In the intimate world of evangelical and Reformed blogs, two kingdoms theology is a trending topic (#Kuyper2012, #mychurchismoreinvisiblethanyours, #cantherebeaXnhangman?, etc.). Two conversations are ongoing. First, Matt Tuininga has been engaged with some of the more – let’s say – magisterially-inclined proponents of two kingdoms (2K) theology. On this front, the trio of Steven Wedgeworth, Peter Escalante, and Brad Littlejohn argue that the classical version of 2K theology did not map neatly onto our modern division between the institutions of church and state. Instead, the early reformers and later scholastics maintained a notion of a unified corpus christianorum, albeit a corpus that underwent reconstructive surgery on its doctrine of religious liberty and freedom of conscience. In response, Matt holds out that at least one prominent strand of the tradition (running from Calvin to Cartwright) emphasized the uniquely spiritual government of the institutional church. This strand, rather than its magisterial or “Erastian” rival, helped to pave the pathway to our modern liberal conceptions of religious freedom and separation of church and state. Yesterday, Peter and Steven dropped a (gigantic) response in two parts.
The second conversation begins with James K.A. Smith’s recent essay in the Calvin Theological Journal, “Reforming Public Theology: Two Kingdoms, or Two Cities?” The piece is directed primarily at David VanDrunen’s attempt to resuscitate the Reformed interest in natural law and (according to Jamie) a Lutheran notion of 2K theology. Smith draws on Augustine to bolster the ecclesiology and eschatology of the Dutch neo-Calvinist tradition. On Monday, Darryl Hart leveled a critique of this piece, arguing that Smith had unwittingly exposed neo-Calvinism’s weakness by trying to fit the square peg of Augustinian ecclesiology into the round hole that is Kuyperian transformationalism. According to Hart, Smith remains guilty of conflating redemption with creation, the church with the world, the spiritual with the temporal.
I have some relationship – including some long-running friendships – with all the persons involved (save Matt, with whom I’ve only just come into contact). My own interests also intersect with the debate on several important points. So, while I won’t put all my historical and programmatic cards on the table, I thought I’d offer some questions to each of the parties in the ongoing discussion. (I’ll count Steven and Peter together since they co-author most of their papers.) Hopefully, this dialogue can keep going outside the often toxic atmosphere of the blogosphere as well.
Darryl Hart: In your response to Jamie you suggest that he writes a big ecclesiological check that his transformationalist-Kuyperian tradition cannot cash. The neo-Calvinists have failed to realize that “creation and providence take place in culture,” but “redemption takes place in the church.” My first question is about providence. Do you believe ecclesial actions and rule exist outside the providential order? If so, does the church have no part in the natural law that is reason’s participation in God’s eternal law? My second question is: How Rawlsian would you consider yourself? The way that Rawls relegates comprehensive doctrines to the private sphere would seem to grant your ecclesiology the privacy and provincial authority you desire. Here, religious commitments are valid enough in their own sphere (provided they don’t harm anyone), but would fail to pass the test of reasonability that would permit them to enter the public square. Is this a fair connection to make, or do you want to distance yourself from aspects of Rawlsian liberalism?
Jamie Smith: I loved the way you infused some Augustinian blood in the veins of Dutch Calvinism. You closed your essay with the moving image of a repentant Theodosius, infused, not with the natural virtue of courage, but with the Christian virtues of compassion, mercy, and humility. My question is about how you want to relate these Christian virtues to the natural virtues. In particular, who possesses which virtues? And what use are the natural virtues? In other words, could a non-Christian, unschooled by Ambrose, nevertheless display the virtue of mercy? And does the institutional church have some privileged pedagogy for the natural as well as Christian virtues?
Matt Tuininga: I appreciate the way that you want to differentiate between various strands of the Reformed political tradition. You and I differ on some interpretations of Calvin, but I think you’re right to distinguish certain aspects of his thought from his successors. But there’s another element of Calvin’s thought that hasn’t been talked about yet by anyone in these discussions – Stoicism. Now, Calvin clearly rejects the ultimate conclusions of Stoic thought, much like Augustine does regarding the neo-Platonists. Still, there’s sufficient scholarly evidence that the influence remains. (It’s no small detail that Calvin’s first published work was a commentary on Seneca.) In fact, Calvin’s own rendering of 2K theology seems quite colored by Stoicism. Here, the spiritual kingdom is where “conscience is trained to piety and divine worship.” This is the “middle place between God and man” where the individual conscience is free from the chaos created by sinful humanity’s imposition of unjust laws and obligations. There’s more to be said here (especially if we look to Calvin’s discussion of casuistry or his view of the conscience in his commentaries on the Psalms), but I merely want to ask: What do you want to do with this Stoic element? It doesn’t seem to fit as neatly with the institutional distinction between church and state. After all, Calvin believes it is the casuistical church that very often violates the dictates of conscience.
Steven Wedgeworth and Peter Escalante: The two-part essay that came out yesterday was an incredible display of erudition. It’s almost unseemly to have it written up on a blog (take that as a deep compliment!). There are too many points to engage with here, and my response would be quite boring since I agree with so many of them. But one question I can raise now pertains to your choice to include such a wide swath of Reformed political thinkers. I’m partial to many of the names you bring in: Calvin, Hooker, Althusius. You also kindly referenced my recent blog post on Martin Loughlin’s history of the origins of public law. I have two historical questions, however. First, I’d love to see you both engage with the influence of absolutism in the Reformed/Protestant political tradition – especially in Grotius, Pufendorf, and Thomasius. Clearly, these other thinkers are close to what we might call Reformed Orthodoxy as well as Hobbes. Still, what was the impact when these later Reformed thinkers incorporated elements of Hobbes and Bodin’s theories of absolute sovereignty? Second, scholars like Loughlin and Ian Hunter have pointed out that the voluntarism of later theorists (especially Pufendorf and Thomasius) allowed modern public law to stand independent of natural law. In other words, voluntarism undermined the old Platonic and Aristotelian forms of right-order theory. I suspect that John Witte (and perhaps Matt?) might be fine with this development. The neo-Calvinist Nicholas Wolterstorff also targets right-order theories of justice and rights (although he doesn’t buy the philosophical voluntarism). But where do you stand on this point? What difference does voluntarism make?
Brad Littlejohn: Since I’ve known Brad the longest, I’ll make his questions the shortest: Is Richard Hooker a liberal? And do you want him to be?