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.