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.



“No person but the Sonne of God” (Richard Hooker’s Christology, Pt. 1)

As something of a transition (albeit a bit belated) between filling much of my blogspace with reflections on McCormack’s Christology and filling much of it with reflections on Richard Hooker (as I shall be wont to do for the next couple years, most likely), I thought it might be good to write up a few posts on Richard Hooker’s Christology, which although quite rich and thoughtfully developed, is rarely if ever mentioned in surveys of Protestant Christology (at least, I have never heard it mentioned).  This is a sad oversight, for though certainly not startlingly original, Hooker articulates a Reformed Christology that is deeply rooted in, and consciously harmonized with, Patristic orthodoxy, and that goes a fair way toward bridging the deep rift that had opened up between Reformed and Lutheran Christologies by the end of the sixteenth-century.  At any rate, that is how I read it, though I invite those more expert in Christology and historical theology to correct or nuance this judgment.

Hooker’s Christology is also well-worth attending to for my own purposes, since Torrance Kirby argues in his recent monograph Richard Hooker’s Doctrine of the Royal Supremacy that it is integral to his political theology, in particular his account of the relationship of the two kingdoms, and of Church and State.  Indeed, Kirby claims that Hooker constructed his doctrine this way in direct response to Cartwright’s appeal to Christology to undergird the Puritan political ecclesiology, arguing that Cartwright’s Christ was heterodox.  If so, this is very intriguing indeed, since none other than our old friend VanDrunen has summoned forth Christology as an integral foundation for his version of the Reformed two kingdoms doctrine, and to my mind has fallen into heterodoxy in the process.  My hunch is that Cartwright’s correlation of Christology and political theology will have the same structure as VanDrunen’s, and Hooker’s response will be equally telling against both, thus providing another means of tying in Hooker’s political thought with modern debates.  

 

Hooker’s Christology proper spans twenty-five densely-packed pages in the middle of Book V of the Lawes, comprising chapters 51-55.  Although the immediate question before Hooker at this point in Book V is the efficacy of the sacraments, he opts, as usual, to build this more particular discussion on as general and systematic a foundation as possible, and that means explaining who Christ is and how we can have communion with him in his divine and human natures.  And if Kirby is correct, Hooker penned this discussion also with an eye toward his account of church and state and the royal supremacy in Book VIII, which would draw on the Chalcedonian language of two natures in personal union.  Although spanning five chapters, Hooker’s discussion can be divided into three movements: first, a thoroughly orthodox and Alexandrian statement of the received Chalcedonian doctrine, emphasizing the personal identity of Christ with the eternal Logos; second, a typically Reformed statement of the communicatio idiomatum, emphasizing the separation between the two natures; third, a series of qualifications to the doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum, constituting as it were concessions to the Lutheran understanding of the divinization of the human nature and its resultant ubiquity, yet without abandoning firm Reformed ground.  I shall allot one post to each of these movements.

 

First, then, Hooker undertakes to establish in ch. 51 “That God is in Christ by the personall incaranation of the Sonne who is verie God.”  He begins by making a traditional Trinitarian distinction of the three persons and the one nature, and uses this distinction to show that the second person, the Word, becomes incarnate, but the other two persons do not.  However, while being careful to deny the incarnation of the other two persons, we must not deny the incarnation of the divine nature: “Notwithstandinge for as much as the worde and deitie are one subject, wee must beware wee exclude not the nature of God from incarnation and so make the Sonne of God incarnate not to be verie God.  For undoubtedly even the nature of God it selfe in the only person of the Sonne is incarnate and hath taken to itself flesh.”  We must not imagine any kind of gap between the person of the Word and his nature.  “Wherefore incarnation may neither be graunted to any person but only one, nor yeat denied to that nature which is common unto all three”–so the orthodox doctrine requires, but Hooker confesses this “an incomprehensible mysterie” (51.2)  

Why should this incarnation happen?  Because “it seemeth a thinge unconsonant that the world should honor any other as the Savior but him whome it honoreth as the creator of the world, and in the wisdom of God it hath not bene thought convenient to admitt anie way of savinge man but by man him selfe.”  Using language reminiscent of Athanasius, then, Hooker says “It became therefore him by whome all thinges are, to be the waie of salvation to all, that the institution and restitution of the world might be both wrought by one hand.”  Moreover, inasmuch as God willed that the world could only be saved by the death of his Son, “Christ tooke manhood that by it he might be capable of death whereunto hee humbled him selfe” (51.3)

He moves on then in ch. 52 to define the hypostatic union.  He begins with due humility, warning that “It is not in mans habilitie either to expresse perfectlie or conceyve the maner how this was brought to passe….Howbeit because this divine mysterie is more true than plaine, divers havinge framed the same to theire owne conceiptes and phancies are found in theire expositions thereof more plain than true” (52.1).  In other words, orthodoxy and logical clarity are likely to be inversely proportional in this matter; heresies have erred more often than not by trying to make the matter perfectly clear, thus undermining the delicately-balanced tension of the orthodox paradox.

He then runs through a quick and dizzying catalogue of the heresies that arose on this point between Nicaea and Chalcedon, culminating with Nestorius, in response to most of the rest of this chapter is arranged.  By Nestorius’s time all had come to agreement that Christ was both truly God and truly man, “But that the selfe same person which verelie is man should properlie be God also, and that, by reason not of two persons linked in amitie but of two natures humaine and divine conjoyned in one and the same person, the God of glorie may be said as well to have suffered death, as to have raised the the dead from theire graves, the Sonne of man as well to have made as to have redeemed the world, Nestorius in no case would admitt” (52.2).

His error here, says Hooker, steemed from inattention to John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and dwelt in us”; the plural number signifies that Christ became incarnate in the manhood common to us all, not in one particular man.  This distinction is absolutely essential, as Hooker expounds so well that it is worth quoting him at length:

“If the Sonne of God had taken to him selfe a man now made and already perfected, it would of necessitie follow that there are in Christ two persons, the one assuminge and the other assumed, whereas the Sonne of God did not assume a mans person unto his own, but a mans nature to his owne person, and therefore tooke semen the seed of Abraham, the verie first originall element of our nature before it was come to have anie personall humaine subsistence.”  

This means that there was never anything human preexisting the union of the Word with the human: “The flesh and the conjunction of the flesh with God began both at one instant, his makinge and takinge to him selfe our flesh was but one act.  So that in Christ there is no personall subsistence but one, and that from everlastinge.”

The person of Christ is completely identical with the eternal person of the Godhead: “By taking only the nature of man he still continueth one person, and changeth but the maner of his subsisting, which was before in the meere glorie of the Sonne of God, and is now in the habit also of our flesh.”  This personal unity must be so unqualified that we can speak comfortably of the human history of Christ as God’s history; indeed, we must do so, because it is the history of a person, not of a nature: “For as much therefore as Christ hath no personal subsistence but one whereby wee acknowledge him to have bene eternallie the Sonne of God, wee must of necessitie applie to the person of the Sonne of God even that which is spoken of Christ accordinge to his humane nature.  For example, accordinge to the flesh he was borne of the Virgin Marie, baptised of John in the river Jordan, by Pilate adjudged to die and executed by the Jewes.  Wee cannot saie properlie that the Virgin bore, or John did baptise, or Pilate condemn or the Jewes crucifie the nature of man, because these are all personall attributes, his person is the subject which receaveth them, his nature that which maketh his person capable or apt to receive.”

To say otherwise (e.g., to deny “Theotokos”) is simply Nestorianism: “If wee should saie that the person of a man in our savior Christ was the subject of these thinges, this were plainelie to intrap our selves in the verie snare of the Nestorians heresie between whome and the Church of God there was no difference savinge onlie that Nestorius imagined in Christ as well a personall humane subsistence as a divine, the Church acknowleging a substance both divine and human but no other personall subsistence then divine, because the Sonne of God tooke not to him sele a mans person but only the nature of a man.”  

In sum, then, we must affirm that “Christ is a person both divine and humaine, howbeit not therefore two persons in one, neither both these in one sense, but a person divine because he is personallie the Sonne of God, humane because he hath reallie the nature of the children of men.”

“Whereupon it followeth against Nestorius,” Hooker emphatically and unapologetically asserts, “that no person was born of the virgin but the Sonne of God, no person but the Sonne of God baptised, the sonne of God condemned, the sonne of God and no other person crucified, which one onlie point of Christian beliefe–the infinite worth of the Sonne of God–is the verie ground of all thinges beleived concerninge life and salvation by that which Christ either did or suffered as man in our behalfe” (52.3)

Here we can see, as starkly and clearly as possible, how forcefully the orthodox tradition asserted that God really did suffer and die; I am still not convinced by McCormack’s arguments that this confession was weak, half-hearted, and hedged in with qualifications that deprived it of real force–merely a linguistic and not a real confession.  No, it is emphatic and uncompromising. 

 

Hooker concludes this chapter by finishing the story up through Chalcedon–Cyril’s forceful confession against Nestorius is misinterpreted by some (due to some imprecise language on Cyril’s part) as a confession of only one mixed nature in Christ (Eutychianism) which Chalcedon undertook to deny.  “For as Nestorius teaching righlie that God and man are distinct natures did thereupon misinferre that in Christ those natures can by no conjunction make one person; so Eutyches of sound beliefe as touching theire true personall copulation became unsound by denyinge the difference which still continueth between the one and the other nature.  Wee must therefore keepe warilie a middle corse shunninge both that distraction of persons wherein Nestorius went awrie, and also this later confusion of natures which deceived Eutyches” (52.4).

Finally, we must confess this union to be perpetual, so that it applied even when Christ was dead in the grave.  Even at this point, the person of the Son remained inseparably joined to his human body and soul, existing with them in a state of death.

 

Up to this point, we have a doctrine that is robustly Alexandrian, willing to affirm much more than most modern Reformed are regarding the fullness of the union.  In fact, we may wonder whether Hooker is going to be Reformed at all with this kind of emphasis.  In the following chapter, which I will explore next week, he undertakes to balance out this discussion with an explanation of the complete distinction of the two natures.