Immanuel URC’s series of four lectures titled “Christ and Culture: Whose Kingdom Is It Anyway?” explored a new view of natural law and two kingdom theology. Professor Alan Strange, from Mid-America Reformed Seminary, spoke at the lectures held on consecutive Thursday evenings during September in DeMotte, IN. The idea for a series on this subject grew from research conducted by an Immanuel committee in recent years.
“For the past 2 years, a subcommittee of Immanuel’s consistory has been studying the new two kingdoms/natural law (NL2k) theology,” explains elder Mark Van Der Molen, who chairs Immanuel’s council. “The debate over this issue in the Reformed world has continued in numerous forms (books, periodicals, websites, journal articles, etc.). This consistorial committee has reviewed material from, and corresponded with, some advocates of NL2k. We also reviewed theological analysis from a number of theologians who have serious questions about NL2k. Of particular beneficial note was the work done by Dr. Nelson Kloosterman in his series of Christian Renewal articles examining Augustine, Calvin and Kuyper and the differences between their theology and that found in NL2k.”
At the spring 2011 meeting of Classis CentralU.S., Immanuel URC informed the churches of its ongoing research and asked for advice. Delegates recommended that Immanuel continue with its work and report to Classis when its study was complete.
“As we continued our study, we noted that certain defenders of NL2k frequently appeal to the Presbyterian doctrine of the ‘spirituality of the church’ as justifying their NL2k formulations,” notes Mr. Van Der Molen. “Thus, the consistorial committee thought it was time to incorporate a Presbyterian perspective. Professor Alan Strange fit our criteria well, given his credentials in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, his position as professor of Church History at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, and his expert dissertation work in Presbyterian history and doctrine.”
On September 8, Professor Strange spoke on “Church and state: biblical foundations,” discussing three aspects: Old & New Testament (from Eden to Rome); Medieval periods (church/state confusion); and Reformation period (church/state clarity).
The September 15 lecture, “Church and state in the American context,” focused on three aspects of American history: English Colonies, U.S. Constitution, and North & South.
“Church and state: current trends” was the subject of the September 22 lecture, which discussed Theonomy/Reconstructionism; Kline/Natural Law/Two Kingdoms; and Kuyper/Hodge.
The final lecture on September 29 delved more deeply into the “Church and state in Charles Hodge,” by examining The spirituality of the church; Properly understood to separate church from state; and Improperly understood to separate faith from politics.
“The third and fourth lecture as well as the Q&A session following each of these were able to zero in on the ‘spirituality of the church’ and there we heard how NL2k cannot find a proper foundation on this doctrine,” says Mr. Van Der Molen, “but rather that NL2k is a regressive movement in that while it makes necessary distinctions between church and state, it leaves them ‘separated’ with no reliable guidance as to how they may be properly ‘related’ to one another.”
Rev. Strange states that he strove to set forth “biblically and historically” some primary features of “church, state, and their relationship.”
“As part of that, we also looked at some modern Reformed approaches. We briefly surveyed, on the one hand, theonomy and Christian reconstruction, seeing its call for the Israelization of the world to be an overstress on continuity between the testaments,” he continues. “We also looked at NL2k, seeing that while we may properly speak of natural law and two kingdoms, the project that is currently being constructed seems to lack integration points, and thus tends to the disjointing of the Christian life, i.e., while we may properly separate church and state as institutions, we may never separate faith from anything in our lives; Christ and His Word, properly understood, being preeminent for the Christian in all endeavors and spheres of life.”
“My criticism was careful and measured as the project is still in its early stages and we need to see where it goes,” Rev. Strange adds. “One of the problems is that some partisans of NL/2k fail to acknowledge the novelty of the project as it is currently constructed, arguing, for instance, that this simply the old ‘spirituality of the church’ doctrine of 19th Century Old School Presbyterianism.”
“While NL/2k contains elements of the doctrine of the ‘spirituality of the church,’ the movement tips its hat to secularization in a way that the ‘spirituality of the church’ doctrine did not,” he explains. “While separation of church and state is desirable, the separation of faith and life is neither desirable nor possible. I want to be open to critical interaction as it is easy to mischaracterize a new movement, particularly as its practitioners may not all be on the same page when it comes to its theoretical underpinnings and its application. This is a movement impacting confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian churches.”
Mr. Van Der Molen notes that while each evening’s crowd was not large, some attendees drove more than three hours to hear the lectures, and a much larger audience listened to the lectures via audio files on the Internet.
“We are aware that the lectures have reached far and wide through our church website,” he says. “It was encouraging to see that the lectures were being downloaded across the United States—from California to New York and states everywhere in between—as well as in many locations in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, India, and Brazil.”
“The goal of the lecture series was to gather biblical and confessional insight on this thorny subject from a solid Presbyterian perspective and to share this with the broader Reformed community,” he concludes. “We believe Professor Strange exceeded our expectations. For those still interested in listening to these lectures, they can be found at Immanuel URC’s website www.immanuelurc.net.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 8-9 of the November 16, 2011 issue of Christian Renewal.