Two Kingdoms and Moral Standards
David M. VanDrunen
Several people have asked me recently whether, according to the two kingdoms doctrine, Scripture is the moral standard for the spiritual (or redemptive) kingdom but not for the common kingdom. I thought it might be helpful to offer a few brief points to clarify my own position.
In one of my previous books (A Biblical Case for Natural Law) I stated something to the effect that Scripture is the moral standard of the spiritual kingdom but not the common kingdom. But I think some people have taken that to mean something other than the particular sense in which I meant it.
For the historic Reformed two kingdoms doctrine (and mine as well), Scripture certainly has significant things to say about the common kingdom and its moral obligations before God, and of course what it says is true. So in that very important sense Scripture is authoritative for the common kingdom (as Scripture is authoritative for every subject it addresses). This is reflected in my recent book, Living in God's Two Kingdoms, which explores Scripture extensively to identify many features of the common kingdom and their implications for how we should conduct ourselves within it. There is also no question for me (or for the historic two kingdoms doctrine) that as Christians appeal to the natural law in the common kingdom, either to appeal to unbelievers or to try to understand their own responsibilities in various areas of life, they should look to Scripture to correct and clarify their views on natural law.
But there are also certain senses in which Scripture cannot be taken in a simplistic manner as the moral standard of the common kingdom. For one thing, Scripture has always been delivered to God's special covenant people, the Old Testament to Israel and the New Testament to the church. When Scripture gives its moral commands, it speaks to God's covenant people and does not give them bare commands, but instructs them how to live as his redeemed covenant people. Even the 10 commandments begin with the introduction, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt...." Thus I think we need to be careful that we don't simply take the commands meant as a response to God's redemptive love and try to enforce them as such upon the world at large. This doesn't mean that most of the commands of Scripture aren't relevant for unbelievers too. But they're relevant for different reasons. Unbelievers in the public square shouldn't kill, commit adultery, or steal, but it’s because these things are prohibited in the natural law which binds all people as human beings, not because they're in the 10 commandments which come to God's special people he redeemed out of Egypt. Hence one of my concerns is that we be careful to make arguments and appeals in the common kingdom that are appropriate to the mixed crowds that populate the common kingdom, and not drop biblical proof-texts out of context.