Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: Brief Review Part II

Yesterday, I introduced this great addition to Reformed theological studies: David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).  Today, I’ll briefly point out a few highlights of chapters 2-3.

In chapter two, VanDrunen argues that

“The doctrines of natural law and the two kingdoms in the Reformed tradition did not spring from nowhere at the time of the Reformation.  They were rooted, in different ways, in nearly a millenium and a half of Christian reflection upon the natural knowledge of God’s law possessed by every human being and the relation of Christians individually and the church as a corporate body to civil society, and especially to the state” (p. 21).

He writes that Augustine and the Epistle to Diognetus both advocated a strong antithesis between the two kingdoms and at the same time showed that there is an area of overlap where Christians and non-Christians share a sort of common realm.  Of course, there are some nuances to consider, but these two themes are pretty clear in these two early church sources. 

In this chapter, VanDrunen also talks about the “two swords” doctrine of Pope Gelasius (c. 500 AD) and Pope Boniface VIII (c. 1300 AD), which in some ways correspond with the earlier Augustinian and Diognetian positions.  He also shows how William of Ockham (b. 1280)  returned more robustly to the Augustinian/Diognetian positions than did Boniface VIII.  Ockham argued strongly that the pope did not have authority in the civil realm.  The rest of the chapter is dedicated to the natural law teaching in the early and medieval church (including Aquinas and Ockham).  He ends chapter two by examining Luther’s two kingdom and natural law doctrines – showing the continuity among and contrast with earlier positions.  Basically, in this chapter (two) VanDrunen does a brief trek through church history showing that and how the two kingdoms and natural law teachings showed up.

Chapter three is outstanding.  In it, VanDrunen points out how Calvin stood in pretty strong continuity with the earlier church teachers when it came to the two kingdoms and natural law doctrines.  Discussing this chapter in-depth would take awhile (time which I don’t have!), so to summarize, Calvin did teach a two kingdoms doctrine which was somewhat similar to Luther with certain different nuances (you have to get the book to see the nuances!).  Concerning natural law, which is woven throughout Calvin’s writings, VanDrunen says “Calvin’s doctrines of natural law and the two kingdoms are intimately related” (p. 110).

This chapter on Calvin is worth reading a few times.  It is clear that Calvin did teach natural law and the two kingdoms; at the same time it is very important to note the political/cultural context Calvin worked within – a Constantinian-like Christendom.  Also, since Calvin was not perfect, we shouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t 100% consistent in discussion and/or application (as if anyone is!).  One more thing VanDrunen pointed out in this chapter was how Barth missed a fundamental aspect of Calvin’s teaching on natural law (p. 114).  I thought that was an important note to make.

A person doesn’t have to agree with the natural law and two kingdoms doctrines, yet if one wants to be honest, s/he has to acknowledge that they are an integral part of old-school Reformed/Presbyterian theology.  More in a day or two.

shane lems

sunnyside wa