Natural Law and Two Kingdoms: Conclusion

Though I had hoped to finish doing a very brief run-down of VanDrunen’s new book last week, I’ll have to settle for briefly finishing it up today.  I’m picking up with chapter eight, where VanDrunen discusses Barth and the Reformed doctrines of natural law and the two kingdoms. 

Essentially, says VanDrunen, Barth rejected the natural law and two kingdoms doctrines because he rejected “the theological foundation traditionally undergirding these doctrines” (p. 344).  Barth’s christology swallowed everything up, so that he hated to separate creation and redemption.  Barth rejected the covenant of works and the two-fold mediatorship of Christ (to name just two Reformed doctrines), and with them, natural law and two kingdoms.  Of course, there is much more to be said, and VanDrunen does so in this chapter.  I was glad to see that he wrestled with Barth’s writings, not just what people say about Barth.

Chapter nine is about Herman Dooyeweerd and Neo-Calvinism in North America.  In summary, VanDrunen shows that/how Dooyeweerd and the like “placed an eschatological burden upon the cultural task that was not present in earlier Reformed thought and that further distinguishes their thought from earlier ideas of natural law and the two kingdoms” (p. 349).  Earlier Reformed theology said that the Christian working in the “common realm” had a good and legitimate task, a God-glorifying one, but the task was not loaded with an eschatological end.  Instead, the earlier reformers more stressed the “temporal” aspect of the Christian’s vocation.  The Neo-Calvinists, however, mostly did away with the common and put an eschatological (redemptive) focus to the Christian’s common vocation.  This, VanDrunen shows, is at odds with earlier Reformers precisely because they held to natural law and the two kingdoms.  Neo-Calvinists rejected this and talked about one kingdom (and some of them put that hand in hand with one covenant instead of the classic Reformed teaching of two covenants [works and grace]).  I almost hate summarizing it because 1) there is much more to it, and 2) I don’t want people to take these few sentences and ignore the chapter.  I strongly suggest reading the chapter before coming to conclusions here. 

Chapter ten was also fascinating.  In it, VanDrunen dug into Cornelius Van Til’s thought.  This chapter was an eye-opener.  VanDrunen showed how Van Til differed from Kuyper on common grace, in that Kuyper noted that there are common areas of life grounded in creation that could have purposes independent of redemption (special grace).  Van Til, however, more stressed how common grace was a sort of earlier grace which will (he said) eliminate common grace until the end of history when commonness has expired (p. 403-4).  Van Til also rejected (though somewhat ambiguously) the standard two-fold mediatorship of Christ that Kuyper and the earlier Reformed tradition taught clearly.  In other words, Kuyper was more in line with earlier Reformers concerning common grace and Christ’s two-fold mediatorship than was Van Til.  Again, don’t just take these words, read the chapter before making conclusions!

VanDrunen comments about the benefits of maintaining the older Reformed teaching of natural law and the two kingdoms in the last chapter.  He does note some specific application of these teachings in our culture today, but he does not pretend it is easy or black and white.  Here’s his conclusion: “The task will not be easy, but those accepting the challenge to reappropriate the categories and wrestle with pressing objections may hope to provide a significant contribution to the ongoing conversation within the larger Christian community” (p. 434).

To summarize this book (and my very brief review), I consider it an essential addition to the discussion of Christ/culture and church/state relationships.  This is a good historical defense of what two kingdoms and natural law meant to older theologians and Reformers, and how they applied it to their particular situations.  The reading isn’t too difficult if you have some background in these areas, and VanDrunen writes clearly and explains terms well.  I do hope many will wrestle with the contents of this book – it should be on the shelf of Reformed/Presbyterian Christians who have read and pondered these issues.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

3 thoughts on “Natural Law and Two Kingdoms: Conclusion”

  1. Killer stuff ….

    I can’t wait to get a copy and dig in! Probably will have to wait until summer though!


    1. This will be right up your alley; I issue you a money-back guarantee that you’ll be doing (proverbial) cartwheels as you read it. By the way, I’m pretty sure you could knock this thing out in 6-10 solid hours of reading.

      Let me know when you do read it; I can’t wait to hear you comments.



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