Previously, we looked here at what we might call the Christian Humanist backdrop of the Protestant Reformation. The same movement that helped fuel the Reformation also carried with it some humanist baggage. To accept this baggage as necessary cargo, just because our reformers imported it both practically and in some ways confessionally, does not mean we should retain it. Indeed, we would do well to shed ourselves of its weight and seek even a greater level of consistency in the realm of Biblical ethics.
To engage in a discussion of natural law without having the broader context mentioned above, sufficiently lodged in our minds would be like jumping into an epic drama halfway through the film. Sure, you could still finish it, but you may find the storyline and character development a bit lacking. You may even err in some of your final conclusions as the credits roll.
It would be equally problematic for us to discuss R2K natural law without looking to its more direct predecessor – the common, covenantal realm of Meredith Kline. This gets to part of the impetus for my writing this series on natural law. I have not seen R2K natural law faithfully represented in its full form by any of its opponents. In addition, I had seen no reference to Kline as a key contributor in laying the R2K foundation. Interestingly, this changed about six weeks after I began writing on the topic.
In what was almost a passing comment, I was informed of a series of essays soon to be published that included this connection with Kline’s kingdom theology. In De-Klining From Chalcedon: Exegetical Roots Of The “R2k” Project, Benjamin Miller states what had been my growing sentiment. In speaking of the engagement with the two-kingdoms doctrine he states, “What has not received much attention to date is something that lies deep beneath the surface of the Escondido R2K project – the biblical theology and exegesis of Meredith G. Kline.” [i]
Meredith Kline was professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary and Westminster Seminary California. He was also an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. A series of his courses over a number decades culminated into what could be regarded as his Magnum Opus – Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview.
This volume unfolds a theology of two distinct realms throughout history. Just as the title suggests, beginning with creation and tracking through to the Noahic and Abrahamic covenants, Kline lays the foundation for his worldview. It is through the lenses of this worldview that the blurry picture of natural law and two-kingdoms theology comes into focus.
The purpose below is to faithfully, albeit briefly represent Kline’s work. Given the comprehensive nature of the work, I will only address the sections most applicable to the current discussion.
A Tale of One City
Kline begins with Creation. Initially, there was no two-kingdom reality on earth. Adam and Eve functioned within a one-kingdom framework. The kingdom in Eden was an institutional theocracy. The church and state were not distinct institutions.
At the level of the God-King the political and the cultic are not distinguishable. His palace is holy; his temple is royal. His temple and palace are one.[ii]
Within this one-kingdom structure, all activity was religious.
This unity of the royal-cultural and the priestly-cultic functions as alike a covenantal service rendered to the heavenly Suzerain prohibits any dichotomizing of man’s life into religious and nonreligious areas.[iii]
All of man’s religious activities ushered him along a trajectory that would culminate into a Sabbath rest. There is a repeating and overall movement from “cultural commission to consummation rest”.
Mankind’s cultural endeavors were to move forward to and issue in a sabbatical rest.
This over-all structural pattern of human history as a process of moving from the cultural commission to consummation rest was stamped by God as a repeating design across the days of man’s years.[iv]
The Sabbath points to the theocratic order and the Sabbath belongs strictly to the covenant community. It is a celebration of God’s lordship over his people.
If it is an acknowledgment by man that his own kingship is a vassal kingship, the Sabbath signifies the corollary truth that God is the Great King, sovereign over man and over the land that is man’s royal realm, in stewardship. The Sabbath signalizes the theocratic order.[v]
The Sabbath belongs to the covenant community exclusively.[vi]
Sabbath observance is celebration of God’s lordship, from whatever perspective it is viewed.[vii]
In this theocratic kingdom, priesthood was man’s primary office. His first assignment was to guard the sanctity of the garden sanctuary from “satanic encroachment”. This task was to precede the royal cultural commission to expand the sanctuary from “focus to fullness”.[viii]
This cultural mandate involved the assigned historical task of building the kingdom-city by filling and subduing the earth. It would have been a semi-eschatological stage of history that would culminate into the eternal rest-day.[ix]
Successful probation would have launched man on his way to the glorious destiny of God’s Sabbath, but there was still the journey of the workdays to be traveled before the eternal rest day was reached.[x]
Such a progression would be over and against a wilderness journey through a fallen world where there would be no cultural subduing but cultural preservation amidst a more stagnant state.[xi]
That journey would, however, have been no wilderness trek such as mankind has experienced in the fallen world.[xii]
With some less familiar terms, Kline then drives home his point. If Adam had not fallen, it would have been a Tale of one city.
In an unfallen world, cultural history would have been a tale of one city only. Starting from Eden man was to work at constructing this one universal kingdom-city. Blessed by the Great King of the city, man would have prospered in that task and eventually the extended city might have been aptly called Megapolis. But such a worldwide community of the human family would have marked the limits of the cultural potential of earthly man. God himself must perfect the promise of the covenant by transforming prototypical Megapolis into antitypal Metapolis.[xiii]
Yet, as we all well know, this was not to be the course of human history. Man sinned and the world fell from this Edenic reality. Humanity would take a different trek. They would be doomed to wander in the wilderness with temporary redemptive respites along the way.
A Tale of Two Cities
Though mankind had rebelled, he was not destroyed in ultimate judgment. The world order continued and the gospel promise of Genesis 3:15 was to be fulfilled. Final judgment was postponed. In a redemptive covenant, God had graciously provided a redeemer for his people. Over time the story of the promised seed would unfold to reveal the Second Adam who would save his people from their sins.
The postponed judgment and progression of history would include a common curse and a common grace. The former would be “a curse to be experienced by all men in common until the great separation would be effected at the final judgment”.[xiv] This restraint of full judgment results in temporal blessings that every man experiences. They are not deserved, but are enjoyed as a common grace. They are a “benefit enjoyed only by the grace of the Creator in his forbearance”.[xv]
Much of this does and should sound very familiar. Adam and Eve sinned. God had provided a plan and a Redeemer. In an injured world, all men bear a common curse. Yet, all men benefit from a common grace during redemptive history. History will one day be consummated and the Redeemer will come in final judgment. He will separate the wheat from the tares, the saved and the lost.
What is less familiar is how Kline addresses the cultural mandate in the now fallen world. He begins by introducing the notion of continuity.
“…besides the preservation of the natural order in a form that made a history of man on earth still possible, was the continuation, even though in modified fashion, of some important elements of the social-cultural order that had been established under the Creator’s covenant with Adam.”[xvi]
What is the big modification? The non-sacred, or profane nature of culture.
[This] “political, institutional aspect of common grace culture is not holy, but profane”.[xvii]
It is at this juncture that Kline brings up a key point: The common grace culture is fundamentally different from the “metapolis” in which Adam lived. It is not on a “dominion” trajectory that will subdue the earth but in the stagnant state of a wilderness trek. Kline states that, “one cannot simply and strictly say that it is the cultural mandate that is being implemented in the process of common grace culture.”[xviii] [original emphasis]
In Kline’s profane cultural realm, there is no subduing of the earth this side of heaven. In fact, at this point in the book Kline does something that seems a little out of place with the style of Kingdom Prologue. In what feels like a very short commercial (or for those familiar with Kline we will grin and call it an “intrusion”), he addresses the Christian Reconstruction group. He moves from a more germane and scholarly posture to that of rhetorical battle cry. Seemingly he does this to further drive home the point that the cultural mandate is none of our affair amidst our earthly sojourn.
For those that see the Great Commission in continuity with earthly dominion, he says,
The treatment of the great commission (Matt 28:18-20) by theonomic reconstructionists may be cited as a glaring instance of confusion in this fundamental area. Indeed, dominion theology as a whole represents the systematic outworking of their failure to understand the biblical concept of common grace culture.[xix]
To apply the cultural mandate to either the holy redemptive realm or the common realm is a mistake. It has no such bearing on the postlapsarian world.[xx]
At the heart of this perspective is Kline’s amillennial eschatology. He sees those with erroneous understandings of common grace culture as too optimistic regarding the world that now is.
“At the level of broad eschatological reconstructions, the biblical theologian who is aware of the intrusive nature of the holy within the common grace order will shun those premillennial and postmillennial views that posit a fulfillment of the kingdom prophecies in the form of a holy, specially protected and prospered, worldwide geopolitical institution before the advent of the world to come.”[xxi]
This common grace culture is referred to as the “interim city” by Kline and is the realm identified with the state. The state legitimately bears the sword.[xxii] The common realm of the state should not be identified as Satan’s realm or God’s realm. It is a common, cultural realm.[xxiii]
This is where Kline points out what he sees as another common mistake, especially among neo-Dooyeweerdian’s. He wants his readers to avoid using the universal rule of God over this world as a reason to deny a common, profane realm. He states that,
“it is too simplistic to appeal to the universality of God’s rule as the reason for rejecting an analysis of postlapsarian culture that distinguishes between a common city and the holy city”.[xxiv]
This does not mean that the common realm is “exempt from God’s rule” or “devoid of the divine presence”[xxv], but that it cannot be identified with God’s kingdom “in the name of honoring the universality of his kingly rule.”[xxvi]
To drive home the notion that the common realm should not be identified with the kingdom of God, Kline addresses the state’s participation in religious confession.
“Every form of state participation in religious confession, whether through constitutional affirmation, official pronouncement, public ceremony, or the like, is a transgression of the boundaries set in the divine ordering of the distribution of cultural and cultic functions among the institutions of the postlapsarian world. Such cultic activity on the part of the state, if it is not in confession of the living God, is, of course idolatrous. But even if it is in acknowledgment of the God of the Christian faith, it is guilty of a monstrous confusion of the holy kingdom of God with the common, profane city of man….For the state to employ its coercive powers and sanctions to compel formal participation in covenantal cult and confession, as by enforcing compliance with the first four laws of the Decalogue, is a disastrous perversion of the nature of both the redemptive kingdom and common grace kingdoms.”[xxvii]
Why can the state not confess her allegiance to God? Because “Human history since the Fall is a tale of two cities.”[xxviii] One is the city of God whose citizens participate in the redemptive community on earth.“Over and against the heavenly city stands the other city, mundanely present and visible to all”[xxix] – the city of man.
Although God’s covenant people are the only ones who function in the city of God, all mankind live and cooperate in cultural endeavors within the city of man.
Kline is careful to say that the involvement of God’s people within the common realm does NOT result in any cultural sanctification over time. Any such sanctification is “subjective; it transpires within the spirit of the saints.”[xxx]
Again, there is no trajectory from which culture becomes more subdued to the rule of Christ. It is a wilderness state that must be removed in judgment at the end of all time so as to make way for the heavenly city.
What then, is the purpose of the city of man?
“The purpose of all common grace structures and programs is the ancillary one of providing a field of operation for the history of God’s kingdom of saving grace.”[xxxi]
To further the legitimacy of his common realm, Kline moves into its covenantal nature. This is a lynchpin within his tale of two cities. It is equally as significant in forming the covenantal basis for the R2K framework.
A Common Covenantal Realm
After the fall, the city of God and city of man functioned as discussed above. Yet, by the time of Noah, the war between the serpent’s seed and woman’s seed had reached a breaking point. This breaking point was to be addressed through an act of discontinuous judgment.
It is following the global flood of judgment that Kline’s common realm is further substantiated and divinely confirmed. It is confirmed through a covenant with all creation.
This is a defining point for Kline’s two-city construction. God’s covenant with Noah following the flood is not an administration of God’s redemptive grace. It is one of common grace. Beyond this, the flood narrative becomes for Kline a framework through which a comprehensive pattern is derived. It is a pattern for the current historical order and ultimately the consummation at the end of time.
What transpired in the Flood was a sign of the consummation of the kingdom and the finale of redemptive history. Yet it was only a sign. Though the deluge judgment terminated the world that then was, it did not inaugurate the world to come. It rather introduced the world that now is, another phase in the interim world-order of genealogical history. Hence, the ark-kingdom not only played its role as an eschatological sign, but served the historical purpose of bridging the watery chasm between the former and present worlds…While the Flood as a sign of redemptive judgment prophesied the end of common grace, the Flood as an inner-historical episode marked a transition through which the world-order of creation in the common grace mode was re-creatively perpetuated beyond the world that then was into the world that now is.[xxxii]
Translation: The Flood pictured the end of human history. It also covenantally inaugurated and perpetuated the existing common cultural realm.
Kline is clear to distinguish the covenant in Genesis 8:20 from the covenant with Noah in Genesis 6:18. The latter was redemptive in nature. It concerned the people of God and was fulfilled with the provision of the ark. It represented God’s covenant community that would receive his kingdom inheritance.[xxxiii]
The covenant in Genesis 8:20 should be classified as a covenant of common grace.[xxxiv] Why? There was no Sabbath promise attached to this covenant like there was in the original creation ordinances. Kline says this indicates its secular, non-holy character.[xxxv] This allows him to “preserve his structural dualism: the Noahic covenant is absolutely distinct from God’s redemptive purposes in Genesis and beyond”.[xxxvi]
So what is the purpose of the covenant in Genesis 8?
In short, the common grace covenant of Genesis 8:20-9:17 was designed to provide the historical order and set the world stage for the renewed program of redemptive covenant, particularly as that was to receive distinctive formulation in the Lord’s covenant with Abraham (Gen 12ff).[xxxvii]
This sets the stage for Kline’s discussion of the Abrahamic covenant as God’s redemptive covenant within the new, postdiluvian world. God’s people are set apart from the world but still continue to function in the common realm. They hold a special redeemed status while actively participating in the common and profane cultural realm. This realm was and continues to be governed by “pilgrim politics and polity”.[xxxviii]
The Mosaic era and theocracy that came with it was a temporary intrusion.[xxxix] Pilgrim politics are to be the norm in Kline’s view, not only in the age of the Patriarchs, but throughout history until the second coming.
Summary and Conclusion
Kline is clear. Had there been no fall, history would be a tale of one city. This city would involve man’s priestly and kingly functions. These would be put into practice for the assigned task of multiplying and subduing the earth. The cultural mandate would be carried out and eventually culminate into eternal rest. Yet this was not to be the trajectory on which human history would track. Adam and Eve sinned. We are now characters living out our lives within a tale of two cities.
Kline is direct. Mankind’s journey is not one of dominion. For God’s people it is one of sojourning in a country not our own. It is a wilderness journey on which there will be no dominion, but only cultural preservation. This preservation is for God’s redemptive purposes. It is provisional. All mankind, including God’s people, cooperate during this time of preservation. They function within a common cultural realm. Both the redemptive and common realms were covenantally established.
Perhaps now you are beginning to make the connection. As Miller states in his essay, “One thing, at any rate, is now clear: there is an unmistakable link between the R2K position argued by VanDrunen and Kline’s exegetical project in Kingdom Prologue. The former grows from the soil of the latter.”[xl] I would go beyond this to say Kline provides the basis for the whole movement. Why?
A common realm requires a common law. If you hold to Kline’s holy and profane, or common vs. redemptive distinction, you must address the ethics that govern the two realms. If you hold to a kingdom where Christians set aside special revelation in the public square, then you must construct a legal order on which to build the resulting pluralistic society.
This is precisely what VanDrunen has done. He has risen to the occasion.[xli] As a student of Kline’s and an attorney, he is the right man for the job. A Biblical Case for Natural Law and the R2K reclamation of natural law theory is the logical extension of Kline’s work. It would be the obvious next step in developing a comprehensive two-kingdoms framework.
The issue is that with each step, the framework subsumes the church into a sea of commonness. This sea engulfs the earthly identity of Christ’s Bride within the broader culture. To preserve her distinctive qualities, it is as if God’s people over time begin to levitate above earthly affairs. The R2K trajectory ultimately lands the Christian in another realm altogether – one of cultural irrelevance.
[i]Miller, Benjamin, “De-Klining From Chalcedon: Exegetical Roots Of The ‘R2k’ Project”, in For the Healing of the Nations, ed. P. Escalante and W. B. Littlejohn, The Davenant Trust, 2014, p. 173.
[ii]Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (South Hamilton, MA: M.G. Kline, 1991), p. 51.
[iii] Ibid, 67.
[iv] Ibid, 78.
[v] Ibid, 80.
[vi] Ibid, 81.
[vii] Ibid, 81.
[viii] Ibid, 87.
[ix] Ibid, 96.
[xii] Ibid, 96-97.
[xiii] Ibid, 100.
[xiv] Ibid, 135.
[xv] Ibid, 154.
[xvii] Ibid, 155.
[xviii] Ibid, 156.
[xix] Ibid, 157.
[xxi] Ibid, 159.
[xxii] Ibid, 167.
[xxiii] It is around this point in the book that Kline moves into defining the role of the state. The content suddenly becomes muddied and his conclusions seem to lack sufficient foundation. After constructing a common, neutral realm without specifying the basis for law within the realm, he moves in and out of biblical application for governing said realm.
[xxiv] Ibid, 170.
[xxv] Ibid, 171.
[xxvii] Ibid, 180.
[xxix] Ibid, 181.
[xxx] Ibid, 201.
[xxxi] Ibid, 199.
[xxxii] Ibid, 244.
[xxxiii] Ibid, 234.
[xxxiv] Ibid, 249.
[xxxv] Ibid, 155.
[xxxvi]Miller, Benjamin, “De-Klining From Chalcedon: Exegetical Roots Of The ‘R2k’ Project”, in For the Healing of the Nations, ed. P. Escalante and W. B. Littlejohn, The Davenant Trust, 2014, p. 188.
[xxxvii]Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (South Hamilton, MA: M.G. Kline, 1991), p. 262.
[xxxviii] Ibid, 356.
[xxxix]Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority , 2nd Ed. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1997), 25.
[xl]Miller, Benjamin, “De-Klining From Chalcedon: Exegetical Roots Of The ‘R2k’ Project”, in For the Healing of the Nations, ed. P. Escalante and W. B. Littlejohn, The Davenant Trust, 2014, p. 188.
[xli] VanDrunen states, “Hence I have developed not a pan-Western natural law theory, or even a pan-Christian theology of natural law that happens to be written by a Protestant, but a Reformed theology of natural law, having deep continuity with pre-Reformation natural law thought.” David VanDrunen, Divine Covenants and Moral Order (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), p. 486.