Those who have been through systematic education in philosophy know one thing about all dualistic philosophies and religions: They die the moment they touch the ground. A dualistic philosophy can exist in the minds of of ivory tower philosophers and theologians, and it can have a good and coherent system of apologetics and of ideology; but when a dualist tries to apply his faith to the real world he always gets entangled in contradictions and confusion that his ideology is unable to solve. The real world doesn’t tolerate metaphysical dichotomies; whether in cosmology, science, and math, or in history, political science, and sociology, it defies dualistic explanations. Marxism, being deeply dualistic, has always had problems explaining how is it that proletarians by the very nature of their economic position in life have “proletarian consciousness,” and yet need to be educated in it. Kantian dualism has never been able to explain the connection between “pure reason” and “practical reason” in practice. Pelagianism and semi-pelagianism – the “free will” heresy – have never been able to explain how we can pray to God for the conversion of a person, if it is the human free will that effectively produces the conversion in the first place. Examples can be produced of all dualistic philosophies.
The two-kingdom theology is not an exception. As we have pointed out many times on the American Vision web-site, the two-kingdom theology is dualism. It believes in separating reality into two spheres – the church and the state – with two different laws and two different sources of authority. Like David VanDrunnen says in the Introduction to his book, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010),
The church . . . does not trample on the authority of the common kingdom institutions. Unlike these other institutions, its authority derives from the Scriptures alone. [Emphasis in the original]The laws for the two kingdoms are different, and the source of authority is different, for the two kingdoms, according to VanDrunnen. No matter what the proponents of the two-kingdom theology say about it, this is dualism. And like every dualism, we should expect it to fail every time when it has to explain the events in the real world, or prescribe practical action.
The confusion of dualism can be seen in a recent article by Albert Mohler about the persecuted church in China: “If This Is What God Intended, So Be It.”
The story in short: Shouwang, a house church in China of about 1,000 members, raised about $4 million to buy property and build its own building. By the laws of the state – i.e. by the law of the “common kingdom” – the church is unregistered and unregisterable; the Chinese state has specific rules for registering churches, and Shouwang doesn’t meet those rules. Because Shouwang is not registered, again according to the laws of the Chinese state, the authorities can not give it permission to build a church building, even if it’s on Shouwang’s own property. The refusal of the authorities led to something unheard of in the history of Communist China: the church leaders decided to protest and lead their congregation to open-air services which is another violation of the laws of the Chinese state. What is the goal of the protest? Mohler quotes Andrew Jacobs:
Its demands were straightforward but bold: allow the church to take possession of the space it had legally purchased.Note the word: demands. A church demands that the state ignore its own laws, or change its own laws, to allow the church to build a building, own a building, and worship in a building. And Albert Mohler praises the church, and even calls its actions “Christian courage.”
But how can he do that? Albert Mohler is one of the most vocal proponents of the two-kingdom theology. He agrees with VanDrunnen that the church should not “trample on the authority” of the common kingdom institutions. He also agrees that the church’s authority comes from the Scriptures alone, unlike the other institutions. He also believes that the laws for the two kingdoms are different – the laws for the redemptive kingdom come from the Bible, while the laws for the common kingdom are based on natural law, which is common to all people and is not revealed in the Bible. Interviewing Peter Wehner, Mohler specifically states that according to the two-kingdom theology the church “ought to articulate general principles bearing social concern, but ought to leave it to individuals to apply those principles in particular cases.” The church, in short, can not talk to the culture as a church; the culture – and specifically, the state – is not bound by the Biblical Law, it has the natural law which the church can not address in its particular applications. There the church is silent and must remain silent.
But in the Shouwang case we have a church that violates Mohler’s prescriptions. The church – as a church – demands specific action from the government, and that in an area that is specifically state’s, building permits, registrations, etc. The church – as a church – organizes its members in open-air church meetings to protest and demand from the government to violate its own laws – and to violate them in their particular application. Contrary to Mohler’s own theology, the Shouwang church has been largely silent on “general principles bearing social concern,” since Mohler himself mentions that Shouwang has “maintained a steadfastly nonpolitical stance.”
In short, the Shouwang church is violating every single one of the main principles of the two-kingdom theology as applied to the relations between church and state. And yet, Mohler endorses and praises the church’s actions. How can he explain his stance? How can he justify the Shouwang’s actions? If the church derives its authority from the Scriptures alone, then the Shouwang church must have found in the Scriptures a law that says that the church has the right to build on its own property, or tell the government what it should do as far as building permits are concerned – the church certainly can not act on the basis of a law that is not in the Scriptures. Therefore, the church leaders must have found in the Bible a law for owning property, building permits, registration, etc.; moreover, Mohler must have found such laws in the Bible to justify the church’s protest and demands. If he hasn’t, then he should renounce the church leaders of Shouwang as acting on extra-Biblical authority. But if the Bible contains laws for registration, building permits, etc., then there is much more in the Bible than the “general principles” Mohler is talking about elsewhere; obviously there are particular applications too. And even more, obviously the Bible must have given the Shouwang church the authority to apply them in practice, and demand that the government enforce as laws what the church has found in the Bible concerning building permits.
Mohler doesn’t explain his position in the light of his own theology. He knows: based on his own theology he should reprimand the Shouwang church, not praise it.
Let’s say we ignore the issues with a church demanding that the state act contrary to its own laws; let’s say we ignore the “trampling” of state authority done by the Chinese church. The question still remains: Why should the government listen to the church? A Chinese government official, by the very tenets of the two-kingdom theology, should refuse to yield to the demands of the church. And that not because he hates God or Christianity but because the church has nothing to offer to the state. If a government official understands the two-kingdom theology, the following exchange can take place:
Official: By what authority do you make your demands?
Minister: By the authority the church derives from the Scriptures alone.
Official: According to VanDrunnen, the state, unlike the church, doesn’t derive its authority from the Scriptures alone. So your source of authority can not be used to make demands from the state; and the state doesn’t have to listen.
Minister: Well, our demands are based on the natural law outside of the Scriptures, which binds the state.
Official: You have no authority as a church to base your demands on anything outside of the Scriptures, therefore you have no authority to make these demands.Plain and simple: By the dualistic worldview of the two-kingdom theology, the church has nothing to say to the state. If the church stays within the bounds of its proper authority – i.e. the Scriptures alone – the state doesn’t have to listen; if the church decides to venture into the area where the state should listen – i.e. the natural law – then the church is outside of its proper area and can’t speak nor teach. Either way the state has nothing to learn from the church.
Again, Mohler is silent about this. He doesn’t explain how the church can instruct the state, if we accept his theology. The confusion is complete when we look at his article of October 2004, “Citizens of Two Kingdoms.” In it he says:
Our Christian faith must shape our understanding of every important issue-including politics.And then:
Christians cannot expect government to solve all problems, but we must hold our government accountable to protect life, respect marriage, and honor righteousness.Our Christian faith is shaped by the Word of God, i.e. the Scriptures. We don’t find Christian faith in the natural law outside of the Bible. But if our faith shapes our understanding, and our faith is based on the Bible, what is the standard we are going to use to “hold our government accountable”? We can’t use the natural law, because it is our Christian faith that shapes our understanding; but the government won’t – and shouldn’t – listen to anything else but the natural law, if we take Mohler’s two-kingdom theology. Mohler’s contradictions between theology and practical application are unresolvable.
But there is more. There is the expectations of our actions.
Let’s say we ignore the problems above and we decide we have a good reason to demand from the government and hold it accountable. What will we expect of our actions? We will expect the government to act justly, according to a higher law. Otherwise, if we do not expect such a thing, we won’t be protesting, demanding, or holding the government accountable. In other words, we expect the government to reform its ways – just as we expect from a sinner to reform his ways. The Shouwang church protests and demands because it expects the Chinese government to change its unjust laws and act in justice and righteousness. They expect nothing short of transformation. But are such expectations legitimate, if one believes in the two-kingdom theology?
They aren’t. In the Introduction to the VanDrunnen’s book mentioned above, he says of the vision of the culture – and its institutions – transformed and redeemed, that it is not true to the Scripture. We can’t expect the institutions to start acting in accordance with God’s redeeming purpose for them. In fact, VanDrunnen emphasizes strongly that “God is not redeeming cultural activities.” Albert Mohler calls such expectations “political utopianism.” Even if the two-kingdom theology could justify some political or cultural action, it is an action that doesn’t expect any positive result long-term, only disappointment and cultural decline. As a rule, political action must produce defeat, since we shouldn’t expect our redemptive efforts to produce redemptive results. God surely doesn’t bless the efforts of His people.
In short, like every dualism, the dualism of the two-kingdom theology is self-defeating. It can exist in the minds of arm-chair theologians, and it can look very convincing and coherent on paper. But as Mohler’s article shows, when applied in practice to the real world, it necessarily leads to contradictions and confusion. The two-kingdom theology is like a beautiful multi-colored soap bubble: It stays together and floats while in the air. When it touches the ground of harsh reality, it pops and disappears.