One of the major reasons I have come to appreciate Reformed theology is because it is biblically nuanced. After studying Scripture and then reading various theologies, I constantly find historic Reformed theology to be the most biblically robust and sensitive without being biblicistic or simplistic. I like how Reformed theology refuses to flatten and blend the covenants by distinguishing between the covenant of works and covenant of grace. I’m thankful classic Reformed theology makes a law/gospel distinction. I appreciate how Reformed theology nuances the discussion of common grace (or benevolence) and saving grace. I’m glad Reformed theology distinguishes the relationship between justification and sanctification as well as the uses of the law. The list goes on.
Herman Bavinck was right: “To distinguish is to learn.” Francis Turretin frequently answered biblical and theological questions by saying, “We distinguish.” In fact, this Reformed “distinguishing” has a lot to do with the kingdom(s) of Christ and the providence of God. Christ is king over all in a general way (in Reformed theology this is called the kingdom of power), but he is king specifically over his church in a saving way (his kingdom of grace/glory). Similarly, God’s providence generally extends over all, but specifically he works all things for the good of those who love him.
The Westminster Confession of Faith says this of providence:
“As the providence of God does in general reach to all creatures, so after a most special manner it takes care of his church, and disposes all things to the good thereof” (WCF 5.7).
Zacharius Ursinus said that Christ is Lord in more than one respect. He explained Christ’s lordship and dominion like this:
“[Christ is Lord] by right of creation. …The general dominion of Christ is that which extends itself not only to us, but to all men, even the wicked and the devils themselves, although not in the same respect.”
“[Christ is Lord] by right of redemption…. This dominion of Christ over us is special inasmuch as it extends only to the church” (p. 203 of Ursinus’ Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism).
So the WCF distinguishes between the general and special providence of God and Ursinus distinguished between the general and special dominion/reign of Christ. This echoes Scripture, which says that God is in total control over everything but works all things for the good of his people. And it echoes the biblical teaching that Christ is Lord and King over all, but specifically he is Lord and King of his people. Although the application of this teaching is debatable, it is acceptable and proper in Reformed theology to talk about Christ’s two kingdoms.
To put it in a question and answer form:
Q: Does Christ’s kingdom extend over all creation? A: We distinguish…