Augustine vs. the Two-Kingdoms Theology

The modern argument of the two kingdoms is a fairly recent development; it appeared in the late 1990s as a rhetorical retort against Theonomy. For over 20 years after the publishing of R.J. Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) and over 10 years after Greg Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics (1984), the Reformed seminaries – all amillennial in eschatology and antinomian in their view of the Law of God – were desperately searching for a thorough theological response to Theonomy. Theonomy: A Reformed Critique (1990) was devastatingly refuted a year later by Theonomy: An Informed Response (1991). Meanwhile the theonomists were producing a large body of literature applying the Law of God to every area of life which the opponents couldn’t even dream to produce based on their views. By the mid-1990s it became clear that theological or exegetical response to Theonomy could not be produced.

That’s when the argument of the “two kingdoms” was retrieved from the dustbin of theological ideas and put back into use. The argument had been abandoned after the disastrous effects it had on the German church in Nazi Germany. It wasn’t used before 1995; and no one tried to develop it into a “theology” before that. But in the late 1990s the history of it was already forgotten so it was safely to use it again against Theonomy.

In our articles at American Vision we usually call it the “Two-Kingdoms Theology.” It must be understood, however, that as an argument it is very far from being a “theology.” It has never been developed into a full-scale theology that explains the Bible and the world from a unified perspective. There is no thorough Biblical theology to show the exegetical foundations of it. There is no systematic theology to give it a solid structure. And there is no body of literature of applied theology to present applications and blueprints for action to all other fields of human life and knowledge. For all it is worth, the argument is simply a rhetorical retort against the covenant theology of Theonomy; it should be called the Two-Kingdoms Rhetoric. Any popularity it has is based not on any systematic or exegetical or applied qualities it has but on the fact that it is an easy way for seminary professors and pastors to avoid to reply to the difficult challenges Theonomy presents to their ideology and preaching.

It is no wonder then that in their defense the modern proponents of the Two-Kingdoms Theology should turn not to the books they have written developing it systematically and exegetically – for there are only a few such books, short and limited in scope – but to an alleged “historicity” of the argument. Martin Luther, of course, is the first champion summoned to the cause, because he did use the argument in an unfortunate turn of events, and that with disastrous consequences.1 Worth mentioning that Luther didn’t develop it into theology either; he too used it as a rhetorical device; when asked to give advice, most of the time he went to the Law of God as revealed in the Bible. The attempt to link Calvin to the Two-Kingdoms Theology have been based on outright lies, as Joel McDurmon so masterfully demonstrated. No historical roots for the Two-Kingdoms can be found in the history of the Reformed churches either: The very Reformed ideal of City on a Hill is in stark contradiction to it.

There’s only one historical hope left for them: Augustine of Hippo, the theologian that through his writings, sermons, and commentaries, shaped the theology of the Western Christendom, and through it shaped the world. Since so few Christians today bother to read Augustine, the proponents of the Two-Kingdoms Theology eagerly promote the myth of the “Augustinian two-kingdoms view.” Michael Horton at Westminster Seminary in California claims that Augustine’s The City of God “helped create what came to be called the doctrine of the two kingdoms”; and throughout the rest of the article he proceed by making the parallel between Augustine’s two cities (the City of God and the City of Man) and the “two kingdoms” of his theology.

In this article we will see that such parallel is preposterous. There is nothing in Augustine to point to anything like the modern Two-Kingdoms Theology with its dualism between the church and the state, and nature and grace. The historical context, Augustine’s view of the law, justice, and the state, his practical and political advice, as well as the developments of his theology by his immediate successors, all point to the conclusion that Augustine viewed the world as a unified Kingdom of Christ, under the same eternal Law of God. Augustine, contrary to Horton, is rightly called the “theological father of Christendom,” the same Christendom which the Two-Kingdoms Theology denies as both an ideal and a historical reality.

To start, we need to quickly go over the main tenets of what is known as the “Two-Kingdoms Theology.” The Two Kingdoms theology, as explained by its own adherents, has the following tenets:

1) Every Christian in this life is a citizen of two distinct kingdoms, the Church and the state (aka “the common kingdom”).

2) The two kingdoms are under two separate systems of law. The Church is under the special revelation given in the Bible, and its main goal is personal salvation. The state is under the natural law, revealed to all men; its concern is government, not salvation, and therefore the Bible can not be its sole source of authority and legitimacy.

3) Since the church derives its authority only from the Bible, and the state doesn’t, the church should never trample on the authority of the common kingdom institutions.2

Based on these, the Two-Kingdoms theologians declare that since culture is part of the “common kingdom,” which is not ruled by the revealed Law of God, Christians therefore shouldn’t try to create Christian culture, establish Christian civil government, nor can the church speak to the cultural, political, or any other issues of the day. Some – like Horton – advocate complete withdrawal of Christians from political or cultural endeavors, while others – like Albert Mohler – only limit the church from speaking to politics and culture but allow individuals to do it (but without specifying what law exactly they should use when they speak to culture, “natural” or revealed).

So, let’s see where Augustine stood on all these issues, and whether he really preached a “two-kingdoms” theology.

The Historical Context

Before we look at Augustine’s views, we need to understand the context of the times in which he was writing. Augustine lived between AD 354 and AD 430, an era of the history of the Roman Empire and of the church under the influence of the Ecumenical Councils. In AD 325 Constantine summoned the bishops of the Empire to Nicaea for the First Ecumenical Council of the church – an act of submission of the Empire to Christianity. The next century was marked by this new arrangement, with the Empire gradually becoming a Christian Empire. In AD 381, while Augustine was a teacher of rhetoric at a pagan Roman school, Emperor Theodosius I – a Christian ruler – summoned the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople. When Augustine converted back to Christianity in AD 387, seven years had passed since Theodosius had declared Christianity the official religion of the Empire. In AD 389-391 he issued the “Theodosian Decrees” which established a complete ban on religious expressions of paganism in public, under the influence of Augustine’s mentor and teacher in the Christian faith, bishop Ambrose of Milan.

Nothing in the historical context of the times gives even the slightest hint that a “two-kingdoms” doctrine was preached, known or followed by anyone. Augustine himself, living in such times, never seems to criticize this arrangement. While our modern “two-kingdoms” theologians deplore the “Constantinianism” of the church at the time, Augustine seems to be comfortable with it as something normative; in fact, as we will see later, he himself advised Christian rulers in the same spirit.

Additional insight into the views of the church at the time can be gleaned from a famous historical clash between Augustine’s mentor and teacher, Bishop Ambrose, and Emperor Theodosius. Like we mentioned above, modern Two-Kingdoms theologians deny that the church has any right to speak as a church to the civil government. In AD 390, a year after Augustine returned to North Africa from his learning under Ambrose in Milan, Ambrose publicly excommunicated Emperor Theodosius I for his actions against the participants in a tax revolt in Thessalonica. When the Emperor reacted in anger, Ambrose didn’t cave in but used his position as a Bishop to teach the Emperor concerning the limits on the civil government in relation to individual rights, private property, and church immunity. The Emperor eventually repented and had to go through a period of penance.

Given the fact that our modern Two-Kingdoms theologians still criticize Moral Majority today, 30 years since its founding, for its innocent purpose of just getting Christians involved in politics, a modern Ambrose would have been demonized in the publications by Westminster Seminary in California or the Southern Baptist Seminary. But Augustine never spoke against his mentor Ambrose. That’s because it never even occurred to Augustine that the church should remain silent about political issues.

If there were any “two-kingdomers” at the time, they would be found among the Manichaeans and among the Donatists. The Manichaeans were a dualist sect that believed that material world – and everything it contains, including civil government, courts, and the whole visible culture and society – were created by the devil, and therefore believers should stay away from them. Augustine experimented with Manichaeanism in his youth before he became a Christian. The Donatists were a Christian sect that emphasized absolute purity to the point of denying restoration to the church for those that had broken under persecution and had denied Christ; they refused to participate in the same communion with the rest of the church, and they believed that there can be no such thing as a Christian Emperor; the Empire was of the devil by default, and therefore Christians should not participate in its political life. In his works, Augustine argued against both Manichaeans and Donatists; he denied there was a dualistic separation of reality in any possible way except in ethical terms. And we will talk about his ethical dualism later.

Augustine’s View of Law: “Natural” and Revealed

The distinction between “natural” law – governing the “common kingdom” – and the revealed Law of God – governing the redemptive kingdom, the Church – is of central importance to the Two-Kingdoms Theology. Since the two “kingdoms” of the church and the state are under the same King, they can not also be under the same law, otherwise the whole concept of the “two kingdoms” will disintegrate: they will become simply two separate institutions in the same Kingdom, as is the Theonomic position. Also, remember, the Two-Kingdoms Theology is a backlash against Theonomy; if Theonomy says that the law for the state is the same as the law for the Church, the Law of God, and they differ only in function, then an anti-theonomic theology must insist that the law for the state is not the same as the Law of God. The dualism of the Two-Kingdoms Theology is necessarily based on a legal dualism, on the belief in two different law systems for the two kingdoms. In addition, since both “kingdoms” are God’s, and they are both legitimate in God’s eyes, then both systems of law, “natural” and revealed, must be legitimate in their own spheres. And since the church is the “kingdom of grace,” and the state is the “kingdom of justice,” a Two-Kingdoms theologian will have two different law sources for his justice and his grace. He won’t go to the Law of God revealed in the Bible for justice because it is not applicable to the state; and he won’t look for God’s grace in the “natural” law because that would be “confusing law and grace.”

Can we find such distinction in Augustine? Not at all.

There is no dualism of laws in Augustine’s thought. There is one ultimate Law, which he calls the “eternal Law of God,” which is the same for all people, all tribes, all nations, whether they have the Law of Moses revealed to them or not, or whether they are saved or not. Augustine calls it also the “law of nature,” but “nature” here he means the original, unpolluted nature of man, not the sinful nature men inherit from their father Adam. All people know this eternal Law, and therefore all people are judged by it in the final judgment.

But this eternal law is not just limited to their personal actions and righteousness. It is also the foundation of justice, according to Augustine, princes are expected to judge by it, and nations are supposed to abandon their customs and submit to that eternal Law of God:

When God commands anything contrary to the customs or compacts of any nation, even though it were never done by them before, it is to be done; and if it is has been interrupted, it is to be restored; and if it has never been established, it is to be established.3

Notice the active voice: “When God commands.” Augustine does expect God to give special revelation to nations that will contradict their established customs and compacts. There is no “natural” law separate from God’s command.

The important question here is: How does this eternal, “natural” law relate to the revealed Law of God in the Bible? Does Augustine teach, as the Two-Kingdoms theologians do, that the natural law that is given to all the people in the “common kingdom” is different from the Law of God as revealed in the Bible? Not at all.

That eternal law, says Augustine, is written in the hearts of the godly, and from this eternal law was copied the law given to the Jews through Moses.4 There is no difference nor contradiction between the natural law and the revealed Law of God, for the revealed Law of God in the Ten Commandments and in the Gospels – yes, and in the Gospels – give the natural law greater force, since they are a direct revelation of that natural law. They do not listen to their natural conscience so God codified what’s already in their hearts in a written Law:

But lest men should complain that something had been wanting for them, there hath been written also in tables that which in their hearts they read not. For it was not that they had it not written, but read it they would not. There hath been set before their eyes that which in their conscience to see they would be compelled. . . . But because men, desiring those things which are without, even from themselves have become exiles, there hath been given also a written law: not because in hearts it had not been written, but because thou wast a deserter from thy heart, thou art seized by Him that is everywhere, and to thyself within art called back. Therefore the written law, what crieth it, to those that have deserted the law written in their hearts? “Return ye transgressors to the heart.”

Contrary to the dualism of the laws of the Two-Kingdoms Theology, Augustine’s view is Theonomic to the core: One Law, revealed first in the hearts of all men, redeemed and unredeemed, and then confirmed in writing to all men, redeemed and unredeemed. The laws of Moses are not a separate law for the redeemed only; they are the same law that is given to all men from the beginning, and that still convicts men in their hearts. The only thing that is not valid in the New Testament anymore are the Ceremonial Laws; Augustine does not divide the rest into “civil” and “moral” laws. They are all moral, including those that advise a ruler how to rule his people. Nothing in Augustine can lead us to the conclusion that he is teaching the dualism of the Two-Kingdoms Theology concerning the Law of God.

And, as we will see in the next article, Augustine’s view of justice and the state follows his Theonomic view of the Law. And we will see why his two cities, of God and of man, are not the two “kingdoms” of our modern anti-Theonomic theologians.

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  1. Joel McDurmon, “One Kingdom, One Law,” in Principles of Christian Politics, CD-series by American Vision. []
  2. I have taken the tenets of the Two-Kingdoms Theology from David VanDrunnen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010). []
  3. Confessions 3:8:15. []
  4. Sermons 31:2. []

About Bojidar Marinov

A Reformed missionary to his native Bulgaria for over 10 years, Bojidar preaches and teaches doctrines of the Reformation and a comprehensive Biblical worldview. Having founded Bulgarian Reformation Ministries in 2001, he and his team have translated over 30,000 pages of Christian literature about the application of the Law of God in every area of man’s life and society, and published those translations online for free. He has been active in the formation of the Libertarian movement in Bulgaria, a co-founder of the Bulgarian Society for Individual Liberty and its first chairman. If you would like Bojidar to speak to your church, homeschool group or other organization, contact him through his website:


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