Review Of VanDrunen’s “ Natural Law And The Two Kingdoms” -- By: William D. Dennison

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 75:2 (Fall 2013)
Article: Review Of VanDrunen’s “ Natural Law And The Two Kingdoms”
Author: William D. Dennison


Review Of VanDrunen’s “
Natural Law And The Two Kingdoms”

William D. Dennison

I. Introduction

During the initial decade of the twenty-first century, Westminster Seminary California (WSC) carved out its own prescription for the Christian’s relationship to culture. Many of the faculty there have recommended a revival of what they perceive as the historic and traditional Reformed doctrines of natural law and two kingdoms (NL2K). The leading voice for this proposal seems to be David VanDrunen, whose published works on these subjects have revived them within his own theological environment. From there, his assessment has filtered into the discussion about culture in the wider Reformed world and beyond. Indeed, his corpus and graduate credentials (theology and law) provide ample justification for him to write for the Emory University Studies in Law and Religion series, of which the volume under review is a part.1

When VanDrunen engaged complex issues in the field of law and ethics during his graduate studies, he was disappointed that recent Reformed authors within his own circle of thought provided little assistance. In the face of this void, he was drawn to the notion of natural law and its companion, the two kingdoms in the Reformed tradition, as a means to address legal and moral issues in the realm of “commonality,” that is, the domain of cultural socio-civil life shared by Christians and non-Christians (civitas permixta). Although NL2K doctrines have been neglected by recent Reformed thought, VanDrunen believes a “renaissance” of these doctrines “might provide a fresh and coherent contribution to the wider discussions about Christianity and culture” (p. 12). In classic Reformed thought, “Christians are citizens of two distinct kingdoms”—“the church as the non-violent kingdom of Christ and the sword-bearing, coercive state” (p. 13; cf. 267). As VanDrunen unfolds his thesis, the distinction between God’s work of redemption and his work of creation is paramount.

According to VanDrunen, the Reformed tradition grounded the kingdom of God (church) in the covenant of grace, mediated by Christ as redeemer. On the other hand, the tradition grounded the civil kingdom in natural law as based in the covenant of works (law written upon the heart) mediated by Christ as king over the creation (cf. pp. 182, 364). These two kingdoms, VanDrunen asserts, though distinct domains, cause no contradiction or inconsistency in the manner of Christian application to the church and civil society. Moreover, “the state is not at all an amoral institution, thanks to the universal testimony of God-given natural law” (p. 13).

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