Nestorian or Universalist? Hart on Two Kingdoms

Although Darryl Hart, the stalwart and combative online defender of VanDrunen’s “Reformed two kingdoms” paradigm, has thus far (remarkably) left me almost entirely alone, my recent post on VanDrunen, Hooker, and Christology was brought to his attention via Nelson Kloostermann and elicited an interesting response:

Criticisms of 2k theology keep coming and a major source of opposition is the distinction between Christ’s rule as redeemer in distinction from his rule as creator. For some, this kind of division within Christ could wind up in the error of Nestorianism. And yet, I wonder how you avoid Rob Bell’s error of universalism without this distinction.” 

Now, oddly enough, nowhere in this post does Hart seek to confront or deflect the charge of Nestorianism, or of Christological confusions more generally.  Instead, the apparent logic of the post is “Well, Nestorian or not, it doesn’t matter, because it’s necessary, by golly!”  I could, in other words, triumphantly take this as a tacit acknowledgment of the basically Nestorian posture of the R2K movement.  Now, I daresay Dr. Hart would disclaim this interpretation; indeed, he would probably say that the reason he didn’t address the charge was that it was so patently absurd as not to warrant engagement.  However, as I did offer some rather detailed engagement with VanDrunen’s own words in several posts, and some careful analysis of their Christological implications, and as this is a very serious issue, I think some engagement or attempt at rebuttal is necessary.  

In any case, it’s worth pausing to try and see what is behind Hart’s somewhat perplexing counter-charge of universalism, and why the R2K Christology does rather more than guarding against this error.

 Hart says,

“This is what I have in mind. Most Reformed Protestants would likely admit that Glenn Beck and I have different relationships with Jesus Christ as savior and lord…In other words, when I pray the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom Come,” I am praying with regard to Beck that he become part of the kingdom, not that Christ would defend Beck and the rest of the church as part of the kingdom of grace’s battle with the kingdom of Satan….

 …if the kingdom is so broadened to include unbelievers and believers in it, then you seem to enter the ballpark of universalism where all God’s children are God’s children – you know, the fatherhood of God and the siblinghood of all people.

We do have, however, an easy way around the problem. It is to distinguish between Christ’s rule over Glenn Beck as creator, and his rule over me as creator and redeemer. I don’t know of any other way to avoid the problems of Anabaptism or Constantinianism than by affirming this distinction. Without it, Glenn Beck is not my worldly foe, but my brother in Christ. (If only.)”

In other words, clearly we must distinguish between the way Christ exercises his lordship over his saints, and the way he exercises lordship over unbelievers.  We must say that he does the former as redeemer, and the latter as creator.  And therefore, we must say the whole VanDrunenian nine yards–that there are two kingdoms, a spiritual which Christ rules as incarnate God-man, and a civil which he rules as eternal divine Son.

Really? 

Now first of all, it’s worth noting that the “universalism” issue is a red herring.  There are all kinds of ways to avoid universalism, to distinguish between Christ’s rule over believers and over unbelievers.  For instance, one could give a Van Tillian antithesis account of how Christ relates to the two, an account that would not at all distinguish between “civil” and “spiritual” kingdoms.  But of course, Hart wants not only to assert the difference between me and Glenn Beck, but a sense in which we are precisely the same.  Therefore, he wants to say that Christ (or, if we are to be all precise and VanDrunenian about it, “the Son”) relates to Glenn Beck only civilly, whereas he relates to me both civilly and spiritually.  The distinction, in short, is not between the believer living in one relation to Christ and the unbeliever in another relation, but is in fact that the believer himself lives in two totally different relations to Christ.  This is what he’s really after–avoiding universalism without being an Anabaptist or Constantinian–which is, I must say, a rather different claim than the one he makes at the outset.

 

Now, my problem with the R2Ks is not that they distinguish between different aspects of Christ’s work, or different “offices” of Christ, or different relations in which Christ exists toward different people.  Everyone can acknowledge that.  But that isn’t, I don’t think, sufficient for what VanDrunen and Co. want to do.  (This replies also, by the way, to an unanswered comment on my original post, that suggested that the “Nestorian” tendencies were perhaps just careless language, and that the language of distinct “offices” of the one person Christ Jesus could serve the same purpose.)  For what they are seeking is an account of two different relations of Christ that are not complementary.  Christ’s work of redemption does not complement his work of creation, but stands completely unrelated to it.  Christ’s work of creation does not undergird his work of redemption, either, except in the purely formal sense that only beings that first exist can be redeemed.  This is what they want in their political theology: a civil sphere that is not oriented toward Christ’s work of redemption–that makes no claims about it, that is not affected by it, to which redemption is quite irrelevant.  It carries on its work in its own terms, without need of Christ’s revelation or redemption, and without contribution to the ongoing work of redemption; and an ecclesial sphere that is not concerned with matters relating to the creation, or of trying to influence any human social realities other than those called into being by Christ’s redeeming work.  These two realms have different subject matters, different ends, different standards, different ethical postures, etc.  

So, can we really say that Jesus Christ created the world without a view toward his intended work of redemption and new creation?  Can we really say that he came to redeem us without respect to our relation to him as his creatures?  No.  If so, there is really no reason why it had to be the same person; God might as well have sent the Spirit to do the work of redemption.  It is no surprise, in view of this, that VanDrunen denies that we should really call the creator of the world “Christ”–he is for all practical purposes a different person, carrying on an unrelated task.  On the contrary, to be orthodox we must affirm that these two works were completely complementary–they have no meaning without one another.  Creation can only be understood in terms of new creation, and new creation can only be understood in terms of the original creation.  How are Christ’s works to have meaning except in light of one another?  Redemption is the undoing of sin, and sin is the undoing of the original creation–therefore, creation provides the categories for understanding redemption, and vice versa.  

 

And this being so, it has political-theological consequences.  It means that Christ’s redemptive work in the Church always challenges the fallenness and incompleteness of the creation that this work enters into, giving us ethical imperatives that do not leave surrounding social structures or practices unaffected.  It means that the created structures that Christ governs as creator are to be redirected in light of redemption, and must serve Christ’s redemptive work in the Church.  They may, of course, in many cases not do so, may merely serve to perpetuate the structures of fallen creation.  This is of course not wholly bad, inasmuch as creation, however fallen, is still good, but it is not sufficient.  Christians will insist that the imperfect structures of creation be re-ordered in service to Christ’s redeeming purpose.  Which is, of course, precisely what Calvin and the Reformers said, I have to add.


One thought on “Nestorian or Universalist? Hart on Two Kingdoms

  1. Albert

    Regarding Berkhof, it's true the kingdom of God is eschatological, and yet the petition "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" does not end with "later, in the new heavens and new earth." The eschaton broke into this age in Christ. Regarding the language, fair enough :)I wonder which kingdom diaconal ministries and counseling ministries fall under for the new 2Kers: the kingdom governed by natural law or the one governed by Scripture.

    Redemption is the undoing of sin, and sin is the undoing of the original creation–therefore, creation provides the categories for understanding redemption, and vice versa.

    This is the crux of the matter: is sin (and redemption) a legal/invisible/heart reality, or is it a metaphysical reality with a legal/invisible/heart dimension, even if this dimension has a kind of priority.

    Like

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