Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms (Part III)

In case you just tuned in, this is part III of a brief review of David VanDrunen’s book, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms. The other two posts immediately precede this one.

In chapters 4-7 VanDrunen treks through the English and European post-reformation eras, into the early American scene (New England and Virgina), back to  Europe (specifically Holland) and Abraham Kuyper.   He discusses how natural law and the two kingdoms show up in these times, places, and people of Reformed history.

Chapter four specifically deals with the “Bloody Mary” situation of the 1550s as well as he Huguenot persecution of 1572 (the so-called St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre).  VanDrunen argues specifically that in these examples there was continuity between earlier and later Reformed teaching of natural law.  He also argues (well, in my opinion) that there was an “expansive rather than minimalistic view of natural law” among these two groups of Reformed Christians.  Some names that VanDrunen writes about include George Buchanan, Samuel Rutherford, John Knox, Christopher Goodman, John Ponet, just to name the major figures.  This chapter was a total learning experience for me, since I’ve not read more than a few books covering this area of church history.  VanDrunen is right: they utilized natural law principles broadly and creatively as they faced persecution.

Chapter five is where VanDrunen digs into the great era of Reformed scholasticism (“The Age of Orthodoxy” is the title of the chapter).  He not only argues that there is significant continuity between earlier Reformers and the scholastics (concerning natural law and the two kingdoms), he also says that these theologians “through their natural law and two kingdoms doctrines, affirmed and developed the idea that social and political life is grounded in God’s work of creation and providence rather than in his work of redemption” (p. 151).  The major figures VanDrunen summarizes are Johannes Althusius, Samuel Rutherford, and Francis Turretin, along with others and the Westminster Standards.  This was a great chapter, especially where he talks about these figures and how they closely related natural law and Sinai.  I enjoyed this chapter as much as I did the one on Calvin.

Chapter six also had some things that were new for me.  VanDrunen commented on Stuart Robinson, John Cotton, early Virginian Presbyterian experiences, and Samuel Davies, to mention just a few.  Also worth mentioning for VanDrunen were Charles Hodge and James Henley Thornwell, who wrestled (in the 19th century) over the presbyterian distinction of boards and committees, which had much to do with ecclesiology and Christian liberty.  I’m still mulling over some things in this chapter, so I’ll just state his conclusion: “The Reformed natural law and two kingdoms traditions continued on into the early American experiment and even attained greater degrees of clarity among some theologians amidst the greatly changing social and intellectual contexts” (p. 275).

Chapter seven – the one on Kuyper – could take a book to discuss!  I thought it was helpful how VanDrunen pointed out the fact that Kuyper was working with and within the Reformed scholastic categories.  At the same time, he used some newer terminology and was not 100% consistent in theory and practice (again, none of us are!).  Kuyper’s common and special grace distinction, along with his organizational and institutional church distinction have a lot to do with natural law (i.e. “divine ordinances”) and the two kingdoms of earlier Reformed doctrine.  This chapter (along with earlier stuff I’ve read by Kuyper) has very much made me hesitant to accept statements made by neo-Kuyperians on what Kuyper actually taught.  In other words, some neo-Kuyperians may be more “neo” than they are “kuyperian.”  But don’t take my word for it, read the chapter.  It deserves to be studied in-depth.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

1 thought on “Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms (Part III)”

  1. Hey Shane,

    I’m reading it right now too while doing a political fellowship in DC. It’s a wonderfully-helpful tool, and like you, I’m current working through the chapters on American Presbyterianism and Kuyper. The former was ground-breaking for me and the latter is certainly a helpful guide to deciphering Kuyper. Enjoy the remainder!

    In Christ,


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