Thursday, October 30, 2008

The two-kingdom theory

Lee Irons has posted a critique of Scott Clark:

It doesn’t surprise me that a smart, sophisticated guy like Lee can argue circles around Clark. Clark is simply not in the same weight division.

So I don’t find myself in disagreement with anything Lee says here. But what about his own version of the two-kingdom theory?

Let’s step back a few paces. Ancient Israel was a theocratic nation-state. As a consequence, its law code reflects both aspects of its hybrid identity.

Some of its laws reflect the cultic holiness of Israel. That’s unique and unrepeatable.

But its civil and criminal laws reflect the fact that Israel was also a nation-state. Like any nation-state, it needed civil and criminal laws. This is not distinctive to the otherwise unique role of Israel.

Now Klineans tend to treat the whole law code as if it were a preview of eschatological justice and judgment. Therefore, none of it applies today.

But this is frankly absurd. The Mosaic law code doesn’t have laws and penalties regarding national defense, statecraft, property crimes, sex crimes, violent crimes, and so on, because it’s a type of the final judgment. Any nation-state will have to have this sort of thing to uphold public justice and order. Otherwise, social life is impossible.

Some of the laws are obsolete because they codify a now-defunct socioeconomic system. But many of the laws exemplify generic norms that are still applicable to modernity.


  1. Steve, I disagree. Clark is representing the view that I find most prevalent in 2K theologians (and, to me, the most sensible) - the idea that the government's responsibility is to enforce the second table of the 10 Commandments, and not the first table. Lee is the one who is "far out" on this issue.

    Lee contends that if you appeal to natural law as a basis for civil government, then you must apply both Tables and cannot simply use a subset of natural law. It is not obvious to me why this must be. Saying that natural law is the basis on which government should legislate and rule is not the same thing as saying that all of natural law is in the domain of proper civil law.

    You have taken Lee Irons and Jason Stellman both to task for their extreme applications (versions?) of 2K doctrine (rightly so), on the matters of abortion and Obama. Lee for his support, and Jason for his seeming ambivalence. Clark's position is far more sober and moderate - it allows a basis on which we should condemn the government (and candidates) for endorsing things like sodomite marriage and the murder of babies.

    That is precisely what I took to be the "standard" understanding of natural law in the Reformed 2K conception - at least as I learned it from my own pastor, David VanDrunen's book, and from a conversation I had last Spring with David VanDrunen on this specific matter.

  2. Hi David,

    i) Since your comments are mainly directed at Irons rather than me, there’s not much for me to respond to. You’ve largely ignored my own position and supporting arguments.

    ii) There are some obvious problems with natural law theory:

    a) Are you proposing a secular or theistic version of natural law theory? Presumably a major rationale for natural law theory is the appeal to common ground. In that event, you’d be proposing a secular version of natural law theory. A principle that’s neutral on the God-question.

    b) But why would an unbeliever be impressed by a secular version of natural law? Suppose, for example, a sodomite were to concede that sodomy is unnatural or contrary to nature. But, as an atheist, he doesn’t believe that natural selection is normative. He doesn’t believe that nature obligates him to do anything or refrain from doing anything. So how would an appeal to the natural order of things be morally compelling?

    c) If you shift to a theistic version of natural law, then you lose a major rational for natural law theory over against revealed moral theology.

    d) And as long as you’re going to argue for some version of theistic ethics, why argue for theistic natural law theory rather than revealed moral theology (e.g. Biblical ethics)?

    e) Likewise, it isn’t clear how even a theistic natural law theory can successfully adjudicate ethical disputes. Take the debate over contraception. Thomism argues that contraception is immoral because the natural purpose of sex is reproduction. Hence, contraception is unnatural or contrary to nature. Precious few Protestants find that convincing. Yet it’s a logical argument—given the premise.

    f) I also don’t see how an appeal to natural law adjudicates the question of whether or when it’s licit or illicit to lie, take innocent life, &c.