Culture, has also been challenged. Since at least 2006, a model of understanding Christ and Culture has been developed and articulated by David VanDrunen and several other faculty members of Westminster Seminary California,[4] which they have termed the Reformed two kingdoms doctrine. With this, the Christ and Culture debate has been taken up with renewed vigour in the twenty-first century by a number of theologians within the conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches in North America.[5]

In examining and assessing some of the arguments within this intra-mural Reformed debate, it is hoped that interested readers may not only become familiarized with the two kingdoms debate, but also that readers of all denominations in the CIS may be helped in clarifying their own position on this important question. It may be of particular interest to those no longer convinced of an isolationist approach to culture, as both views examined below present an alternative.

The current Reformed mainstream position Kuyperianism


For most of the past century, the dominant view on Christ and Culture within the Reformed and Presbyterian churches has been what we may term the grace restores nature view,[6] the first full expression of which is usually credited to the Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper.[7] This is the position outlined by him most famously on the occasion of the 1898 Stone Lectures at Princeton University.[8] Herman Bavinck, Klaas Schilder and others, later modified or developed this position in various directions, all of which various expressions very roughly correspond to what Niebuhr referred to as the Christ transforms Culture view.[9] This general view has commonly been termed neo-Calvinism or (neo-)Kuyperianism.[10] The emphasis of this position is that the Christian faith is to be related to all areas of life and not merely relegated to matters of personal piety or the church. In his inaugural address at the Free University of Amsterdam in 1880, Kuyper famously said, No single piece of our mental world is to be sealed off from the rest and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine![11] This position aims to offer a comprehensive life-and-world view, seeing every part of the created world as being under the Lordship of Christ, and attempting to evaluate it all in light of the Word of God. It avoids the dualism between creation and redemption, which, Kuyperians claim, is inherent in other views. It takes seriously the facts that our human existence is an embodied one, and that God repeatedly stated that all that He had made was good (Gen 1:4-31). It thus safeguards against forms of Christian practice that seem to devalue all that is material and display an exclusively other-worldly or over-spiritualised concern, or as we might term it, a neo-Gnostic tendency.


It places relative emphasis on the so-called creation ordinances of Genesis 1:26-28, 2:2, 15 and 24, understanding this creational mandate to have crucial ongoing relevance for how we are to understand our God-given calling in the areas of work and vocation, marriage and family, and worship, as well as in all of life as Gods image-bearing vice-regents. Partly on this same basis, Kuyper recognised that there are different areas of life, such as church, family and state, each having differing areas of responsibility and its own legitimate authority structure, which he termed spheres of sovereignty.


The Kuyperian view can be better grasped when we recognize the importance to it of the Scriptures overarching storyline as Creation, Fall, Redemption (and Consummation.) God created all things good; man was affected by sin and indeed all of creation was affected by the attendant curse of the Fall; from Genesis 3:15 until the last chapters of Revelation the rest of Scripture and history is about the promise and coming of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who saves sinners, gradually restoring them to their pre-Fall state (and ultimately perfecting them beyond it) by renewing them in the image of God[12] (Col 3:10), and through whom God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col 1:20). Until Christ comes again, our renewal and sanctification is always imperfect and incomplete, and it is in the consummation that all creation will be restored and the post-Fall curse fully removed.[13] Paul describes how, as we now groan awaiting the future redemption of our bodies, so too the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now waiting to be set free from its bondage to corruption (Rom 8:18-23).


Because we know what the final glorious perfected outcome will be in the consummation, so we have more idea what we are to aim and strive for in the present. The perfect future in the new heavens and the new earth helps us understand what is good (if, as yet, imperfect) in the present. As we now strive for perfection in our personal sanctification (1 Peter 1:15-16), all the while knowing it will only be fully realized in eternity, so too we pray Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Mat 6:10), and desire and strive for Gods will to be done in all spheres of life, such that life and culture today on earth might more and more reflect the future heavenly reality, when all of creation will be restored and the curse of the Fall removed.[14]



The Two Kingdom Teaching the recent challenge to Kuyperianism


Convinced that contemporary conversations about Christianity and Culture are on the wrong track, David VanDrunen in a number of articles and books has proposed a biblical corrective.

VanDrunen makes clear that he writes with specifically the grace restores nature or Kuyperian view in mind as his target, or at least some advocates of this position.[15] VanDrunen agrees with his opponents on many basic points of their position, such as that God is king in all areas of life, that Christians need not withdraw from the broader culture, but that it is good for them to be culturally engaged.[16] He also agrees that the true Christian hope is not for a disembodied life as a soul in heaven, but for the resurrection and new heaven and new earth.[17] What VanDrunen objects to is the assertion that God is redeeming all legitimate cultural activities and institutions and that Christians are therefore called to transform them accordingly and to build the kingdom of God through this work.[18]


VanDrunen proposes a two kingdoms doctrine as an alternative.[19] This idea apparently has a rich Christian heritage stretching back to St. Augustine via the Southern American Presbyterian doctrine of the spirituality of the church, Kuyper himself, Calvin, Luther and others.[20] This doctrine maintains that God is not redeeming the cultural activities and institutions of this world, but is preserving them through the covenant he made with all living creatures through Noah in Genesis 8:209:17.[21] Indeed, VanDrunens central criticism of the Kuyperian position, is that it supposedly obligates believers to transform the culture, and that they are thus in some way contributing to their place in eternity and to Christs redemptive work.


The two kingdoms which VanDrunen outlines, both relate to life in this world, and believers are at one and the same time members of both. They are the temporary common kingdom in which God rules over all creatures on the basis of the Noahic covenant, and the redemptive kingdom, the Church, established through the covenant with Abraham in which God rules over his elect. While the redemptive kingdom is governed by the Word of God, the common kingdom is governed by natural law alone. According to VanDrunen, Scripture is not the appropriate moral standard for the civil kingdom.[22]


The position today of the citizens of this redemptive kingdom is to be compared with that of the Israelites in Babylon they are sojourners and exiles in a land that is not their lasting home.[23]


Unusually for a Reformed theologian, VanDrunens position is one of almost complete discontinuity between the creation today and the new heavens and the new earth. The natural order as it now exists will come to a radical end.[24] Since Scripture teaches the future transformation and resurrection of our earthly bodies, VanDrunen acknowledges that there must nonetheless be some continuity between this life and the one to come at this point, but for him this is a singular exception in a created realm that is otherwise temporary, and will meet its complete destruction along with every product of human culture.[25]



Helpful Aspects

There is much that is commendable and even attractive about the two kingdom doctrine of David VanDrunen. There is a love for the church and a concern and call to uphold and preserve the Churchs unique and God-given ministry of Word and Sacrament. This is a relevant concern. As church leaders look around at the cares, concerns and interests of our society today and see many worthy and competing needs, it is all too easy to become confused about, or distracted from, the churchs central calling. Sometimes a church can become involved in many laudable community projects of a social or even political character, but the gospel message is then often taken for granted, or underplayed as being of little practical importance. It is no doubt true to some extent that certain versions of Kuyperianism may have unwittingly contributed to confusion about the foremost task of the church. Nonetheless, while other organisations and groups may be involved in political action, or campaigning to protect the environment, or even helping the poor, only the church of God has been given the task of preaching the message of Christ. If the church fails to carry out her main ministry of the Word, there are no NGOs, which will do it for her.


Likewise, VanDrunens two-kingdoms view helps remind us that the content of our preaching is to be Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures and not political agendas, social philosophies or patriotic speeches.


It is true that some language used by Kuyperians can be unclear. One such phrase is that all of life is worship. This is true in that it expresses the biblical truths that all of life is lived coram Deo, that all that we do, we are to do in the name of the Lord Jesus with thanks to God (Col 3:17), and we are to do all to Gods glory (1 Cor 10:31). Indeed Romans 12:1 does seem to describe our entire Christian walk of sanctification as worship. However, we must not deny that all of life is not worship in the same sense as that, which the church does when gathered on the Lords Day. There is a difference between our everyday self-conscious walk before God and what we do at the stated time of corporate worship when gathered together as the church to hear God speak through His preached word (and administered sacrament) and respond to His Word in praise.[26]


It is also fair to say that some Kuyperians have spoken about transformation and redemption in ways that have not always fully reflected the biblical balance. Indeed, contemporary advocates of worldview Calvinism such as Nelson Kloosterman and John Frame have both acknowledged, and themselves critiqued, a number of aberrations that appeared within certain strands of North American Kuyperianism. Frame, for example has highlighted and criticized the inadequate views of sin that were held by some.[27]


Some adherents of Kuyperianism have held to triumphalistic versions that do not fully reflect the already and the not-yet tension of living between the times, or the reality that while Christ is already King over all, his reign, for now, remains partial and contested. Some have overemphasized this-worldly aspects of the Kingdom, which in their most extreme form were epitomized by the liberal 'social gospel' of those such as Albert Ritschl, denying any future crisis and virtually all discontinuity with the new heavens and new earth.


John Bolt cites Nelson Kloosterman as writing that he shares VanDrunens concerns regarding the apparent triumphalism among some neo-Calvinist heirs of Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck, though he wonders whether in this case the error of the disciples can properly be attributed to the masters. According to Bolt, Kloosterman calls attention to the way in which in the 1960s and later, the neo-Calvinist project became misdirected to the extent that it embraced the transformational Calvinism of H. Richard Niebuhr.[28]


But of course to refute the worst examples and expressions of some of Kuypers adherents is not to refute the Kuyperian world-and-life view position as a whole.



The Historical Argument


In terms of the historical argument, VanDrunen has certainly clearly shown that two kingdoms and natural law language was widely used by Calvin and indeed the majority of Reformed theologians up until at least the twentieth century. Eminent Calvin scholars such as Paul Helm have indeed demonstrated the same.[29] VanDrunen is also right that these concepts largely disappeared from reformed theology in the twentieth century, and in that sense we may even agree with VanDrunen that his proposal is a recovery of two kingdoms teaching in the Reformed tradition. To be clear, to speak of the existence of two kingdoms is not in itself controversial within Reformed theology, and few have ever denied it. However, what VanDrunen has not proven is that his particular understanding of natural law and two kingdoms is the same as that held by Calvin or any other Reformed theologian. Indeed, it is not clear that before VanDrunen any theologian of any tradition has held a position similar to his own.[30] Calvins two kingdoms exist within the believer the spiritual kingdom referring to his soul, mind and inner man, whereas the civil kingdom has to do with his body, outward behaviour and the duties of citizenship.[31]



Some Concerns


The Cultural Mandate and the Noahic Covenant

VanDrunen significantly downplays any normative significance of the cultural mandate for the believer today. Christ has now fulfilled the covenant of works (including the stipulations of the cultural mandate), so the goal of securing life in the new heavens and the new earth which man failed to attain by his obedience in the garden, and which became impossible for him after the Fall, has now already been attained through the perfect obedience of Christ on behalf of believers.[32] VanDrunen is concerned lest we think that our cultural endeavours provide a way to earn or attain the new creation.[33] We are not called to take up the original cultural mandate of Genesis 1:26-28, but together with unbelievers in the common kingdom established by the Noahic covenant, we are called to obey the cultural mandate as given in modified form to Noah in Genesis 9.[34] In other words, there is nothing Christian about cultural activity, and any responsibility Christians have before God for such activity, they have as human beings and not as Christians per se. But as Nelson Kloosterman has posed the question,


What if obedience to the original cultural mandate were made possible now in this age, not on the basis or as part of the covenant of works, but on the basis and as part of the covenant of grace? Most importantly and crucially, such cultural obedience would aim not to attain salvation, but to express gratitude for salvation attained. Like all Christian obedience, Christian cultural obedience would then arise from grace alone, be done by faith alone, and seek the glory of God alone. To ask the question differently: What if the nature, purpose, and effect of Christs perfect obedience to the stipulations of the socalled covenant of works ensured that the believers relationship to the law is transformed in such a way that redemptive grace now generates and enables believers obedience including the believers cultural obedience to that law?[35]


VanDrunen rightly wants to guard against any form of diminishing the completed redemptive work of Christ, or of making our works in any sense instrumental in our salvation. But it is not necessary to diminish the third use of the law and the call to evangelical obedience in order to do so. That at least has been the teaching of the Reformed tradition,[36] which has also generally understood the Noahic covenant to be an administration of the covenant of grace.[37] Noah had found grace in the eyes of God (Gen 6:8), and he and his family were saved, the waters of the Flood that they passed through, being a type of baptism (1 Pet 3:20-21.) But for VanDrunen, it seems, the realm of redemptive grace must be entirely separated from the realm of cultural responsibility and obedience. The alternative, in his mind, is to jeopardize the Protestant doctrine of justification as he implies Kuyperians are guilty of.[38] But again, the Reformed tradition has never denied the need for evangelical obedience in order to affirm the sole instrumentality of faith in Gods justification of believers. The Confessions teach both of these truths simultaneously. Whats more, it is a serious caricature of the Kuyperian position for VanDrunen to imply that Kuyperians engage in cultural labors so as to earn their place in the world-to-come.[39] No Kuyperian holds to such a position.


Lack of continuity with the New Heavens and New Earth

One of the clearest and most important distinctives of VanDrunens two kingdom teaching is its view of radical discontinuity between this world and the world-to-come. Such a position is not only unusual within the Reformed tradition Beza being perhaps the only exception amongst the better-known Reformed theologians[40] but it is also exegetically questionable. Keith Mathison has shown that certainly Calvin, Francis Turretin, Charles Hodge, Herman Bavinck, Geerhardus Vos, Louis Berkhof, Anthony Hoekema and Cornelis Venema have all explicitly propounded the renewal of the present creation.[41] Calvin, for example, commenting on 2 Peter 3:10, writes,


Of the elements of the world I shall only say this one thing, that they are to be consumed, only that they may be renovated, their substance still remaining the same, as it may be easily gathered from Rom. viii. 21, and from other passages.[42]


More important is the exegetical case for continuity. VanDrunen appeals chiefly to 2 Peter 3:10, where the heavens are said to pass away and be burned up. But there is an immediate context to this destruction in verses 6-7 the fire that awaits the present heavens and earth is compared to the fate of the antediluvian created realm, which was deluged with water and perished (v.6). But we know that the Flood did not obliterate the creation, or require it to be replaced by a completely new created realm through a fresh creative act of God. No, when the flood waters dried up it was a new world (v. 6 contrasts the world that then existed), but it was also materially the same planet upon which God had sent the flood waters. As Mathison notes, even rivers that existed at the time of creation still exist after the flood (Gen. 2:14; cf. 15:18; Daniel 10:4).[43]


Likewise, as Mathison observes, it is exactly the same word new, used by John to describe the new heavens and the new earth in Revelation 21:1, that is used by Paul to describe the status of believers joined to Christ (new creation) in 2 Corinthians 5:17. Note that in the same verse he immediately adds [t]he old has passed away; behold, the new has come.[44] The concept, then, of renewal-of-the-old, rather than annihilation-and-replacement, is surely the much more plausible one for 2 Corinthians 5:17, and fits equally well in Revelation 21:1.


In addition to this, we must remember that not only were all things made by Christ according to Colossians 1:16 (cf. Rom 11:36, Heb 2:10), they were also made for Him. Can we really reconcile the idea that God will one day discard the present creation by completely annihilating it (and replacing it with a different one), with the biblical truth that this very same creation is for or unto Him (ες ατν). Such an idea seems rather to imply the thwarting of Gods goal for His creation.



Natural Law

Regarding the place of natural law in VanDrunens two kingdom view, the question arises as to whether it contradicts the teaching of Scripture about its own sufficiency for telling us what we need to know to obey God in every aspect of life. VanDrunen says that while it is good for Christians to pursue cultural activities in the common kingdom, and that such activities are good and pleasing to God,[45] it is nonetheless inappropriate to use Scripture in the common kingdom. If I have understood VanDrunens position correctly here, then Scripture cannot legitimately define what is good in the common kingdom. This seems to run counter to Pauls teaching that All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).


The two kingdom teaching appears to hold to the sufficiency of natural law for regulating life in the common kingdom. However, it is not only the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture that calls this into question, but also the sinfulness of man. While it is true that both Scripture, and in turn, many Reformed theologians and Confessions, have taught a form of natural law, it is much less clear that they have taught a form of natural law that in itself, apart from the Word of God, is sufficient to regulate all of life outside the church.


While Calvin certainly held to the existence of natural law (consisting of the moral law as revealed to the conscience), given his view of the depth of human sinfulness, he seems to have believed that it could provide little more than a blurry image without the aid of spectacles.[46] Paul Helm writes,


When we turn to the extent to which the natural law is naturally known Aquinas is much more sanguine than is Calvin about whether human reason unaided by special grace can identify it, and the degree to which it recognizes its obligatoriness For Calvin though those without benefit of special revelation know that there is a natural law and have some sense of its content, nevertheless what that moral law is can as a result of the Fall only be known clearly through a reasoned understanding of special revelation.[47]


The Canons of Dort teach that while man retains something of the light of nature, he does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society.[48]



Main areas of agreement and difference

It must be pointed out that this debate between two kingdom advocates and Kuyperians has often produced more heat than light. However, it is important to note that between the best representatives of each view there is actually a substantial degree of agreement on the most central issues regarding Christ and Culture.


In terms of disagreement, I believe that this can be reduced to just one substantial difference, and that is whether the Word of God can be legitimately applied to life outside the church and is normative for it, and the broader issue, (under which this first question falls,) of the character of the relationship between nature and grace, creation and redemption and general and special revelation. Does God utterly destroy His original creation to replace it with a completely new one (as per two kingdom teaching), or is it part of Gods redemptive work to renew and perfect His originally good creation, now subjected to the effects of the Fall? Is todays created realm a mere temporal reality that exists in parallel to the eternal redemptive community of the Church (as per two kingdom teaching), or does God by grace bring real change to all areas of life, even if it is for now[49] partial, modest, and sometime inconspicuous, as the worshipping redeemed community of the church walks and witnesses in the world?[50]


Likewise, and again, is natural revelation a parallel sufficient standard for the rest of life that exists alongside the Word of God as the churchs standard, or can natural revelation only be clearly interpreted in the light of special revelation? Can we really have clarity about any aspect of life without, to use Calvins metaphor, the aid of seeing it through the spectacles of Scripture?[51]


I believe the most important areas of agreement between two kingdom advocates and contemporary Kuyperians are firstly, the priority of the church and of her worship, and secondly, that we should not withdraw from the culture; that Christians do have a calling to cultural activity, and that such activity is good and pleasing to God.[52]


Toward a balanced view?


If the major disagreement concerns the relationship between nature and grace, what then might a positive Kuyperian statement of that relationship look like? Here it is worth citing Herman Bavinck at some length:


This grace is distributed in a twofold form: as common grace with a view toward restraining [evil] and as special grace with a view to renewing [the world]. Both have their unity in Christ, the king of the realm of power and grace. Both are directed against sin; both ensure the connectedness between creation and re-creation. Neither has the world been left to itself after the fall, nor deprived of all grace, but it is sustained and spared by common grace, guided and preserved for special grace in Christ. Separation and suppression, accordingly, are impermissible and impossible. Humans and Christians are not two separate entities. The creation is incorporated and restored in [the process of] re-creation. Persons who are born again are substantially no different from what they were before regeneration. Incorporated in the church, they nevertheless remain in the world and must only be kept from the evil one. Just as Christ the Son of God took a full human nature from the womb of Mary and, having that nature, did not regard anything human and natural as strange, so the Christian is nothing other than a reborn, renewed, and hence, a truly human person. The same people who are Christians are and remain in the same calling with which they were called; they remain members of a family, members of a society, subjects of the government, practitioners of the arts and sciences, men or women, parents or children, masters or servants, and so forth.


Accordingly, the relationship that has to exist between the church and the world is in the first place organic, moral, and spiritual in character. Christeven nowis prophet, priest, and king; and by his Word and Spirit he persuasively impacts the entire world. Because of him there radiates from everyone who believes in him a renewing and sanctifying influence upon the family, society, state, occupation, business, art, science, and so forth. The spiritual life is meant to refashion the natural and moral life in its full depth and scope according to the laws of God. Along this organic path Christian truth and the Christian life are introduced into all the circles of the natural life, so that life in the household and the extended family is restored to honor, the wife (woman) is again viewed as the equal of the husband (man), the sciences and arts are Christianized, the level of the moral life is elevated, society and state are reformed, laws and institutions, morals and customs are made Christian.[53]


Bavincks description is for the most part helpful and majestic, though his language of Christianization requires definition and qualification. As Bolt suggests, the word Christian when applied to culture or school or art must be defined, and when we do define it, we must see that it often is unable to refer to the content; for much of the science curriculum in a Christian school, we are reliant on sources and research that often have not been produced by believers.[54] However, Christian may describe the motivation for, or with which, something is done. Indeed, regarding the natural sciences we may think of some of the great names, who were indeed Christian believers, such as the founders of the Royal Society (whose membership was overwhelmingly Puritan.)

That there were inadequacies among a number of Kuypers North American disciples (as we saw above), may potentially lead one to believe that there is indeed (as one would presume that VanDrunen himself believes) a problem inherent in the Kuyperian position itself. However, I would suggest, that while there have been excesses and imbalances amongst some disciples of Kuyper, the issue is precisely one of balance, and not of inherent error. As Don Carson has stated, Kuyperianism needs Heidelberg piety![55] Indeed, this may serve as a challenge that Kuyperianism should not only not neglect (much less denigrate) issues of personal piety, but also that it should not ignore the Confessions, or for that matter, downplay the central importance of the church, because of a too singular focus on developing Christian philosophical systems or devising programs to transform society.



Outlining an Application


The two kingdoms teaching is instinctively attractive on one level, but I suspect that its attraction may be on the level that it can help justify a posture of keeping our heads down and not engaging the world with the truth of the Gospel. Indeed, quarantining our faith and worship from all the rest of life is perhaps a particular temptation here in the CIS. As Dmitrii Bintsarovskii has observed - quoting A. Kuraevs words about entering through the doors of the temple as simple people and needing to become the church - an Eastern Orthodox person becomes Orthodox every time he enters the church, and remains Orthodox only for the length of time they actually spend within the walls of the church building, simply because he has no idea what it might mean to be Orthodox (to be Christian) when he leaves to go back into in the everyday world again as an ordinary person.[56] He cites Soloviev:


, , , , , ; , .[57]

Such a view would appear to have close parallels with VanDrunens two kingdom view, and describe the polar opposite view to that of Kuyperianism. Yet, if Bintsarovskiis and Solovievs portrayal is at all accurate, then this is surely nothing if not schizophrenia precisely the sort of dualism that presumably explains the contemporary phenomenon of the Orthodox communist, and finds no contradiction therewith. I find it hard to believe that VanDrunen would actually find this sort of approach satisfactory. Yet, such a path - of leaving ones Christianity behind in the church building - seems on the face of it, quite consistent with the two kingdom doctrines dual ethic for the Christian, where there is one ethic for the church and another for the common kingdom.


How should Christians then live their day-to-day lives outside the walls of the church building? Perhaps we should not leave our faith in the church building, but we should leave it within our hearts, without giving it much external expression. This, as will be recognized, is what many people in the CIS, who profess the Christian faith, claim, namely that faith is an entirely private affair, not appropriate for discussion. Two kingdoms advocate Darryl Hart argues this position as well: the nature of genuine religion is precisely private, personal, and not something for public display or consumption. . . . The very essence of faith, at least the Christian variety, might be that it is private, personal, and something to keep distinct from expression in the public arena of politics.[58]


But no, we are not only to be in the world (Jn 17:11-18), we are to be salt and light in the world (Mat 5:13-16). And salt and light exist strictly for the sake of their surroundings.[59] If we are to be true to our calling, the world must taste us and see us, which means that faith cannot be an entirely private affair. Contra Hart, our Lord explicitly teaches here that our faith is something for public display [and] consumption. Indeed, a vital faith that is merely hidden in the heart and always kept private, is a lamp put under a basket (Mat 5:15). That is, a faith that is entirely privatized, is a faith that contradicts one of its very raisons d'être, namely, to give light to others. Jesus told his disciples,


let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Mat 5:16)


As Kloosterman has said, the church exists for the sake of the world the calling of the church is both to witness and to walk. The witness and the walk of the church in the world are designed to provide unbelievers with opportunity both to ask the why question, the 1 Peter 3:15 question and the opportunity to glorify God for the sake of our works .[Jesus is] not suggesting the good works are exhausted by the means of grace or by the labour of the institutional church - it includes that, but from the church and from the means of grace there radiates life and lifestyle that is obedient in the world and will prompt people to ask why its so stimulating that non-believers will be given to thank God."[60]


To be in the world but not of it, means that we will be both seen by the world, but remain distinctive from it. We will, moreover, be seen by the world to be distinctive. We are called to be salt and light in the world, retaining a distinctive flavour, and shining light in dark places. Our flavour is distinctive, because we belong to Christ, and because our lives do differ (progressive sanctification), such that people are intrigued, and ask us questions. We remain distinctive also, when our churches remain unashamedly churches, and do not try to conform to what we imagine the unbelieving world will find most attractive, whether that be social club, entertainment arena or coffee shop. We must first, unashamedly, realise that it is our calling and priority as the church to worship God in the way he has called us to. We need to know above all, that that is what God demands, and what we most need. Strengthened by our weekly-renewed vision of God and fortified by the real food that he has for us in His word and sacrament, when called together by God for corporate worship, we then go out into the world (the workplace, the school, the neighbourhood, the, square, the park), and as we walk before God pursuing holiness, and carry out our jobs to the best of our ability, we witness to those who notice the difference, and tell them of a Great Saviour. As God brings people to faith and repentance, uniting them to his Son, and justifying them on the ground of Christ's righteousness, God changes their lives. As God makes us new (our attitudes, behaviour, relationships to other people, our work ethic etc.,) so too do we see changes in the culture and society around us. Such changes are good and reflect God's will, his righteousness and justice they are expressions (however preliminary and incomplete) of his will done on earth as it is in heaven. But (despite VanDrunens caricature,) the consummation does not depend on such societal changes any more than our own bodily resurrection depends on our personal sanctification, that is, these changes do not bring in the new heavens and new earth.


The Church, like Israel in the Old Testament, is set apart from the world by her worship and holiness, but it is precisely in this distinctive role and calling that God uses her to bring knowledge of himself to all the nations (Gen 12). The church does not exist merely for herself. The purpose of her distinctiveness is by no means isolation. Israel, insofar as she remained holy and set-apart, was able to fulfil her God-given priestly role of mediating salvation to the nations.[61] Again, our distinctiveness is to be a positive, attractive difference, like a light in a dark place, or salt in an otherwise unflavored dish. "[F]ulfilling its obligations to itself first, [the church] bears witness to the world.[62]


Perhaps a group, much maligned in their own time, and sometimes maligned by both Kuyperians and two kingdoms advocates may serve as a possible example of the sort of balance we need in practice. The seventeenth-century English Puritans had a high view of the importance of the church, but were known for their pursuit and practice of personal piety. They were active citizens in all areas of life, all the while diligently pursuing holiness and so remaining distinct from the world. Despite the caricatures of some of Kuyper's followers, the Puritans sought to live out their Christian call in every sphere of life. While valuing personal godliness, pure doctrine and the institutional church, they did not reduce their calling as Christians to the purely inner or spiritual realm.[63]





Some expressions of Kuyperianism have in the past undervalued the place of the church or even assumed the gospel, rather than explicitly teaching it. Others expressions have been overly optimistic or even triumphalist about the sort of societal change that we might expect today. Some have overemphasized the continuity between this world and the world-to-come, and spoken too little of the still-future Parousia, which will bring in the consummation of all things. Insofar as VanDrunens two kingdom teaching reminds us of the central importance of the church and her ministry, and of the provisional nature of the Kingdom of God in this overlap of the ages, it should be welcomed. Kuyperians should receive it as a helpful warning against past inadequacies in the teaching of some disciples of Kuyper. Kuyperians may also receive it as a call to maintain a consistently biblical balance, where the Great Commission is never at risk of being subsumed by the cultural mandate. However, we do not find that the best expression of two kingdom teaching (namely VanDrunens,) provides a more biblical alternative to the core teaching of Kuyperianism.


The church must first and foremost be the church, concerned with worship, the ministry of word and sacrament, her unique calling, above all else, and in that be unashamedly distinct from the world, which she does not try to emulate or reflect. But thus set apart by her God-focused worship, and also fuelled and motivated by the same, her members walk in each aspect of their lives a Christian walk, which as it provokes interest and questions, they answer with faithful witness to Christ. As such are exposed to the Gospel, God sovereignly redeems people through the Spirit's application of Christ's finished redemptive work. God gradually, but really changes the people he has joined to Christ and justified. (As Kloosterman has helpfully observed, "How tragic it would be if, in our ceaseless defense of justification-by-receptive-faith, we surrendered to the error of sanctification-by-passive-faith.")[64] This change, this call to holiness, is their responsibility as well as God's work within them. As people change so does the way at minimum, the attitude and the motivation with which - they do all things at work, at home and in government. Societal change, however imperfect and impermanent, can and does happen, and things can increasingly become the way they were supposed to be. Such societal 'transformation' where it occurs, does not earn those involved in it a place in heaven, or even gain them greater favour with God (any more than our sanctification is a means of salvation), but God effects it as we are faithful to our calling. As Kloosterman has put it "faith has consequences,"[65] even if we must not overestimate these consequences in this time we live in of both the already and the not yet. 







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Beeke, Joel R., and Mark Jones. A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012.

, . Semper Reformanda: . Diss., Evangelical Reformed Seminary of Ukraine, 2007.

Bolt, John. Herman Bavinck on Natural Law and Two Kingdoms: Some Further Reflections. The Bavinck Review 4, (2013): 6493.

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vols, The Library of Christian Classics 20-21. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960.


__________. "Commentaries." The Comprehensive John Calvin Collection on CD-ROM. Ages

Software Version 1.0. 1998. Print ed.: Calvin, John. Calvin's Commentaries. 25 vols.

Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1841-55.


Carson, Donald A. Christ and Culture Revisited. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

Dever, Mark and David VanDrunen. The Two Kingdoms and the Natural Law with David VanDrunen. 9Marks. Podcast audio, April 4, 2011. Online: http://9marks.org/interview/two-kingdoms-and-natural-law-david-vandrunen/.


Frame, John. The Escondido Theology: A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology. Lakeland, Fla.: Whitefield Media Productions, 2011.

__________ and Leonard J. Coppes. The Amsterdam philosophy: a preliminary critique. Phillipsburg, N.J.: Harmony Press, 1972.

Hart, Darryl G. A secular faith: why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State. Chicago: I.R. Dee, 2006.

Helm, Paul. John Calvins Ideas. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Kloosterman, Nelson D. The Bible, the Church, and the World: A Third Way (21): Essential Features of Worldview Christianity, Christian Renewal, 28, no. 9 (January 27, 2010), pp. 18-19.

___________, Bucey, C., Dennison, B., Hart, D., & Wilson, D. Christ and Culture: Introductory Remarks. Reformed Forum. Podcast audio, April 9, 2010. Online: http://reformedforum.org/ctc117/.

___________. The Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission: An Integrationist Model, Worldview Resources International, pp. 6-7. Online: http://www.worldviewresourcesinternational.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/20130314-GPTS-Cultural-Mandate-Great-Commission1.pdf.


___________. Peering Into a Lawyers Brief: An Extended Examination of David VanDrunens Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms. Book of collated articles originally published in Christian Renewal, 2012. Online: http://worldviewresourcesinternational.com/kloosterman/DVDreviewNL2K.pdf.


Kupyer, Abraham. Sphere Sovereignty. In Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, edited James D. Bratt. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

Keith Mathison, 2K or Not 2K? That is the Question: A Review of David VanDrunens Living in Gods Two Kingdoms, Ligonier Ministries, n.p. [cited 7 April 2015]. Online: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/2k-or-not-2k-question-review-david-vandrunens-living-gods-two-kingdoms/.


Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper, 1951.


Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980.

Schilder, Klaas. Christ and Culture. Winnipeg: Premier, 1977.

Tuininga, Matthew. The Two Kingdoms at Covenant College: toning down the rhetoric, Christian in America (blog), n.p. [cited 18 April 2015]. Online: https://matthewtuininga.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/the-two-kingdoms-at-covenant-college-toning-down-the-rhetoric/.


VanDrunen, David. Living in God's Two Kingdoms: a Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.


___________. A Biblical Case for Natural Law. Grand Rapids: Acton Institute, 2006.

Wolters, Albert M. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.

[1] H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper, 1951), p.2. The title of this well-known treatment of the subject shall serve as a convenient shorthand in our article for referring to the overall topic.

[2] Historically, resulting from the influence of the Anabaptist tradition, as well as from government persecution during the Soviet period.

[3] A broad consensus, though by no means a complete consensus. Moreover, within the majority Kuyperian position, there are many shades of opinion.

[4] Here we must also include previous faculty (such as Darryl Hart) and alumnae (such as Jason Stellman) of WSC. See, Darryl G. Hart, A Secular Faith: why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State (Chicago: I.R. Dee, 2006), Jason J. Stellman, Dual Citizens: Worship and Life between the Already and the Not Yet (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2009).

[5] The articles and book reviews are too numerous to list, but the main book-length responses to this two kingdom teaching are: John Frame, The Escondido Theology: A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology (Lakeland, Fla.: Whitefield Media Productions, 2011) and Ryan C McIlhenny Kingdoms Apart: Engaging the Two Kingdoms Perspective (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 2012).

[6] Grace restores nature is the formulation favoured by, and widely credited to, Herman Bavinck. See, e.g. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids.: Baker Academic, 2008), vol. 4.

[7] Kuyper (18371920) was indebted to and influenced by fellow Dutchman Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer before him (1801-1876).

[8] In print in English as Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1931).

[9] See Klaas Schilder Christ and Culture (Winnipeg: Premier, 1977). Christ the Transformer of Culture is the specific designation of this, Niebuhrs final and favoured view, which he outlines in chapter six, Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, 190-229. Note however, that Niebuhrs version of the position, as it stands, is not without some serious problems. See the comment of Nelson Kloosterman cited below.


[10] The neo in neo-Calvinism was not because it was seen as a new form of Calvinism, but because it was seen as a return to classical Calvinism in a time of theological liberalism and cultural and moral degradation in a society enamoured with Enlightenment thought. We will use the term Kuyperianism in this article.

[11] The entire speech is published in English as Sphere Sovereignty, in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), pp. 461-490. The citation can be found on p. 488.

[12] The imago Dei in the narrow sense of moral excellence, of course, the image of God in its broader sense of moral agency, having been retained (Gen 9:6.)

[13] In his Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 715-730, Bavinck has a chapter called The Renewal of Creation, but interestingly it is the last chapter and comes under the section titled The Consummation.

[14] The Kuyperian position is set out in some detail in the following publications, which are available in Russian: Henry Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism, Albert Wolters, Creation Regained, and of course Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism.

[15] David VanDrunen, Living in God's Two Kingdoms: a Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), p. 12. His other books on the topic are: A Biblical Case for Natural Law (Grand Rapids: Acton Institute, 2006), Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: a Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), Divine Covenants and Moral Order: a Biblical Theology of Natural Law (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014).

[16] VanDrunen, Living, p. 12-13.

[17] VanDrunen, Living, p. 13.

[18] VanDrunen, Living, p. 13.

[19] VanDrunen, Living, p. 13.

[20] VanDrunen, Living, p. 13. VanDrunen makes this historical argument in his book Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms.

[21] VanDrunen, Living, p. 15.

[22] VanDrunen, A Biblical Case for Natural Law, p. 38.

[23] VanDrunen, Living, p. 15.

[24] VanDrunen, Living, p. 64.

[25] VanDrunen, Living, p. 66.

[26] In Exodus, for example, at Sinai, about seven chapters detail God's instructions for worship related to the 'house of God' (20:22-26 and 23:14-19 25:1-31:18) while only two-and-a-half chapters are given to regulations regarding the rest of life (21:1-23:13).)

[27] If sin, for instance, becomes anything less than personal disobedience, hatred, rebellion; if it is made into a kind of general disorder in the world as such; then it is not what Scripture says it is. In the language of Cornelius Van Til, sin is ethical, not metaphysical. John M. Frame, Leonard J. Coppes, The Amsterdam philosophy: a Preliminary Critique (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Harmony Press, 1972), sec. 13.

[28] John Bolt, Herman Bavinck on Natural Law and Two Kingdoms: Some Further Reflections, The Bavinck Review 4, (2013): 6493, p72.

[29] Paul Helm, John Calvins Ideas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 347-388.

[30] Revealingly, in an audio interview with Mark Dever, when VanDrunen was asked which theologians in church history he looked to for a similar teaching to his own, he was unable to provide any answer; The Two Kingdoms and the Natural Law with David VanDrunen, 9Marks. Online: http://9marks.org/interview/two-kingdoms-and-natural-law-david-vandrunen/

[31] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (LCC 20-21; ed. J. T. McNeill; trans. F. L.

Battles; 2 vols.; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 3.19.15.

[32] VanDrunen, Living, p. 164.

[33] VanDrunen, Living, p. 164.

[34] VanDrunen, Living, p. 164.

[35] Nelson D. Kloosterman, The Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission: An Integrationist Model, Worldview Resources International, pp. 6-7. Online: http://www.worldviewresourcesinternational.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/20130314-GPTS-Cultural-Mandate-Great-Commission1.pdf.

[36] E.g. Westminster Confession of Faith, 16.2-6, 19.5-7; Westminster Larger Catechism 97; Heidelberg Catechism, 86, 114-115; Belgic Confession, 24.

[37] See e.g. O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), especially 110-111.

[38] VanDrunen, Living, p. 20.

[39] VanDrunen, Living, p. 28.

[40] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, (vol. 4), p. 716.

[41] Keith Mathison, 2K or Not 2K? That is the Question: A Review of David VanDrunens Living in Gods Two Kingdoms, Ligonier Ministries, n.p. [cited 7 April 2015]. Online: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/2k-or-not-2k-question-review-david-vandrunens-living-gods-two-kingdoms/.

[42] Cited in Mathison, 2K or Not 2K?, n.p.

[43] Mathison, 2K or Not 2K?, n.p.

[44] Mathison, 2K or Not 2K?, n.p.

[45] VanDrunen, Living, pp. 13, 27.

[46] Calvin, Institutes, 1.6.1-2.

[47] Helm, John Calvins Ideas, pp. 372-3.

[48] The section is worth citing in full: There is, to be sure, a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall, by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior. But this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to himso far, in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society. Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness. In doing so he renders himself without excuse before God Canons of Dort, sec. III/IV.4.

[49] Until the consummation.

[50] For this language of (worship), walk and witness, see Kloosterman, The Cultural Mandate, pp. 18-19.

[51] Calvin, Comm. Genesis, Argument; Institutes 1.6.1-2.

[52] In a 2012 discussion with the faculty of Covenant College, Michael Horton actually suggested an ever greater level of agreement between the two kingdoms and Kuyperian positions, namely: 1) Both clearly distinguish the form of cultural and political engagement obligatory on Christians from the model of Old Testament Israel. 2) Both maintain a sharp critique of the militancy and culture war mindset that marks much of the Christian Right, which has its own version of the social gospel. 3) Each perspective affirms basic neo-Calvinist concepts concerning common grace, the antithesis, and sphere sovereignty. 4) Both seek to distinguish the work proper to the institutional church (church as organization) and the way in which believers serve Christ and witness to his kingdom in every area of life (church as organism). 5) Both agree that Christians cannot bring the kingdom of God to earth through their cultural work. 6) Each perspective insists that Scripture has much to say about how Christians should be involved in culture through their vocations. 7) Both agree that the church must proclaim what the word of God says about Gods law to the state, while avoiding false claims to expertise in matters of economics or policy. 8) Both affirm that while the actual objective work of Christians often looks similar to that of unbelievers, in terms of motivation, worldview, and sometimes objective results such work is profoundly different. 9) Both affirm the value of Christian parachurch organizations like colleges and seminaries, while at the same time preserving the liberty of Christians to participate in non-Christian organizations as well. As transcribed by Matthew Tuininga, The Two Kingdoms at Covenant College: toning down the rhetoric, Christian in America (blog), n.p. [cited 18 April 2015]. Online: https://matthewtuininga.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/the-two-kingdoms-at-covenant-college-toning-down-the-rhetoric/.

[53] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4, p. 437.

[54] Bolt, Herman Bavinck on Natural Law and Two Kingdoms, pp. 90-92.

[55] Donald A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), p. 215.

[56] . , Semper Reformanda: , (Diss., Evangelical Reformed Seminary of Ukraine, 2007), sec. 3.6.1.

[57] , Semper Reformanda, sec. 3.6.1.

[58] Hart, A Secular Faith, pp. 176-177.

[59] Nelson Kloosterman in Christ and Culture: Introductory Remarks (audio recording), Reformed Forum, Online: http://reformedforum.org/ctc117/.

[60] Christ and Culture: Introductory Remarks.

[61] [Y]ou shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod 19:6). Cf. Gen 22:18, in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice."

[62] Comment by Jim Cassidy in Christ and Culture: Introductory Remarks, Reformed Forum, Online: http://reformedforum.org/ctc117/. He adds, To reverse that order or emphasis is the mistake of the church growth movement and its postmodern counterpart, the emergent church."

[63] Thus, for example, Beeke and Jones: "The Puritans believed that the gospel must be manifested by Christians in every sphere of life, in every culture, and to every people group on our planet (Matt. 28:1820; 1 Thess. 4:1112) the Puritans were very much in the world and thoroughly engaged with all that happens in it. On the other hand, Puritans believed that Christians must distance themselves from this world. This dimension of Christian living emphasizes the pilgrim status to which Scripture calls every believer (Heb 11:13; 1 Pet 2:11). Christians are called to pull away from the worlds culture and live antithetically to it (2 Cor. 6:17)." Joel R Beeke, Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), p. 844.

[64]Nelson D. Kloosterman, The Bible, the Church, and the World: A Third Way (21): Essential Features of Worldview Christianity, Christian Renewal, 28, no. 9 (January 27, 2010), pp. 18-19.

[65] Kloosterman, The Bible, the Church, and the World, p. 19.

Alister Torrens

Master of Theology (M.Th), University of Wales, 2011. Master of Divinity (M.Div), Westminster Theological Seminary, 2006. Director of the ERSU Online Bible College.


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