Two Kingdoms Conference
On the cover of the November 18 issue of Christian Renewal was a photo of Dr. David VanDrunen and Dr. Cornelis Venema and the words “Two Kingdoms, Two Views.” VanDrunen is professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Seminary in California and a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Venema is President of Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Indiana. The debate took place last October at Preakness Valley URC in New Jersey prior to the meeting of Classis Eastern U.S. of the URC. VanDrunen defended his view, known as “Two Kingdoms (2K) Theology.” Venema gave his evaluation of that view from the Neo-Calvinist/Kuyperian viewpoint.1
VanDrunen, who began the conference, claims that God has two kingdoms. The one is a “natural or common kingdom” that encompasses the whole world in which believers and unbelievers live together socially, economically, and politically. The other is a “supernatural or redemptive kingdom” that is the institutional church of Christ. He positions 2K theology between two perceived extremes: Christians who retreat from the world and Christians who emphasize social and political activism. He claims that natural law is the way God rules over the common kingdom, but the gospel is how He rules in the church. The Christian is simultaneously a citizen of both kingdoms and has a calling in both. As a citizen of the world, the Christian must obey God’s natural law. As a citizen of the church, he must obey the precepts of Christ.
Venema then gave his evaluation of the 2K view. He stated at one point that “on all of the points disputed, this view tends to track more closely with historical Lutheran theology than Reformed: whether law/gospel hermeneutic, two kingdoms—one on the ‘left hand’ and the other on the right…those are all Lutheran worries, not Reformed ones.” For Venema, there is one kingdom of God, and the Christian is to live as a citizen of that kingdom not only in the church but also in the world. But while that sounds good, Venema also used language associated with Neo-Calvinism, namely, the idea of “redeeming” or “transforming” culture. For example, he took issue that in 2K theology “My work, my vocation has no meaningful way of advancing the reach of the Kingdom and doesn’t count for much.”
Which view is correct? In some ways neither, and both, in my judgment. The 2K view is correct to reject Neo-Calvinism’s call to advance the kingdom of God by social and political activism, the siren song sung to thousands of young people at Christian colleges today. But reading a two-kingdoms model into Scripture is not the way to do it.
While it is certainly true that God reigns over the universe by His sovereign power, that is not one of His two kingdoms. A kingdom involves more than reigning. Scripture regards the kingdom of God as a unique entity. Jesus preached, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (); taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come” ( ); told Nicodemus that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” or enter into it ( ); gave the keys of the kingdom to the apostles on whose doctrine He would build His church ( ); and prophesied that “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” ( , emphasis added throughout). The way, rather, to oppose Neo-Calvinism’s mistaken call to social and political activism as the way to advance the kingdom is to emphasize what Jesus tells us: the preaching of the gospel is the way (to be fair, 2K theologians do emphasize this).
Are there not two kingdoms then? There are indeed two kingdoms. Venema criticized the 2K view for muting aspects of Scripture’s teaching on the antithesis between the kingdoms of light and darkness: “In many respects, the 2K paradigm offers a benign, even sanguine, view of the possibilities of peaceful co-existence and cooperation between believers and unbelievers in society and culture.” However, many Neo-Calvinists believe this too! After all, they have their doctrine of common grace that enables them to hold hands with unbelievers and work together for the common good (whether Venema would put it exactly like this, I do not know).
As Protestant Reformed believers, we stand for the truth of sovereign particular grace rooted in eternal double predestination. This particular grace produces the one kingdom of God that arises in the world over against the devil’s kingdom, which is rooted in the principle of sin alone. As Christians, we are called to live as citizens of God’s kingdom in the world in antithesis to the kingdom of darkness, for the glory of our King.
Legalizing the Sin of Assisted Suicide
It was called the “End of Life Option Act” or ABX2-15. It was passed in the California legislature in September and signed into law in October by Governor Jerry Brown, a practicing Roman Catholic, the contrary stance of his church notwithstanding. By this law California joins Oregon and Washington in making it legal for a dying person to end his own life with the assistance of a doctor. It is also legal in Vermont and Montana, in the latter state by court ruling, rather than by legislation. For California to legalize assisted suicide is highly significant because the rest of the country often follows its lead.
California has legalized self-murder. The United States is moving in the direction of Europe in more ways than one. In Belgium and the Netherlands euthanasia is legal. One who is depressed and wants to die may be prescribed a lethal drug to end his life. In California, beginning sometime in 2016, one diagnosed with a terminal illness and given a short time to live may be prescribed lethal drugs to end his life. Advocates of the new law call this “death with dignity,” “end-of-life option,” or “right to die.” Just as, at the other end of the spectrum, they champion a woman’s “right to choose” whether or not to kill her unborn baby, so now they affirm a person’s “right to choose” whether or not to kill himself. Do we have a right to kill ourselves? Gov. Brown said,
In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death. I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.2
As you may recall, 29-year old Brittany Maynard, who was dying from brain cancer, moved north to Oregon and killed herself on November 1, 2014. She was praised for her courage. She became a force that led to the new California law. But in the eyes of God she committed murder. God says in the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” The Heidelberg Catechism explains that this also means “I hurt not myself, nor willfully expose myself to any danger” (LD 40, Q&A 105). We do not at all want to minimize the pain involved in a terminal illness. But God alone has the right to give and take away life. We do not have the right to choose when or how we die. Besides, every child of God has the comfort that nothing can separate him or her from the love of God in Christ ().
Clearly, Christ is coming quickly. For before He returns, “many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (). Iniquity is abounding today. First abortion became legal. Now assisted suicide is too. Nor will it end with that. Soon the “end-of-life option” will become the “end-of-life requirement” for those deemed not worthy to live, and doctors will have the authority to order their death. Charles Lane of the Washington Post wrote,
What’s noteworthy about euthanasia in Europe, though, has been its tendency to expand, once the taboo against physician-aided death was breached in favor of more malleable concepts such as “patient autonomy.’” “What is presented at first as a right is going to become a kind of obligation,” Belgian law professor Étienne Montero has warned.3
One does not need to wonder who will eventually be deemed unworthy to live.
Christ is coming. When the world fills up the cup of iniquity, He will surely come and execute judgment. For His beleaguered church in the world, He will give a crown of life that will never end.
Probably this belongs to the “Bring the Books” rubric, but it is also an encouraging item from “all around us.” A book was recently published entitled Uncensored: Daring to Embrace the Entire Bible. I did not read the book. But I read an excerpt in the form of an article in Christian Renewal. The author is Brian Cosby, the senior pastor of Wayside Presbyterian Church in Tennessee. The book is a defense of the doctrine of creation in six, literal twenty-four hour days. We are so used to hearing evolutionary ideas presented as facts of science, even in conservative churches, that I was thrilled to hear a voice bravely defending creationism. He writes,
Self-professing Christians of all stripes seem to be running from the creation account of Genesis like those loonies running from the bulls in Pamplona…. But why would they be running? The answer is simple: because they’re embarrassed by the Bible, at least at a functional level…. God’s creation account is barely whispered from the pulpit and eliminated from the radio. But here’s the reality: evangelicals are running to “science” first and then attempting to make the creation account fit within that “science.” Why do Christians do this?… It’s because we believe that the all-knowing Darwin has spoken and that the unbiased natural history museums and National Geographic have proved his theory once for all.4
He affirms that Genesis 1 is historical narrative, not poetry. He believes the days of Genesis 1 are literal twenty-four-hour days.
He maintains that death first entered the world at the Fall, so there could not be millions of years of animals or humans living and dying before the Fall. To top it off, he confidently writes,
To my understanding, the theory of evolution seems completely absurd. Think about it. For billions of years, rain falls on the rocks, making a sort of primordial goop. Then one day, the soup comes alive…it morphs and grows in complexity until—voilà!—living, breathing, reproducing human beings. And we think the creation narrative in Genesis is hard to believe? I would argue that it takes less faith to believe in creation than in evolution.5
Sometimes we feel a bit like Elijah when he sadly said to the Lord, “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant…and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life to take it away” (). Then let us be encouraged that there are still other Reformed and Presbyterian believers who oppose the powerful tide of evolutionism.
While we are on the topic of creation, you will be interested to know another tidbit. On July 14, 2015 the New Horizons spacecraft passed over Pluto, becoming the first to explore that dwarf planet at the edge of our solar system. Scientists were not sure what they would find. They expected to be surprised. As it turns out, they were shocked. In Answers in Genesis we found a brief article stating this:
What the photos revealed was a shock to scientists who believe in a 4.5-billion-year-old solar system. The preliminary photos of Pluto’s surface indicate far fewer craters than expected…. Planetary scientists committed to belief in a 4.5-billion-year-old solar system are at a complete loss to explain the lack of craters on Pluto. In such a long time, millions more objects should have collided with Pluto’s surface. But it gets worse. Pluto also has a nitrogen atmosphere that is leaking away. After billions of years, all of its nitrogen should be long gone. These considerations demonstrate that Pluto is a very young object. But why should believers be shocked? We should expect more confirmations of a young universe as NASA’s space exploration continues. 6
1 Gerry Wisz, “How Many Kingdoms? 2K and Neo-Calvinist apologists lay out their hermeneutic, take questions and cordially debate,” Christian Renewal, November 18, 2015, 6-14.
2 Jerry Brown, “Jerry Brown turned to his own doctor and Desmond Tutu in assisted-suicide decision,” Los Angeles Times, October 5, 2015.
3 Charles Lane, “Europe’s Sinister Expansion of Euthanasia,” Washington Post, August 19, 2015.
4 Brian Cosby, “Covering up Creation,” Christian Renewal, October 28, 2015, 29.
5 Cosby, “Covering up Creation,” 30.
6 “Pluto’s Young Surface,” Answers in Genesis, October- December, 11. This was a shortened version of a July 20, 2015 article by Dr. Danny Faulkner entitled “Pluto’s Surface is Young!” on answersingenesis.org.