A few days ago, I mentioned a question I had asked David Van Drunen during our time together at a conference in Dayton, Ohio. The background of the question was his understanding of the “two kingdoms.” He understands the two kingdoms to be the church on the one hand, the realm of redemption, and the common realm on the other — everything outside the church. He was insistent that God was the ruler of both kingdoms, and this is why I phrased my question the way I did.
The question was this: if a magistrate and the people of a nation were converted to Christ (for the most part sincerely), and if they then decided to confess Christ in the common realm, would God be displeased with that? His answer was that God would in fact be displeased with it.
But why? First, the reason God’s displeasure over this confession matters is that God is the ruler of both realms. In other words, confessing Christ in the common realm would have to be something that the Father of Jesus Christ prohibits in that realm. If He is in fact displeased, His displeasure over this should be feared, because this is not the devil’s realm — it is God’s. God would be requiring us to avoid confessing the name of Jesus outside the realm of redemption, which is the church.
We didn’t talk about it, but I am sure that David Van Drunen would have no problem with evangelism in the common realm — what he was resisting was evangelism of the common realm.
His explanation of why he believed God would be displeased with this is that he believed that tolerance for unbelievers was an important civic value. His unspoken premise was that a society that would not acknowledge Christ would treat minority outliers better than a Christian one would. We would part company at this point, not because we disagree about treating outliers well, but rather because I believe that Jesus is behind all good things, including the need to respect the rights of the village atheist.
There were some other issues we just touched on, but didn’t really get into. For example, his scriptural case for this common realm was the general covenant God made with Noah after the Flood. So here would be a follow-up question. Would God be displeased if this newly-converted society explicitly named the covenant with Noah as their basis for civic order, complete with Scripture reference (Gen. 9:1-17)? This society would be committed to a wider range of scriptural truth than you might think — the need to fill the earth with people (v. 1), dominion over the animals (v. 2), a prohibition against eating blood (v. 3), the death penalty for murderers and deep respect for human life (vv. 5-6), the doctrine that man is made in the image of God (v. 6), that the earth would never again be destroyed by a flood (v. 11), entailing the necessity of believing that it had been destroyed that way once (v. 11), and understanding the rainbow to be a perpetual sign of this covenant (v. 17).
Surely it would be odd to have a civic order based on the covenant with Noah, and to also have a strict order against finding out the details of that covenant as first given. It is commonly taught that the common realm is governed by natural law (which I also agree with), but this is not to the exclusion of special revelation — Genesis 9 is special revelation. Is the common realm governed by natural law, by Genesis 9, or both? So would God be displeased if a believing society properly named the covenant they were under? If so, then we still have the problem of how to treat the people who don’t believe in a literal Noah — say like the faculty of Westminster West in about 20 years. If not . . . that seems weird.
One other quick comment. In his second talk, David Van Drunen made a strong case that conservative Christians have only themselves to blame for some of the bad press they have received because of how we were complicit in the racial sins of our culture several generations ago. I actually agreed with him on this, but would only note that the church’s silence in that matter was enabled by the kind of thinking that David is urging us to adopt now. I asked him if he had been a pastor in the South a couple generations ago, and there had been a grievous racial incident in his town, would he be opposed to a petition on the back table of his white church, asking the mayor of the city to do x,y, or z to ameliorate an explosive situation? He said that he would be opposed to that. This was consistent with the theology of “keeping these realms distinct” that he was proposing — but it was not consistent with the rebuke he delivered against those Christians who had done precisely that. They kept those realms distinct like nobody’s business.
I do not want to pretend that this issues are simpler than they are. I do know that they are complicated. But I also know that God wants us to live in this complicated world, and to be faithful witnesses in it. And this is why I believe that the version of “two kingdoms” coming out of Escondido is far too simple. It is too simple in theory, and far too easy on our complacency.