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David VanDrunen’s inaugural lecture at WSC: The Gospel and the Kingdom of God

21 February, 2008

matt tuningaBe subject to the governing authorities … for he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath … (Rom 13:1,4)

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God … (Rom 12:19)

On Tuesday, February 19, David VanDrunen was inaugurated as the Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Seminary California. VanDrunen gave a fascinating inaugural lecture in which he reflected upon the relationship between the Reformed doctrine of the two kingdoms and the Reformed doctrine of the ordo salutis. It is not my intention here to summarize every part of that lecture, as you can easily listen to the audio version at the Heidelblog.

Nevertheless, if you are not well familiar with the Reformed two kingdoms doctrine, I want to urge youvandrunen to pay attention to this lecture. There is a lot of confusion out there on the two kingdoms, on the part of both opponents of the doctrine and of some of its advocates. For these, VanDrunen’s use of the ordo salutis to clarify the two kingdoms doctrine may be very helpful.

To put it simply, the two kingdoms doctrine states that God rules the earth both as creator (through providence, common grace, earthly governments, Rom 13:1-7, etc.) and as redeemer (through redemptive history, special grace, the church, Romans 12:14-21, etc.). The ordo salutis states, among other things, that justification, being declared right with God, precedes sanctification, being made righteous, in the life of the believer.

It may seem as if these doctrines are unrelated, but in reality, they are very closely linked. VanDrunen points out that the earthly kingdom is built upon the covenant of creation (works) God made with man in the garden of Eden. It is established according to strict justice. Those who obey its rules receive God’s reward, and those who disobey its rules receive God’s just punishment. All human beings are part of this kingdom. Its laws are written on the hearts of men and women (Rom 1-2). We are all wired for law, and deep down, we know that some day we will come face to face with the righteous judgment of God.

The spiritual kingdom, on the other hand, is built upon the covenant of grace God has made with believers and their children, in Christ. It is established according to pure grace, mercy, and love. In it, God declares that all who believe in Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection, are right with him. The judgment held over their heads by the kingdom of creation falls on Christ instead of them. Every member of the spiritual kingdom, has been judged “not guilty.” The fundamental ethic of this kingdom is grace, love, and mercy.

How does the ordo salutis relate to this? Quite simply, the ordo salutis applies to those, and only those, who are in the spiritual kingdom. For them, justification precedes sanctification. Having been judged not guilty, they are free to serve God in light of his love and mercy. They do not, therefore, judge one another, but treat one another with love and mercy.

For those who have not been brought into the spiritual kingdom, however, sanctification is still required in order for thereto be justification. They must obey every element of the law written upon their hearts, and they must obey it perfectly, in order for them to be declared right with God. Of course, this is impossible.

Viewing the two kingdoms in light of their relationship to the ordo salutis clarifies what seems to be confusing to some. The spiritual kingdom is not the sphere of the religious. It is not even, strictly speaking, the church. The spiritual kingdom is none other than the power of the spirit, from the age to come, working redemption in this world. All those who have been redeemed are part of it. The church, it is true, is its institutional expression, but a false church is no more part of the spiritual kingdom than a mosque is, or the government of Hawaii.

The spiritual kingdom, in other words, is not an institution; it is a realm. It’s power extends to all of life, but that does not mean it is identifiable with all of life. For example, its power may be present in the White House, but that does not make the White House part of the kingdom of God. Until Christ returns, institutions like the White House will always be part of God’s temporary earthly rule as established in Romans 13, a rule fundamentally different from his permanent and redemptive rule through the spirit, as described in Romans 12.

It is certainly true that this raises a myriad of thought-provoking and disturbing questions, and I hope to expand upon these thoughts in further essays. For now, let me close with a fascinating part of VanDrunen’s lecture:

We are dual citizens in a sense, but our two citizenships are incommensurate. We belong to the spiritual kingdom as we can never again belong to the civil kingdom, and hence we belong to the church as we can never again belong to any state, society, or culture. Christians are called to live lives shaped and determined by the heavenly kingdom, which means the life of the justified, life beyond the judgment, in which we are no longer judged and no longer judge.

Yet as we are called to participate in the civil kingdom we are compelled to judge and be judged by the people of this world. We must submit to the judgments of the market, the critic, the referee, the court of law, and we contribute to these same judgments upon others as consumers, voters, and the like.

But in the church we find a community filled with those who, like us, know the freedom that comes in justification, the freedom neither to judge nor be judged, the freedom to be merciful and forgiving as Christ himself is. The church is a haven and shelter in the midst of the often cruel judgments of the world, a place where we may love and be loved no matter what quality our labor, how beautiful our music, how long our criminal record… The church is indeed our mother, who with open arms constantly welcomes us home.

~Matt Tuininga

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13 Comments
  1. 22 February, 2008 5:58 am

    Matt~

    I think presenting an approach to the relationship between church and state as a necessary outflow of the relationship between Adam and Christ (and all who belong to each) is extremely helpful in these often sensitive discussions. At least from this point of view, a 2 Kingdoms doctrine is seen in its close relationship to Reformed covenant theology more broadly–rather than as a certain pet emphasis of a particular faction, etc. This also helps (or should help) in avoiding some of the caricatures of 2 Kingdoms: anything said here has certain ramifications for what we say about the 2 Adams.

    ~B

  2. jason permalink
    22 February, 2008 11:51 am

    Does the essential thrust of the argument remain the same if one views justification and sanctification as distinct yet inseparable simultaneous benefits flowing from union with Christ as opposed to justification preceding sanctification?

  3. 22 February, 2008 12:02 pm

    Without commenting on the wisdom of such a move, I would think that the essential point of the ordo salutis is to say that logically justification precedes sanctification (i.e. sanctification has no role in our justification). Since that is the case, the essential matter is still that those who are part of the kingdom of God have been judged “not guilty,” and that’s what makes the character of the community what it is.

  4. jason permalink
    22 February, 2008 12:31 pm

    Thanks. I understand your point on the essential matter being those who are part of the kingdom of God.

    Now I’m curious about the first part of your comment. Are you saying that the essential point of the ordo -broadly speaking- is that justification logically precedes sanctification? Or are you saying that in Van Drunen’s use of the ordo as it pertains to his lecture that is the essential point he is making?

    I ask because, being a WTS PA guy, I see Calvin’s Institutes Book III as a reason to reject the notion that justification logically precedes sanctification, given that he treats sanctification first and shows its necessity in conjunction with union rather than justification.

  5. creedorchaos permalink*
    22 February, 2008 12:41 pm

    I am definitely not speaking for Dr. VanDrunen, and I’d encourage you to listen to his lecture to get the nuance of his argument. To quote the lecture, however, “I understand that justification stands in a certain priority to sanctification, such that believers are justified as the ungodly, without respect to any subjective holiness of their own, while believers are sanctified precisely as the justified, who are being transformed according to the new reality that justification has created.”

    The point, as I see it, is that regardless of how you view the relationship of justification and sanctification to union with Christ, justification has a conceptual priority in the Christian life, in the sense that we do not live in such a way to achieve a certain judgment of “not guilty.” We live as those who have already been declared “not guilty.” That’s what makes us who we are. The point VanDrunen was making is that since we’ve already been judged “not guilty” our ethic in the kingdom is somewhat different from that of the world.

  6. 22 February, 2008 2:26 pm

    I would also add to Brannan’s above point that this view still sees sanctification as a direct benefit of union with Christ. But who could deny the “logical” priority of justification give the SS witness? We’re not trying to see things as God sees them archetypally but echtypally as he reveals heavenly things to his earthly creatures.

  7. 22 February, 2008 2:37 pm

    To clarify, the 12:41 post by Creedorchaos was by me. I’m not sure why it doesn’t come up under my name.

  8. 22 February, 2008 9:45 pm

    WTS JASON- if you want to be beat up by my little but bigger brother Brannan then go to this link and read his comments at my other brother’s link:

    http://thomasgoodwin.wordpress.com/2007/10/11/gaffin-on-union-with-christ/#comments

    OK fellow seminarian. Read him very carefully and then take a deep breath and a tylenol. Then read him again. 🙂

  9. jason permalink
    23 February, 2008 11:54 am

    I’ll head over to the other link. No need for Tylenol – I went to college with him!

  10. 23 February, 2008 2:10 pm

    Jason and I are both pretty skinny…

    ~B

  11. jason permalink
    23 February, 2008 7:10 pm

    I’ll be honest: I just have too much work to do to read all those comments. But if B’s position remains that “Justification is the ground, participation is the context of applied redemption” then I disagree. I see justification as one aspect of applied redemption, not the ground.

    Not that this is that big of a deal to me. We could go ’round and ’round forever, but Gaffin and Tipton were my teachers, so they’ve persuaded me. I think they make the most sense of the exegesis, Calvin, and the Larger Catechism.

  12. creedorchaos permalink*
    24 February, 2008 2:54 pm

    Jason~

    Yeah,it’s all too much to get into here, and I agree that your stance is Gaffin’s et al, and to a large extent Calvin’s, and part of the Standards’ (though not consistently throughout). I don’t agree about the exegesis (obviously! :)). On that point I’d rather follow Vos where Gaffin decides not to:

    ‘In our opinion Paul consciously and consistently subordinated the mystical aspect of the relation to Christ to the forensic one….he regarded the entire complex of subjective spiritual changes that take place in the believer and of subjective spiritual blessings enjoyed by the believer as the direct outcome of the forensic work of Christ applied in justification. The mystical is based on the forensic, not the forensic on the mystical’ (“The Alleged Legalism in Paul’s Doctrine of Justification,” Shorter Writings, 384).

    ~B

  13. creedorchaos permalink*
    25 February, 2008 11:19 am

    Vos is boss. Kline is a gold mine.
    However, we really appreciate Gaffin….and Calvin of course. You don’t have to agree with every nuance of every theologian to affirm their genius and great contribution to the church. Gaffin rocks.

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