I was speaking at an OPC family camp for a few days this week. Really great folks and very theologically literate. The after-session discussion du jour focused on two kingdom theology v. neo-Kuyperianism (sounds like your family camp too, I know).

In broad strokes, the two kingdom folks believe in a kingdom of this world and a kingdom of Christ. We have a dual citizenship as Christians. Further, the realm of nature should not be expected to function and look like the realm of grace. Living in the tension of two kingdoms we should stop trying to transform the culture of this world into the kingdom of our Lord and instead focus on the church being the church, led by it duly ordained officers and ministering through the ordinary means of grace.

On the other hand, neo-Kupyerianism (intellectual descendants of the Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper) argue that every square inch of this world belongs to Christ. Therefore, his Lordship should be felt and manifested in politics, in the arts, in education, in short, everywhere. Because the work of Christ was not just to save sinners but also to renew the whole cosmos, we should be at work to change the world and transform the culture.

I don’t like the “third rail” folks who are always positioning themselves as the sane alternative between two extremes, but I have to admit that there are elements of both approaches–two kingdom theology and neo-Kuyperianism–that seem biblical and elements that seem dangerous.

On the plus side for the two-kingdom approach:
• Emphasis on the church and the ordinary means (e.g., preaching, sacraments)
• Realistic appraisal of our fallen world and the dangers of utopian idealism
• Acknowledges that while Christians can do and should do many worthwhile things in the world, the church as church has a more limited mandate
• Avoids endless, and often silly, pronouncements on all sorts of cultural and political matters
• Takes seriously the already and not-yet of the kingdom
• Understands that every nice thing that happens in the world is not “kingdom work”
• A bulwark against theonomy and reconstructionism

But I also see some dangers in a radical two-kingdom approach:
• An exaggerated distinction between laity and church officers (e.g., evangelism is the responsibility of elders and pastors not of the regular church members)
• An unwillingness to boldly call Christians to work for positive change in their communities and believe that some change is possible
• The doctrine of the “spirituality of the church” allowed the southern church to “punt” (or worse) on the issue of slavery during the 19th century

The neo-Kuyperians have some positives too:
• A desire to make their faith public
• Zeal to confront injustice and help the hurting
• Appreciation for the goodness of the created world
• Takes seriously that Christianity is about more than sinners getting their ticket punched for heaven

But, alas, there are also number of shortcomings with the neo-Kuyperian view:
• Blurs the distinction between common grace and special grace
• Blurs the distinction between general and special revelation
• Can minimize personal redemption at the expense of cosmic renewal
• Explicit biblical support for commanding all Christians to change the world or transform the culture is very thin
• Devolves quickly into an indistinct moralism

So where does this leave us? I’m not quite sure. The two kingdom theology has better biblical support in my opinion. It seems to me we are more like the Israelites in exile in Babylon than we are the Israelites in the promised land. The earnest calls for world transformation assume that because Christ will renew the whole cosmos therefore our main job as Christians is to do the same. But this is basing a whole lot of theology on a pretty tenuous implication. Two kingdom theology feels more realistic to me and fits better with the “un-preoccupied-with-transforming-society” vibe I get from the New Testament.

And yet, I am loathe to be an apologist for the status quo, or to throw cold water on young people who want to see abortion eradicated or dream of kids in Africa having clean water. I don’t think it’s wrong for a church to have an adoption ministry or an addiction recovery program. I think changing structures, institutions, and ideas not only helps people but can pave the way for gospel reception.

Perhaps there is a–I can’t believe I’m going to say it–a middle ground. I say, let’s not lose the heart of the gospel, divine self-satisfaction through self-substitution. And let’s not apologize for challenging Christians to show this same kind of dying love to others. Let’s not be embarrassed by the doctrine of hell and the necessity of repentance and regeneration. And let’s not be afraid to do good to all people, especially to the household of faith. Let’s work against the injustices and suffering in our day, and let’s be realistic that the poor, as Jesus said, will always be among us. Bottom line: let’s work for change where God calls us and gifts us, but let’s not forget that the Great Commission is go into the world and make disciples, not go into the world and build the kingdom.

*****
NOTE: I won’t be able to engage in a lot of discussion on this issue, but I do welcome your thoughts. I know I have painted with very broad strokes, so all you two-kingdom folks and neo-Kuyperians feel free to make a better case for your position than I have laid out here.

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66 thoughts on “Two Kingdom Theology and Neo-Kuyperians”

  1. TAMMY says:

    This world is Judaism…lots of religions and no commandments written on the heart.

    1 Peter 2:11. God made and had TWO covenants. 1st at Sinai which brings death like this world and the SECOND where we come to the WHERE??? WHERE people….jerusalem on this earth??? GOD FORBID…what a curse that place is……we have COME WITH THIS COVENANT TO THE HEAVENLY JERUSALEM with a HOST OF ANGELS and ALL GOOD LOVE that forgives our sins for our SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP THROUGH JESUS.. Its an exclusive COVENANT RELATIONSHIP and our home is THERE…not here. Alien, sojourner ring a bell. That being said…I am the BOLDEST in stirring up christians to spread the gospel and INFLUENCE SOCIETY…its part of well done good and faithful….but by giving it to a governmental thought (i.,e.) christian govt….completely RUINS IT and RUINS the relationship. The Founders of America were GENIUSES…they understood how to a Christian govt without having RUINED Christianity like a PHARISEE.

  2. TAMMY says:

    Jeremiah 31:31 religious govt always gets CORRUPTED because every human is fallen and not all will be saved…in fact its a BROAD ROAD THAT WILL NOT BE PART OF THE HEAVENLY KINGDOM.

  3. TAMMY says:

    Hebrews 12:22 where we will ONE DAY have all our tears wiped away by the FILTH and HARM and HARD WORK of THIS earth to be given REST and REWARD….where people….some desert on this disgusting planet or a place with streets of GOLD??? we GO THERE when we PASS from this earth. I ask you…what is the POINT OF THIS WORLD…..its to store up treasures IN HEAVEN. If our works follow us then we must be going somewhere….HUH?!!!??!!! Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from this time …. and their works do follow them; Revelation 14:13

  4. TAMMY says:

    will all the world KNOW Jesus? Sadly NO. That’s Jesus’ pronouncement not mine. He said there is a broad way to destruction and there the worm never dies. Well we know that the second death is the burning in the Lake of Fire so death means death…and the soul/spirit DIES there. But the worm is never dying there because there are always fresh souls going there. How do you know Jesus….so you can look at your brother and do you have to teach them to KNOW GOD… through a series of Judaism rituals???? NO as in Jeremiah 31:31 the new covenant is one where GOD GOES INTO US to make us reborn by Jesus’ Spirit…His perfect life and atonement covering all our sins and making us new. This earth goes on testing each person’s life by the trials of life. Some get born again and some go to a second death. Revelation 2:11
    Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
    the TERM first resurrection is THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST…if you partake of that….you are born again….if not you experience a second death. Revelation 20:6
    Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.
    Revelation 20:14
    Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.
    Revelation 21:8
    But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

  5. TAMMY says:

    Don’t sit back and DO NOT build your life on anything OTHER than the foundation of Jesus Christ….cuz all that which is built on other foundations will BURN in the believer’s judgment. The society you are working on will fall into place if you begin with CHRIST…not lay the foundation of government first. The car cannot go before the horse. We build with Jesus first and watch our harvest. THEN does society begin to build into place….the minute we can no longer have our life in Jesus we LEAVE as our founders of America did and PETITION TO SECEDE and have our own free Christian place again. Jesus offers us freedom…where His spirit is …there IS FREEDOM. We are to watch how we BUILD. Building is work and then there is maintenance and repairs. All the churches do today is build on gold and silver. We need to change this and I think God will bless us again. 1 Corinthians 3:12
    If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,

  6. TAMMY says:

    Christians should be asking God to give them talents to go out in the world and win by being MORE THAN A CONQUEROR for Christ. People should get thirsty for God by our ways.

  7. daquila says:

    Have you considered the Yoder-ian alternative?

    By this, I mean John Howard Yoder’s view on Church and State relations, esp. as seen in his magnum opus, The Politics of Jesus…

    Shalom!

    Nick Aquitania

  8. Lewis H. Seaton III says:

    I agree with you. Well-written. When two things are true it’s a question of balance. Your use of the word “peoccupation” speaks to that point — balance. Preoccupation is over-focus on something which in itself is not wrong. Otherwise preoccupation would not be the charge; the wrongness of the deed itself would be the charge. In raising children one must exercise both justice and grace. Both are righteous and good. Yet to focus on one to the detriment of the other would be out of balance and cause a problem. Good article. Stay balanced!

  9. David Ehnis says:

    Pastor, I was a little setback by this post. Hopefully you have come to now realize that the “reconstructionist/theonomy” camp is somewhat present in your congregation and to give it the “wave of hand” that you did in this post wasn’t very thoughtful at best. That said, I have interacted with some of your points and humbly try to inject scripture and the Truth of our Lord into these points. Hopefully you can hear the humility that I am trying to convey with this little comment.

    Pastor Writes:

    “In broad strokes, the two kingdom folks believe in a kingdom of this world and a kingdom of Christ. We have a dual citizenship as Christians. Further, the realm of nature should not be expected to function and look like the realm of grace. Living in the tension of two kingdoms we should stop trying to transform the culture of this world into the kingdom of our Lord and instead focus on the church being the church, led by it duly ordained officers and ministering through the ordinary means of grace.”

    Dave Responds:

    I think that you are presenting somewhat of a false-dichotomy here. Both camps believe in the concept of “two kingdoms”, although, it is better to think of jurisdictions because everything is the Lord’s. But I think that differentiation comes with how radical the difference is between these two kingdoms. The radical two-kingdom folks want to create a very strict wall between SPEAKING into the “common realm”. For instance, they believe the bible, and therefore the Church, should not speak to matters outside of the Church. In this belief system, the Church cannot speak to the rightness of certain political stances, finances, movies, culture, etc.

    Pastor Writes:

    “On the other hand, neo-Kupyerianism (intellectual descendants of the Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper) argue that every square inch of this world belongs to Christ. Therefore, his Lordship should be felt and manifested in politics, in the arts, in education, in short, everywhere. Because the work of Christ was not just to save sinners but also to renew the whole cosmos, we should be at work to change the world and transform the culture.”

    Dave Responds:

    Yes, these folks do believe that every square inch of this world belongs to Christ (Colossians 1: 15-20) as all Christians should. The Dominion mandate (Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 9:1-5) and the renewal of the Dominion mandate found in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is speaking to the conquering of Christ’s Kingdom in the here and now. This is very real and touches every human institution. It’s the answer to our modern bent to over-gnostisize everything that is Spiritual. This is the duty of every Christian. Our Liege Lord commands us to “follow Him”.

    Pastor Writes

    “• Emphasis on the church and the ordinary means (e.g., preaching, sacraments)
    • Realistic appraisal of our fallen world and the dangers of utopian idealism
    • Acknowledges that while Christians can do and should do many worthwhile things in the world, the church as church has a more limited mandate
    • Avoids endless, and often silly, pronouncements on all sorts of cultural and political matters
    • Takes seriously the already and not-yet of the kingdom
    • Understands that every nice thing that happens in the world is not “kingdom work”
    • A bulwark against theonomy and deconstructionism”

    Dave Responds:

    This is in no way a faithful representation of the Kuperian side of things. All Reconstructionists (hopefully you have read some of them) would fully admit that the Church has her duties, that transforming culture can never, ever start without the good Gospel of our dear Lord Christ. There is not one iota of utopian idealism in any of the writings. But what is the antithesis to utopian idealism? Dystopian idealism? Surely you are not advocating for Dystopia? And finally, R2K has done more to convince the “theonomists” in your midsts that it is the only biblical stance as it is a rich and fully-formed understanding of the Scriptures and Sanctification of the Saints, then the “Reconstructionists” could dream. I expected a more careful analysis from such a high-esteemed pastor as yourself.

    Pastor Writes:

    “But I also see some dangers in a radical two-kingdom approach:

    • An exaggerated distinction between laity and church officers (e.g., evangelism is the responsibility of elders and pastors not of the regular church members)
    • An unwillingness to boldly call Christians to work for positive change in their communities and believe that some change is possible
    • The doctrine of the “spirituality of the church” allowed the southern church to “punt” (or worse) on the issue of slavery during the 19th century”

    Dave Responds:

    R2K absolves almost all responsibility of the preachers to punt on almost any matter. R2K keeps their heads down while the entire Christian West is crumbling at their feet. This is extraordinarily sad and more so, evil. When preachers do not call the common realm to repentance they are not fulfilling their call and doing much harm to their flock and to all others. R2K needs to fully understand that there is no such as neutrality. None. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry. Moderns are getting quite lazy.

    Paster Writes:

    “But, alas, there are also number of shortcomings with the neo-Kuyperian view:

    • Blurs the distinction between common grace and special grace
    • Blurs the distinction between general and special revelation
    • Can minimize personal redemption at the expense of cosmic renewal
    • Explicit biblical support for commanding all Christians to change the world or transform the culture is very thin
    • Devolves quickly into an indistinct moralism”

    Dave Responds:

    I would like to read more where any “Kuyperian” worth their salt ever believed that there doesn’t remain a distinction between common and special grace, general and special revelation, personal and cosmic renewal. These arguments that you present are so squishy it is difficult to refute, perhaps that is by design. And as far as explicit biblical support for commanding all Christians to change the world, I beg you to consider to the following: Deut.17:8-13, 2 Kings 22,23, Ps. 24:1, Mat. 6:10, Matt. 28:20, 2 Thes. 3:10, Col. 2:15, 1 Jn. 3:8, John 14:15,21, 1 Timothy 1:8,9, I Peter 1:13-16

    And finally, if we are to be holy in all that we do, surely that has to mean beyond the 4-walls of the Church.

    Blessings on your ministry, and I remain your faithful servant,

    David Ehnis.

  10. Thanks for this brief introduction to Kuyperians. I recently read a review of Playing God by Andy Crouch and in it Scot McKnight mentioned something about Kuyperian-in-nature, which I had no idea what/whom that meant. It’s kind of odd to discover a term you didn’t know exists that fits in with your Biblical perspective. I’ll have to examine the strengths and pit falls more of each of these that you present.

  11. Dan Glover says:

    What about we “neo-Kuyperians” who believe that this world will be and is being transformed into the kingdom of Jesus Christ but primarily through the preaching and practice of the gospel and right worship of the Lord Jesus Christ? Jesus sent out the church to disciple not just individuals but the nations. We are commanded to works of mercy and practical love for brothers, neighbours and enemies, yet our primary mission is to preach the gospel and faithfully worship our triune God in the midst of a world in which not everything has yet been brought under submission to King Jesus. The world will be transformed into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, but it will primarily be through the preaching and embodying of the gospel message of Christ crucified and risen and reigning, by his body, the Church. Firm R2K folks seem to forget that “ALL authority in heaven and ON EARTH has been given (past tense – its already happened) to [Jesus]” and on that basis we are called to make disciples of all nations through baptism and teaching/preaching the total lordship of Christ.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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