By Rev. Doug Barnes
One doesn’t make friends by always being negative. And for good reason! It can be helpful to point out flaws – but such criticism leaves us empty and hopeless unless we also hear about the alternative!
Today, it’s time for the alternative.
For four issues, I have highlighted some of the significant flaws in the Radical Two Kingdoms viewpoint that has gained traction among Reformed folks in recent years. Regular readers will recall that this Radical Two Kingdoms (R2K) view divides life into two realms: the spiritual and the secular. The spiritual kingdom is eternal and is largely manifested in the church; whereas the secular kingdom, encompassing the rest of life, is said to be merely temporary.
R2K advocates assure us that Christ rules over both kingdoms. However, only over the spiritual kingdom does He rule as Redeemer, revealing through the Bible His will for our spiritual life and worship.
He rules the secular realm as Creator, revealing His will not by Scripture, but by natural law. To apply Scripture to the secular realm is to confuse the kingdoms – and that, they warn, will result in radical views like theonomy, plunging society into religious division and persecution. Secularism promotes peace, and therefore the Bible must be kept out of the common realm.
So they say. Wrongly.
There is a better way – a more Biblical way.
Jesus tells us in Matt. 5:13-16 that His disciples are salt and light. That means we’re not just marking time until Jesus returns, as though this world is merely a big waiting room. Instead, we we have a significant calling within the world today.
We are salt. Salt does three things.
- Salt Preserves from decay and destruction. That’s why salting meat was a common means of preserving meat for much of human history. In like manner, Christians are a preservative, drawing those around them back from the corrosive influence of sin and rebellion.
- Salt Enhances Flavor of bland food. In like manner, Christians – knowing the Creator of all things and recognizing the purpose of all things to glorify Him – are able to enjoy the created world in a way that unbelievers can’t. In their deeper appreciation for the world, Christians show unbelievers the “flavor” they are missing.
- Salt Prepares for Sacrifice. As a preservative, salt points to God’s faithfulness in preserving His people. The sacrifices of Israel were salted as a reminder of His Covenant faithfulness. In like manner, Christians – by revealing the character and the joy of the Lord – prepare the world for the sacrifice of honoring God.
At the same time, Christians are called to be the light of the world. Having seen our good works, men glorify God – some by asking the reason for the hope within us (1 Pet. 3:15), leading them to turn to Christ; and others by confessing at the Judgment that, because of our witness, they knew better.
Here’s the thing: we can’t effectively serve as salt and light in the world apart from the constant guidance – in all of life – of God’s Word. And we won’t serve as salt and light in this world, unless we recognize all of life as having eternal value!
To that end, we must understand how essential Scripture is.
Each of us understands the world through our presuppositions – the unquestioned beliefs that we hold concerning the world. Some presuppositions are foundational – like the belief that what we see is real, or that gravity will always work. Others are more complex, like the belief that all life forms arose through random mutations over the course of a massive expanse of time.
Get those presuppositions wrong, and all of your learning, all of your deductions, all of your hypotheses likewise will be wrong.
For Christians, Scripture is the touchstone that allows us to test our presuppositions. It reveals which foundational truth claims are trustworthy, and it helps us to formulate the questions we need to ask.
Scripture itself claims to be inerrant. Its authors spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21). Even the smallest letters (jots, or yods) and parts of letters (tittles) are inspired and preserved by God (Matt. 5:18). And Scripture addresses all of life – “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every work” (2 Tim .3:17).
Proponents of the R2K view claim that Scripture was given to “norm” the spiritual kindgom, but not the secular realm. If that’s the case, the Scripture was not meant to guide and direct us in the study and use of sociology, politics, finance, race, etc. Instead, for these subjects and countless others, we must use “natural law” – the revelation of God and of His will that are built into the creation and our own conscience.
Problem is, due to our sin, we are prone to misread natural law – as our Canons of Dort affirm (CoD 3/4, Art. 4).
So God gave us the Bible. Through that Word, the Christian sociologist is taught to recognize the inherent depravity in sinful humanity (Rom. 1:18-3:18). It teaches the Christian politician about the nature and limits of the magistrate’s calling (Romans 13:1-7). It helps the Christian financial advisor to put wealth in context (Luke 12:16-21). It empowers the Christian citizen to pursue racial reconciliation in the recognition of the familial unity of the races through the creative work of God.
Apart from Scripture, we assuredly will make a mess of those subjects – and all others.
But in the wisdom of God’s Word, we have a solid foundation on which to build. And that foundation equips us to serve as a light, shining through the darkness of a world stumbling about in ignorance. That sure understanding, which applies to every discipline and subject, enables us to help unbelievers to avoid the destructive effects of unbelief. It equips us to show them how glorious our learning and our work can be when we submit them to the wisdom of the Creator-King!
In fact, when we recognize that Scripture applies to and informs all of life, we begin to see that the Kingdom of God itself radically transforms all of life.
In 1 Cor. 15:58, Paul urges the church to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” He wasn’t only talking about the work of preaching and church discipline. He was talking about ALL of our labor – from preaching to plumbing, from discipling to brick laying to scientific exploration.
Because Christ has overcome our enemies and has promised to make all things new, we have been called and equipped to exercise dominion according to God’s intent at the creation (Gen. 1:28)! That radically affects our learning, our labor, our friendships, our entertainment – our all.
That’s why Paul urges us, in Col. 3:23-24, “and whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” Notice the lack of a limitation there. ALL that we do, because we are Christians, we are called to do in service and unto the glory of God, through Christ.
There is no “secular realm” for the Christian. Our bodies are to be a living sacrifice to the Lord (Rom. 12:1) – rendering all that we do as, in some measure, an act of worship.
But it can only be worshipful toward God if we strive to understand the world and our work in it through His revelation. It can only honor our King if we bring all of our labor and all of our learning under submission to His truth.
If we do: all of it will glorify God. And in the end, we shall hear the Spirit declare to us, as He did to John: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” Amen.