by | May 4, 2022

The Scourge of the Radical Two Kingdoms View

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son
Colossians 1:13

Secular Humanism. Radical Islam. Vaccines. Presidential elections. Christian Education vs. Secular Education. Abortion. Socialism. Gay marriage.

The debate within the church over the nature of Christ’s kingdom and how it interacts with politics and culture is raging.  People everywhere are becoming more and more self-conscious about the foundations of their beliefs about religion, government and culture.

And yet Christians are confused, paralyzed and hesitant. They are asking themselves, what is God doing in the world? How should we then live and why? What is the Kingdom of Christ and how does it intersect with these issues? Does it intersect at all? What is the extent of the purpose of the Great Commission? Does it relate to political and cultural issues at all? What does it mean to “disciple the nations”?  Aren’t all of these institutions just going to burn up? If so, to what extent if any should the Christian be concerned about them? What does it mean for a Christian living in a fallen world to be a faithful citizen of the Kingdom? Whole books could be written (and have been) on each one of these questions.

Whether they are conscious about it or not, Christians do tend to have a view (at least in practice) about how Christ’s Kingdom relates to the cultural institutions of the world. There are exceptions and nuances to be sure, but these views usually manifest themselves in one of the following three perspectives

1. The “Confessional” Two Kingdoms view of the Westminster Divines held by old-school Presbyterians (Kingdom of Power and the Kingdom of Grace)

2. The Luther-influenced Radical Two Kingdom (R2K) view which has been recently repackaged by Michael Horton and David Van Drunen etc. (Common Kingdom and the Redemptive Kingdom)

3. The Neo-Kuyperian One Kingdom view held by many in the continental reformed community and those of a postmillennial and theonomic persuasion (Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of Satan).

A Brief Statement on the “Confessional Two Kingdoms View”

In this article I will try to break it down simply for you, and argue against the dominant view of our generation, which I refer to as the Radical Two Kingdoms view, or R2K. Although I take issue with some explanations of the Confessional Two Kingdoms view, I don’t have a bone to pick with it as I do with R2K. When properly understood and semantics are set aside, I don’t believe the one kingdom view is out of step with the confessions.

In agreement with classical two kingdoms theology, we can agree that it is true that scripture talks about the mediatorial reign of Christ which began at the resurrection and ascension as distinct from God’s eternal reign over all things. So there can be “two kingdoms” in that sense. But since scripture commonly juxtaposes the kingdom of Christ against the kingdom’s of darkness (Col 1:13-14) I don’t see it as helpful to speak of two divided Kingdoms. The fundamental antithesis in scripture is the battle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, a battle between two kingdoms, one good, and one evil.

I also do not think that some articulations of the classical two kingdoms view are particularly helpful when they seem to limit the mediatorial reign of Christ to the institutional church, when scripture makes plain that Christ came to set all things back to right. This happens through the Holy Spirit working in the church, but it is not limited to the “walls” of the church, but extends to all of life, whether in politics or business or any other area.

That being said, there are certain articulations of the classic view which I have no problem with if charitably understood. They certainly do not go anywhere near the errors of the radical two kingdoms thelogians.

First Things First

An important aspect of R2K theology which I believe is unbiblical (or at the very least puts the cart before the horse) is that it smuggles in a pessimistic, under-realized eschatology and a reductionistic view of the Great Commission and ultimately the message of the Gospel.

A Pessimestic Eschatology

The R2K perspective says definitively that cultural / civil institutions will not be redeemed prior to Christ’s return. To go further, they do not even believe that Christ’s kingdom is in inherent conflict with the institutions of the world – whether political or cultural institutions. For them, there is no way to “Christianize” government, art, business or economics. In this perspective, the concept of “Christendom” is not an end of the Great Commission but an obstacle to its success as Christians can become “distracted” from the main goal of converting souls.

Any significant attempt by the church to transform these institutions would be labeled an unhealthy distraction. They confuse Christ’s declaration that his kingdom is not of this world as a declaration that his kingdom is not in the world.  It’s not so much that they deny that civil institutions would be in better shape if they were full of Christians, it’s that they don’t think of cultural institutions as something that even needs redemption, because in their mind, that’s for later when Christ returns in the consummated New Heavens and New Earth. Without this pessimistic eschatology, their system makes little sense, so they must continue its emphasis.

This is not to say they explicitly teach that Christians should avoid involvement with any cultural institution (though often this is the implicit teaching). If a Christian does decide to vocationally take up a career in politics, the R2K adherent wouldn’t stop them or might even encourage and support them. But they would be reminded that in doing the work of a politician they are not contributing to God’s redemptive plan, or participating in the Great Commission (unless while at their job, they share the message of the death, burial and resurrection with a co-worker and the co-worker is born again). Bringing these institutions to obedience to Christ is not seen as part of the transforming mission of the great commission.

Secondly R2K holds that the the church should not speak on specific political issues, and does not see anything in the “common kingdom” (which includes civil government) that even needs redemption. In God’s overall redemptive plan, they do not see the Great Commission as having anything to do with political or cultural institutions. So not only do they exclude working to redeem civil government or any institution deemed to be part of the “common kingdom” from the work of the Great Commission, they don’t allow the church to speak to any political issue at all. For the R2K adherent, this would constitute a confusion of kingdoms.

I have had R2K adherents respond to me by saying that they have people in their camp like Senator Ben Sasse who are actively involved in politics as proof that they not ambivalent about politics on an individual basis. But that doesn’t prove that these R2K politicians are trying to redeem the institution of civil government in bringing everything under the feet of Christ.  For them the goal of involvement in politics is to work to preserve a political climate which is conducive for the church to be able to pursue their reductionistic view of the Great Commission (soul saving only – not teaching of the law). This we will touch on later.

Christ’s Kingdom – Footstooling the Nations

In creation God created the family, and mans rule & dominion over creation. Satan’s rebellion and the fall of all mankind required God to act if things were going to be restored. God’s plan of redemption is not only about redeeming souls to avoid hell, but He is redeeming everything that was corrupted back into a glorified Edenic state. He is destroying all the works of Satan (1st John 3:8). This happens fully and finally at the consummation when death and sin is finally defeated, but also as the nations are being footstooled prior to Christ’s return (Hebrews 10:12-13, Psalm 110:1, 1st Cor 15:22-27). This is the part that the R2Kers reject. If you espouse any notion of the great commission including the work of redeemed saints transforming society as part of the great commission, you will be accused on “imminatizing the eschaton”. What they miss is that this redemption of the the whole world through the discipling of the nations is what the great commission produces.

We would agree with R2K adherents that institutions which are full of unredeemed people cannot be redeemed by force. But part of what happens in the process of the discipling of the nations is that all these institutions are changed from opposing Christ and his Kingdom to obeying him as the people within these institutions are regenerated.

There are two kingdoms in God’s redemptive plan, but it’s not two divided kingdoms of Christ. It’s the Kingdom of darkness and Satan (and all the institutions devoted to it) and the Kingdom of light (Christ) and all the institutions devoted to it (Colossians 1:13). Satan and his kingdom no longer have any legitimate authority over the nations, and any power that Satan still retains is illegitimate in light of Christ having inherited the nations (Daniel 7, Psalm 2, Matthew 28:18). The nature of Christ’s kingdom is one that loots the kingdom of Satan and destroys it (Matthew 12:29).

That’s why as a function of Christ inheriting the nations, we not only see individuals commanded to live in Holiness, but Nations, Kings and Rulers being commanded to kiss the Son (Psalm 2).

Christ has one kingdom and one people and total authority over everything in his Kingdom (which is everything on heaven and on earth). It’s a Heavenly Kingdom, not an earthly one, but the Heavenly Kingdom’s rule doesn’t stop at the pearly gates (Matthew 28:18).

Now, does Christ have different spheres of authority and rules set up within his one kingdom? Of course. There is self government, family government, church government and civil government. Each of these have their own jurisdiction. The church cannot punish evil doers with the sword, and the state cannot excommunicate from the church. But all of these spheres of authority exist within the single Kingdom of Christ.

A Reductionistic Gospel & Reductionistic Great Commission

R2K also smuggles in a reductionistic view of the Gospel and so by extension they have a reductionistic view of the Great Commission. They say the church needs to “just preach the gospel”. But they limit the meaning of “the gospel” to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and the associated forgiveness of sins Christ offers. When they seek to buttress their arguments for limiting the Gospel to “Christ crucified”, they treat the word “Christ” as if it is a surname rather than a royal title which has imbedded within it a royal decree. If they include any talk of kingdom at all in their gospel message it’s only about a future kingdom which isn’t on the earth now, except “spiritually” in the gathered church as they seek to administer the sacraments and practice church discipline. This reductionism is all very foreign to scripture.

The ‘Good News” in Scripture is not only centered around the atonement, but is also centered around the coming of the Messiah and His Kingdom.  And in scripture, this kingdom is not limited to a Sunday worship service. It is Christ’s authority over everything in heaven and on earth including rulers and kings. As the saying goes, “there is not one square inch in the universe over which Christ does not declare, “Mine!”.   This authority that Christ now wields is very, very good news. In fact, that Christ has inherited the nations is no less a precious aspect of the gospel than the fact that Christ is savior of your soul.  We see so clearly the political implications of this heavenly kingdom on the earth which was “turning the world upside down” in the book of Acts.

Sadly, R2K adherents don’t see the great commission as something that transforms civilization because they see cultural institutions as common and not something that needs redeeming. By contrast, a one kingdoms view recognizes that Christ’s kingdom is one that scatters the darkness wherever it lies. We don’t see darkness becoming light but we do see darkness being defeated resulting ultimately in a redeemed earth with all of its institutions under Christ’s feet. Hebrews 10:12-13 indicates that Christ is waiting to return until his enemies have been made his footstool.

The scripture teaches that as part of the great commission we (the people of God) are to disciple the nations teaching them to obey all the Christ commanded. And “All that Christ commands” effects every human person in every vocation that they have. So we as the church cannot obey the great commission if we are not teaching them how to obey Christ in their different spheres, or if we are muzzling the church in speaking against issues that may be deemed “political”.  “All that Christ commands” includes the command to proclaim the gospel.  A fully orbed gospel presentation includes the notion that the Messiah has come in Christ, and that he has inherited the nations and received all authority in heaven and on earth.

In an attempt to persuade Christians to their position, I have heard R2K adherents employ a reductio ad absurdum that the church shouldn’t be proclaiming about whether to make a salad with croutons or without croutons, or about what kind of trade agreements governments can make with each other, or whether to vote for political candidate A or B. But that’s just a distraction from the real issue and a smokescreen. The point is that principles from Scripture are to be brought to bear on the political realm and the issues we face today. The answer is yes, you can make a salad in a Christian way or a non Christian way – you could poison it. The response no doubt would be to point out that unbelievers don’t usually poison salads. Of course they don’t, and when they don’t, they act like a Christian. God owns all morality, there is no neutrality.

As I have been explicitly told by R2K adherents, they despise the notion of Christendom and cheer it’s demise because they think it a distraction from real mission of the Gospel, saving souls to heaven. It floors me that that they still want to claim that their system is in accordance with Augustine (The “Father of Christendom”). Frequently they conflate Augustine’s two cities with their understanding of the two kingdoms. With Augustine, the two cities were competing religions, not a divided Kingdom of Christ.

On the issue of abortion, R2K adherents say that the church can say it is wrong, appealing to natural law. But they would not make specific pronouncements on what the government (or individuals in government) should do or call out specific rulers for rebellion against Christ.

The separation of Church and state doesn’t mean the Church doesn’t call the State to obey Christ. It means the Church has no responsibility to carry out the obligations of the state. R2K is an unbiblical teaching that has born the fruit of producing large scale escapism by the church in the cultural institutions of the world. In the same way that dispensationalist eschatology has produced an excuse to check out of society, so R2K ecclesiology provides a way out of applying the great commission to the work of transforming the institutions around us. I know that this is not their conscious intent, but I think that is the clear effect that it has had.

It may be that the R2K mentality has arisen as a reactionary pendulum shift as a result of some of the excesses of a bygone era which was unbiblical in a different way (failing to respect the proper scriptural limits of the civil and ecclesiastical institutions). This in understandable in some instances since often the Kuyperian one-kingdom theologians ended up pushing statism under the guise of Christianity and their commitment to Christendom. But we must not use this as an excuse to throw out the concept of Christendom altogether. What we need is Christendom combined with a commitment to the bounds of God’s law.

While R2K theologians throw out Christendom, competing religions of secular humanism and Islam have no such divide in their worldview and with the rise of the R2K mindset we have seen Christendom in society (however flawed it has been) replaced by humanism. This is not a good thing for society or for the propagation of the gospel.

We pray:

“Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”

Matthew 6:9-10

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son
Colossians 1:13

Further reading:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.
Genesis 3:15

The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Genesis 49:10

The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
Psalm 110:1

For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
Isaiah 2:3b
“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
Daniel 7:13-14

Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.
John 12:31

Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.
Matthew 12:29

All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
Matthew 28:18b

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son
Colossians 1:13

And having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself — by Him, I say, whether they be things on earth or things in heaven.
Colossians 1:20

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
1st John 3:8b

And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
Revelation 11:15

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Revelation 21:5a

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Jordan Wilson
Jordan Wilson is a Christian Reconstructionist pursuing the Great Commission with his wife and children with a focus on intergenerational dominion. You can find his writings here at Christendom Media, New City Times, and scattered across the nether regions of the interwebs. Jordan admins a number of social media forums dedicated to the advancement of Christian reconstruction, theonomy, and postmillennialism.

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