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Good for the Gander: Tuininga’s Invitation to Discourse

It can be readily admitted that, among the recent school of “two kingdoms” thought, Matthew Tuininga represents some valuable emphases. Over against cheap criticisms of the doctrine, he has consistently affirmed the role of Scripture in public theology and he has put considerably more emphasis (see comments) on the relationship between creation and redemption than some of his teachers have. And so, while he would undoubtedly demur, we are more sanguine about his own formulations than about those of many of the “two kingdoms” scholars with whom he identifies. What is conspicuously absent in the recent Tuiningan corpus, however, has been serious engagement with the work of our own Peter Escalante and Rev. Steven Wedgeworth – particularly regarding the former’s reading of the “two kingdoms” in Calvin – the subject of Tuininga’s doctoral work. Certainly a mere mention of Tuininga’s work does not demand a response from him. But I was something of a fly on the wall when Pastor Wedgeworth and Mr. Escalante tried to engage Mr. Tuininga in dialogue about these matters in 2012 – a dialogue which Mr. Tuininga seemed to initiate himself. And from what I can tell, just when the debate got interesting, Mr. Tuininga bailed.

Fast forward a year. Recently, this conspicuous silence was raised to a deafening pitch. In his most recent post, Mr. Tuininga critiques a recent article in Christian Renewal, an article critical of “two kingdoms” thought. What is odd is that, in this exact same issue of Christian Renewal, Mr. Escalante and Pastor Wedgeworth also wrote an article (strongly affirming what they take to be the classical Reformed view of the “two kingdoms,” against the decidedly different new one), but this article was not mentioned by Mr. Tuininga. What was interestingly mentioned in his analysis, however, were the rules of a proper debate. He writes:

It is time for serious Reformed people to step up and demand that whatever concerns people may have about two kingdoms theology, they raise them in a responsible way. If you want to criticize someone, I was always taught, you have to earn the right by showing that you actually understand their views, summarizing those views in terms they themselves would recognize. This has not been happening much lately in certain circles. To be sure, there are important questions worth asking and yes, there are legitimate criticisms of certain versions of two kingdoms theology that need to be made. But this is not the way to do it.

Indeed. What is interesting is that the post linked to in the phrase “certain circles” is a post in which Mr. Tuininga critiques Jamie Smith directly and (for those with ears to hear) Mr. Escalante and Pastor Wedgeworth cryptically – although it is unclear to me how the latter have been unfair in their representation of others’ views or unworthy of serious engagement in their critiques. And so…

I would encourage Mr. Tuininga to have just the sort of conversation he describes here, but which he seems to have avoided in this case. In response to that older post and others, Pastor Wedgeworth and Mr. Escalante delivered a massive and well-researched argument defending their reading of John Calvin (part 1 and part 2). In my judgment, and in the context of his challenges to them, this warrants a thoughtful response, according to basic rules of Christian charity and gentlemanly conduct in academic debate. Brian Lee, a frequent contributor to Christian Renewal (a fellow URC minister and theological ally to Mr. Tuininga), commenting on Mr. Tuininga’s recent post, suggested that he pen a response to the recent issue for a future edition of Christian Renewal. If he takes up the offer – and we would be delighted if he did – I think the readers of Christian Renewal would be well-served to read a response to Pastor Wedgeworth and Mr. Escalante’s article. Indeed, the potential impact of the latter’s reading of the two kingdoms on Mr. Tuininga’s home turf is an additional reason to respond to their paradigm – if it be wrong. Knowing these gentlemen, I think Mr. Tuininga would be surprised how much practical and programatic common ground exists between him and WE (in the endearing nomenclature of Dr. D. G. Hart). And I, for one, would feel less cheated out of a good show.

By Joseph Minich

Joseph Minich lives in Texas with his wife (Rebecca) and four children (Samuel, Truman, Felix, and Ruby). He recently graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary (D.C. Campus) and is pursuing a Ph.D in intellectual history at the University of Texas at Dallas.