Church = Spiritual Kingdom?

Consider this just a teaser for Part 2 of “Once More Into the Breach,” which will be appearing on The Calvinist International early next week, in case any of you are not thoroughly exhausted of the topic by that point.  

In his recent “Two Kingdoms Myths,” Matt Tuininga goes out of his way to try and prove that critics have been groundless and uncharitable in their claims that VanDrunen asserts a straightforward identity between the visible church and Christ’s spiritual kingdom (or as VanDrunen often prefers to call it, “the redemptive kingdom”).  Cornelis Venema’s application of the moniker “ecclesiastical kingdom” Tuininga indignantly rejects as virtually slanderous.  Never mind that the first page of Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms declares,  

“According to this doctrine, God rules the church (the spiritual kingdom) as redeemer in Jesus Christ and rules the state and all other social institutions (the civil kingdom) as creator and sustainer, and thus these two kingdoms have significantly different ends, functions, and modes of operation.”

Tuininga tells us, however, that we must take VanDrunen’s slightly later work, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, as the definitive exposition, and in particular, the sentence on p. 116 that says, “Though the church is not identical to the covenant of grace or the kingdom of heaven, it is precisely in the church that the covenant and kingdom are experienced until Christ returns.”  Perhaps (although this qualification really doesn’t amount to much).  But before we begin to blame the critics for their stupendous blindness, let’s consider just how many passages we could assemble in which VanDrunen appears to make the alleged identification—restricting ourselves to Living in God’s Two Kingdoms only. Here is a sampling:

“The church is the only institution and community in this world that can be identified with the redemptive kingdom and the covenant of grace.” (102)

“The New Testament teaches that the redemptive kingdom finds its present manifestation and penultimate fulfillment in the church, and the church alone.” (106)

“The church, as the kingdom of heaven on earth, must imitate the Lord Jesus . . .” (114)

“Want to see the kingdom of heaven here and now?  Look at a faithful church of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (116)

“The church is the only earthly institution that can identify itself with the redemptive kingdom.  To have fellowship with the church is to have fellowship with the kingdom of heaven.” (133)

“None of them [these other earthly institutions] is the kingdom of heaven on earth.  The church ought to be central to the Christian life because the church is the only earthly community that manifests the redemptive kingdom and grants us the fellowship of our true home, the world-to-come.” (134)

“The church is the redemptive kingdom here on earth.” (141)

“This chapter has already made some important claims about the church as the redemptive kingdom . . .” (146)

“This chapter has covered a lot of ground in considering the church as the redemptive kingdom . . .” (159).

“Thus we have explored the Christian life in the redemptive kingdom.” (160)

Now, we can spend plenty of fruitful time debating whether VanDrunen is right to make this identification, and what he might mean by it.  But let’s not waste time arguing about whether he makes it. The fact that he’s willing to admit that it is not identical without remainder to Christ’s eschatological kingdom does not alter this basic identification; it merely means that he, thankfully, is not a hyper-Preterist!

4 thoughts on “Church = Spiritual Kingdom?

  1. Brad,I appreciate this attempt (which I trust points to fuller future attempts) to engage VanDrunen more carefully and closely, though I would distance myself from some of your rhetoric (i.e., "indignant"?).Just keep in mind that we could just as easily gather so many quotes from Calvin to show that Calvin identified the church with the spiritual kingdom, and yet I trust you would not therefore agree that it is fair to characterize Calvin's view of that kingdom with the words "ecclesiastical kingdom" or to say that he identified the two "simpliciter." Why? Because as with VanDrunen, he makes other statements that clarify that this is not what he is doing.Anyway, I welcome the direction in which I believe you are headed.

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  2. Brad Littlejohn

    Ha, hoist by my own petard, I see! So if I'm going to say that VanDrunen can't wiggle out of the identification, you're going to say that we can't wiggle Calvin out of it, eh? Guess I should've seen that coming, though I suppose I'm puzzled why you, for your part, should feel the need to emphasize so much the ways in which VanDrunen does not identify the two, while reacting so strongly to our pointing our how Calvin does not. Nonetheless, while I will not be able to go into all of this in depth in te post, it does not at all seem to me that VanDrunen provides the sort of qualifications Calvin does, certainly not either in LGTK or NLTK, at any rate.I will add also that if you don't like the suggestion that your tone was 'indignant', I don't much like the odd suggestion that this brief post somehow represents some new, closer engagement with VanDrunen that I've never offered before.

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  3. Brad Littlejohn

    Heh, sorry AJ. I'm anti- the bad kind of two kingdoms, and pro- the good kind. If you haven't read my "The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed" Series over on the PT blog, that will probably help you out a lot. If you have read it, and are still confused, then…hm…well, email me using the Contact Me box to explain your confusion further, and I'll see if I can make things more clear.

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