Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Could John Calvin Get a Faculty Position at Westminster Seminary California?

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion (3.19.15, under the heading "The Two Kingdoms"), John Calvin writes:

Therefore, in order that no one can stumble upon that stone, let us first consider that there is a twofold government in man: one aspect is spiritual, whereby the conscience is instructed in piety and in reverence towards God; the second is political, whereby man is educated for the duties of humanity and citizenship that must be maintained among men. These are usually called the "spiritual" and the "temporal" jurisdiction (not improper terms) by which is meant that the former sort of government applies to the life of the soul, while the latter has to do with the concerns of the present life.... The one we may call the spiritual kingdom, the other, the political kingdom. Now these two, as we have divided them, must always be examined separately, and while the one is being considered, we must turn aside from thinking about the other. There are in men, so to speak, two worlds, over which different kings and different laws have an authority.
I’ll go on the record and state that the two-kingdoms doctrine that I espouse is identical to what Calvin says above. Man is under a twofold government because he is a citizen of both heaven and earth, and accordingly, he receives his marching orders from two sources. The church instructs him on matters relating to spiritual piety and heavenly life, while the civil magistrate teaches him how to do earth.

Calvin goes on to make a qualification:
Through this distinction it comes about that we are not to misapply to the political order the gospel teaching upon spiritual freedom, as if Christians were less subject, as concerns outwards government, to human laws because their consciences have been set free in God's sight; as if they were released from all bodily servitude because they are free according to the spirit.
Calvin’s point here is that spiritual liberty is just that, spiritual and not civil. This means that it is wrong to interpret biblical promises about being free from the tyranny of the devil and dominion of sin to mean that we are free from the tyranny of the king and dominion of his unjust tax laws.

The Westminster Confession makes precisely this same point:

They who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God (XX.4).
Now for the purpose of fruitful discussion I think we need to distinguish between the doctrine of the two kingdoms and its application to the world in which we live. I would maintain that when it comes to the former, the two-kingdoms model espoused by Westminster Seminary California faculty such as Michael Horton, D.G. Hart, and David VanDrunen is much closer to that of Calvin than the infinitely more popular transformationism advocated by the majority of the PCA.

If I’m wrong, please show me where.