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Why Two Kingdoms?

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Over at Kevin DeYoung's blog, the conversation of the day has been the apparent conflict between two-kingdoms theology and neo-Kuyperianism. For those not familiar with the jargon, the question revolves around how a Christian individual and the church as a corporate gathering of God's people properly engage the surrounding secular culture.

DeYoung (and Justin Taylor who links to it) are grateful for some of the wisdom they see in the two-kingdoms approach, but still have some questions and objections to it, which leads DeYoung to chart a third course for engagement between the church and the world.  Modern Reformation magazine and White Horse Inn have developed a bit of a reputation as promoters of the Reformation doctrine of the two kingdoms. We asked regular contributor Jason Stellman to interact a bit with Kevin DeYoung's analysis of the two kingdoms doctrine.  Jason will be addressing this issue even more directly in an upcoming article, "The Destiny of the Species," for our November/December 2009 issue of Modern Reformation, "Zion."
On his blog DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed, Kevin DeYoung posted a thoughtful article weighing the pros and cons of two-kingdoms theology when weighed alongside the more popular Kuyperian position according to which “every square inch” of creation is Christ’s, who gives the believer the charge to redeem it. DeYoung raises some good points, but I’d just like to address his concerns about the doctrine of the two kingdoms and its potential dangers. I’ll paste DeYoung’s concerns and follow them with my responses:

“An exaggerated distinction between laity and church officers (e.g., evangelism is the responsibility of elders and pastors not of the regular church members)”

As far as I can see, there is no connection between two-kingdoms doctrine and DeYoung’s concern here. While it may be the case that some two-kingdoms proponents understand Eph. 4:11ff in a non every-member-ministry sense, it’s certainly not a necessary consequence of two-kingdom theology.

“An unwillingness to boldly call Christians to work for positive change in their communities and believe that some change is possible”

This one’s tricky. What one church member may call “positive change” could be deemed tragic in the mind of another. In the Seattle area where I minister, positively changing the community may take the form of shutting down the Gap because of its oppressive business practices that harm the third world’s poor. My guess is that it’s not this kind of positive change that DeYoung has in mind. The two-kingdom position actually protects the churchgoer from having the minister’s cultural values tyrannically forced upon him.

“The doctrine of the ‘spirituality of the church’ allowed the southern church to ‘punt’ (or worse) on the issue of slavery during the 19th century”

Guilt-by-association is never good argumentation. Plus, Charles Hodge taught the spirituality of the church, and he was a Yankee.

One last point: I find it ironic that DeYoung lists among Kuyperianism’s pros the fact that it, and not the two-kingdoms doctrine, highlights the goodness of creation. I would argue precisely the opposite. When one looks at the world and its beauty, grandeur, and ale and only sees the redemptive potential of these things, then is that really an example of appreciating creation for its own sake? Rather than surveying the world and thinking “So much unredeemed creation, so little time,” the two-kingdoms advocate sees creation as “very good” and worthwhile, albeit fallen. And before enjoying said creation, we remember that God’s whole purpose for the common grace sphere is to prolong life and thus erect a stage on which he can perform his redemptive work of calling sinners from this creation to a new one. When that work is done, Babylon will fall, will fall, and the world will pass away, and the lusts thereof.

What is our good news to this passing age in the meantime? Certainly not that Jesus is waiting to return until we’ve Christianized the planet, but that at an hour we think not the Son of Man will come with salvation and judgment, surprising a sleeping and rebellious world (you know, just like as it was in the days of Noah).

-Jason Stellman

The Rev. Jason Stellman is pastor of Exile Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Woodinville, Washington. He is also the author of Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet. Jason blogs at De Regnis Duobus.

For more information about the two-kingdoms doctrine, check out the following issues of Modern Reformation:
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