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Two Kingdoms and Two Ages: Why Calvin’s Political Theology Remains Relevant

In his article, “Not Two Kingdoms, But Two Ages,” Jonathan Leeman proposes a doctrine of two ages as a helpful paradigm for understanding the relationship between the church and the world. Building on the political theology of Oliver O’Donovan and recent developments in New Testament studies, Leeman offers this as a helpful corrective to various “doctrines of the two” at play in church history, including that of the two kingdoms, which Leeman identifies with Martin Luther.

In fact, there’s good precedent for Leeman’s proposal, and it comes from none other than the 16th-century reformer John Calvin. Ironically, though, Calvin presented his theology in precisely the terms that Leeman opposes: two kingdoms. As I show in my forthcoming book, Calvin’s Political Theology and the Public Engagement of the Church, Calvin’s two kingdoms theology was nothing if not a two ages eschatology. It was his attempt to explain how the future kingdom of Christ (the age to come) breaks into the present age even while the present age continues. The two ages overlap, and Christians inhabit both at the same time. As a result, Christians are subject to a “twofold government,” to two different kinds of authorities, which Calvin called two kingdoms (Institutes 3.19.15).

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Calvin often described these two kingdoms by distinguishing between what’s earthly and what’s heavenly in human beings, or between what’s inward and what’s outward. But Calvin didn’t use these terms to denote a dualistic view of humans any more than the apostle Paul when speaking of the contrast between flesh and Spirit.

Rather, Calvin used “inward” and “heavenly” to refer to the age to come, which breaks into this age through the inward work of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers—even as from an outward and earthly perspective things seem to go on as they always have, under the shadow of death and decay.

Read the rest of this article at The Gospel Coalition.

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Is this a way forward on the two kingdoms doctrine?

I’m grateful to Reformation 21 for publishing my three articles on the two kingdoms doctrine, the third of which is now up. For those who haven’t been keeping track, the first article sought to introduce readers to the idea of the two kingdoms and some of the controversy surrounding it. The second presented what I consider to be the “classic” Reformed two kingdoms doctrine – that of Calvin. In those two articles I raised some questions and concerns about both Calvin and contemporary versions of the two kingdoms doctrine. In this final article I set forth what I think Scripture teaches on the issue, and why I think it’s important to affirm biblical two kingdoms theology (whether you like the phrase ‘two kingdoms’ or not is largely irrelevant to me).

I get the sense most Christians, especially Reformed Christians, would affirm the doctrine as I outline it here. So I’ll throw it out there, and feel free to respond in the comments or to write me via the ‘contact’ feature on this blog. Do you think this is the way forward on the two kingdoms doctrine?

The Two Kingdoms Doctrine, Part Three: The Teaching of Scripture

The fundamental biblical truth that is expressed in the two kingdoms doctrine is that the Christian’s hope is to be fixed not on the things of this life that we see and experience all around us – our families, our work, politics – but on the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we are promised a kingdom that will transform and transcend all of these things. This conviction, in turn, arises out of Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount that though believers’ lives are often characterized by poverty, mourning, an unsatisfied hunger and thirst for justice, and humiliating persecution, they are nevertheless said to possess the “kingdom of heaven,” a kingdom in which they will be comforted, satisfied, and granted the inheritance of the earth (Matthew 5:1-12). It expresses Jesus’s command to his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come and his will be done, for even as the things of this earth are destroyed or lost, Christians must live so as to store up treasures in heaven, where nothing is destroyed or lost (Matthew 5:10, 19-21). It seeks to take seriously Jesus’ exhortation to his disciples not to worry about the matters of this life, the things after which the nations seek. It is not that they are unimportant, but that if believers seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness “all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 5:25-33).

The Two Kingdoms in Scripture: “Not only in this age, but also in the one to come.”

The New Testament continually highlights the tension between the kingdom that is coming and the affairs of this age. Although Jesus declared that “the kingdom is within you” (Luke 17:21), his disciples were constantly wondering when he would actually restore all things. In fact, when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem in the days before his crucifixion, the Jewish leaders tried to trap him by forcing him openly to declare the revolutionary implications of his kingdom for marriage and politics. Jesus responded by describing the difference between the present age (in which men and women marry) and the age to come (in which there will be no marriage), between Caesar (to whom Christians are to give his due) and God (to whom is believers’ ultimate allegiance (Luke 20). Jesus’s trial before Pilate likewise revolved, in part, around whether or not his kingship challenged that of Caesar. Yet Jesus declared that his kingdom is not of, or from, this world (John 18:36). His point was not that the kingdom does not pertain to material things (it will transform all things!) but that it is not of or from this age (i.e., secular). (1) In terms of politics, that means the kingdom of Christ is not like a secular kingdom : “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting” (18:36). Instead, Jesus’s kingdom rules through the proclamation of the truth, to which those who are of the truth listen (18:37).

Read the rest here.

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