Michael Horton on Christ and Culture, Once Again

Reformed theologian Michael Horton corrects pastor Timothy Keller’s misunderstandings on the doctrine of two kingdoms:

Calvin, who explicitly affirmed the “two kingdoms” in terms identical to Luther’s (for example, Inst. 3.19.15; 4.20.1), not only opposed medieval confusion on the point but also the radical Anabaptist “fanatics” who disparaged God’s common grace in culture (2.2.15). Like Luther, Calvin was convinced that Christ’s kingdom proceeds by Word and Spirit, not by sword, but that Christians could be soldiers and magistrates as well as bakers and candlestick makers. The power of the gospel is not the same power of the state, nor indeed the power that we exercise in everday callings as parents, children, employers, employees, and so forth. The kingdom of grace is distinct from the kingdom of power (pace Rome), but not wholly opposed (pace Anabaptists). Like Luther, Calvin believed that the two kingdoms were God’s two kingdoms, not that there is a secular sphere in which the believer’s faith has no bearing on his or her vocations. And also like Luther, Calvin believed that these two kingdoms or callings intersected in the life of every believer. They are not two tracks that never touch; they are two callings that intersect.

Interestingly, James Madison—a student of Presbyterian theologian John Witherspoon—saw the “two kingdoms” doctrine as essential for the good of the church as well as the civil society; that is, the “due distinction, to which the genius and courage of Luther led the way, between what is due to Caesar and what is due to God.” This view “best prospers the discharge of both obligations,” he said.

Nothing in the 2K view entails that “Christians do not, then, pursue their vocation in a ‘distinctively Christian way’” or “that neither the church nor individual Christians should be in the business of changing the world or society.” Calvin’s heirs are among the most notable figures in the history of the arts, sciences, literature, politics, education, and a host of other fields. They didn’t have to justify their vocations in the world as ushering in Christ’s redemptive kingdom in order to love and serve their neighbors in Christ’s name.

The Reformers were convinced that when the church is properly executing its ministry of preaching, sacrament, and discipline, there will be disciples who reflect their Christian faith in their daily living. The goal of the church as an institution is not cultural transformation, but preaching, teaching, baptizing, communing, praying, confessing, and sharing their inheritance in Christ. The church is a re-salinization plant, where the salt becomes salty each week, but the salt is scattered into the world.

If I’m not mistaken, this is pretty close to Abraham Kuyper’s distinction between the church as organization (institution) and the church as organism (believers in their callings). Kuyper observed that Christ is King over all kingdoms, but in different ways. None of the “spheres”—including the church—could encroach on the other spheres’ independence. Together, these observations yield a position that is in principle consistent with “two kingdoms.”

C. S. Lewis’s line is appropriate here: “I believe in Christ like I believe in the sun, not just because I see it, but by it I can see everything else.” Immersion into God’s world, through Scripture, changes the way we think, feel, and live—even when it doesn’t give us detailed prescriptions on every aspect of our lives. It would be schizophrenic—indeed, hypocritical—to affirm Christian faith and practice on Sunday and to live as if someone or something else were lord on Monday. The biblical drama, doctrines, and doxology yield a discipleship in the world that does indeed transform. It never transforms the kingdoms of this age into the kingdom of Christ (for that we await the King’s bodily return); however, it does touch the lives of ordinary people every day through ordinary relationships. Not everyone is a William Wilberforce, but we can be glad that he was shaped by the faithful ministry of the Anglican Calvinist John Newton and committed his life to the extirpation of the slave trade.

As I read Professor Hunter’s excellent book (To Change the World), I actually thought that his argument for “faithful presence” was exactly what 2K folks are after. Our goal should not be to change the world, but to maintain a faithful presence in the world as “salt” and “light.” That can only happen when the church is doing what it is called to do (viz., the Great Commission), and Christians are engaged actively in their many different callings throughout the week.

– “Christ and Culture Once More” (White Horse Inn)


3 thoughts on “Michael Horton on Christ and Culture, Once Again

  1. I have just finished David VanDrunen’s book, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms. Do you have any other books that you would recommend on this subject?

    What I have found is that if I mention anything about VanDrunen’s book I get a visceral reaction against it, which has surprised me.They want to dismiss it without discussing any of his arguments.

    • Steve: David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms presents the biblical argument for the doctrine of two kingdoms while his other book, Natural Law and Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought, presents the historical and theological argument for the doctrine. These are the two best books on the topic. You might also want to see Darryl Hart’s A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State and William John Wright’s Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms: A Response to the Challenge of Skepticism.

  2. Pingback: Two Kingdom Resources « Notes from a Small Place

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