SBJT Forum -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 21:4 (Winter 2017)
Article: SBJT Forum
Author: Anonymous

SBJT Forum

SBJT: Martin Luther Is Famous For His Understanding Of Two Kingdoms. What Is Luther’s Two Kingdoms View And Why Is It Important For Us Today?

David VanDrunen is the Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Seminary California. He earned his JD from Northwestern University School of Law and his PhD from Loyola University Chicago. Dr. VanDrunen has authored numerous works, and his most recent books include Divine Covenants and Moral Order: A Biblical Theology of Natural Law (Eerdmans, 2014) and God’s Glory Alone: The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life (Zondervan, 2015).

David VanDrunen: While issues of Scripture, faith, and justification will probably always remain of chief interest for students of Martin Luther’s theology, understanding the reformer’s historical influence requires wrestling with his doctrine of the two kingdoms. This doctrine grounded Luther’s reflections on civil government, its relation to the church, and Christians’ ordinary vocations. Luther set forth a striking vision of what we today might call “Christianity and culture,” a vision rooted in centuries of earlier Christian thought—and yet without any exact precedent. While I do not believe Luther’s vision got everything right, I suggest that its basic features are compelling and remain surprisingly relevant for contemporary Christians.

Luther’s famous treatise, “Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed” (1523), captures the main ideas and implications of the vision. At least four perennially important themes emerge from this treatise.

First, Luther asserts that civil government claims legitimate authority. Magistrates bear the sword and enforce the law by God’s ordinance. Luther finds evidence for this already in Genesis 4:14-15 and 9:6, and claims that the Mosaic law, John the Baptist, and Christ himself confirmed it. Second, Luther describes civil authority as distinct: the temporal authority magistrates wield is distinct from the spiritual authority by which Christ governs believers. Here Luther introduces the categories of “two kingdoms” and “two governments.” In this treatise, Luther speaks of the “two kingdoms” in a way similar to Augustine’s “two cities.” The kingdom of God consists of true Christians, and the rest of humanity belongs to the kingdom of the world.

The “two governments” refer to the distinct ways by which God rules these two kingdoms. True Christians do not need to be ruled by law or sword, so God e...

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