From his article “The Two Kingdoms Doctrine and the Relationship of Church and State in the Early Reformed Tradition,” reprinted from the Journal of Church and State, David VanDrunen concludes:
“One suggestion is proposed for how a retrieval of the older Reformed two kingdoms tradition (without its inconsistent attribution of religious responsibilities to civil magistrates) may contribute to contemporary discussions. A number of influential schools of thought among contemporary Christian theologians take a decidedly negative view of the concept of the ‘secular,’ identifying it with an Enlightenment quest for autonomy, moral fragmentation, and the exclusion of religious discourse from the public square. In its place, they call for a specifically Christian approach to, and account of, the social realm. The Reformed two kingdoms tradition may provide theological reasons for believing that there are not just two alternatives, a secular social order that is amoral, anti-religious, individualistic, and grounded in autonomous reason, on the one hand, and a Christian social order that is moral, religious, communitarian, and grounded in orthodox theology on the other. The older Reformed idea of the civil kingdom suggests that a theologically rich Christian account of a secular realm is possible. Working from a two kingdoms doctrine, one might posit that there is a ‘secular’ realm (in its etymological sense of concerning ‘this age’), a common space shared by all human beings despite religious differences. Yet this secular realm need not be dismissed as anti-religious or immoral, for God is creator and sustainer of the civil kingdom and governs it by the law of nature. From this perspective, attempts to engage in common, non-religiously exclusive public discourse do not betray Christian truth but an endeavor that a rich theological account of reality suggests is a possibility and even a responsibility.”
It seems to me that when one has the false dichotomy such as the two alternatives VanDrunen suggests—a “secular” realm teeming with amorality and irreligiousness over against true religionists who have all the answers in the bag—it is little wonder there is such a vigorous reaction to Two Kingdoms doctrine. After all, who wants chaos and amorality? Indeed, even the worst imagined atheist the typical theonomist conjures up in his frightened head to make his case will actually turn out to have some code of right and wrong. He may even apply it better than the religionist.
What bothers those who don’t like the idea of natural law, the common sphere, the secular realm and all the other things in the 2K goody box is this: if left to our own powers to understand and apply the natural law, it might be that someone, somewhere out there in the big, bad world might actually disagree or get it flat wrong, and the day might be lost on one thing or another. To boot, we might as believers actually (gasp!)disagree with each other over a temporal matter. And this is just plain intolerable. So intolerable that the “God-glass” must be broken and the Most High taken captive for one side or another.
What theonomists of all stripes fail to grasp is that they actually live with this reality each and every day. Mercifully, like Baptists who don’t actually treat their children like little pagans, theonomists don’t behave as ghastly as their system demands. They actually live a lot like Two Kingdomites. They follow laws and submit to authorities they are not all that convinced of, and they participate in a wider world not exactly persuaded as they are on every jot and tittle. In short, they live as if they were actually pilgrims without a home and not so much like Israelites conquering Canaanites. Maybe in their own minds they are waging such wars, but that doesn’t count since God calls us even out of that fantasy factory.
In the end, it seems to me that those who shudder at the idea that God is indeed creator and sustainer of all things and governs them by natural law, and instead want the Bible pulled out to rule general society, ironically seem to reveal less faith in God, not more. Like yesteryear’s Pharisees who literally tied the law to their arms and foreheads or today’s Bible-toters who both seem to need to prove their faith to God, others and themselves, theonomists seem to demonstrate a similar sort of desperation. Whatever else informs it, the pathology of theonomy seems to be a function of old-fashioned unbelief.