Is Christ Divided? Christology and the Two Kingdoms

Those of you who were reading this blog last summer may recall that one of the oddest, and to my mind one of the most disturbing, aspect of David VanDrunen’s political-theological proposal in Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms was his notion of the dual mediatorship of Christ as the Christological foundation for the two kingdoms, Church and State.  Of course, VanDrunen did not set it forth as a theological proposal, but as a historical doctrine merely, one that he claimed to find in incipient form in Calvin and more or less fully-developed by Turretin and Rutherford.  Although I think he is on somewhat shaky ground in much of the historical evidence he claims to find, there is one theologian that he could have quite plausibly invoked as an early proponent of the doctrine–the Elizabethan Presbyterian, Thomas Cartwright.  Indeed, on this, as on every other point, VanDrunen studiously avoids so much as mentioning Cartwright, but the links are unmistakable.  What makes this so juicy for my purposes is that Richard Hooker mounts a devastating attack on Cartwright at precisely this point (among others, of course), and along similar lines to the concerns I raised about VanDrunen.

The two mediatorships doctrine runs something like this:

“As mediator, the divine Logos is not limited to his incarnate form even after the incarnation.  He was mediator of creation prior to his incarnation and as mediator continues to sustain creation independent of his mediatorial work as reconciler of creation in the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth” (John Bolt quoted in VanDrunen 75). 

As mediator over creation, Christ rules as God over the civil kingdom–politics, economics, everything that natural man does, in short.  As mediator over redemption, Christ rules as man over his body, the Church, which does spiritual things.  (It may seem like there’s an odd inversion–as God he rules over merely human activities; as man, he rules over divine activities; but don’t ask me, I’m not the one who cooked up the paradigm.)  Now, there is a problem with this paradigm as VanDrunen and Cartwright develop it.  A big problem, actually.  It’s called Nestorianism.

Of course, it is worth cautioning at the outset that VanDrunen is not quite as susceptible to this charge, it seems to me, as Cartwright.  While Cartwright will speak of Christ as mediator over the one kingdom “as God” and over the other “as man,” VanDrunen is somewhat more guarded and will speak of “eternal member of the Divine Trinity” vs. “incarnate mediator/redeemer” or simply of “God” vs. “God-man.”  This might indeed be completely fine if it were merely a temporal distinction–first the one, and then the other.  But the Bolt quote makes clear that it is not; these are rather envisioned as two simultaneous mediatorships.  The extra Calvinisticum is brought in to justify conceiving of Christ existing and operating in two different forms–incarnate and non-incarnate–during and after his incarnation.  As I’ve written before, this would hardly seem to be a safe or a wise use of the extra.  

Now, the difficulty here is not, I should make clear, that of making a distinction between these two capacities or offices of Christ.  Christ can and does exercise distinct offices.  Christ is both creator of the world and redeemer of the world, and therefore relates to it in these distinct ways.  The difficulty comes in if we speak of these two capacities or offices of Christ in a way which seems to designate or require two separate agents.  There is a distinction between divine and human in Christ, but never a personal separation.  So let’s look more closely at just what it is that Cartwright and VanDrunen say.  


Cartwright, in attacking John Whitgift’s two regiments doctrine, argues that 

“yt confoundeth and shuffleth together the autoritie of our Saviour Christ as he is the sonne off God onely before all worldes coequall with his father: with that which he hath gyven off his father and which he exerciseth in respecte he is mediator betwene God and us.  For in the governement off the church and superiorytie over the officers off it, our Saviour Christ himselfe hath a superior, which is his father: but in the governement off kingdomes, and other commonwealthes, and in the superiority which he hath over kinges and judges, he hath no superior, but immediate autoritie with his father.”

Christ has authority as divine Son over creation (and therefore the State); but he has authority over the Church as incarnate man, under God.  Torrance Kirby summarizes, 

“On the one hand, Christ qua Son of Man and Redeemer, that is to say, according to his human nature, is inferior to the Father.  For it is through his assumption of the human nature that Christ is able to mediate between God and men.  And for Cartwright, Christ’s mediatorial role as Redeemer is identified with his specific function as head of the Church….For the Disciplinarian, Christ’s humanity is the source of ecclesiastical government wheras all other worldly government derives directly from his deity.” 

These two governments are analyzed as two separate parallel polities.  For Hooker, says Kirby, “such a separation within the source of authority, and its consequent ‘personal’ separation of the civil from the ecclesiastical community implies an inevitable de-Christianizing of the secular political order.”  Well, this is quite interesting indeed, since that is precisely what VanDrunen is up to–a de-Christianizing of the political order.  This is not, of course, Cartwright’s immediate agenda; rather, he develops this argument in defense of the more narrow claim that the monarch cannot be head of the Church.  This is why he lays so much stress on Christ as man being inferior to the Father–he is the earthly head of the Church under God, so there is no need for a human earthly head under God.  But Hooker is right to recognize that the implications are wider.  

Now, the dangers in this articulation seem quite straightforward–Christ is rendered permanently unequal to himself–a human being governing the Church, and a divine being governing the world.  The human and divine are conceived of as two independent centers of activity, which are concerned with completely different works.  If Cartwright were to allow a communicatio idiomatum, it seems, it would have to be only of the barest linguistic variety–there must be no real sense in which the divine Christ could be said to do what the human Christ does, or vice versa.  And it is of course crucial to orthodox Trinitarian theology and Christology that we can say that God is the agent of all that Christ does.  


Thankfully, VanDrunen doesn’t quite put things this way.  He does not emphasize the language of Christ being simultaneously “equal to” and “inferior to” his Father, though no doubt if one pressed hard enough, one might find such categories as part of the picture.  However, the core claim, that there is a rift between what Christ does as divine Son and what he does as incarnate man, is clearly emphasized: “the Son of God rules the temporal kingdom as an eternal member of the Divine Trinity but does not rule it in his capacity as the incarnate mediator/redeemer” (181).  This even means that we cannot rightly identify “Christ” as creator:  “To distinguish between the Son as creator and the Son as redeemer entails that the title of ‘Christ’ belongs only to the latter…in his special mission of becoming incarnate for the particular work of saving his people.  The Son redeemed the world, but did not create the world, as the Messiah, the Christ” (313).  Therefore, the creation order is not “Christian.”  

Because VanDrunen does not set up the distinction, as Cartwright does, straightforwardly between divine and human, but between divine non-incarnate, and divine-human incarnate, the Nestorianism is not quite so blatant.  Indeed, more immediately apparent are related problems in Trinitarian theology.  However, if VanDrunen’s distinction functions so that the pre-incarnate (and for that matter, post-incarnate) Word and the incarnate Christ represent separate agents, then this is clearly Nestorian.  No doubt VanDrunen would say that he means merely to designate a separation of offices–Christ fulfills one office as divine Son, and another office as incarnate God-man, and the fulfillment of the latter office does not impair a continued separate exercise of the first.  Maybe, though I still think a number of his formulations seem to teeter on the brink; but the problem I see is that “redemption” is not merely something the Son happens to do–it defines him.  God the Son is the Redeemer, the mediator.  His person is defined by his work.  Christ’s redemptive capacity is not just one hat that he wears among many.  And if this is the case, then there is simply no way to draw such a rigid separation between the Son’s work as sustainer of creation and Christ’s work as redeemer, without effectively introducing a personal separation between Word and Christ.  This, at any rate, is the Barthian line of critique


But, as Hooker reveals, one does not even need to take that line of critique.  One could grant that it were possible that the incarnate Christ, as man, might not be participant in all that the eternal Word works as God; however, as a matter of fact, Scripture and the doctrine of the ascension compel us to the conviction that the dominion exercised by the Word as God is now exercised also by the Word as Man.  So let’s look closely at what St. Richard has to say.

I have already explored Hooker’s Christology at length in a series of posts, and I hinted at its applicability to this issue.  But thankfully, we need not try and draw the connections ourselves, for Hooker himself does so in response to Cartwright’s attack on the royal supremacy.  He begins, “As Christ being Lord or Head over all doth by vertue of that Soveraigntie rule all, so he hath no more a superiour in governing his Church then in exercising soveraigne Dominion upon the rest of the world besides.”  One cannot, as Cartwright does, make Christ’s sovereignty over the Church a function of a subordinate human headship separate from his divine sovereignty.  Why?  

“That which the Father doth work as Lord and King over all he worketh not without but by the sonne who through coeternall generation receiveth of the Father that power which the Father hath of himself.  And for that cause our Savioures wordes concerning his own Dominion are, To me all power both in heaven and earth is given.  The Father by the sonne both did create and doth guide all.”  

So far, DVD and Cartwright would probably concur–the second person of the Trinity, by virtue of his divinity derived from the Father, is creator and ruler of all things.  However, there is an important corollary:

“As the consubstantiall word of God, he had with God before the beginning of the world that glorie which as man he requesteth to have.  Father glorifie they Sonne now with that glorie which with thee I enjoyed before the world was, for there is no necessitie that all things spoken of Christ should agree unto him either as God or else as man, but some things as he is the consubstantiall word of God, some thinges as he is that word incarnate.  The workes of supreme Dominion which have been since the first begining wrought by the power of the Sonne of God are now most truly and properly the workes of the Sonne of man.  The word made flesh doth sitt for ever and raigne as Soveraigne Lord over all.  Dominion belongeth unto the Kingly office of Christ as propitiation and mediation unto his priestly, instruction unto his pastoral or propheticall office.” 

Although there may well be “no necessitie” that the two dominions should be united, the Father’s gracious glorification and exaltation of the Son ensures that they are.  All that the Son worked as God he works now also as man–the two natures are united in one agency, one dominion, a dominion over not only the Church, but all creation, following 1 Cor. 15:20-28.

This is stated even more clearly back in Hooker’s Christological discussion in Bk. 5, which he is clearly drawing on at this point:

“that deitie of Christ which before our Lordes incarnation wrought all thinges without man doth now worke nothinge wherein the nature which it hath assumed is either absent from it or idle.  Christ as man hath all power both in heaven and earth given him.  He hath as man not as God only supreme dominion over quicke and dead.  For so much his ascension into heaven and his session at the right hand of God doe importe….Session at the right hand of God is the actual exercise of that regencie and dominino wherein the manhood of Christ is joyned and matchet with the deitie of the Sonne of God….This government [over all creation] therefore he exerciseth both as God and as man, as God by essentiall presence with all thinges, as man by cooperation with that which essentiallie is present.”

And so he says again, contra Cartwright, “And yet the dominion wherunto he was in his humane nature lifted up is not without divine power exercised.  It is by divine power that the Sonne of man, who sitteth in heaven doth work as King and Lord upon us which are on earth.”

The basis of all worldly government, then, is not merely from God the Creator, but now also through the God-man, the redeemer, who as man sits on the throne at the right hand of God, as redeemer of the world exercises his rule over creation.  One therefore simply cannot say that Christ rules over creation as God and over redemption as man; or over creation as God merely and over redemption as God-man.  All that the Son has and does by virtue of divinity, his humanity is made sharer in, and all that Jesus Christ has and does by virtue of his humanity, the divinity is made sharer in.  This is the orthodox doctrine of the humiliation and exaltation of Christ.  One cannot say then that as divine Son, the Word exercises a dominion in which the man Christ Jesus has no part, or that as redeeming man, Christ exercises an office in which the divine Son has no part.  Rather, all things on heaven and earth are made subject to the Word made flesh. 

So, if VanDrunen does not fall afoul of the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation (which he may), he certainly does fall afoul of the doctrine of the ascension.  Thank goodness the Reformed have Anglicans like Hooker to set them straight.  šŸ˜‰

11 thoughts on “Is Christ Divided? Christology and the Two Kingdoms

  1. Darren

    Great analysis, Brad. This is the same sort of thing (you may have guessed) I am on about in my SST paper on the extra Calvinisticum. While it has an appropriate place in the systematic structure of orthodox Christology (e.g. the Son of God does not cease to sustain the universe when he becomes a human baby), it has been too-often used as an excuse to defend Nestorian moves. Where the Logos asarkos and the Logos ensarkos are treated as materially distinct in any way, a two-subject Christology has snuck in the back door.


  2. Brad Littlejohn

    Thanks Nelson! (I made your link clickable for you, btw) Just glancing at it, it doesn't look "considerably shorter" but on the contrary, rather more thorough than what I've offered here. So I certainly look forward to reading it.And good to hear, Darren. I hoped your work was as related as I suspected–since you're ahead of me, I can just footnote your thesis when I get to this issue in mine! In fact, would you be willing to send me a copy of your SST paper?


  3. Hey Brad,This particular issue is really significant, and I've wrestled with it myself for some time. You are correct to point out the danger of Nestorianism here. The incarnate Logos performed all sorts of miraculous deeds in his humanity precisely because it was united to his deity. The divine nature was the means to produce the perfect (and original-sin-free) humanity. Still more, there cannot be an ethical disagreement between the two, which is what we typically get from the r2kers. The perfect humanity agrees with the deity. Still, there are a few traditional distinctions that are worth further reflection. The classic position on Christology states that Christ has two minds, two wills, and two powers (energies), according to each nature. Thus there is no problem saying that Christ acts in one capacity "qua God" and another "qua Man." And what's more, with VanDrunen and co., the concern is eschatological as well. Christ's "humanity" (in their view) is a type of the eschaton, and so they don't want to make that normative for the present era. I can see some reason to state things this way, insofar as it would be problematic to coercively institute Christ's redemptive works via the state. But the last quote from Hooker really does clean this all up. There are certain priorities that are shared in Christ. We could even speculate about the "deification" of the pre-fallen Adam, as well. Christ's redemptive rule is a restoration of the original Edenic rule (with various room to qualify, of course), and so it isn't so different from a "creation norm." It is merely executed correctly. Again, perfect "humanity" agrees with deity. Kirby's point about Cartwright's disciplinarianism is really at the heart of this too. He wants to make the ecclesiastical govt. unique and separate from worldly governments so that it can then have supremacy. Eventually, it will even replace the other governments. The Puritans actually attempted this replacement from time to time, but to little avail. Their continued failure is most likely the reason for the quietistic turn of the descendants, much like it is with the Anabaptists and even non-Christian variants of separatists. Easier to rule the small pond than the big pond. If the ecclesiastical kingdom can be a separate-from-the-world kingdom, yet one with law and vice-regents, then the clergy can have an imitation of political power. And with the Westminster California group, you always have to remember the legacy of Kline. He was an eccentric thinker, to be sure, but in many ways carrying out the disciplinarian Presbyterian heritage. He really laid out a systematic dichotomy, with the hostile relationship between common grace and special grace, as well as deity and humanity. Kline's "intrusion" ethic fits in perfectly with the r2k, because when "redemptive rule" arrives on the scene, it lays this world to waste. It is nearly impossible for this system to conceive of a restorative special grace. Hooker is so important to all of this, because he really did wrest the Calvinistic tradition away from the Puritans. He laid out the more basic Lutheran/Calvinistic principles and showed how they can avoid separatism. And I don't think it's any wonder that his vision basically worked in "real life," whereas the Puritan vision basically imploded.


  4. Brad Littlejohn

    Thanks Steven, all very helpful. I really do need to take a month some time to go get a handle on Kline–seems like he's always lurking in the background of whatever issue I'm looking at, but I've hardly ever read anything by him. You're right to draw attention to the "two energies" point–I realized when I was writing this up that I needed to steer clear of mono-energism. I am a bit hazy on the precise boundary-lines in the mono-energism issue, and exactly how far the "two energies" is supposed to go; however, I did attempt to qualify here (and in some of my posts last year on this, though there were probably some other points of confusion in what I said there) that the problem is not that they draw the distinction, but how they draw it. As you say, "there cannot be an ethical disagreement between the two." The stark incompatibility of the two mediatorships in the R2K paradigm makes it questionable that they can really hold these together in personal unity, and there are several points at which DVD's statements appear to hypostatize the two energies, which is Nestorian. Like I said, I'm not convinced that it is out-and-out Nestorianism (in fact, I'm quite sure it's not, on paper; DVD and Co. aren't going to commit such a cardinal heresy explicitly), merely that it teeters unstably on the brink.


  5. I actually find your quotes from VanDrunen more alarming than the ones from Whitgift. Everything Christ does he does as an Eternal Member of the Trinity, for He is a member of the Trinity as Person, not merely by nature. God created the world with his Divine Energies, and redeemed the world with both his Divine Energies, and his human energies. However, it is an Eternal Member of the Trinity who does it all.


  6. Albert

    I agree that DVD skirts the bounds of Nestorianism in his attempt to divorce creation and redemption. Much of it, though, seems to be incidental and from a sloppiness that would be corrected and still make the points he wants to make by using "offices," though I still agree his project is basically flawed. How the two wills/energies fits in with the one Person is not as clear to me as I would like. Would you guys say that because there is only one Person in possession of the two wills, the two wills are always cooperating in whatever Christ does, whether the activities are associated with divine or human capacities? For example, would one say Christ providentially holds atoms together (a divine activity) through both his wills together? That would seem to be necessary to avoid the dual subjects or one will doing nothing or possibly even opposing the other. My feeling is that this is right, but I'd like to get confirmation by your thoughts.


  7. Nick Needham

    It's always seemed to me that the Lord's humanity in His state of humiliation was on the same level as ours, but in His state of exaltation, it now shares pretty fully in the glory & power of His deity. "As Man He fills the throne of God" (John Newton). So now, as the exalted Man, it is true that His human mind & will are as involved as His divine mind & will in "holding together the atoms of the universe" (as one of your correspondents put it). I don't think that was true in His state of humiliation, but it is true now. Ephesians 4:10, "He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things." The passage from humiliation to exaltation makes a difference..


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