In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on sodomite “marriage” my Facebook news feed was filled with quite a few statements by known and unknown, important and unimportant persons and institutions who wanted to inform the world what they thought of it. One institution, though, was missing from that list, and of what I know, there is still no official statement neither from the institution as a whole, nor from any individual working for it, on the SCOTUS’s ruling: The Westminster Seminary in Escondido, California, the seedbed of the modern Two Kingdoms theology, or, rather, the Two-Kingdoms rhetoric.
I, for one, would be really interested in such formal statement. Why? Well, because, there is an element of the two-kingdoms rhetoric that has been of special interest to me, and I have always wanted to understand it and see it developed by its adherents to its logical end. That element is the view of history and historical change, and is best described in the Introduction to VanDrunen’s book, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms:
According to [the two-kingdoms] doctrine, God is not redeeming the cultural activities and institutions of this world, but is preserving them through the covenant He made with all living creatures through Noah in Genesis 8:20-9:17.1
So, there are two principles at work when it comes to the dynamics of history, according to this statement. One is limited only to the church and the individual Christians (as far as only their non-cultural activities are concerned): redemption, that is, a change, gradual or instant, from a state of wickedness and curse to a state of righteousness and blessing. The other is broader and includes all unbelievers and all cultural endeavors of all men, believers and unbelievers: preservation, that is, keeping things in a state that is neither redeemed nor wicked.
The most important thing, of course, which a Reformed Christian would notice in this statement is that, from a Reformed perspective, this is a declaration of the moral neutrality of the cultural endeavors of man. If man is a moral creature in all the aspects of his being (as made in God’s image), and if sin has permeated all the aspects of man’s nature (total depravity), then man’s cultural activities and institutions are just as corrupt and depraved as man himself. If we accept as valid Henry Van Til’s dictum that “culture is religion externalized,” then man’s cultural activities and institutions – just as much as his individual character and personal piety – are shaped by his religion. Clearly, then, if man’s individual character and personal piety can be redeemed – that is, harmonized with the demands of the Gospel – obviously, a culture that was lost must be also capable of being redeemed, that is, harmonized with the demands of Gospel. If God is not redeeming it, then culture must not be under the curse of sin, and therefore it is morally neutral: that is, free of the standards for good and evil.
VanDrunen understands this clear logical conclusion of his position, so he is trying to use obfuscation to avoid the charge of moral neutrality:
This kingdom is in no sense a realm of moral neutrality or autonomy. God makes its institutions and activities honorable, though only for temporary and provisional purposes.
But moral neutrality is not about “honorable” and “dishonorable,” it’s about good and evil. “Honor” means nothing when it comes to moral standards; unless, of course, it is taken to mean “good,” in which case he would have used the word “good” as a more logical choice. The obfuscation is quite obvious: He denies he makes culture morally neutral, but then he uses a morally neutral word to describe it, instead of the obvious, logical alternative, the morally-charged words of “good” and “evil.” Why? Obviously, because if he says that culture can be either good or evil, he will have no explanation why culture shouldn’t be redeemed.
And even worse than that: Since the culture of unredeemed and depraved men is by nature unredeemed and depraved, VanDrunen will have a hard time explaining what exactly is it that God is “preserving,” and why.
So the only way for VanDrunen to hope to sell his doctrine to Reformed Christians is to keep speaking of culture in morally neutral terms while at the same time denying the obvious conclusion of its moral neutrality. It’s all rhetoric.
A Theology of Historical Stagnation
The conclusion about the moral neutrality of culture inherent in the two-kingdoms rhetoric is the most important one, but there’s another ramification: The notion of God redeeming His people while preserving the world around them in the same state makes history meaningless. When it comes to the individual life and character of man, we as Christians consider it meaningless to believe that it is possible for a man to be redeemed and justified and sanctified, and not be changed in his outward actions and his conduct. We expect a man’s conduct to become “religion externalized,” and since his religious views were redeemed, we expect his conduct to be redeemed as well. In the same way, how is it possible for God’s people to be redeemed, and yet never be able to apply that redemption to the world around them, so that the changed state of the world becomes a testimony to the power of the Gospel in their lives? As the Gospel spreads throughout the earth, and God brings more and more people to Himself, what is that logic that will declare that the cultural actions and institutions of mankind will remain the same, being simply “preserved,” meaning that they will never manifest the inward change in God’s redeemed people?
If the power and the victory of the Gospel remained locked within men’s hearts and are never expressed in the historical dynamics of their culture and institutions, then history doesn’t reveal the power and the victory of the Gospel. There would be nothing in history to which unbelievers can look up to and see how God has been working in redeeming a people to Himself. If history doesn’t reveal the power and victory of the Gospel, then history either has no meaning at all, or has another meaning, different and rival to that of the Gospel. At best, history is stagnant; it doesn’t indicate any movement in any direction, either to confirm or to negate the Gospel. In most cases, the supporters of the two-kingdoms doctrine actually believe history goes from better to worse, that is, history is able to overcome and defeat the growth of the Gospel, when it comes to the practical applications of it.
History is the development of man’s civilization over time, and it is not morally neutral. It’s the change – over time – in man’s cultural actions and institutions, conditioned by man’s spiritual growth or apostasy. When we compare two historical periods, this is what we are looking at: How do the cultures of the two historical periods compare? Then, from this comparison, we are making our conclusions about the flow and direction – and the meaning and testimony – of history. The Bible is full of such examples. God spoke to the Israelites multiple times in the Bible, showing them the difference between their age and ages past, demonstrating how their obedience or disobedience led to cultural improvement or decay. Prophecies about the future promise the same things: The advance of the Gospel leads to the growth of the Kingdom of God on earth, and the growth of the Kingdom of God is manifested visibly in the restoration of man’s culture and institutions on earth, before the Second Coming of Christ. Until, as the Scripture promises, “all His enemies are made His footstool” (Heb. 1:13) and “all things are subjected to Him” (1 Cor. 15:28).
Amillennialists and premillennialists often object to the charge that their systems destroy the meaning of history. But objections to the contrary, the inevitable conclusion is that, indeed, any system that denies cultural growth in history as the result of the growth of the Gospel by necessity destroys the meaning of history. The meaninglessness of history is very well described in that famous quote by Meredith Kline from an article where he attacks Christian Reconstruction for many things, among them the postmillennial belief that history is the manifestation of the victory of God’s special grace on earth:
And meanwhile [the common grace order] must run its course within the uncertainties of the mutually conditioning principles of common grace and common curse, prosperity and adversity being experienced in a manner largely unpredictable because of the inscrutable sovereignty of the divine will that dispenses them in mysterious wisdom.2
Kline continues by stating categorically: No judgment in history based on obedience or disobedience. Why? Because that would destroy the principle of “commonness,” as opposed to the principle of special grace, that is, redemption:
For if the principle of synchronizing a people’s enjoyment of temporal prosperity with the measure of godliness they exhibit were to be administered universally, no place would be left for the operation of a principle of commonness in the bestowing of temporal benefits on believers and unbelievers.
Translated to common language it means, “History can’t be a testimony to the power – and therefore to the blessings – of the Gospel; redemption is only a side issue to it. History is not a revelation of Jesus Christ and His ministry.”
Commonness? No, War!
This, of course, runs contrary to the Biblical view of history which describes history’s most important characteristic to be not the “commonness” between men and their cultures but the War between the Two Seeds. The world is a wheat field in which some tares were sown (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43), and with time, the seeds grow to maturity, and it becomes obvious which plant belongs to which seed. Covenant-keepers will grow in redemption and sanctification and will be blessed, covenant-breakers will grow in evil and depravity and will be cursed, and this blessing and curse will become more and more visible in the culture in the growing redemption of all cultural activities and institutions. Granted, the curve won’t be smooth, and some generations of Christians – like ours – may despise the Law of God and reject the idea of the victory of the Gospel of Christ; such temporary apostasy will lead to temporary stagnation and may be even downward slope for culture. But in the long term, history will demonstrate more and more the superiority of the Gospel, in the redemption of mankind’s cultural actions and institutions.
The court of history, therefore, has been busy handing down verdicts: verdicts which bless and encourage and empower covenant-keepers, and curse and discourage and weaken covenant-breakers. Contrary to Kline and VanDrunen, redemption is active and operational not only for men’s individual souls and their churches, but for their cultures as well: families, businesses, scientific and technological endeavors, education and professional activities, their law systems and political establishments, etc., etc. Culture is religion externalized, and the curse that pagan religions brought into the world is being now replaced by the blessing of the Gospel, in every area of life, including culture.
And if you want to understand the very foundation of the two-kingdoms rhetoric, it is this: There is no such court of history. Not for the culture and for the human institutions, at least.
But then, how did that “preservation” work in the SCOTUS’s decision? VanDrunen and the two-kingdoms group have no answer. Any answer will have to either declare that the Court’s decision was morally neutral, or that culture is subject to sin – and therefore to redemption. The first would expose the real religion of Westminster West. The second would destroy their doctrine of the “commonness” of culture. Silence seems to be the most acceptable option.
Albert Mohler’s Strange Response
But there was another public statement. A statement which proves again that whenever the proponents of the two-kingdoms theory are not mindful of their words (or whenever it suits them politically), they naturally speak contrary to it. Rushdoony described the same phenomenon in his article, “Covert Theonomists.”3 The same phenomenon can be detected every Christmas – if not every Sunday service – when officially premillennial or amillennial churches sing hymns with openly postmillennial content. For all the blabber that premillennialism or amillennialism are the “most natural reading of Scripture,” in the final account, premillennialists and amillennialists quite naturally resort to postmillennial sentiments, and anti-theonomists resort to theonomic rhetoric.
This time the inconsistency comes from Albert Mohler, professedly premillennial and two-kingdoms in his views. I have written several articles exposing the intellectual schizophrenia in Mohler’s views, so I am not surprised to see him going again, naturally, against his own professed theology. Here are his words, in response to the decision of the Supreme Court concerning sodomite “marriages”:
But the Supreme Court, like every human institution and individual, will eventually face two higher courts. The first is the court of history, which will render a judgment that I believe will embarrass this court and reveal its dangerous trajectory. The precedents and arguments set forth in this decision cannot be limited to the right of same-sex couples to marry. If individual autonomy and equal protection mean that same-sex couples cannot be denied what is now defined as a fundamental right of marriage, then others will arrive to make the same argument. This Court will find itself in a trap of its own making, and one that will bring great harm to this nation and its families.4
So, the “court of history,” is it. And it’s not just for individuals, but for institutions also. Mohler believes that there will be some force, some operational principle in the world that renders judgment in history, on institutions. He doesn’t explain how that works with his eschatology of premillennialism which by default postpones judgment to the end of history. He doesn’t explain how it works with his two-kingdoms doctrine which argues for the principle of “commonness” in the culture, which by default rejects the concept of redemption being applied to man’s cultural activities and institutions, and argues for “preservation” rather than redemption.
I, of course, heartily agree with Mohler about the “court of history.” That has always been at the heart of Covenant Theology, that God uses covenant sanctions – blessings and cursings – in history to judge nations and their cultures and institutions for their obedience or disobedience to God’s Law. The “court of history” is actually God’s Court, God’s sovereign judgments in history. The nation, culture, or institution who obey God’s Law will be blessed with temporal blessings and more cultural power in history, and they will succeed in anything they undertake. The nation, culture, or institution who disobey God’s Law will experience temporal curses and will become increasingly impotent in their cultural endeavors, thwarted in their plans and undertakings.
It is in this mechanism of covenantal sanctions in history that history finds its meaning, and it through this “court of history” that the Gospel is being testified for and redemption is being brought to the nations. It is through this process of more cultural power to covenant-keepers and more cultural impotence to covenant-breakers that redemption is brought to an earth that is ravaged by mankind’s depravity. It is through this process of “making His blessings flow far as the curse is found” that God answers the prayer of His saints, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” At the end of history, all cultures will be redeemed through this process of covenant sanctions in history, because in their growth to maturity, believers will become more and more successful, and unbelievers more and more impotent. At the end, even if there are unbelievers remaining in the world, they will be powerless to have any influence on the cultures of the world whatsoever. What has previously been the “kingdoms of this world” will become the Kingdom of Christ. Thus, all will be made subject to Him, because the whole earth in its laws and cultural practices will be a reflection of God’s character, which is nothing less than God’s moral character encoded into ethical standards.
My agreement with Mohler’s faith in the inevitable verdict of the “court of history” is based on, and is in full agreement with my theonomic postmillennialism. The very notion of a transcendent “court of history” which judges – in history – the actions of cultural entities and civil institutions according to a transcendent moral standard is consistently theonomic and postmillennial. It can’t be premillennial or amillennial, for it presupposes positive, optimistic expectations of history – how can the wicked be judged and thwarted in history, and the righteous blessed and empowered, and yet history remain stagnant or increasingly evil? It can’t be anti-theonomic, for that would presuppose that God judges cultures and institutions based on a standard different than God’s Law. It can’t be consistent with the two-kingdoms doctrine for it presupposes that cultures and government institutions – like the Supreme Court – are under the requirements of the Law of God, and thus the very notion of “common grace” or “natural law” as their operational ethics is destroyed. For a person to be consistent, he can’t believe in a “court of history” unless he assumes a theology of covenantal, theonomic postmillennialism.
But how is Mohler, a premillennial, anti-theonomic, two-kingdoms professor, able to use the phrase “the court of history”? What is the possible meaning of that phrase in his professed theological position?
Does he mean historical judgment in the Biblical sense, as expressed in many Biblical passages like Deuteronomy 28 or Psalm 37? The sort of historical judgment that makes the wicked destroy themselves, thwarts their plans, topples down their kingdoms, and establishes the reign of their enemies, that is, the covenant people of God?
If he means that, he has betrayed his professed theology, for his theology doesn’t allow for such judgment in history. Remember, there is no redemption of culture in history, and therefore there is no judgment of culture in history. Culture is controlled by common grace and “natural law,” and the two-kingdoms doctrine allows for neither common grace nor “natural law” to force any covenantal separation within history. If, in history, the wicked are effectively destroyed or thwarted in their cultural agenda, and the righteous are made victorious by the victory of their cultural agenda in accordance with the Gospel, then that will be a redemption of culture from the darkness of wickedness to the light of the Gospel. But just a few days ago Mohler himself doubled down on his two-kingdoms doctrine by declaring that there is no such thing as redemption of culture in the Bible.5
So, obviously, the Biblical meaning of “court of history” is excluded – unless we assume that Mohler’s is a very heavy case of intellectual schizophrenia, so heavy that he himself can severely contradict himself within the course of two days and not notice it. So what else could that “court of history” be, then?
Blessings for the Wicked, Curses for the Righteous
Pay attention to Mohler’s language when he describes the working of that “court of history” he envisions:
. . . the court of history, which will render a judgment that I believe will embarrass this court and reveal its dangerous trajectory. . . . This Court will find itself in a trap of its own making, and one that will bring great harm to this nation and its families.
So, there will be consequences in history, but they will be only in “revealing the dangerous trajectory” of the Supreme Court. When that revelation happens, the court will be “embarrassed,” and it will find itself in a trap of its own making. In the final account, however, those who will suffer because of the Supreme Court’s decision will be this nation and its families, not the court itself.
The assumption here is that the Supreme Court is oblivious to the real long-term effects of their own decision; that when those long-term effects come, they won’t be expected by the Supreme Justices, and will “embarrass” them. So oblivious is the Supreme Court, that their decision is in fact setting a “trap” for themselves: normally, a trap is not set for those who expect a trap. Mohler can see what’s coming, but the judges don’t. But they will see it when it comes and understand the harm of what they have done. At the very bottom, this assumption boils down to faith in the good will and ethical character of the judges. If Mohler believes that the judges will be “embarrassed” by the results of what they have created, he must believe that the judges have the same moral standard as he does, in order for them to give the consequences the same moral assessment as he does. Here is the same faith in the “commonness” between believers and unbelievers that Meredith Kline and VanDrunen insist on, the “natural law” of the two-kingdoms doctrine, which both believers and unbelievers acknowledge and agree on, the shared ethical ground on which no one disagrees, and therefore can be the ethical and judicial foundation for the “common kingdom.” The cosmic battle between Christ and Satan – and between their followers – is only in the realm of the personal salvation of Christians, and may be also their personal ethics (as long as we keep it separate from their cultural endeavors). When it comes to the culture, or to the political realm, we all get along just fine, having the same principles of ethical and judicial assessment of reality: “natural law.” A court of anti-Christian perverts would agree in its assessment of reality and practical results with a Christian preacher.
So, from Mohler’s words, he expects Elena Kagan, for example, to be “embarrassed” when it becomes obvious that the court’s decision has opened the door to the legalization of polygamy, pedophilia, or bestiality, or to the destruction of the families. Because, you know, she would agree with Mohler about the ethical monstrosity of these things. Right?
How reasonable is it to believe such a thing? How reasonable is it to believe that the Supreme Court justices who voted for the legalization of sodomite “marriage” don’t actually realize where it is heading and what the consequences will be? And even more important, how reasonable is it to believe that unregenerate, anti-Christian perverts would have moral scruples and will be “embarrassed” or feel like being “caught in a trap” by the consequences of their decision? How reasonable is it to expect that they will have the same moral assessment of these consequences as Mohler does?
It isn’t reasonable at all. It contradicts the principle of “total depravity” that is at the foundation of Reformed soteriology. In order for Mohler to believe that a group of moral perverts will be able to give the same moral assessment of reality as that of Christians, he has to abandon Reformed theology. This is what the two-kingdoms rhetoric is: covert Arminianism, dressed in Calvinist verbiage.
In Mohler’s view of history, based on his two-kingdoms doctrine, there is really no “court of history” for the wicked. The “embarrassment” and the “trap” he imagines for the justices who voted for sodomite “marriage” will actually be their victory and vindication in history. They won’t look at the destruction they have created and say, “Oops, we were wrong and we did wrong, and the results are embarrassing for us.” They will say: “Great! This is exactly what we wanted to create: a pagan culture ruled by pagan laws. We wanted to destroy this nation and its families, and we were able to achieve it. History has judged us right.”
In Mohler’s theology, therefore, blessings in history are reserved for the wicked. What about the cursings? Well, he says it: They are reserved for the nation (a majority against the court’s ruling) and for its families. Blessings for the wicked, curse for the righteous: this is Mohler’s view of history. And he has no hope in history to offer; the culture can never be redeemed or Christianized. But it can become more pagan, obviously.
A Bugle with an Indistinct Sound
But why so much ado about the philosophy of history? Isn’t it more important to “preach the Gospel” instead of worrying about the direction of historical events?
The reason has been pointed out many times by postmillennial authors: the philosophy of history of a man or a group of people determines his actions. His expectations of the future – whether optimistic or pessimistic – will determine how and whether he will invest his time in important, long-term, culture-changing projects, or will limit his investment of time and effort to short-term activities of immediate results. These expectations of the future will affect his endeavors in his family, his business, his political participation, etc. The connection between a man’s philosophy of history and his actions is so obvious, it hardly needs to be stressed over and over again.
And yet, as obvious it is, it is not so obvious to premillennial and amillennial seminary professors. Some are so determined to not see it that they will twist even the simplest rules of logic or ignore the obvious historical lessons to deny such connection – like Mohler himself who recently declared that postmillennialism was what led to the rise of the German military state and then Nazism. (The truth is, the churches in Germany at the time were all premillennial or amillennial. Postmillennialism in the church produced the Scottish Kirk Covenant, the Puritan and the Glorious Revolutions in England, the American colonies and the American Revolution. Mohler is either completely ignorant about history or willing to lie about it to support his thesis.)
Our expectations about history are supposed to be the sound of the bugle, giving us a clear idea where we are going, so that we prepare for battle.
But the two-kingdoms doctrine gives no such clear sound. It either views history as stagnant (God is only “preserving” culture, not redeeming it), or it assumes a downward slope in history. It denies any connection between the spreading of the Gospel and the course of history, thus making history meaningless, as far as the Gospel is concerned. Even when its adherents declare that Christians must “participate in the culture” and that “the culture will be different when Christians participate” in it, it still denies that any such participation can produce any real value in the culture, except for isolated good works here and there. And when they speak about the “court of history,” that “court” only brings blessings and more power to the wicked in history, and more disappointment and curse on the righteous. If there’s a sound coming from the two-kingdoms bugle, it is very clearly a sound of defeat and hopelessness when it comes to history.
The SCOTUS’s ruling didn’t come in a vacuum. The Supreme Court justices know very well the cultural landscape, and they know what they can get away with. They know that despite the overwhelming numbers of Christians in the US, the Christian community is culturally crippled and impotent. They know that the Christian response will be passive and weak, and therefore the court will get away with anything they rule against the Christian religion. On the other hand, the justices know that the sodomites, a tiny minority, have and will have strong cultural influence.
The Christian impotence is self-inflicted. It is the product of several generations of systematic cultural vasectomy of the church, administered by its pastors and seminary professors; a cultural vasectomy based on theologies which divorce history from the Gospel, and make history meaningless. It is a vasectomy which bars Christians from bringing the redemption of Jesus Christ to the cultural arena, all in the name of the mirage of “natural law” as different from the Law of God which separates between covenant-keepers and covenant-breakers. A vasectomy which denies that the driving force behind history is the War between the Two Seeds, and declares that culture is a morally neutral shared ground between believers and unbelievers. In the final account, the state takes over, reinterprets “natural law,” and starts forcing its godless dictates on Christians. And Christians have nothing to oppose, except empty declarations.
That the Westminster seminary in Escondido wouldn’t respond to the court’s ruling was to be expected; their philosophy of history (“God only preserves institutions”) can’t explain change in history. On the other hand, when Albert Mohler decided to respond, his response was a confused garble, which either contradicts his own theology, or declares the victory of the wicked in history, and the defeat of the righteous. “Blessings for the wicked, cursings for the righteous.”
It is these bugles with indistinct sounds that have turned the church in America into a befuddled, culturally impotent mass. Some time ago Albert Mohler warned that one danger of Christians trying to redeem the culture or the civil institutions is that Christians tend to be incompetent when it comes to civil government and social problems. He is right. But Mohler himself and others with the same theology are at the root of the problem: Christians are incompetent because their teachers have made them so, by preaching doctrines of defeat and cultural retreat. Intellectual schizophrenia in preaching inevitably produces intellectual schizophrenics. And intellectual schizophrenics will always lose the cultural war.
Therefore, the solution to the court’s ruling must start from the very reason for the mess we are in: purge the pulpits of all preachers and teachers who have taught that there can be no redemption in the culture. As long as we allow them to control our pulpits, we will get more of the same: that is, we will have the enemies of God control our culture. Until all Christian influence is destroyed, and we leave a world of despair to our children.
- David VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, p. 15.
- Meredith Kline, “Comments on an Old-New Error.”
- R.J. Rushdoony, Roots of Reconstruction, pp. 1111-1112.
- “Mohler responds to Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision.”