Monday, February 22, 2010

VanDrunen's Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms Part 1


David VanDrunen's newest book Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms looks to be an impressive read. His project is to take on a subject that has been recklessly bandied about all over obscure Reformed blogs and journal articles. This subject is the two social/theological doctrines of the two kingdoms and natural law. VanDrunen limits the scope of his study to the way these doctrines have been espoused historically rather than defending them from an exegetical or biblical theological starting point. Therefore, he examines the way the doctrines have been either embraced or rejected throughout Reformed ecclesiastical history. Who is Reformed will be decided strictly on confessional grounds (those who affirm the Heidelberg or Westminster confessions according to "something like their original meaning").

VanDrunen does an excellent job at giving clear definitions for the two terms he is going to trace out. The two kingdoms doctrine asserts that, "God rules all human institutions and activities, but rules them in two fundamentally different ways. According to this doctrine, God rules the church (the spiritual kingdom) as redeemer in Jesus Christ and rules the state and all other social institutions (the civil kingdom) as creator and sustainer, and thus these two kingdoms have significantly different ends, functions, and modes of operation" (1). VanDrunen is aware that this is commonly thought of as a distinctively Lutheran doctrine, and posits this as a good enough reason for his study. Right off the bat he shows the vast throng of pastors and scholars who deny the two kingdoms in their work. This is demonstrated in anyone who seeks to critique secular culture from a Christian standpoint. In this view, God is redeeming all things. The Christian then ought to be looking for ways to advance this redemption by seeking to "transform all activities and institutions in ways that reflect the kingom of God and its final destiny" (4). "All activities and institutions" is taken in the plainest sense with these folks, apparently including forming goat-breeding societies on a 'Reformed basis' and developing football programs in accordance with a 'Reformed world and life view' (4). The list of shout-outs received in the one kingdom camp ranges from Herman Dooyeweerd to Richard Hays (also included are the likes of Alisdair MacIntyre and John Milbank). It is this take on Reformed social life that VanDrunen wants to show as ahistorical.

The doctrine of natural law gets a little less attention at the outset, but again VanDrunen gives a clear definition. Natural law concerns, "knowledge of God's moral requirements obtained through nature" (15). Interestingly, VanDrunen claims that Abraham Kuyper was one who maintained the original focus on natural law, and was later misinterpreted by some of his followers. The primary culprit for the reworking of natural law is, of course, Karl Barth. Barth abandoned the doctrine of natural law and sought to develop a worldview based on a Christological redemption of all things. Though many in the later Reformed (neo-calvinist) camps had other theological disagreements with Barth, they followed him closely in his transformationalism. While natural law doesn't get singled out in this first chapter much it is clear that VanDrunen sees it as intertwined with the two kingdoms doctrine.

There isn't much to say by way of review thus far. VanDrunen is clearly going against the grain here, though. If he makes his case there are going to be a lot of drywallers, painters, playwrites, and the rest trying to find new motivation.

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