A friend emailed after I posted my review of Bradford Littlejohn’s book on the two kingdoms asking for more specifics. The following is a slightly edited version of my reply to him:
In my review I flagged the big historical contribution. Littlejohn shows clearly that the two kingdoms division was not between institutional church and institutional state, as R2K/W2K folks like Van Drunen (DVD) say. I think Littlejohn showed this conclusively, and historically this is important because DVD wants to use R2K to enforce a kind of separation of church and state, or as Littlejohn puts it, “the religious neutrality of modern liberal politics.” Historically, that’s hard to see in Luther and Calvin, and Littlejohn shows why. Their two kingdoms are different from those of R2K.
Littlejohn argues that the Reformers’ 2K doctrine is not about dividing the life into two distinct spheres but are different ways to look at all of life. So, Luther argues that “inwardly, before God, the Christian is not subject to the mediation of any human authority, or conscience-bound by its commands” (Littlejohn’s summary, p. 16). But because of love for neighbor, the Christian does outwardly submit to human rulers. I’ve read the treatises Luther wrote on this subject, and I’d say Littlejohn’s summary is accurate. But I’m not convinced that Luther is right! So I still find myself at variance from a 2K approach. Calvin is, I think, better in his formulations than Luther, though he like Luther is using the formulation to defend Christian liberty. (And here Littlejohn makes a helpful clarification: “not Christian liberty in the sense we often mean it today—the freedom of individual believers to act as they wish in matters where Scripture is silent—but is fundamentally soteriological, the proclamation of the freedom of the believer’s conscience from the bondage of external works” (p. 26). As Calvin develops it, he is not saying that “human authorities cannot prescribe outward conduct for believers in matters indifferent,” because that would do away with all government (p. 27). But he means that the conscience cannot be bound. So government and church alike can make laws concerning church order or about things indifferent, but neither state nor church can say about such things: “this you must do to be right with God.”
As he goes not with the historical survey Littlejohn turns to Hooker’s response to the Puritan objection to various ceremonies and forms being imposed on them. Littlejohn likes Hooker, so here’s where my sympathies diverge from Littlejohn. Littlejohn sees Hooker make use of the 2K distinction of Luther and Calvin to oppose Puritanism. Littlejohn summarizes: “We can now see why Hooker’s Lawes represents such an important contribution to Protestant two-kingdoms theology, even if we might resist the conclusions Hooker himself draws for religious uniformity and royal supremacy. However oppressive these might seem to us today, they were, at least as understood and defended by Hooker, much less so than the Puritan legalism he opposed, which brooked no opposition and left no room for discretion in the outward ordering of the Christian community. Hooker deserves credit for freeing Christian consciences from the tyranny of Scripture conceived as an exhaustive law-book, desacralizing human authority in both church and state, and resisting the Puritan tendency to immanentize Christ’s eschatological rule in the visible church. In all this he both re-affirmed the core agenda of Luther’s reform, but he also clarified and filled out Luther’s sometimes paradoxical formulations by spelling out how it was that the visible church had a foot in both kingdoms, so to speak.” I’m not convinced that that Hooker stood in the breach against those bad Puritan legalists. I rather think that the Puritans were correct about their church worship concerns. So I remained unconvinced of the benefits of 2K.
As to the chapters on practical implications in the sphers of church, state, market, etc., I’m of two minds. I liked a number of conclusions he reached and disagreed with others. But I think I can get to the applications that I found insightful apart from 2K theology.