Five Questions About Two Kingdoms

In my various discussions of the modern forms of “two kingdom” theology, I have frequently summed up my concerns with the question of how many kings there are. This has made my point, to a point, but it still needs to be pushed into the corners.

Here is my summary of what I take to be a theological novelty, by which I am referring to the R2K position, and the position I am interacting with.

“God rules all human institutions and endeavors, but He does so in two fundamentally different ways. He rules in His spiritual kingdom, the church, as a redeemer, and He rules the civil realm as creator and sustainer. These two kingdoms have different ends and functions, and therefore must be ruled differently. The spiritual kingdom is governed by special revelation, the Bible, and the other kingdom is governed by natural law.”

I take this to be a novelty because, according to the Reformers, the spiritual kingdom was that of the heart, the conscience, the inner man, while the other kingdom was external and visible, church included (e.g. Calvin’s Institutes, 3.19.15). In other words, the modern form of it divides church and state while the reformational form of it divided inner and outer, invisible and visible.

So all that noted, here are my basic questions for adherents of the modern take on two kingdoms. Assuming the divide is between civil and ecclesiastical . . .

1. Is there anything in the charter of each kingdom that prohibits cooperation, communication, and traffic with the other kingdom? In other words, does natural law reveal that we must not ever resort to special revelation? And does special revelation ever say that we must never import specific and revealed content into the civil realm?

2. As God rules in the civil realm, does He require us to worship Him? If not, why not? If so, under what name, and by what forms? Or in this realm is He satisfied with being the unknown god of the Athenians? Or was an altar to Him too much? Is the God mentioned on American coinage the God of natural law?

3. As God rules in the civil kingdom as creator and sustainer, does our human disobedience of natural law also mean that He acts in His capacity as judge? Using the criteria of natural law alone, will God judge us for our abortion laws, same sex mirages, and confiscatory taxation?

4. If God can act as judge in the civil realm is there any gospel or good news for those under judgment in this realm? If He does not act as judge in this realm, in what sense can He be said to be ruling?

5. If the reason for not bringing special revelation to bear in discussions about what to do in the civil realm is that unbelievers don’t believe the Bible, what are we to do in those debates when they claim not to believe in natural law either? If their denials and unbelief do not cause us to set aside natural law, then why should their denials and unbelief be the cause for us to set aside the Scriptures?

Theology That Bites Back



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  • Mark Brown

    If that is where the Reformed are taking Two Kingdoms that is big trouble.  More because if your main point is dividing church and state, what about that constant sore point, church governance?  One of Luther’s main points of Two Kingdoms was to bring a theological explanation to why the church does so poorly if it is governed by Christ.  And the simple answer is the crooked timber it is ruled through.

  • Rachel

    From where is the quote taken?

  • Douglas Wilson

    Rachel, it is my summary of the position.

  • Tom King

    I’m not sure you’re espousing this historically, which I believe could be argued as coming from the Lutheran perspective.  Luther would not have divided things the same as Calvin, so it is wrong to assume such Calvinistic considerations on the reformer, Luther.  Here is a better summary than I could provide:
    Please do not take this the wrong way.  I appreciate all your insight and work, Doug.  Keep in His Word.  Thanks for all your work.

  • John

    How closely would you say your summary correlates with Calvin’s? Do you find the novelty to be the last sentence of your summary or the whole of it? 
    Calvin, Institutes, 3.19.15:

    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 reverencing 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 pertains to the life of the soul, while the latter has to do with the concerns of the present life – not only with food and clothing but with laying down laws whereby a man may live his life among other men holily, honorably, and temperately. For the former resides in the inner mind, while the latter regulates only outward behavior. 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 one is being considered, we must call away and turn aside the mind from thinking about the other. There are in man, so to speak, two worlds, over which different kings and different laws have authority.

  • Douglas Wilson

    John, no, because the 2K novelty reduces it to church/state issues. But if it inside/outside, well, then, the church has an outside too.

  • Hudson

    I’m not saying that your assumption is incorrect, but what if is? Wouldn’t you then be arguing with a straw man? What if the proper distinction between the two kingdoms is temporal vs. eternal, visible vs invisible, earthly vs. heavenly?  Why do you paint the argument as civil vs ecclesiastical, church vs. state and law vs. grace?  Do you really think that 2Kers are gnostics?

    As for the distinction between God’s acting as creator/sustainer vs. redeemer, why does this have to be described as separate Kingdoms?  Doesn’t it refer only to the distinction between those who are eternally healed (saved) and those who are merely healed temporally in their bodies (Luke 17:17)?  My understanding of 2K does not wonder whether the Good Samaritan was acting in a civil or an ecclesiastical capacity. The point is that he was acting in accordance with both the rule of faith and the rule of law. The story has nothing to do with kingdoms except to the extent that one might wonder whether the man he helped was eternally saved.  Such wondering is pure vanity. No, there is no second kingdom except that which is heavenly, eternal, invisible and beyond the reach of this world.  There is only one kingdom on earth and the visible church lives in that visible temporal and earthly kingdom until such time that it ceases to exist.
    You ask the question in what sense God can be said to be ruling… if he is not acting as temporal lawmaker, executor and judge?  The answer of course is that He is ruling in EVERY way.  But we are not His co-rulers, sent to fix things, to manage the outcomes so that this world will be a better place.  
    Does it make an earthly difference that this world has Christians?  Yes. While the Christian may no longer be about his own business, he will be about the Lord’s business and He will be unable to ignore the human need on the side of the road.  On the other hand, when he stops to do his duty (temporal yet “unto Christ”), he has no reasonable expectation of managing the eternal significance. He is acting only in the temporal kingdom. Maybe he is helping a man that will repent and be saved.  It’s more than likely however that this Samaritan’s righteous act will be the man’s rock of stumbling and the mark of his reprobation.  
    Is a Christian “called” to any service in this world?  No. We’re just passing through.