Archive Civic Polity Ecclesiastical Polity Peter Escalante Steven Wedgeworth The Two Kingdoms

John Calvin and the Two Kingdoms- Part 1

The investigation and application of classical evangelical political doctrine is one of our main commitments, and it is therefore important to us to ensure that Calvin is correctly read in his proper context of common Reformation principles. Anyone familiar with the American Reformed world knows that a peculiar school of political theology, associated with California’s Westminster Seminary, has recently attempted to retrieve what they consider to be the doctrine of the Reformers on the order of Christian life in the world. Though we have criticized their work for its mistakes, we have hoped in the past for some sort of fruitful conversation with representatives of the so-called R2K, since we really do share some common ground- we are all Christian and Reformed, after all- and even some similar practical intention. They make many accurate criticisms of certain demagogic program for “Christian politics” and  of “transformationalism,” for which we are grateful. Both we and they are doing our best to help guide Christians in the negotiation of our difficult times for increase of the Gospel and the glory of God. Nevertheless, we think their peculiar doctrine has unintended but ruinous consequences following from its unwitting but profound mistakes.

What is at issue between us and them is the scope of the Kingship of Christ, and what the Reformers said about it. Our position is that of the Reformers, in modern application. They would say the same, though their initial optimism about this is quickly diminishing, and the number of those they are willing to claim as predecessors is getting smaller and smaller in the face of the evidence. But we are not only reading the same ancients, we are even reading many of the same moderns. And both sides care very much about the modern order of liberty.

Two Kingdoms in Controversy

The matter of the controversy can be briefly summed up. We say that the Kingship of Christ is of universal extent, and in two ways: the first spiritual, invisible, immediate and pertaining to the just, though eschatologically and cosmologically universal; the second temporal, visible, mediate and pertaining to all. We say the original two kingdoms of the Reformers means  those two modes, the invisible and the visible, not the ministry and the magistrates, both of which are on the visible side. They say that the church is a politically distinct group of people who have no real investment in the temporal realm, but are temporally governed by ordained leaders representative of God by divine right, and that Christ’s kingship is exclusively over it and not over creation or the commonwealth. We say that the church is primarily invisible, but that its temporal profile is a vast multitude, the corpus christianorum, which in situations where the whole community has not recognized the kingship of Christ, constitutes a voluntary schola, but in situations where the community has formally and representatively recognized Jesus’ Kingship, is basically coterminous with the commonwealth. They call our position “Erastian” or “Zwinglian,” and say that Calvin was up to something fundamentally different.

This is the dispute in broadest theological outline. Further, they claim that their position is fully supportive of the modern order of liberty, and that ours is not. We claim that the opposite is true. As our friend and collaborator Mr Littlejohn puts it:

[T]he key issue in this whole two-kingdoms debate [is] namely, the Protestant doctrine of Christian liberty and its occlusion by ecclesiastical legalism.  Hart insists that the modern R2K view is “an effort to recover Christian liberty from the pious intentions and historical circumstances of some in the Reformed world eager to assert the Lordship of Christ without sufficient qualification.”  The problem, of course, from my perspective, is that the modern R2K view achieves this liberty in its civil kingdom at the cost of banishing it from the Church, ruled as it is with a strictly enforced biblical absolutism.

And we might add, that by denying the kingship of Christ over the commonwealth, they abandon it to much less gracious kinds of rule. So to our mind, the ersatz-2K doctrine leads to a double jeopardy. Their account is not particularly clear or coherent, but Dr. VanDrunen provides the theoretical principles of what there is to it, and the historical account owes much to Dr. John Witte.[1] Thus the question is twofold: what did the Reformers teach about politics, and what is the origin of modern civic and ecclesiastical liberty, and the means of maintaining it.

Recently, several people sent us links to an online essay by Mr. Matthew Tuininga, of whom we’d not heard before, but who was obviously an R2K proponent. What made his essay noteworthy to us was his open acknowledgement of Richard Hooker’s opponent Thomas Cartwright as a chief antecedent of the R2K  position, a point we have made before, and which has lately been extensively considered by Mr Littlejohn.[2] The helpfulness of Mr. Tuininga’s confessing to Cartwright, and the need to correct his mistake of fathering Cartwright on the entirety of the Reformed tradition, led us to solicit from Mr. Littlejohn an examination of the essay, which we posted [3]

In pointing to Hooker as the better reader of Calvin, and in saying that the idea of a Christian commonwealth is normative, we have been repeatedly, and despite repeated clarifications, misconstrued as “theonomist” or “Erastian” by Dr. Darryl Hart, who seems to think that we wish for an authoritarian State applying the Mosaic penal code, when the opposite is in fact the case.  Neither Hooker nor Calvin is our regula fidei, and we are happy to adapt their principles appropriately within the context of the modern order of political freedom- an order which only follows from those Protestant principles.  Still, we do claim the history for our side.  We share the basic theological principles of the Reformation, and specifically those of Luther, Calvin, and Hooker.  We hope our contribution can be the accurate genealogy and specific application of the older principles in the 21st century context.

What we have recovered is what seems to us the classical Protestant doctrine of politics. In particular, we have said that the two kingdoms do not directly correspond to the two estates of magistracy and ministerium, but rather, that both magistracy and ministerium are within the temporal kingdom.[4]  Our opponents do, however, identify the two estates with the two kingdoms respectively.

Mr. Tuininga, under pressure from the evidence, is a little more historically careful in noting the distinctions than Dr. Hart or Dr. VanDrunen have been, but he still uses them confusedly, and concludes from them wrongly. We agree with a number of observations, particularly about the various diversity of application among the historical Reformation figures.  However, the principles are our primary concern now.  This is the issue: are the two kingdoms to be identified with the two estates of magistracy and ministry? We deny it- our opponents assert it. Further, our opponents deny that Jesus Christ is Lord of creation and of the commonwealth, limiting His rule to totally spiritual redemption. What follows from their position is political atheism, the complete evacuation of religion from the constitutional core of the commonwealth, despite their waffling attempts to suggest that this somehow isn’t the case.

Complicating matters is the slipperiness of the R2K position. Originally, the school asserted the harmony of Luther and Calvin, for which they were reproached as “Lutheranizers” by some of the American Reformed. We always said, against their critics, that they were right to assert the harmony of the Reformers on this point, but wrong to identify the Reformers’ “two kingdoms” with magistracy and ministerium- since both of those institutions are in the visible, temporal realm, for the Reformers, as we have demonstrated. But now we find an example of Dr. Hart’s “historical development” happening before our eyes, since Mr. Tuininga now confidently assures his listeners that the Lutheran and Calvinist two kingdoms are different.  He says:

There were many [2k doctrines]. In addition to Calvin and Hooker, there is the Lutheran/Melanchthonian two kingdoms doctrine and the Anabaptist two kingdoms doctrine. However, where Littlejohn is wrong is to claim that Hooker represents the Reformed two kingdoms doctrine. That is simply false. Hooker tried to claim it, but he never persuaded the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition, which has continued to hold the basic Calvin/Cartwright position to this day. In that sense there is a classic Reformed two kingdoms doctrine.

All of the seemingly variant positions (i.e., Calvin, Southern Presbyterians, Scottish Covenanters, VanDrunen) are expressions of one basic foundation. Basically, and see today’s article in the Aquila Report for more on this, all these figures affirm that Christ’s kingdom operates by the power of the Word and Spirit alone, and that in this way it is not to be confused with God’s providential control of the wicked, or with his institution of coercive civil government. All of these figures agree that the church is the institutional expression of the kingdom, and therefore that the church must limit its proclamations to what is found in the Word. This is a distinctive doctrine because it breaks with the Roman Catholic claims that the church holds both swords, it breaks with the Anglican claim that worship and discipline are not essential to the government by the Word, and it breaks with the erastian claim that the church and the commonwealth are one and the same such that magistrates represent Christ’s kingship while pastors represent his priesthood. 

The reason why these different versions appear to be different is because they apply this basic doctrine in significantly different ways. Yet the divergence here owes more to disagreements about how civil magistrates should submit to Christ and relate to the kingdom of God, as well as to whether or not Israel is a model for modern nations. But the underlying two kingdoms doctrine is very much the same. What VanDrunen et al are doing is to suggest that we have lost sight of this basic doctrine, and that it can help us to explain how Christ would have the church and Christians engage culture and politics. In doing this, VanDrunen has been very clear about where he is breaking with the past tradition’s application, and where he is consistent with it. But at its foundation, he is expounding the same doctrine.[5] 

This is actually clearer than much of what’s come from the group so far, though it is far from being wholly accurate[6] but he is confused and confusing in what he says it means, and what conclusions he says follow from it. Mr. Tuininga says that there are many different Protestant 2K doctrines, even though R2K originally said that Calvin and Luther were one thing. Now it’s not even actually all of the Reformed, since only Calvin and Cartwright have the doctrine (Zwingli has been taken out of the “Reformed” camp, as well as the English Reformed prior to Cartwright and those Reformed Anglicans afterwards who rejected the Presbyterian claims[7]). This is all very unclearly expressed, and looks contrived ad hoc to defend VanDrunen, in face of the mounting evidence. He nowhere here or anywhere handles the question of just how the invisible church, which is in fact the “spiritual kingdom” for Calvin, gets identified with a very visible juridical ministry, so he does not account for the Cartwrightian turn. Neither does he account for the R2K turn, for, as we have shown, the Disciplinarians and the Covenanters held the opposite idea of the relation of ministerium and State as the R2K writers do: Mr. Tuininga’s “true Calvinists” held that the magistrate was bound to receive the law of God from the ministers and apply it to the commonwealth, in exact replication of the old papalist pattern.[8] But R2K teaches a total severance between the political-civic realm and the “spiritual” realm- by which they mean, not the invisible church, but the visible sect-polity.

Our Position

So, leaving Mr. Tuininga’s criticisms and scattershot rapid amendments aside for a moment, we’ll state our view very clearly, once again, so that there is no chance of us being honestly misrepresented.

  1. We have always said that R2K was right to originally assert the harmony of Luther and Calvin’s two-kingdoms doctrine, but wrong in identifying the those kingdoms with magistracy and ministerium- this identification is a profound misread of the classical doctrine, and a recrudescence of Papalist two-sword theory which also appears in the de jure divino Presbyterians and the Scottish Covenanters. We have shown in many places that Dr. VanDrunen’s reading of the Reformers on this point is seriously mistaken and ignores their basic distinctions and order of ideas.

  2. Following Dr. Kirby and Dr. Rudolph Sohm, we have always said that the Reformed tradition was diverse and ambiguous from early on regarding the role of law and the question of clerical power. We will examine these ambiguities, their reasons, and their historical trajectories later in this essay. But with Dr. Kirby, we say that Calvin did not make discipline, let alone discipline having something of the character of civil law, a third mark of the church, that he did not really assert a de jure divino pattern of polity or grant ministers themselves genuinely spiritual jurisdiction, constituting an imperium in imperio– and that it would be impossible for him to do so, given his principles. Following from this, we have said that Dr. Kirby is right to claim that Hooker is the better reader of Calvin than Cartwright in this regard, and that Cartwright’s Disciplinarianism is in fact closer to the doctrine of militant Anabaptism, and thus that it is not a surprise that when it lost its bid for power, it pulled the same move as Anabaptism did, and withdrew into itself as a quietistic community of “visible saints” as we see in the case of the Covenanters and now, the theories of R2K- with the difference being that the Covenanters still felt the sting of being a scorned woman, whereas in the sect’s R2K phase, it has “moved on” from its rejection by the State and is now settled into elderly celibacy.

  3. We have always said that R2K was right to say that the commonwealth is not subject to the Mosaic law, and right to deny that there is a “holy commonwealth” politically elect on the Israelite model, or that there can be a “holy war”[9]–  but saying that there could be such things were in fact the teachings of their own doctrinal ancestors, ancestors Mr. Tunininga openly admits to, but whose principles R2K now denies, with no real explanation or justification for the change other than the animus imponentis (or, as we have called it, the animus impotentis,). As we have said before, Reconstructionism and R2K are active and passive modes of one and the same confusion. We too deny that there can be a “holy commonwealth”  in the strict sense, or a “holy war”- but we do so on plain old Lutheran-Calvinian principles, not Klinean or failed-Disciplinarian ones.

But although R2K is right that the commonwealth is not normed by the Mosaic law,  they are abysmally wrong in claiming that this freedom from the Mosaic law is because the commonwealth is not subject to Christ. We say the commonwealth is subject to the kingship of Christ, but that given Christ’s perfection and disabling of the hieratic law, the Christian commonwealth is therefore ruled by the prudence of citizens and magistrates working out the natural law of love, expressing itself officially in positive law, in accord with the inner norms of natural law and the context of the jus gentium, and that both of these latter are inseparable from the Noahide covenant. All this is the straight doctrine of the Reformers. The magistrate is thus a vicar of Christ, in our view, but not of Christ as Savior, nor of Christ as eschatological judge, but rather, of Christ as Lord of creation, the Adamic gardener and Prince of Peace; as all Christians are, with the magistrate being representative of them in this regard.[10] And given the Biblical, non-legalist character of evangelical religion, an evangelical vicarius Christi creates the constitutional space of peace and freedom for all, making of the whole temporal order a praeparatio evangelica. We trace this development of modern liberty through the acts of the secularizing (which is to say, civilizing) Protestant and practically Protestant European sovereigns and jurists,[11] and the American Revolution understood in its genuine context.

  1. We have always said that this evangelical doctrine of the magistrate- and thus, of the people- was in part a recovery of older Biblical Christian doctrines from the anathema under which the Papacy had placed them, and in part, a further Biblical and rational clarification and perfection of these doctrines, a process which attained maturity in the later Protestant jurists. Further, while we think that the true Magisterial Protestant line was represented by Hooker, who is sometimes called an “Erastian,”[12] and represented also by the so-called Erastian wing of the Westminster Divines, especially the great John Selden, we deny, following Luther and Calvin and Hooker, that the magistrate properly has jus in sacris, anymore than he has direct jurisdiction in the domestic sphere or in associations of civil society. Further, we do say that the people of God in any given place, if preponderant, are indeed both “church” and “commonwealth,” operating in all vocations and underlying the two directive estates of magistracy and ministerium, a thesis which is inescapable but which Mr. Tuininga calls “Erastian.”

  2. Given that no one is justified by law at all, and that no one is sanctified by civic law, no divine positive law of perfection applies to the commonwealth, as we have said. However, there is a progressive development- not of necessity, nor in any really linear way, but nonetheless more or less predictable- of law and customs in Christendom, which is a sort of transformation- not an immanentization of the eschaton, but an increasing conformity in pattern with what can be recovered of Adamic integrity until Christ returns. This means, primarily, a greater reflection of natural law. We deny perfectionist transformationalism, and also deny, with the Reformed and Protestant consensus, that redemption is a “supernatural” donum superadditum which sublates nature. But we do say that Christendom is a zone of slow, prudentially developed transformation toward primal norms in architectonic matters, by virtue of Brunner’s “Law of Proximity,”[13] while earnestly acknowledging also that by common grace, in other zones of human development, regions not yet Christian may match or exceed the contributions of Christendom to knowledge or craft.

Matthew Tuininga’s Critique

Now that we have stated our positive positions, we will consider the matter in controversy.

First Mr. Tuininga chides us for being sub-scholarly.  Thinking our view “bizarre,” he challenges us to produce even one real scholar who would share our reading of Calvin as basically in concord with Luther and Zwingli.[14]

But of course this is exactly the sort of servile methodology, the worst characteristic of the modern academy, to which we stand opposed.  We are quite convinced that hyperspecialization is not de jure divino in the republic of letter. Truth is not a function of numbers nor the exclusive property of licensed experts.  Further, the modern academy’s relationship to Reformation doctrine, and particularly its social and political thought, has undergone important paradigm shifts in recent years, so the conversation is considerably more open than Mr. Tuininga seems to want it to be.  In this regard Dr. VanDrunen can truly be commended for bringing the language of “two kingdoms” back to Calvin-investigations.  As he has rightly pointed out, too many scholars restricted the concept of the two kingdoms to Luther.  In fact, prior to Dr. VanDrunen’s work, one would be hard pressed to find any sort of direct and systematic treatment of the “two kingdoms” in Calvin- with the notable and better exception, of course, of Dr. Kirby.

We make no apology for being merrily untrammelled by the rules of the overspecialized research academy, and thus do not acknowledge any arbitrary rules which would only admit evidence that comes from men that one graduate student deems “Calvin scholars.”  We believe that very helpful and accurate information for this discussion most certainly can be ascertained through Luther studies, as well as Reformation-wide overviews on the relationship of law and Christian liberty.  We hold in particularly high esteem the methodological contributions of Dr. Richard Muller (away from which Mr Tuininga seems to regress, by his isolation of Calvin from the other early Reformed doctors, and in his nearly exclusive focus on the Institutes[15]) as well as Dr. Muller’s  insistence that the Magisterial Protestants be read in basic continuity when it comes to the question of founding theological principles.  Thus we do not feel compelled to build our case exclusively on narrowly-defined “Calvin scholars” who say exactly what we say on the two kingdoms, though we will certainly call Mr. Tuininga’s bluff and show that there are indeed a number of them who directly or indirectly do support our position quite explicitly. But our method is more liberal and synthetic. We can draw on the best work on Luther, the best work on the Reformers’ understanding of law and gospel, as well as historical and contextual research that informs us how Calvin and others put their thoughts into practical action.

Who Gets Calvin’s Corpus?

Though he has subsequently changed his story, at first Mr. Tuininga seemed to echo Dr. VanDrunen in affirming that their view of Calvin is in line with Luther, and he charged us with presenting a picture of Luther which did not take account of the work of Dr. James Estes. Why he would invoke Dr. Estes is a mystery to us, since Dr. Estes’ thesis supports our own reading of Luther: namely, that Luther’s two-kingdoms is not a distinction primarily between magistrate and ministry, but rather between a temporal zone which contains both those offices on the one hand, and an invisible one which transcends them both, but which is signified preeminently by the sacred actions to which the ministry is consecrated.[16]

Mr. Tuininga claimed, correctly, that Dr. Estes sensitively tracks Luther’s development, and that the early Luther was less magisterial-sounding.[17] But this does not all mean that Luther taught the existence of a separate, visible-but-spiritual church polity within the commonwealth. What Dr. Estes does show is that the early Luther deconstructed Papalist language of the ministry as “spiritual”- the same kind of language that VanDrunenism uses!-  that for Luther the church properly speaking is mystical, not temporal, and that Luther’s confidence in the Word was so great that he expected it alone, working through regenerated hearts, to effect reformation. But at no point does Dr. Estes suggest that Luther set up a distinct visible polity which somehow has the character of the invisible church. The development he traces simply shows a long adjustment to circumstances and an increasingly nuanced and realistic practical application of the two-kingdoms doctrine, leading him to conclude that properly temporal powers can assist in setting up the temporal circumstances of the genuinely spiritual kingdom’s operation in time, part of which is securing the conditions for preaching and sacramental signification of the Word.

Since Mr. Tuininga now says that the “Calvinist” view he wishes to defend is different from the Lutheran, and apparently concedes Luther to us, we need not spend much more time on Luther. It is however important to note that we continue to maintain that Luther and Calvin are fundamentally at one in their their two kingdoms doctrine.  This was also why we thought it helpful to cite William J. Wright’s monograph on Luther, as it is one of the most recent and comprehensive treatments of the subject, noting rightly that, for Luther, the doctrine was never restricted to a social or political locus.[18]  We believe that a better understanding of Luther on this point will contribute to a better understanding of Calvin.  But since Luther has now been mostly conceded, we will turn our extensive attention to John Calvin.

Our use of Dr. Kirby (an eminent historian of 16th century theology, specializing in Hooker and Vermigli) for understanding John Calvin has also been critiqued by Mr. Tuininga.  But Mr. Tuininga’s criticisms of him are facile and fail to actually interact with his arguments, choosing instead to dismiss him for relying on Dr. Wendel, an authority whom, strangely, Mr. Tuininga then himself goes on to cite as somehow supporting his own case.  But this won’t do.  If Dr. Wendel is a trustworthy Calvin guide for Mr. Tuininga, then Dr. Kirby’s use of him is licit too.  And attempts to dodge arguments by a priori disqualifications are no good. One still must deal with the actual arguments in order to prove anything.

But Dr. Kirby draws on many other authorities besides Dr. Wendel to support his view.  One is Dr. John Tonkin, who has given an extended treatment of Calvin’s doctrine of the Church.  Tonkin explains how Calvin’s notion of the “institutional” church is itself bound up with his understanding of order, as well as the eschatological tension of its renewal.[19]  To merely understand Calvin’s use of “church” in institutional or external categories is to miss Calvin’s nuance.[20]

In fact, Dr. Tonkin plays up the importance of the distinction between the visible and invisible church in Calvin’s thought. “The polarity of visible and invisible Church provides an important final perspective on Calvin’s understanding of the institutional Church.”[21]  This is an “eschatological polarity” which always checks any emphasis, even Calvin’s exalted language, upon the institutional aspect of the church.  Tonkin puts it this way:

That is to say, the invisible Church functions in Calvin’s theology in relation to the visible institution in an analogous fashion to Luther’s concept of the Word, as a transcendent norm of judgment over the institutional Church.  It ensure that the institution, for all its importance in the ongoing drama of salvation, can never be regarded as the immanent realization of the kingdom of God but stands under the judgment of its own incompleteness and imperfection.  The doctrine of the invisible Church is Calvin’s way of pointing to the fact that the Church, in the final analysis, is created by God and remains known only to him.

The Church is called to make visible in its institutional character God’s work of reordering his creation and bringing his kingdom to fruition.  But it can never claim to represent that kingdom in an unqualified way.  It is always in a state of “becoming” and stands under the transcendent judgment of God.[22]

So, we are entirely justified in reading Calvin in context, both of the broader contemporary Protestant consensus and of his own work beyond the Institutes.  And in doing so, we are not left without scholarly precedent and support- even from “Calvin scholars”- but we are wholly justified in drawing upon the work of writers on Luther, the extra-Genevan Swiss Reformed, Hooker, and the Reformation generally.

The Church and the Spiritual Kingdom

We have not said that there is no institutional form of the worshipping church, nor that it has no relationship to the spiritual kingdom.  In fact, we believe that the institutional forms of the worshipping church and the magistracy most certainly do have a relationship, though each have particular jurisdictions and appropriate goals, and both are representative offices of the people of God, the corpus christianorum, whose most basic structure really is the household.[23]

In Pastor Wedgeworth’s original article on the two kingdoms in Credenda Agenda, he made a few basic statements about the two kingdoms and their relationship to the invisible and visible church:

The book repeatedly makes two fundamental confusions, however, and since these are guiding assumptions throughout, the contemporary two kingdoms theory eventually finds itself at considerable distance from the basic social vision of earlier thinkers like Luther and Calvin.  These two confusions are 1) identifying the two kingdoms with the modern institutions of “Church” and “State” and 2) setting the contrast between the two kingdoms as one between “redemptive” rule on the one hand and “creational” rule on the other.

The modifiers ought to be obvious, but we’ll point to them for the sake of the conversation.  The concern was not to “identify” the two kingdoms with the “modern institutions of ‘Church’ and ‘State’.”  The civil magistrate in Calvin’s thought does not actually hold the place of the modern state today, since the distinction between state and civil society had really not been worked out in his day, nor does “the Church” relate to the modern institutional definition according to denominational or even “confessional” lines.  Again, Pr. Wedgeworth said, “What VanDrunen never fully admits, however, is that when Calvin makes this identification of the kingdom of Christ with the church, he is always speaking of the invisible church.[7]”  Before this is criticized as lacking nuance, the reader must notice that there is a notation marker.  Footnote #7 actually gives an explanation of the meaning behind the term “invisible church”:

Calvin’s doctrine of the Church is more nuanced than simply “visible” and “invisible” distinctions, but I will use them here for familiarity’s sake.  By “invisible church,” I mean Calvin’s notion that the Word is the chief mark of the Church, and all who receive it by faith are properly understood as “the Church” being directly united to Christ in the Spirit.  Calvin always places the institutional organization of this church in a different category, that of the visible church.

The invisible church is not an abstract ideal church, nor merely the concept of the elect, but rather, it is the true church, the one actually possessed by Word and faith.  As we will see below, this definition of the church and the spiritual kingdom is essential for Calvin’s view.

This statement in particular is criticized by Mr. Tuininga- “The spiritual kingdom was eternal and immediate, whereas the civic kingdom was temporal and always mediated, by princes or by clergy and all other men in vocations.”[24]  His response is that Calvin definitely does “mediate” the spiritual and invisible by way of the visible means of grace and the offices of the Church.  But we must here stress, the focus here is not merely whether there are means of grace, but whether they function as political mediators.  The spiritual kingdom really is immediate, and this follows from the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone.  The ministers of the Church might be said to be a sort of medium in that they serve as a testimony and sign to the Word.  They are not actually mediators, though, and we will seek to explain this in more detail below.

Having pointed out what he believes to be our glaring errors, Mr. Tuininga then attempts to disprove our use of certain sources, namely the Rev. Dr. Paul Avis.  Mr. Tuininga cites Dr. Avis on this point:

Calvin and the English puritans came closest to asserting the separation of Church and commonwealth. For Calvin, they were distinct realms that should not be confused. There are echoes of Luther’s doctrine of the Two Kingdoms when Calvin declares in the Institutes: “He who knows how to distinguish between the body and the soul, between the present fleeting life and that which is future and eternal, will have no difficulty in understanding that the spiritual kingdom of Christ and civil government are things very widely separated.”[25]

The first sentence must be supposed to be the difficult one, since we have agreed that Calvin’s view echoes Luther’s.  Mr. Tuininga must be pointing us to the suggestion about Calvin and the English puritans.  This is a very short statement, however, with no context.  We do not dispute that Calvin holds “the Church” to be a distinct realm from the earthly commonwealth.  What we deny is that Cartwright’s position follows from this.  Note what Dr. Avis says about Cartwright in particular:

According to Cartwright, the Church is not to be regarded as the commonwealth in its spiritual aspect but as a separate, self-contained and independent society ruled by its ministers.[26]

Cartwright’s view of the prince as the executive of the Church and subject to its discipline was precisely that of the papists.[27]

Now, if Mr. Tuininga’s reading of Dr. Avis is correct, then these later quotes would also necessitate that Dr. Avis believes Calvin to hold the same view of the Church and its discipline as the papists, which would obviously not be a compliment.  Yet there are good reasons to not read Dr. Avis in this manner.  In the initial quote provided by Tuininga, Dr. Avis has Calvin echoing Luther.  Indeed, the Church can be a “distinct realm” without being a “separate, self-contained and independent society.”  And as it turns out from another of his writings, Dr. Avis actually has a favorable view of the relationship between Richard Hooker and John Calvin.[28]

Mr. Tuininga also cites against us the learned Dr. Francois Wendel, which is very strange since he had earlier rejected Dr. Kirby’s authority on the grounds that Kirby was dependent upon the same Prof. Wendel.  Even so, Dr. Wendel has now been taken up against us:

“Here we come to the notion of the spiritual power which, according to Calvin, belongs to the Church even as the temporal power belongs to the State.” (305) and “The theory of the relations between Church and State that Calvin elaborated is therefore as remote from the teaching of Zwingli, which led to confusion between Church and State, as it is incompatible with that submission of the Churches to the State to which things had come in Germany. On the other hand it comes sensibly nearer to Luther’s personal ideas, and to the conceptions worked out by Bucer.” (310)

It should first be noted that Dr. Wendel is not giving us a systematic discussion of the two kingdoms.  He mentions “the spiritual power which, according to Calvin, belongs to the Church” but this does not tell us what exactly is meant by “Church,” which we will see is an importantly nuanced topic of discussion.  The second quote clearly has to do with the relationship of the visible church to the civil magistrate, noting rightly that Calvin had a distinct view of their political jurisdictions, but again this does not claim that the spiritual kingdom of Christ is to be identified with the visible church, nor that this church is a distinct society or commonwealth.

Dr. Wendel does note that Calvin moved somewhat from Luther’s views thanks to the influence of Bucer, but he also says that Calvin did not go all the way with Bucer on the question of Church discipline, holding on to his Lutheran foundations.[29]  And yet for all this, Dr. Wendel still says, “Calvin taught- especially after 1543-  that the supreme Church is indeed the invisible one composed of all the elect, living or dead…”[30]  Thus, in Dr. Wendel’s understanding of Calvin, “the Church” is primarily the invisible church, and even statements about its offices and ministry must be reconciled to this basic truth.  Mr. Tuininga should have admitted to this part of Dr. Wendel too, in order to show the nuance in sense.  His selective quotation gives a false impression, allowing him to suppose that Dr. Kirby, and us for having esteemed Dr. Kirby, are wildly misappropriating Dr. Wendel.  In fact, Dr. Kirby has succinctly and artfully used Dr. Wendel’s reading of Calvin in order to more clearly and systematically lay out the principles.  And he has done this correctly.

And speaking of Dr. Kirby, his work really is of the quality that demands to be taken seriously.  Mr. Tuininga rashly dismissed it for relying too much on Dr. Wendel, which we would suggest is a virtue and not a vice, but we think he deserves even better.  In his book, Richard Hooker’s Doctrine of the Royal Supremacy, Kirby gives extremely careful readings of both Martin Luther and John Calvin regarding the two kingdoms, as well as the ways the two kingdoms relate to the Church.  In Calvin, Dr. Kirby notes a recurring emphasis on duality: the two kinds of knowledge,[31] the subjective and objective modes of the sinners’ reconciliation with God,[32] the hidden work of the Spirit and the external and visible means of that work,[33] the two kinds of righteousness: coram Deo and coram hominibus,[34] the twofold government found in the forum conscientiae and the forum externum,[35] and the two modes of the Church: corpus naturale and corpus mysticum.[36]

Examining the third book of Calvin’s Institutes, the entirety of chapter 10 and especially 3.19.15, Kirby explains that the two kingdoms or two realms correspond with the forum conscientiae and the forum externum.  He concludes that these two realms do meet together, but that this meeting occurs “in Christ” and “in the souls of Christian believers.”[37] Likewise, in treating the doctrine of the Church, Dr. Kirby sees an important duality.  While not neglecting the visible church and forum externum, it is still crucial to distinguish between them and the corpus mysticum.  Dr. Kirby states, “Calvin resisted the tendency of medieval ecclesiology which confused the external institution of the Church with the true mystical body of the Elect in Christ.  Membership in the true Church, in the Corpus Christi, is known to God alone.”[38]

Dr. Kirby does not interpret this as requiring a low or dismissive view of the visible and institutional church, however.  Rather, he understands the visible church as important for the “human means… employed in the economy of salvation,” as well as the need for proper order and association.  “There are not two Churches, but rather one Church with ‘two natures’… The two aspects of the Church, like the two natures in the person of Christ, must never be confused, but remain wholly distinct, and yet, at the same time, unified and inseparable.”[39]

This is all a substantial reading of Calvin.  It should not be dismissed on the basis that Kirby’s specialization is in Hooker rather than Calvin.  His arguments are good ones, and they must be dealt with on their own merits.  They show us that in Calvin, the invisible church is paired with the forum of the conscience, and the visible church, in its political administration and other temporal and worldly activities, is paired with the external forum.  We can say more than this, but it should be noted that this is a coherent articulation of Calvin’s guiding principles.  Subsequent observations should be made from within these guiding points.

We’ve shown that Kirby’s argument follows the basic principles drawn from Calvin.  We’ve also defended our use of other sources, showing that there is a general consistency of them.  But understanding that our immediate audience might not be persuaded merely by appeals to other authorities, we will ourselves go on to give a close reading of Calvin’s own text.

We will continue this paper in the second installment with our investigation of Calvin. 

A printable form of this essay can be found here.

[1] This account can be described in the words of the great English Christian historian of Christendom, Dr. John Neville Figgis: “ …the general attitude of suspicion of the State and denial of sovereignty which characterised the…English Presbyterian writers and passed by them though the Whigs to the laissez-faire school of Radicals.” From Gerson to Grotius, Cambridge UP, 1907: 208. We are deeply appreciative of Dr. Witte’s contributions in compiling historical exhibits of important and often forgotten characters, but we disagree with his reading of many of them and his account of the causes and circumstances of the modern order of liberty. Figgis goes on to describe a controversy which is exactly that between us and the R2K writers: “There was also that controversy between the ideas of those who, recognising with Luther or the Politiques the sanctity of the civil power, were prepared to go to all lengths to establishing the claims of the prince to deal with religion, and that other view typified by the Jesuits, but held also by the Presbyterians, that the State itself was a mere contrivance, of purely temporal significance, needing for inspiration the guidance of the Church [by which Dr. Figgis means “ministerium”], or at any rate unable to compete with the superior claims of the kingdom which, though “not of this world” was so very much in it, that its behests were paramount on any question involving morals,” (Figgis, 208). It is extremely curious that although the R2K school claims to be defenders of freedom of religion, all of their predecessors were defined by an uncompromising opposition to it. The new variant can accept modern liberty only by being totally indifferent to the civic sphere as “spiritually” insignificant. But we embrace it in principle as a necessity of evangelical public religion.

[2] Mr. Littlejohn has written a good deal on this subject, especially “Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought.  Review essay.” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 29/1 (Spring 2011) and “Natural Law and Which Two Kingdoms?” American Academy of Religion Meeting, 2011, San Francisco; unpublished conference paper.  One of his more accessible yet comprehensive treatments online can be found here:

[3] Mr. Tuininga has replied and offered to engage in a conversation, but his initial irenic offer seems to have been retracted, for now he has also framed the proposal in a manner which can hardly be called dialogical, saying on the one hand that we aren’t academic enough to merit attention, but then saying he worries about our influence, and apparently feels compelled to answer it. So we are nobodies, but dangerous nobodies.

In fact, Brad Littlejohn’s most recent paper has, as of now, received five pingbacks from Mr. Tuininga, all in a short timespan:1,2,3,4,5.  Whereas initially Mr. Tuininga said that he was “very grateful” for the interaction, and even asked if he could post his reply on our site, he has since changed his tone markedly.  Perhaps because of his quick pace of the exchange, but Mr. Tuininga has himself fallen into very uncareful readings of Mr. Littlejohn and others.  Amidst his dismissive criticisms, Mr. Tuininga has issued “a challengeto us, asking that we show that our reading of Calvin can pass muster at the bar of real scholarship. Mr. Tuininga’s remarks are almost half-constituted by this repetitive demand for “real scholarship,” insinuating, of course, that we do not qualify- and yet he has been just as dismissive of Mr. Littlejohn, a doctoral student specializing in 16th political theology, and our friend Davey Henreckson, also a doctoral student specializing in political theology. This is not an overly sensitive reading on our part, unfortunately.  Mr. Tuininga explicitly says that we are non-scholars (even though one of us has recently published an article in The Journal of Law and Religion on the political theology of the Covenanters- a sect Mr Tuininga claims is integral to his “truly” Calvinist political tradition- in the context of American Constitutional debates), that we are offering up a “bizarre claim,” and that our emperor, though he might not exist in the first place, has no clothes.  In the case of Mr. Henreckson, Mr. Tuininga called his work “sloppy scholarship” all the while neglecting Henreckson’s own qualifications and thus distorting the argument.  In the least flattering of all of his statements, Mr. Tuininga admonished Mr. Littlejohn to distance himself from us, “for the sake of your own academic reputation.We find all this less than edifying.

But it seems that he has not really read us carefully and in our own context, and we are quite sure at this point that he has no real idea what our position and project are. The one thing he is right about is that we think that Dr. Kirby is on to something when he says that Hooker is closer to Calvin than Cartwright is.  He seems wrong about pretty much everything else; so we will summarize here our view, and explain what’s at issue.

We have criticized the R2k doctrine for being historically untrue in its claims about Calvin, and for being doctrinally untrue in its claims about the church and its relation to the commonwealth. We pointed out in several places that its pedigree goes back to Cartwright; and we are grateful to Mr. Tuininga for being perceptive and honest enough to admit that.

[4] The ministers, when in right exercise of their office, do have a vocational and sacramental relation to the spiritual kingdom, of which we will say a great deal more below, but we reject that they are to be directly identified or equated with the spiritual kingdom of Christ.

[6] For instance, the Lutheran and Calvinian versions are, as R2K originally claimed, basically the same, though VanDrunen was wrong in what he thought that meant. The real difference is between all the orthodox, Magisterial Protestant versions on the one hand, and Anabaptist versions on the other, with the mixed case being Cartwright, who approximated the Anabaptist two-kingdoms version; the Cartwrightian doctrine replicates the two-swords ecclesiology, it does not break with it, though VanDrunen does; no Protestant “Erastian” thought that ministers participate in Christ’s special priesthood, or denied the doctrine of the universal priesthood of all believers. Just how hasty this kind of overconfident taxonomizing from Mr. Tuininga is can be seen from the fact that he is contradicted by what Dr. Witte- with whose account of Calvin we certainly do not entirely agree, but Mr. Tuininga seems to agree with it- says of Calvin: “Calvin’s principles were as much as reminiscent of medieval forms of church-state relations as prescient of modern forms…Calvinappropriated many of the cardinal insights of both the “two-powers” theory of Pope Gelasius and “two-swords” theory of the Papal Revolution (emphasis ours).” Reformation of Rights, (Cambridge University Press, 2008), 76. And this, right after Dr. Witte says that Calvin taught a “unitary Christian society,” each community a “miniature corpus Christianorum”- the very opposite of VanDrunenism. We will say more about Witte at the end of our consideration. Cartwright, like his Papalist predecessors, certainly thought that the ministerium holds the secular sword by potestas indirecta, insofar as the secular authority’s legitimacy depended upon its application of the law of God received via the clergy.

[7] We could even add Heinrich Bullinger to the discussion, see Dr. Kirby’s work here:

[8] For an explanation of this history, see Paul Avis, “Moses and the Magistrate: a study in the rise of Protestant Legalism” in The Journal of Ecclesiastical HIstory Vol. 27 (1975), 149-172, William Lyons Fisk, The Scottish High Church Tradition in America: An Essay in Scotch-Irish Ethnoreligious History (University Press of America, 1995) pp. 1-28, and also Steven Wedgeworth, ”‘The Two Sons of Oil’ and the Limits of American Religious Dissent” in The Journal of Law and Religion,Vol. XXVII. Num. 1 (2011-2012): 141-161.

[9] Dr. Richard Gamble especially has been a constant critic of idolatrous notions of the USA as a divinely exceptional “redeemer nation”. See his The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation, ISI, 2003. We expect his forthcoming In Search of the City on a Hill: The Making and Unmaking of an American Myth to be a profoundly helpful contribution.

[10] The VanDrunen school, by making basically (mis) identifying the visible congregation with the invisible chuch, and limiting Christ’s kingship exclusively to this, seems to us to effectively leave the rest of the world in the hidden hand of Adam Smith’s Stoic God, who apparently just shakes history out in such a way to evolve modern liberties  (despite the best efforts of R2K’s ecclesiastical ancestors! Irresistible common grace?). We think that Christian persons, acting responsibly toward their Lord Jesus and for the city, are in fact responsible for the modern order of freedom, and that this order of freedom can only be itself when it recognizes the universal kingship of Christ.

[11] We see the entire European Christian, and by extension New World Christian, legal history as the history of this political development. We will say more about this another time, but for now, suffice it to say that this thesis is opposed in some measure to the account of Dr. Witte in his Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion, and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism, who seems to see the history of liberty as the history of non-architectonic associations carving out a quasi-sovereignty for themselves within the commonwealth and at the expense of its architectonic principle and unitary order, a very Whiggish sort of tale. Though certainly resistance to tyrannical deformation of State order has watered the ground of liberty, the origins of modern freedom have less to do with what Dr. Figgis was earlier cited as describing, and more to do with the actions of Christian States. There is an ambivalent kind of secularism at the heart of Dr. Witte’s account: he seems to presume the modern secularist rights regime as sort of self-instituted, though with religious inspiration, and which still needs religion to somehow help it along. It is precisely the self-institution assumption we deny. This semi-secularism seems to be the reason why, in his odd account on p 344 where he says: “While acknowledging the fundamental contributions of Enlightenment liberalism to the modern rights regime, we must also see the deeper genesis and genius of modern rights norms in religious texts and traditions that antedate the Enlightenment by centuries, even by millennia.,” he seems incapable of distinguishing between Christian and atheist (French Enlightenment figures and their “fundamental contributions”) political doctrines and actors, for instance, between German Christian Enlightenment figures like Thomasius, a fearless pioneer of modern liberty, but also an absolute monarchist and jurist of a Christian State, and a Tom Paine or a Danton. The history of liberty is less that of private associations neutralizing the State and forcing it to renounce the confessional heart of its constitutional order (Reinhart Koselleck, in his Critique and Crisis, shows that this leads in the end to the free for all of modern secularism), and more that of responsible Christian regimes prudentially working out the practical implications of Christian wisdom for the city- a history being retrieved by writers such as Dr. Martin Loughlin. Dr. Witte does however gesture (p 341) toward a Christian understanding of  the jus gentium as perhaps the true name of the modern rights regime rightly understood, a thought we wish he would take much farther than he does.

[12] “Erastian” is an unhelpful term however, since very few of the first and second generation Reformers actually fit the popular description.  Even Erastus himself is more complicated.  See Paul Avis’ explanation of Erastianism in The Church in the Theology of the Reformers (Wipf and Stock, 2002) 142-144, 154-163.  Patrick Collinson also gives a helpful survey of the limitations placed upon the magistrate by the Jacobean divines, even by the great friend of Richard Hooker, Richard Field; The Religion of the Protestants: The Church in English Society 1559-1625 (Clarendon Press, 1988) 12-19.

[14] See his entry here.

[15] He does cite Calvin on the Lord’s Prayer, but there Calvin says nothing about the Church and rather chooses to relate the kingdom to the spiritual renewal of Christians in all of their callings, i.e. precisely the point we are making about Calvin’s view.

[16] Dr. Estes concludes his recent work on Luther with these words: ”So Selnecker and Leyser ignored Luther’s emphasis on the exceptional nature of David’s achievement, made his good example of obedient princely service to God applicable to all Christian rulers, and placed appropriate emphasis on the distinction between the two kingdoms that Luther had so vehemently defended. In the process, moreover, they drew upon Melanchthon’s view of the prince as custodian of both tables, the primary purpose of whose rule is the establishment and maintenance of true religion. Their operative assumption, that Luther and Melanchthon were in essential agreement on this subject, was more faithful to the evidence than much of the scholarship of future centuries would be.” Peace, Order, and the Glory of God; Secular Authority and the Church in the Thought of Luther and Melanchthon 1518-1559. Brill, Leiden, 2005: 211-212.  In the final footnote of this final passage of the book, Estes criticizes David Whitford stringently for making two-kingdoms and the cura religionisan “either-or,” and for the serious mistake of thinking that if “the later Luther can be shown to have upheld the distinction between the two kingdoms, that alone is sufficient to prove that rejected the cura religionis.Estes goes on to show that the distinction between worldly kingdom and spiritual kingdom are not at all exclusive of the cura religionisor magisterial direction of the visible church in outward matters (212).

[17] Estes, 14-18

[18] William J. Wright, Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010) 113-114, 117, 135.

[19] John Tonkin, The Church and the Secular Order in Reformation Thought (Columbia University Press, 1971) 119-130.

[20] Dr. Tonkin adds:  “It is therefore no cause for surprise that almost all of Book IV of the Institutes is a close description of the nature and character of the institutional Church, its structure, offices, and powers.  Indeed, these matters are given such prominence and attention that it is legitimate to ask whether Calvin is ultimately defining the Church by its institutional forms and substituting a new legalism for the old one.  Such a judgment, however, would indicate a very superficial understanding of what Church order implies for Calvin.  The notion of order has great significance throughout Calvin’s theological exposition– so much, in fact, that it may even be legitimately described as the inner meaning of the history of salvation.  God’s creation is described as a work of order, for it is “so arranged and regulated that nothing deviates from its appointed course.”  Creation is the image of God, but the destruction of this image in the Fall represents the introduction of disorder into Creation.  Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God, because he originates a restoration of creation to its original integrity, bringing a new creation out of the ruin of the first, restoring affairs from confusion and disorder to “true and complete integrity” (119-120).  Tonkin goes on to say: “But this kingdom remains an incomplete and partial reality, both within the Church and within the world” (127) and: “The kingdom will not be complete until its reality fills the whole created order.  Calvin’s concern to purify and discipline the Church and to maintain separation from the evil world is not an end in itself but a means to the end of preparing the Church to claim the whole world for Christ.  As the instrument of God’s new order, the church has a universal mission to carry the “shining clarity of the light of the Gospel” into the world and to bring all men’s hearts and minds into obedience to it” (128).  He even points out that, “The final goal of Calvin’s vision, therefore, is not restricted to the Church but embraces the whole creation and sees it as filled with the kingdom of Christ.  The new order of God must be made visible not only in the ecclesiastical community but also in society as a whole” (128).

[21] ibid 129

[22] ibid 130

[23] Though we cannot expect Mr. Tuininga to have read all of our previous online engagements, Dr. Hart has actually debated us on this very point in the past, and we’ve made our distinctions explicit.  Two posts from Pr. Wedgeworth’s blog testify to this: and  The first link shows Pr. Wedgeworth granting diversity of political application between Reformed theologians, and the second shows the detailed description of the respective roles of magistracy and ministry.

[24] All of the previous quotes are taken from “Two Kingdoms Critique”:

[26] The Church in the Theology of the Reformers, 148.

[27] ibid 149

[28] “Richard Hooker and John Calvin” in The Journal of Ecclesiastical History Jan. 1981 32: 19-28.  In this essay, Dr Avis certainly does not claim total agreement between the two men (anymore than we do), but he argues that Hooker does successfully wrench Calvin away from Cartwright by noting Calvin’s limitation of Church power, his use of adiaphora or variation in outward ceremonies, and the fact that Calvin did not argue for Presbyterianism as exclusive divine right polity.

[29] Calvin (William Collins Sons and Co., 1972) 294, 301.

[30] ibid 296

[31] Richard Hooker’s Doctrine of the Royal Supremacy (E.J. Brill, 1990) 43.

[32] ibid

[33] ibid

[34] ibid 44

[35] ibid

[36] ibid 64

[37] 45

[38] 65

[39] 66 At this point Kirby cites T.F. Torrance’s discussion of Calvin’s use of the two kingdoms in Kingdom and Church (Oliver and Boyd, 1956) 155.  Torrance likewise sees the two kingdoms as relating to spiritual life on the one hand and “externe mores” and “leges of the present life” on the other.  He also contrasts liberty against “political administration.”

By Steven Wedgeworth and Peter Escalante

Steven Wedgeworth and Peter Escalante are the founders and editors of The Calvinist International.

10 replies on “John Calvin and the Two Kingdoms- Part 1”

[…] In the intimate world of evangelical and Reformed blogs, two kingdoms theology is a trending topic (#Kuyper2012, #mychurchismoreinvisiblethanyours, #cantherebeaXnhangman?, etc.). Two conversations are ongoing. First, Matt Tuininga has been engaged with some of the more – let’s say – magisterially-inclined proponents of two kingdoms (2K) theology. On this front, the trio of Steven Wedgeworth, Peter Escalante, and Brad Littlejohn argue that the classical version of 2K theology did not map neatly onto our modern division between the institutions of church and state. Instead, the early reformers and later scholastics maintained a notion of a unified corpus christianorum, albeit a corpus that underwent reconstructive surgery on its doctrine of religious liberty and freedom of conscience. In response, Matt holds out that at least one prominent strand of the tradition (running from Calvin to Cartwright) emphasized the uniquely spiritual government of the institutional church. This strand, rather than its magisterial or “Erastian” rival, helped to pave the pathway to our modern liberal conceptions of religious freedom and separation of church and state. Yesterday, Peter and Steven dropped a (gigantic) response in two parts. […]

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