“Sacramentalizing” and “r2k” are Two Sides to the Same Coin

I’ve managed to come to this odd position where I could be construed as critiquing both certain strands of neo-Calvinism and Radical Orthodoxy (a more left-wing variant of the same concepts) on the one hand and the so-called “two kingdoms” school (called “radical 2k” by their critics) on the other hand.  A surface approach would think that one should line up with one of these groups to attack the other.  This is not the case, however, because both share the same basic problem of not being able to allow nature and grace to dwell together happily.

Those groups who wish to “sacramentalize” nature, or super-naturalize nature, or transform nature through an addition of grace, invariably send the message that nature, on its own, is not properly fit for the spiritual man.  Too, the radical two-kingdom promoters wish to so sharply divide the realms of nature and grace that they invariably send out the message that the grace realm is what “really counts,” simply disagreeing with what gets to inhabit that realm.  They will deny this at first, claiming that nature was created good, and that their acceptance of secularism shows this.  But they will not allow the secular, or the realm of nature, to have any abiding validity.  If ever the two realms disagree, which they invariably will, the actual picture will come out with the visible church as “grace kingdom” claiming a monopoly on all teachings about divinity while giving up all civic abilities.  The Christian qua Christian is not actually allowed to be a statesmen.  This is also why church discipline and ecclesiastical courts are so important to this group.  That is where they can actually get their statecraft to work (and yes historically, in jolly ol’ England and Scotland, they attempted to use church law over and against the civil magistrate, but we don’t talk about that anymore…).

Related to this is the fact that both groups view God’s creation as a planned obsolescence.  Bryan Estelle (of the r2k camp), while teaching a class on the prophets at RTS Jackson, literally said this.  His reading of the stone in Daniel 2 was that when Jesus does return he will thoroughly do away with all worldly kingdoms.  Nature will finally be fulfilled, and from that point on, we will have the grace-world (the ones his opponents want, oddly) unto all eternity.  Notice, this is set-up as conflict, with grace crushing nature, as the stone crushes the wicked kingdoms of Daniel 2.

Now, the flip-side seems less violent, and I think this is why so many Evangelicals, formerly promoters of the more generic Religious Right, have been attracted to the “transformationalist” position.  It seems the most clear way to disciple the nations, to bring faith to bear on all of life, and to be salt and light abroad.  And insofar as it does these correctly, I’m with it.  However, the hidden problem is that this paradigm- most notably in its high-church variety- also tends to say that nature was partly deficient at creation.  It needed something extra to make it intelligible and potent.  However, we can only know this after we get this same thing- grace- and so again, nature ends up losing its own validity.  It can only be useful after the change.

And what this does, in both camps, is sell the farm on civics and apologetics, as well as invite an overly intrusive clergy in the spiritual realm.  The r2k’ers just walk away from the world altogether, or at least their hearts and souls do.  The Church-realm, however, is hyper-active, with laws and inquisitors abounding.  On the opposing side, we see that civics and apologetics are only “true” if they’re being changed by the grace-realm, and the only people with access to the knowledge of this realm are those already in it, usually being lead by their clergy.  Thus, to be a good statesman, you’d first have to come under their leadership.  To believe, you have to put reason on hold (at best).  And this is all on the level of spiritual laws, thus making the older concept of “things indifferent” nearly impossible to retain.  Everything’s of the esse of the Church.

Contrary to all of this is the historic Protestant position (originally shared by all magisterial Protestants) which was also consistent with the non-papalist catholic tradition (as represented by the Epistle to Diognetus, Augustine, the Carolingians, the conciliarists, and the better Emperors and princes).  They could proclaim nature and reason to be good, already possessing divine blessing, and at the same time insist that Christians are a living society who must be civic-minded, injecting charity into all that they do.  You will remember that Zwingli was ready to promote Socrates up from Limbo (the old medieval position) into heaven, such was his respect for natural gifting and wisdom.  And Calvin, perhaps more than any, turned all of Europe upside down with his confident Christian humanism.  Every city should have a church, a school, and a hospital.

This conversation is so tricky because all sides are claiming to be true representatives of the tradition.  The problem is that both opponents are only able to claim parts of the tradition, saying that, unfortunately, the tradition was internally divided and incoherent.  To hear them tell it, the transformationalists are taking the socio-politics of the Reformation, while the r2k’ers are taking the catechisms (the updated ones at least).  But that’s rubbish.  You can have both because both were meant for each other and came from each other.

Nature is already “graced” in the sense of reflecting the divine and having the capacity to be used for good and in Christ’s service.  It is in no need of extra grace in this sense, and the Biblical picture of grace is the removal of guilt and internal-restoration of all things to their original sin-free status in order to then reach their original telos.

Ironically, nature teaches a universal and cosmic theocracy, and grace explains why that’s good.


17 thoughts on ““Sacramentalizing” and “r2k” are Two Sides to the Same Coin

  1. Steven,

    Thanks for the post, I appreciated it’s desire to bring clarity to a very tough issue. Can you help me with one question? In your view above, if grace brings us back to original sinless status to reach the original telos would that require, in these scheme, that dominion apart from a shift to glory was the orginal goal. Was a “spiritual” body part of the original telos, something beyond the original form of existance?

    Also, would the idea you are promoting above negate an imputed positive righteousness? I don’t ask to get to the “bottom” of anything, I just want to make sure I am reading you correctly and hoping that doing so might help me see why certain aspects are being defended from the various camps.

  2. Dominion apart from a shift to glory? I’d need to think about that a bit and examine a few issues, I suspect. Couldn’t we see Adam as glorified in some sense, or at least that glorification would be part of the original telos?

    I’d say that Adam was already a living spirit in some regard, since he housed the Ruach Yahweh, but I’m pretty sure you’ve got 1 Cor. 15:45-49 in mind. I approach that text with caution. The “heavenly” and “spiritual” man in reference is the resurrected Christ. I don’t believe it can sustain a reading that opposes human and divine. Instead, it is talking about pre-resurrection and post-resurrection.

    Now, whether there would have been a resurrection or not pre-Fall is a fascinating question, but very speculative. All we have by way of Revelation is resurrection occurring within the context of fallen world, and Paul certainly seems to pair death with sin (Rom. 5:17). I’m not ready to retroject post-Fall realities into the original Adamic state.

    I do reject the idea that Adam would have needed to gain more righteousness or more “ontological” standing (whatever that is). He was already righteous and could stand before God. I do see the maturation theme in Scripture, but it seems to be one of an heir growing up into inheritance rather than a larva becoming a butterfly.

    As to your last question, yes. Maybe. The problem is cosmic justice. A penalty has to be paid. But that penalty certainly seems to be death. Isn’t death the “wages” of sin? The folks who make positive righteousness via “good works” the big emphasis seem to have it backwards. I see the Biblical pattern as being: Sinlessness –> Death –> Resurrection.

    But I hope that discussion is not a necessary prerequisite to have in order to talk about civic dominion. I don’t see it as all one big project in that sense, even if some of the parts do bear implications on the others.

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  5. Stephen, since you wrote this earlier, I’m wondering how you have now put folks like VanDruen in the RO camp:

    “Insofar as VanDrunen’s model corrects the various errors of Liberation Theology, certain false notions of “Theonomy,” Radical Orthodoxy, and even broad-Evangelical Americana, all of which seek to do violence towards nature, then it can be appreciated. Turning questions of taste into questions of law is always offensive (and usually reflective of bad taste). Attempts to infuse nature with grace, under the guise of “sacramentalizing” creation, miss the fact that it was already created good, bearing the image of God. Nature was always already theonomous insofar as it was ruled by and reflective of God’s own nature. Luther’s doctrine of vocation holds as true for our day as it did for his.”

    The 2kers I know do not think that creation is evil or in need of redemption. They affirm its goodness. It’s just that it’s not good enough for salvation, Zwingli’s sentimentality about Socrates notwithstanding.

  6. BTW, wouldn’t this quotation from Doug Wilson put him in the sacramentalizing camp:

    “When a society ignores what God says to do, and the grace in Christ enabling us to do it, the end result is what we see around us — the erosion of both our liberties and our traditions. As Lewis put it so aptly, we laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings to be fruitful. We remove the organ and demand the function.

    “Both forms of conservatism have been great blessings from God. But without Jesus, we won’t have either for very much longer.”


    Socrates needs Jesus.

  7. Hi Darryl,

    I don’t think that you and your associates are in the RO camp in the sense that they espouse the same theology or have the same agenda. However, the point of saying “two sides of the same coin” is that you and your most extreme critics are actually working within many of the same paradigms. One party wants grace to replace nature now, while the other wants it to stay very far away from nature until the 2nd Coming, at which time it will replace it. There’s a time-gap difference, but the way that grace and nature will ultimately relate is basically the same.

    When you say that creation is “not good enough for salvation,” that could be taken in two different ways. The most charitable assumption is that you mean that creation cannot save. This would be a nearly universal Christian affirmation (Pelagius justly excluded from the camp). The creation is in need of saving when it comes to the effects of sin and the Fall.

    However, there is enough ambiguity in your statement to also imply that creation is not good enough to be saved. You’d obviously save men’s souls, but as for the planet- probably not. I’ve never interacted with you personally on this question, but as I blogged, I have interacted with other West. Cali. profs, and I’ve read a bit of Kline on the topic. The teaching there is that this creation will not be saved so much as it will be replaced. And once the visible church is named as the spiritual/heavenly kingdom, then there really is not much choice. It will- even if but eventually- replace the creation.

    When it comes to Wilson, you’d have to ask what he means by “needs Jesus.” I have the unfair advantage of personally knowing Wilson and having had numerous conversations about this topic with him directly, but I’ll try to extract his meaning simply from the blog post you’ve linked:

    If you take God’s law as absolute, you will not take it upon yourself to act coercively without warrant from Him.

    What Wilson is getting at is that a distinctly Christian outlook on politics will limit the areas in which coercion is allowed. This is something that I’ve said before as well. With only the light of nature as a guide, men have historically demanded uniformity of religion. With the light of the gospel informing this sort of reasoning, however, we say that pure religion is spiritual and incapable of coercion, and therefore the natural reason is allowed to broaden its demands.

    If it were truly the case that Christianity were a law-religion, then it would be reasonable to legislate concerning it. It is only upon learning that Christianity is not a law religion that liberty becomes reasonable.

    In summary: apart from freedom-religions, political regimes tend towards too much coercion.

    This does not mean that freedom-religions always and flawlessly put their principles into action. Nor does it mean that “liberty” is uniformly defined. Biblically speaking, one could have a “big state” or a “small state,” and both could avoid violating the bounds of Christian freedom. Conversely, it is theoretically possible for both a “big state” and a “small state” to violate the bounds of Christian freedom. It all depends upon the particular laws enacted.

  8. Stephen, how does it make any sense for created things that do not have souls being saved? Even in those cosmological passages that Kuyperians love to cite, Calvin argues that salvation only applies to spiritual beings — men and angels. Calvin could be wrong. But I don’t understand how creation will be saved from sin. Planet earth did not sin.

    As for Wilson’s meaning, I still don’t think you or Wilson do justice to the restrictions that Protestants put upon civil society, such that Servetus was executed for heresy and Roman Catholics had no freedom to practice their religion in merry old England.

  9. Darryl,

    Why don’t you try addressing the several very clearly laid out points in Steven’s post? It looks a little strange that you haven’t, done so, but just move on to other questions.

    But to your first point: it is a traditional and Biblical postulate that man is the apex of creation, and creation is the matrix of man. The subhuman world didn’t sin, but since man and world are integral, the world fell along with him. Man is the object of redemption, which means restoration, and since man and world are integral, it will be restored along with him. You might wish to deny this (I know some Klineans, do apparently) in a gnostic fashion, but then you’d have to some explaining as to justify such a departure from Biblical catholic faith. This is a pertinent matter, because if you don’t think that the world is being restored in man and through man, this has enormous consequences for how you think we ought to be living in it now. And this is where we differ, isn’t it.

    As for toleration: we have gone over this again and again. And for the sake of readers, I will repeat once again what we’ve said before. We argue for the developed Protestant position, which is already present in outline in Luther and Foxe, is developed in Cromwell’s policy, becomes pretty fully worked out in the great Protestant jurists (Pufendorf, Thomasius, Boehmer) and was official policy in Great Britain and Prussia just a century ago.

    Yes, Protestants put restrictions on civil society. So does the modern United States. which is why it’s illegal to sell cocaine, for instance. The early Protestants did have initial troubles applying Luther’s principles consistenty, but that was largely corrected over time. All polities make restrictions. Protestantism however is unique is saying that the State has only external jurisidiction, with regard to the temporal common good, and is not a choreographer of justification; it creates secularity by this very act. Hence, no sacred law, and no sacred State; the only restrictions a Protestant State imposes on private persons are those which have to do with temporal peace and prosperity, not matters of conscience regarding the ultimate destiny of men. But only Protestantism does this. There is no real irreligious State, and all religious States other than Protestant States are going to committed to some kind of justification by law, as Steven noted above.

    And it’s important to clear up a serious historical mistake you make here. Romanism was proscribed in England not qua false belief, but rather, qua political ideology: the Pope at that time claimed archipolitical power and jurisdiction, part of which was the right to be able depose rulers. Clearly, that kind of thing could not be tolerated, any more than the US can tolerate al-Qaeda. Freedom is not a suicide pact, and ideologies which openly and actively work to subvert constitutional order will always find themselves excluded.


  10. Romans 8:20-21 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

  11. Peter says, “There is no real irreligious State, and all religious States other than Protestant States are going to committed to some kind of justification by law, as Steven noted above.”

    This idea seems central to your problem with the modern two kingdoms school. However, I want to make sure I understand what you are saying. Do you mean any non Protestant State is committed to trying to save society through law and ends up making the State god? If not, could you help me understand this better by unpacking this some or giving some examples what you mean by “committed to some kind of justification by law”. What are some specific things that modern America, Saudi Arabia or, China do that show they are “committed to some kind of justification by law”?

  12. Hey Steven,
    I still haven’t figured out how to do trackbacks properly, but I posted a link to this. Thanks for another intriguing take on these issues. As I’ve discussed with Peter, we need to re-start that discussion we had going last fall, once I’ve got some time on my hands again.

  13. Steven and Doug, I’m still confused. Stephen says Christianity is not a law-religion. Doug says the point of his post was ethical, not metaphysical, which would suggest that conservatism needs Jesus’ ethics, not his metaphysics. Either way, I though Christianity was a law religion and the churches do coerce (spiritually) people who break God’s law. Why would a Christian state be any different? Leithart’s Constantine sure seems to suggest as much.

  14. Darryl, no. You can’t have Jesus’ ethics without the rest of Him. The liberals want the distilled ethics of the Sermon on the Mount, which they understand as “be nice.” What I mean for a Christian society is a restored church, where men and women are put right with God because the gospel of sheer grace is preached and lived. And then, just as the Christian auto mechanic in such a church does not go out and lie to people about their transmissions, so also the magistrate does not go out and coerce people unless he has a compelling biblical reason — e.g. prohibitions of rape and murder.

  15. Doug, thanks, but why only rape and murder. What about the Lord’s Supper and Baptism? Is there no compelling biblical reason for human beings (or Americans) to participate in these? If Christians are called to do these things, then why not your average American? What I means is that your selecting the Decalogue out of Scripture as the standard for the magistrate is not a long way from the liberal Protestant preacher who liked instructions on temperance but disregarded the stuff on Christology.

  16. “Stephen, how does it make any sense for created things that do not have souls being saved?”

    I think it is interesting to point out in response that when the people were shouting “hosanna!” and Jesus was asked to silence them, he said if he did the rocks would cry out. Cry out what? Well, the people were shouting hosanna, and if that’s what Jesus meant the rocks would cry out, then he said the rocks would cry out, “Save us now.”

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