Monday, February 23, 2009

Some Random Thoughts on the Two Kingdoms

In this post I’ll just make a few observations about the doctrine of the two kingdoms, in no particular order.

First, I have yet to hear anyone either challenge it exegetically or argue exegetically for some alternative or another. What I have been hearing is general statements like, “Missionaries should help supply fresh water for villagers,” or “How can ministers not bind the consciences of their people to vote pro-life?” Those are good and challenging questions, but what I would like to hear is an actual argument from Scripture that the church’s task includes transforming society. It seems to us two-kingdoms folks that Jesus, Peter, and Paul all had perfect opportunities to argue for this very thing, but instead took those opportunities to tell us to mind our own business and pay our taxes (Matt. 22:21; Rom. 13:1-7; I Thess. 4:11-12; I Pet. 2:13-17).

Secondly, it has been asked, “What exactly, does the two-kingdoms position actually provide for the church?” Apparently it looks to some like all we do is complain without offering anything constructive or helpful. This is a great question and I am happy to answer it. One of the things the doctrine of the two kingdoms offers is a proper understanding of the New Testament dualism between this age and the age to come (Gal. 1:4; I Tim. 6:17; Tit. 2:12; Matt. 12:32; Eph. 1:21; Heb. 6:5). Though we’re sometimes accused of Manichaeism or some other form of Gnosticism (because after all, dualism must be Gnostic), the fact is that there is dualism all over the New Testament. But the thing about biblical dualism is that it’s not a matter/spirit dualism, but an already/not yet one. In other words, it’s eschatological (this age/the age to come) and ethical (sin/grace), not Manichaean (matter/spirit).

Another thing the two-kingdoms position provides is both an appreciation for creation (qua creation, and not just for its redemptive potential) as well as the liberty of conscience to determine how to interact with it. When earth’s institutions, art, and sports are said to be in need of transformation in order to be enjoyed, a low view of creation is implied. What the doctrine of the two kingdoms does is carve out legitimate space for earth to just be earth, and as such, to be enjoyable. Moreover, when one believer’s conscience forbids him from drinking alcohol or voting Republican, his right to his opinion is protected by the two-kingdoms doctrine. In a word, no believer will ever have to sit in church and be tyrannized by a pastor’s pet opinions about this or that theory of domestic or foreign policy. Such things are not only wasteful of people’s time (they could just stay at home and read the newspaper), but also are an abuse of the minister’s holy office, a casting of his swine before pearls.

But more important than the reasons why I like the doctrine of the two kingdoms or the fact that it is the historic Reformed position is the fact that it is taught implicitly and explicitly in Scripture. So if anyone out there wants to challenge the two-kingdoms position exegetically, the comment button is conveniently located just below this line.