“To identify the redemptive kingdom of the God…with the common causes of the city of man is profaning of the holy, a prostitution of the gospel, a diabolical repudiation of the atonement accomplished by Jesus Christ.”
– M.G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 286.
“The regeneration of all things must now be a gift before it can become a task.”
– Cornelius Van Til, “Nature and Scripture,” in The Infallible Word, 271
The two above quotations are of inestimable value for our understanding of the relation between the two kingdoms (notice here that we affirm two kingdoms; one non-redemptive, common realm and one redemptive realm manifest here on earth as the church). In this sense, both Kline and Van Til were adherents of a 2K perspective. There must remain an essential and fundamental distinction between the ethics, tasks, and marks of the kingdoms of this world on the one hand, and the Kingdom of God on the other. To confuse them or conflate them is to destroy the true nature of both. In other words, any application of a Van Tilian and Klinean covenant theology to the question of the relation between the two kingdoms must never fall into a theonomic/transformationalist perspective. Likewise, the perspective I outlined in the first post gives no quarter to theonomy or transformationalism.
But Kline and Van Til also give no quarter to at least two other notions: First, that there is any place, anywhere, in all of God’s creation to which the unbeliever may retreat and find value-free ground. Second, there is no place in all of God’s creation to which special revelation does not speak, interpret, and illuminate. Van Til makes his point clearly when he says (thanks to Warren Cruz for pointing this one out): “Even in Paradise man had to interpret the general (natural) revelation of God in terms of the covenantal obligations placed upon him by God through special revelation.” (Cornelius Van Til, ‘My Credo,’ 90). But Van Til goes on:
In paradise…man could not know from nature itself nor from himself in relation to nature that the result of eating from the tree of good and evil would spell his death. Hence we may speak of this revelation as being positive instead of natural. It had to be a direct communication of thought content on the part of God to man. Then too we may speak of this revelation as supernatural in opposition to natural. It was a revelation that man could not obtain by ever so diligent an application of his thought activity to the phenomena of nature.(Introduction to Systematic Theology, 67)
So, here Van Til expresses his concern over the use of the terminology “natural” as it tends to denote a reality which exists quite independent of “the thought content” of God. Natural revelation, theology or law has often been conceived in the tradition is as an entity which has a life of its own. At best, nature was understood as something which pointed beyond itself to God. But Van Til is here bringing nature and God’s revelation of his Word into a closer relation. In other words, the essence of God’s creation is that it is his Word, and that it can only be properly interpreted by man through God’s special revelation to man. Again, Van Til is particularly insightful:
It is of prime importance to observe that even in paradise man was never meant to study nature by means of observation and experiment without connection with positive super-natural thought communication given to him by God. Nature could not be observed for what it actually is except in relation to history, and history cannot be seen for what it is at any stage except it be viewed in relation to its final end. And only by direct supernatural revelation could man have an adequate notion of this end. (Introduction to Systematic Theology, 68)
So, back to the first point, there is no value-free place in all of creation. The created order is inherently covenantal and thus speaks. It speaks of the creator at every turn. That means that the so-called “common realm” may never be interpreted in an autonomous fashion. It is true, because of common grace, fallen man can still produce much which is good. But even the good that he produces shouts out against him. Therefore, culture is not a “safe place” for man in his rebellion. It is not value-free, neutral territory. 2KT advocates may agree with this, but I wonder how consistent it sits within their system. More on this anon.
Second, even in the common realm, the good which can be (and is!) done by the unbeliever must always and everywhere be interpreted in the light of special revelation. That he does not accept special revelation as true in no way gets him off the hook. Nature, culture, etc were never intended to stand alone. If he is not interpreting reality in light of the telos of God’s created order and redemptive plan, then he is malfunctioning in the common realm. That does not mean that he is functioning in a less productive way than the believer. Rather, because of God’s common grace he may in fact be functioning in a more productive way than the believer. But he is, nevertheless, malfunctioning.
So, is there anyway in which we can say that the “common kingdom” is “Christian?” This is an important question to answer, and to do so in such a way as to avoid confusing culture with the Kingdom of Christ. I affirm whole heatedly that it is a mistake to seek to “transform” culture, Christianize it, and to think that it is the church’s task to redeem it. Yet, I want to also maintain that even the common realm is not disconnected from God’s revelation (in its unified complex of being in the things that have been made as well as in Scripture). After all “the common kingdom” must not and never can be understood in a compartmentalized fashion – independent from Jesus Christ. So, I propose the affirmation of the following points which seek to relate the common kingdom to God’s revelation and the person of Jesus Christ.
- The common kingdom is (NB: not “must become”) related to God’s revelation and Christ himself in the sense that it is Christ who rules it by his Word and through his providential power (Col 1:16–17). Nothing happens in the created order without the express will and command of Jesus Christ. Here we stand unabashedly with Abraham Kuyper who rightly affirmed that there is not one square inch of creation about which Christ does not claim “mine!”
- The common kingdom is related to God’s revelation and Christ himself in the sense that the common realm is covenantal revelation of God. And in particular, it is properly the covenantal revelation of the second person of the Trinity (though in no way divided from the other persons). The foundation of the revelation of God in creation is the “Logos of creation” (Introduction toSystematic Theology, 69).
- The common kingdom is related to God’s revelation and Christ himself in the sense that its purpose is to serve the redemptive Kingdom, the church. Christ upholds the culture and the common kingdom for the sake of his church. In this way, the Noahic covenant preserves the creation, restricts sin, and maintains order in both space and time in order to be the stage upon which God brings about his redemptive purposes for his people. “It is the fact without which the whole of redemptive revelation would drop to the ground.” (Introduction toSystematic Theology, 68).
- The common kingdom is related to God’s revelation and Christ himself in that God’s special revelation for his people is the only authoritative interpreter of the common kingdom. The NT may not say much about the common kingdom and cultural pursuits, but it does speak—however general—to the nature of the created, common order (this, some current 2KT advocates affirm). Christ is testifying by his Spirit, through his Word, to his own acts in creation and history. For example, music was made by Jesus and for Jesus. Jesus was the one who ordained and providentially brought about the events of history, both sacred and secular. He not only ordained and brought about the acts of God in redemptive history, but he did so with regard to everything from what you did this morning, to the victory of the Allied forces, and to the earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan.
Therefore, we can not agree—without qualification—with Dr. Van Drunen that there are things in the created order which are “simply” universal human obligations, tasks, or events.1 In other words, baking cookies is never “just baking cookies,” either for the believer or unbeliever (both objectively and subjectively). While the particulars of the “rules” of cookie-baking are the same for both believer and unbeliever, they are both baking in a realm which—though common to both—is bearing testimony onto condemnation for the latter and testimony onto salvation for the former. It is the same creation for both, but that creation is being used for different ends. Furthermore, God’s special revelation applies equally to both believer and unbeliever in terms of understanding the created order. The same special revelation condemns the one but vindicates the other. In other words, dualism are never valid here.
Even though we understand that Van Drunen intends to speak of things in creation which both Christians and non-Christian have in common, we believe that his unqualified statement leaves open the door to misunderstanding. For instance, talk of “simply human” can mean a compartment in the created order which is value-free. Van Til calls this brute fact. However, all facts are God’s facts, and therefore are Christ’s facts (we are sure Van Drunen here agrees). In this way, then, all things are related to God’s revelation and Christ himself. In this sense, we can say that the common kingdom is Christian (though we do not make it Christian). After all, Christ came to reconcile all things to himself, whether in heaven or on earth (Col 1:20).
That said, however, we do agree with Van Drunen’s strong emphasis on making careful distinctions between which commands in the Bible are proper to the church and which are proper to the common kingdom. Though “common kingdom” remains somewhat problematic for me. I would prefer something along the lines of “The Realm of Christ’s Common Grace in Creation.”
1. David Van Drunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 168–9. We agree wholeheartedly with Van Drunen’s consistent affirmation that the common kingdom is not “neutral.” See for example the same volume, p. 15. However, the question remains: if there is no neutral territory in all of God’s creation, is it prudent to speak about “simply” or “universal” human obligations or tasks? If by that all he has in view is that both believers and unbelievers engage in them, then that is hardly a point of contention. If however, there is something more in view (i.e., that God’s special revelation is not necessary for the unbeliever in the common realm to function—ethically and epistemologically – rightly), then we must continue to demur.