Amending the Constitution to Mention Noah

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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.

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RFB
RFB
7 years ago

So they think that there is an ephemeral state that is ruled by God, the same God who says that “…He commands all men everywhere to repent,…”, but all men everywhere does not really mean “all men” and “everywhere”?

Hannah Long
7 years ago

Thank God William Wilberforce didn’t believe that. To the great anger of the mostly secular (or Pharisaic, same thing) society he lived in, he pushed a political agenda based on a religious truth – that blacks, too were human beings.

Mark H.
Mark H.
7 years ago

Hannah – Interestingly, it is not the covenant with Noah per se that allows the understanding that all races of men are one, but the special revelation around it, that we are all descended from Noah and his sons. So by VanDrunen’s logic, how could believers import that understanding into the common realm without facing the wrath of God?

Mark H.
Mark H.
7 years ago

Doug – And so, by Van Drunen’s comment about our “bad press”, am I to understand that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven upon all those who would attempt to bring the common realm under His authority? To those who pray His kingdom would come and His will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven”? Or would he understand that petition as being only for the sliver of “earth” that is God’s church?

Paulette
Paulette
7 years ago

Pastor Wilson, I would love to read your thoughts on not just why a different two kingdom theory is off target, but  your understanding of what the on target framework is. I get small bits and pieces of that from having read your blog daily for some time, but I am eager to see a thorough summary of what the Biblical teaching on the role and responsibilities before God for the family, Church, and magistrate (nations) are. Or if there is material you would recommend reading, I would very much appreciate you mentioning them. I’ve never had teaching on this… Read more »

Seth B.
Seth B.
7 years ago

Paulette: Mr. Wilson got much of understanding of that sort of things from guys known as the Reconstructionists. I’d start with By This Standard by Greg Bahnsen, and if you want to delve deeper, read Theonomy in Christian Ethics or the Institutes of Biblical Law by R J Rushdoony. You might read John Frame’s critique of Escondido theology or books by Gary DeMar or Gary North.

Tim Bayly
Tim Bayly
7 years ago

>>It is too simple in theory, and far too easy on our complacency.
I’d change that slightly to “R2K is nonsensical.” It’s not simple since no Christian ever knows which hat he’s to wear at which time, nor when God is ruling and when He is abdicating. 
And really, it’s not my complacency that makes R2K attractive to me. It’s my fear of loss of status and influence and income. Luke 16:14 tells us the Pharisees scoffed at Jesus’ teaching on money, why? Because they were economists?
No, but rather, because they loved money.
Love,

David Douglas
David Douglas
7 years ago

In this case, I would agree with Tim Bayly.  I assume Doug is engaging in a bit of rhetorical “thinking the best” (which still isn’t good, in and of itself) after laying out an argument that provides, ahem, no quarter to the R2K position.  But after reading Tim’s comment, I have to agree that Van Drunen’s responses (and the R2K position in general) are more reminiscent of Alice’s White Queen than anything else.

Tim H.
Tim H.
7 years ago

For the sake of argument, let’s suppose the Patriarch of Alexandria is a “conservative Christian.” If not, we can find another example. Now would someone please explain why, if he gets some “bad press,” then he has only himself to blame? 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. Or does the “we” in “we were complicit” only refer to Southern Baptists and Irish Catholics in Boston? Or… Read more »

David Nilsen
7 years ago

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.

Hey now, them’s fightin words!  I agree with you on the 2K stuff (and I really appreciate you relating this dialog with Dr. Van Drunen), but I went to Westminster West.  That comment was definitely unfair (and more than a little unhelpful). 

Paulette
Paulette
7 years ago

Seth – Thank you very much for thr recommendations. :)

Tim Bushong
7 years ago

Paulette–I would highly recommend reading Francis Schaeffer’s works, especially “How Should We Then Live?”, “A Christian Manifesto”, and “The Great Evangelical Disaster”. He got me straightened right out.

Paulette
Paulette
7 years ago

Tim – Thank you as well for the recommendations. I confess I have Shaeffer’s book on my shelf, as yet unread. I will move it to the front of my reading list…

Jacob Moya
Jacob Moya
7 years ago

David, a lot folks went to Westminster SoCal, including many in our own “circles” (I mean yours and mine). They have given the impression that Frame’s perspective on Escondido is not far from the truth. 

David Nilsen
7 years ago

Jacob, what is “Frame’s perspective”?  Are you referring to the Law/Gospel stuff and his critique of Horton, or something else? All I am saying is that characterizing WSCAL as sliding down a slope of liberalism such that they might be denying the historicity of Noah in 20 years is unfair.  Perhaps this is a jab at their openness to an old earth view, and so long as it is a playful jab it’s not a huge deal.  But I absolutely disagree with the notion that denying six literal, 24-hour days in Genesis 1 (or merely saying it’s possible, but Genesis 1 doesn’t answer… Read more »

Jeremy Larson
7 years ago

So Van Drunen can criticize racially complicit Christians as citizens, but not as Christians.