A Brief Response to Darryl Hart

With his usual mix of vinegar and vigor, 2K advocate Darryl G. Hart has responded to my recent post on the “The Two-Kingdoms Theology and Christians Today.”  I want to thank him for initiating a spirited discussion of my post, though I might wish he were a bit less predictable.  For example, I’ve pretty much found that I can set my watch by the regularity of the gratuitous swipes at Darryl’s bête noire—a certain PCA minister in New York.

Here are just a few comments on some issues raised.  First, on the matter of the relationship between church and kingdom the real issue is not whether the church is the kingdom but whether the visible church and the kingdom are coextensive (as 2K proponents maintain).  The recent NT scholarship I referenced maintains, rightly I think, that the church is an aspect of the kingdom of God, but that the kingdom is a reality greater in scope than the church.  Hart’s protestations notwithstanding, as far as I can tell none of the major Reformed confessions have definitively pronounced on this key question.  But this question is crucial to the present debate, for if the 2K advocates are wrong on this point their program falls apart.  Certainly the church stands at the center of God’s plan for the cosmos, but the 2K restriction of the kingdom to the visible church is difficult to square with, for example, Ephesians 1:21-23 where we read that with the ascension Christ has been seated “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (ESV).  That’s kingdom language, and it is a comprehensive kingdom!

Second, while it is good to see the document finally getting the scholarly scrutiny it deserves, I don’t think that the Gnesio-Lutheran Magdeburg Confession of 1550, written as it was at the height of the Interim crisis, should be taken as the last word on the Lutheran approach to church and state relations.   As recent scholarship has demonstrated, there was a flurry of Lutheran resistance thinking between 1530 and 1555 in response to Roman Catholic pressure, and the Reformed were involved in similar discussions as well (Calvin articulates the lesser-magistrate argument as early as the 1536 Institutes!).   A more interesting question is why the later stance of Lutheran passivity vis-à-vis the state emerged after the Catholic threat subsided with the Peace of Augsburg, and the extent to which Lutheran two-kingdoms thinking is implicated in this development.  In addition, one practical reason that resistance theory continued to develop under Reformed auspices is perhaps that Lutherans often could choose to live under a Lutheran prince by moving to a neighboring principality, while many Reformed did not have that luxury.

Third, I want to thank commenter Chris Hutchinson for his pushback on the issue of Lutheran third use of the law, and commenter Steve Martin for his expression of an alternative Lutheran viewpoint.  While I disagree with Martin on the details, he has in my judgment articulated where a good deal of Lutheranism tends to end up.  I still think my statement about the Lutheran approach to Law and Gospel is defensible as a broad-brush treatment in a 2000-word post, but obviously there is more to be said.

While he certainly places much more emphasis on the condemning function of the Law, Luther does at points speak of it as relevant to the life of the Christian.  The Formula of Concord affirms the Law as guide for the life of the Christian; some Lutheran scholastics even spoke of four uses of the Law, and the Ten Commandments are a prominent element of Lutheran catechesis.  But, as Luther scholar Paul Althaus rightly points out, Luther also insists that the Law has been abrogated for the “new” or “inner man” (i.e., the justified Christian) because Christ has fulfilled the Law (see, e.g., Luther’s “On the Freedom of the Christian”), and the Law is in a sense unnecessary in that the Holy Spirit inscribes God’s desires upon the heart and enables the Christ to fulfill them.  But the “old man” remains in that the Christian is both “sinner and saint” (Luther’s famous simul iustus et peccator) and thus the preaching of the Law serves to drive even the Christian to Christ and to underscore God’s expectations.   The practical difficulties involved in this dialectical anthropology (e.g., how can we be sure that we are not addressing the law as law to the “new man” and thus inculcating works righteousness?) have, I think, contributed to the marked ambivalence in Lutheranism toward the third use of the law.