What is the Kingdom of God?

Text: Romans 14:14-18

We have been discussing relationships, roles, and authority structures in our ongoing sermon series. Thus far we’ve talked about manhood, womanhood, courtship and families, and the relationship between the family and the church. All of these are good, and yet there is a sense in which each of them are challenged by the gospel. Jesus doesn’t actually come for these things. While He can and should make a positive difference in each of these relationships, He is here to proclaim salvation from sin and guilt, and He is here to bring His kingdom. But what is this kingdom exactly?

On the most basic level, the New Testament identifies the kingdom as the Holy Spirit’s work in and among believers. We believe that it will eventually fully manifest itself in the transformation of all creation, the new heavens and new earth, but prior to that point the kingdom is spiritual and not earthly. We can see that this is the case in that striking statement from the Apostle Paul, “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The meal, the ritual itself, is not the kingdom. Instead, the kingdom is the spiritual grace that the ritual ought to be creating and promoting. If the meal is not doing that, then it is not the kingdom.

There are two classic errors that come up in any discussion of the kingdom of God. Continue reading

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Is Christ for the City?

It’s funny how trends change, and it’s even funnier how church trends change.  There was once a time when Presbyterian intellectuals made the argument that agrarian living was better than city-living.  John Murray said this went back to the city’s founding-father, Cain, and the Southern Presbyterians often argued that agrarian living allowed one to be most human, in touch with the soil and protecting a certain “slow” pace that left time for community, literature, and family.  If you can believe it, there was even a time when GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc argued that the suburbs were closest to the Christian ideal, allowing modern man to retain his economic freedom while yet also giving him his own space for land and a family.  Now of course, the city is all the rage.

We are told that the church is itself a city, a “polis,” that the Biblical vision of the future is urban, that Paul’s missionary strategy was urban, and that the city is more receptive to the gospel.  All of this is true, in a way, but it is also a bit over-hyped. Continue reading

Quick Post on Calvin and 2 Kingdoms

I don’t have time for much today, as I’m about to head to New Orleans, but I couldn’t help but put this little bit from Calvin out there.  A smidge of context is needed first.

Many of the proponents of the “two kingdoms” theology in the Reformed world read Calvin as teaching that the “spiritual kingdom” is the church, and the “temporal kingdom” is the rest of the outside world.  This is incorrect and actually approximates the old Roman Catholic position.  For Calvin, the spiritual kingdom is the invisible church, and the temporal kingdom is the entire external realm- visible church, state, and family.  Here’s a short quote that gets right to the point.  From Calvin’s commentary on 1 Cor. 11:1-16:

There is somewhat more of difficulty in what follows. Here the man is placed in an intermediate position between Christ and the woman, so that Christ is not the head of the woman. Yet the same Apostle teaches us elsewhere, (Galatians 3:28,) that in Christ there is neither male nor female. Why then does he make a distinction here, which in that passage he does away with? I answer, that the solution of this depends on the connection in which the passages occur. When he says that there is no difference between the man and the woman, he is treating of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, in which individual distinctions [“External qualities” -ed.] are not regarded, or made any account of; for it has nothing to do with the body, and has nothing to do with the outward relationships of mankind, but has to do solely with the mind — on which account he declares that there is no difference, even between bond and free. In the meantime, however, he does not disturb civil order or honorary distinctions, which cannot be dispensed with in ordinary life. Here, on the other hand, he reasons respecting outward propriety and decorum — which is a part of ecclesiastical polity. Hence, as regards spiritual connection in the sight of God, and inwardly in the conscience, Christ is the head of the man and of the woman without any distinction, because, as to that, there is no regard paid to male or female; but as regards external arrangement and political decorum, the man follows Christ and the woman the man, so that they are not upon the same footing, but, on the contrary, this inequality exists.

Notice here that Calvin says Christ’s kingdom does not concern the body or any external relations.  It is wholly inward and has to do with conscience.  Thus there is total equality and immediate relationship between Christ and all believers in the spiritual kingdom.

The temporal kingdom is different.  It has to do with the body and all external conditions.  It still has mediation and hierarchy.  This is how Calvin defends against forms of egalitarianism which would stem from certain Pauline texts.  All of the “spiritual kingdom” truths have to do with the life of the soul.  Notice also that Calvin says “ecclesiastical polity” is a part of the external realm, civil order, and ordinary life.

Much follows from this, but I’ll have to leave that for another time.

Two Kingdoms and Political Theology

I thought it would be helpful to have a sort of index to the political theology discussions we had on this blog last Fall.

1. Darryl Hart’s Response to My 2 Kingdoms Essay

2. Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom (pt. 1)

3. Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom (pt. 2)

4. Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom (pt. 3)

5. Neo-Anabaptism and the Kingdom (pt. 1)

6. Neo-Anabaptism and the Kingdom (pt. 2)

7. Neo-Anabaptism and the Kingdom (pt. 3)

“The Two Sons of Oil” and the Limits of American Religious Dissent

The kind folks at The Journal of Law and Religion have accepted an essay of mine for publication.  This is a more fully worked out version of what I presented at the Southern Political Science Association back in January, and it has to do with certain Presbyterians in early America who rejected the US constitution and its view of religious liberty.

Secular? Private? It All Depends on what You Mean

Peter Leithart mentions me in this post, and I can say that I agree with the bulk of it all.  I do still think, however, that there are some terminological problems.

It is true that “secular” is time and not a space, in a way, because the term itself refers to the “temporal kingdom.”  Thus even the visible church exists in the secular.  But for many of these conversations we seem to let the metaphors get away from us.  Secular isn’t physical space, but it does have a sort of “space” of jurisdiction.  Continue reading

Machen on Transformationalism

A solid building cannot be constructed when all the materials are faulty; a blessed society cannot be formed out of men who are still under the curse of sin.  Human institutions are really to be molded, not by Christian principles accepted by the unsaved, but by Christian men; the true transformation of society will come by the influence of those who have themselves been redeemed.

Thus Christianity differs from liberalism in the way in which the transformation of society is conceived.  But according to Christian belief, as well as according to liberalism, there is really to be a transformation of society; it is not true that the Christian evangelist is interested in the salvation of individuals without being interested in the salvation of the race.  And even before the salvation of all society has been achieved, there is already a society of those who have been saved.  That society is the Church.  The Church is the highest Christian answer to the social needs of man.

Christianity and Liberalism pgs. 158-159 (Eerdmans printing of the 1923 edition)

“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. Continue reading

SPSA in New Orleans

As I mentioned earlier, I will be presenting a paper for the Southern Political Science Association this Saturday in New Orleans, LA.  This will be at the Hotel InterContinental, and so if you’re in the area please come on.

My panel is called “Philosophy, Rhetoric, and the Common Good,” and you can check it out by going here and clicking “browse the program” and then clicking on “Saturday.”  I’m at 1:15.  To get at philosophy and the common good, I examine a dispute among early American Presbyterians about natural law and religious freedom.  The paper overlaps with the political discussions we’ve had here, and it shines a clear light on the old-guard disciplinarian and Presbyterian view of “the two kingdoms.”  Here is the abstract: Continue reading

Neo-Anabaptism and the Kingdom (pt. 2)

~ This is a guest post by Peter Escalante

Now let’s look at the claim that the alternative view is “Augustinian.” As was pointed out in the ensuing conversation, a great many things can be fathered on Augustine; and his own idea of the Two Cities is hardly clear. On the one hand, as Pastor Wedgeworth has mentioned, the work of John von Heyking on Augustine’s view of civic order shows that the great bishop is considerably more sane on the question of Christian civic order than he as been made out to be. Further, the Protestant doctrine of the church is largely Augustine’s, put into a form free of contradictions. As Warfield famously remarked, the Reformation was the triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the church- or more precisely, over Cyprianic atavisms in Augustine’s doctrine of the church. The Reformation doctrine, not the Anabaptist, is really the one with the strongest claim to be Augustinian in its politics; because finally, the “two cities” make sense only as a) the new Adam and the old, the line between which is drawn through persons, not between commonwealth and cathedral; or b) in a more positive sense, as the visible human order on the one hand, inclusive of visible worship assemblies, and the mystical body of Christ on the other, the immediate union of believers with Christ by faith.  Both those ways of taking Augustine are wholly consonant with evangelical teaching- but not with Anabaptist.

A note about Anabaptism.  I remember meeting two friends of mine, both extremely skeptical of Christianity, not long after the murder of Marian Fisher. They had been following the news reports. Struck by her example, and by the fact that her community, upon hearing that the murderer had killed himself, went to console his family, my friends asked me whether that was what Christianity was about. I was happy to be able to say yes. At their best, Anabaptists can be very radiant examples of Christianity; at their best, I could even say that they are best Christians in Christendom. The problem is, and it’s a very big problem, that they themselves don’t think they are in Christendom. In other words, they are schismatic.

The Anabaptist view is one of two different worlds: Continue reading