by John A. Battle
During the last few years a new controversy has come to conservative Reformed circles. Historically Reformed and Presbyterian writers believed that secular nations should be ruled by natural law, which people can derive from nature, history, and conscience. This law is basically the same as the “moral law,” the Ten Commandments, especially those commands regarding our duty to our fellow human beings. According to these early writers, God rules over the nations of the world in his sovereignty, and holds them responsible to obey and uphold this natural law with the power of the sword. Jesus, as the Son of God, is sovereign in this way, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
On the other hand, earlier Reformed writers recognized Jesus Christ as sovereign over his special kingdom, the church. The church is guided by the Bible as a whole, and enforces the will of Christ by its spiritual authority, not by physical force. Jesus, as Messiah and Mediator of the new covenant, is sovereign over this second kingdom.
According to this traditional understanding, the civil laws of the Old Testament were directed to national Israel under the theocracy. They were not intended for the other nations, nor are they applicable today, except as they are tied to natural law.
David VanDrunen believes that this traditional scheme is biblical and correct. He further demonstrates in this book that this was the view of mainstream theology in the church, from the times of the church fathers, through the Middle Ages, through the Reformation times, and since then through the nineteenth century.
However, in the last century many Reformed writers have attacked this position, and have taught in a single kingdom of Christ, denying the two kingdom and natural law teachings. VanDrunen traces the main spokesmen and varying approaches of this movement, including Abraham Kuyper, Karl Barth, Herman Dooyeweerd, Cornelius Van Til, and other writers. He sees two different lines of development from Van Til: Greg Bahnsen, who denies the two kingdoms and natural law, and Meredith G. Kline, who tends to support those teachings.
VanDrunen’s book contains a wealth of footnotes to the scholarly literature, and represents a massive amount of study. His collection and summation of the various writers’ positions seems accurate and well documented. This book was not designed to support the doctrine biblically (another book of his that will attempt this task, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture, is due out later this year), but the passages and arguments quoted from many Reformed theologians and from Reformed and Presbyterian creeds certainly make his position formidable at the outset.
One criticism I have is the poor writing style of the book, including unnecessary repetition. A careful perusal of the classic Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White would greatly aid the author in future works (of which I hope there will be many!).
Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought, by David VanDrunen (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010). Pp. 466.