A monarchist response to Horton and Two Kingdoms

Much of the debate on Two Kingdoms theology is frustrating to watch.  Both sides carpet bomb each other, not realizing they share many presuppositions, or so it would seem.   With Horton I agree that today’s church’s involvement in politics has been a disaster and should be avoided.  Further, to read the bible looking for a specific political system is doomed to failure.  The Old Testament law recommends a Hebrew Republic, but this fails miserably in biblical history and after the monarchy and exile, is not attempted again, prescription in the Law notwithstanding.  The monarchy is initially condemned by God, but later becomes the focal point through which the Messianic prophecies are shaped.  God never promised to restore the Republic to his Messiah.  How flat does that sound?

While I don’t hold to the Platonic and Hegelian view that opposites are in fact identical on one level, it appears nonetheless to be true here:  Kuyperianism/American theonomy is eerily similar, if not identical at the level of presuppositions, to Radical 2 Kingdoms (R2K).   Consider:

  • Neither view seriously challenges the validity of liberal democracy.   I know American theonomists are generally “conservative,” but I am using “liberal” in the sense of John Locke and Adam Smith.
  • While R2K advocates aren’t quite as loud about it, both views consider American-style Republicanism as the only valid political theory.
  • For all of Escondido’s gripes against Kuyper, sphere sovereignty is Two Kingdoms:  The Church cannot get involved in the State, and vice-versa.

Escondido is correct in that the Bible does not give the contents of a specific political order.  This is where American theonomy fails so miserably.  While it is true that the Torah outlines a form of representative government, the American theonomist has to answer a number of immediate and embarrassing questions:   1) The Torah also gives very specific guidelines to future monarchs, so on what grounds do we say that the Bible prescribes republicanism but prohibits monarchy?  2)  If 1 Samuel 8 is the most important political text in the Bible, and so condemnatory of monarchy, how come the prophets base their future hope that the Messiah will be a Davidic monarch and not a theocratic representative?  Let’s pursue this a bit further:  When we read the OT we understand–correctly–that this Davidic monarch is the 2nd Person of the Trinity.   So we sort of understand that such a monarchy is not actually a prescription to future rulers on how to build a political order (though one can certainly and legitimately understand their own monarchy as an imaging of the Davidic monarchy.  Jesus seemed to suggest as much in the Lord’s prayer).  However, an OT reader of these texts would not have (immediately) come to that conclusion.  He would have concluded, “God’s promises will be mediated through a monarchy, not a republic.”  This raises another question about how far the Law can function as prescriptive norm.

So is representative government necessarily illegitimate?  No.  Rutherford and numerous political thinkers (Calvin among them) wisely say that the best form of government is one that naturally reflects the people’s own cultural inheritance.  Monarchy won’t work in America (actually, a far worse centralized government is now functioning in America, yet American conservatives fear the rise of monarchy more than anything else!!!!!!!).

Conclusion:  What did I try to argue?

R2K and theonomy are American phenomena.  Only someone who has received the centuries-long fruit of Lockean politics and who lives in a stable and relatively tolerant land would argue something as inane as Two Kingdoms.   Theonomy seeks a legacy with earlier theocratic positions, but it phrases that legacy around a certain understanding of political order and economics, which would likely render it unintelligble to earlier theocrats.  I suggest that Lockean philosophy, in short, is that connection between American theonomy and R2K.

I also tried to outline, following the Rev. Professor Oliver O’Donovan’s argument in Desire of the Nations, that the monarchy stands as mediator between God and his people, ultimately mediating the Messianic promise. However, to cut off charges of Erastianism at the knees, this mediation was fulfilled in the Second Person of the Trinity and his ascension to the right hand of the father.  Current monarchs do not mediate divine promises.