If Keith Mathison’s review of David VanDrunen’s “Living in God’s Two Kingdoms” is any measure, it would seem that when two kingdoms advocates draw a connection between the ecclesiastical doctrine of the two kingdoms and the soteriological doctrine of justification sola fide, such that it is said that cult-culture confusions are implied variants of explicit law-gospel confusions, it proves especially vexing. Mathison writes:
In his discussion of N.T. Wright’s view of Christianity and culture, VanDrunen makes a significant claim. He asserts: “Those who hold a traditional Protestant view of justification consistently should not find a redemptive transformationist perspective attractive. As some of the Reformers grasped, a two-kingdoms doctrine is a proper companion to a Protestant doctrine of justification” (p. 21). This seems to me to be over-reaching. It is not helpful, charitable, or correct to suggest that only those who adhere to two kingdoms theology can consistently hold the Protestant doctrine of justification. Van Drunen does attempt in later chapters to support this claim, but the attempt is not successful.
He then goes on to explain why it is unsuccessful:
In the footnote connected to these sentences, VanDrunen directs readers to Calvin’s Institutes, 3.19, but this section of the Institutes does not lend any support to his assertion. This section of the Institutes deals with the subject of Christian freedom. This freedom is “an appendage of justification” (3.19.1), and it has three parts: first, the believer’s conscience is not bound to the law (3.19.2–3); second, Christians now have the freedom to observe the law willingly (3.19.4–6); and third, Christians possess freedom concerning things indifferent (3.19.7–9). In sections 14–16 of chapter 19, Calvin addresses Christian freedom in relation to traditions and civil government. It is in regard to the civil government that Calvin mentions “a twofold government in man” and its relevance to freedom. The first “government” or “kingdom” is spiritual and pertains to the conscience, the life of the soul. The second is temporal and has to do with the concerns of the present life. The “former resides in the inner mind, while the latter regulates only outward behavior.” Christian freedom belongs to the spiritual, rather than the temporal kingdom. Calvin is here addressing those who argue that Christianity frees them from all subjection to civil magistrates. It should also be noted that Calvin’s formulation is slightly different from the two kingdoms formulation found in VanDrunen’s book. According to VanDrunen’s explanation of two kingdoms theology, Christians exist within two kingdoms. Calvin’s explanation is that the two kingdoms exist within each Christian (3.19.15). Although the two are not necessarily incompatible, it is a subtle but significant difference. Either way, this section of Calvin does not support VanDrunen’s claim that only those who adhere to two kingdoms theology can consistently hold to the Protestant doctrine of justification.
But it may help to look to VanDrunen’s other, more scholarly work, “Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms” where he makes this very same claim but unpacks it a bit further. He writes on pages 73-74:
It is precisely at this point, to extricate himself from misunderstanding, that Calvin turns to the two kingdoms doctrine. He refers to the “spiritual and temporal jurisdictions,” or, alternatively to “the spiritual” and “the civil kingdom.” The former pertains to the soul and the latter to external things, and different kings and laws pertain to each. Here Calvin expands upon his claim that Christian liberty is spiritual: “by attending to this distinction, we will not erroneously transfer the doctrine of the gospel concerning spiritual liberty to civil order, as if in regard to external government Christians were less subject to human laws, because their consciences are unbound before God…” The unpacking of this point is somewhat complex, and Calvin in fact refers his readers to subsequent sections in the Institutes for further elaboration. But one of his basic claims is of great relevance for the present study: the redemptive doctrine of Christian liberty applies to life in the spiritual kingdom but not life in the civil kingdom. No human authority can bind the believer’s conscience in regard to participation in the spiritual kingdom of Christ. Over against Roman Catholic claims, Calvin teaches that Scripture is the only authority in this realm. Hence, as he explains in the Institutes 4.10-11, the church can minister the word of God alone and never its own opinions, and it can prescribe for worship only those things Scripture prescribes (though it ought to do so in appropriate ways that promote decency and order, to which Christians should willingly submit). In the external things of the civil kingdom, in contrast, salvation in Christ does not at all diminish Christians’ obligations to obey the magistrates. The “doctrine of the gospel” does not apply to “civil order” with its “external government.” As Calvin explains in Institutes 4.20, this means that civil magistrates are to be obeyed in all things, except if this would mean direct violation of Scripture. In other words, the officers of the church have authority to do and command only those things prescribed in Scripture, and Christians in the spiritual kingdom are thus free in conscience from anything beyond this; but civil magistrates have a broader discretion to promote justice and order in the civil kingdom, and Christians are bound to obey them except if their commands contradict their biblical obligations. This will prove to be an important issue in subsequent chapters.
In short, the reality of Christian liberty gained through redemption in Christ has profound impact on the Christians’ life in the spiritual kingdom (and thus in the church) but does not change their basic obligations in the civil kingdom (and thus under the civil government, ICR 3.19.15). God rules the spiritual kingdom as its redeemer and the civil kingdom as its creator and sustainer but not as its redeemer.
In other words, the Protestant formulation of justification sola fide necessarily involves spiritual liberty, and it is when law is incorporated back into gospel that the unwarranted binding of conscience happens. Thus, just as law and gospel must be brightly distinguished in matters soteriological they must also be in matters ecclesiological—otherwise spiritual liberty is threatened.
And if that doesn’t help maybe a simpler suggestion will: if law corresponds to the creational/civil/cultural, and if gospel corresponds to the redemptive/ecclesiastical/cult, then it would seem to follow that to confuse the cultural and cult would be to then also confuse law and gospel.
For good measure, VanDrunen also later cites nineteenth century prominent Kentucky Presbyterian pastor, professor and spirituality of the church advocate Stuart Robinson to make the connection between the two kingdoms doctrine and the gospel: “It is worth noting that for Robinson these distinctions between the two kingdoms are not theological luxuries but vital to the health of Christianity. The five distinctions in The Church of God, he writes, ‘are neither accidental nor arbitrary, but spring out of those fundamental truths concerning the nature of the Church itself, and of its relations to the gospel” (Robinson, The Church of God, 87).