Would Calvin have supported magisterial control over the church? A Response to a response to my two kingdoms article

I am very grateful to Brad Littlejohn for his extensive response to my article on the two kingdoms on The Calvinist International. Littlejohn’s article is helpful in that it helps us to focus on the debate about the two kingdoms doctrine by talking about its history, rather than simply about whatever its present implications may be. As I noted in a previous post, I am currently in Savannah, and it will take me a few days to get back to my office and provide a full response to Littlejohn. However, I do want to make a few comments.

First, Littlejohn treats my article as an academic text, and therefore complains about various gaps in my treatment of the history of the two kingdoms doctrine. I would have appreciated a gracious email from Littlejohn, who might have then discovered that I am aware of and agree with the material that he offers to fill in those gaps, though I differ somewhat with his interpretation of it. However, Littlejohn ignores the fact that my article was published in a Christian magazine designed for lay people, and then was subsequently republished on the Internet for broader readership by lay people. If Littlejohn wants to see a fuller, more nuanced academic argument, he should not worry about that. It is forthcoming. Littlejohn’s dissertation, as best as I can tell, focuses on the development of the two kingdoms doctrine in 16th and 17th Century Britain. Mine focuses on John Calvin.

For now I simply want to point out that Littlejohn’s characterization of Calvin’s two kingdoms doctrine is flat out wrong, and it relies heavily on Hooker’s interpretation of Calvin (hence the weight of Littlejohn’s article relying on Hooker’s arguments against Cartwright). But rest assured, Calvin would not have agreed with Hooker’s defense of Queen Elizabeth’s claim to be the head of the church, or to order the church’s affairs. Calvin clearly equates the two kingdoms distinction with the distinction between ecclesiastical and civil government, and he does it throughout the Institutes, consistently, and in key places. I will provide that evidence very soon. For now, I’m simply offering a heads up. Littlejohn is reliable on Hooker, but nowhere near reliable on Calvin. The same could be said for his treatment of Luther. I’ll articulate a more careful response on Luther as well, but for now see the best recent book on this topic: James Estes’ Peace, Order and the Glory of GodEstes shows very clearly how Luther’s views developed and changed on the two kingdoms. He makes it quite clear that early in his teaching Luther presented the doctrine in the way I described in my article. Littlejohn is right that the other reformers of the day used the two kingdoms doctrine in ways quite different from Luther. Calvin clearly broke with that trajectory in his own version. Again, there is much more that I could have said in my article, had I been seeking to make a more extensive argument.

Obviously this is not a sufficient response to Littlejohn at this point, and as I said, later this week more will be forthcoming. I also aspire to some personal, one-to-one conversation with Littlejohn. So often these public debates could be avoided if we read one another charitably, seek clarification privately, and therefore write in such a way that clarifies the real issues and data under dispute. I suspect Littlejohn and I have very similar hopes and goals for the relation between the church and culture/politics, and as academic colleagues working on the two kingdoms doctrine in different contexts, I hope we can work together, rendering our work mutually complementary in substance, rather than writing a spirit of competition of controversy.

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About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on May 14, 2012, in Two Kingdoms and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Would Calvin have supported magisterial control over the church? A Response to a response to my two kingdoms article.

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