Friday, March 11, 2011

Examining Stellman's Pragmatic Objection to the Reformed View of the Two Kingdoms

My attention was recently directed to a 2007 blog post from Jason Stellman (who is frying bigger fish at the moment, and that's a good thing). I don't know whether he still holds to the opinions expressed in that post. Nevertheless, since my friend pointed it out to me, I thought I'd briefly respond.

Pastor Stellman began this way:
For the sake of continuing the argument for the doctrine of the two kingdoms (though I'm disappointed at the lack of biblical arguments to the contrary), I will concede, for one post and one post only, that there is only one kingdom, and that the Church and State are to work together to see God's kingdom realized.
This seems to be a way of describing all positions except for the rather radical position associated with Escondido (and perhaps the Amish position) as "One Kingdom." I think that's a terribly inaccurate description - considering that Westminster Confession (even in the American revision) teaches that the Church and State are to work together to see God's kingdom realized:
... it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord ...
(American version of WCF 23:3)

The main difference between the dominant American view and the traditional Reformed view is how the Church and State work together to see God's kingdom realized, not whether they work together. Sadly, Stellman's apparent position is not only at odds with the traditional Reformed view, but also with the view that is part of the confessional stance of the PCA and OPC.

Additionally, it is surprising that Stellman was (in 2007) unaware of the Biblical argument for Calvin's position and the position of the Westminster Assembly. The purpose of this post isn't to present that argument, but it is surprising that Pastor Stellman wasn't given the Biblical arguments for the traditional Reformed position during his seminary training at Escondido.

Stellman tries to argue against the traditional Reformed view on pragmatic grounds, however. He writes:
First of all, if the State's precepts must come exclusively from Scripture rather than from natural law, what better place to start than the Ten Commandments? Let's begin with the first one (you know, the one about how it is illegal to worship any other God but Yahweh).

If, as critics of two kingdoms theology insist, our faith must not be bracketed (since Jesus rules every square inch of the universe), then the first commendment must be enforced in the civil sphere, which would effectually bring an end to Mormonism, Catholicism, atheism, and pretty much any other "ism" that fails to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (this may sound to some like a pretty good idea, to which my only response is a shudder).
(typo in original)

First, the idea that "the State's precepts must come exclusively from Scripture rather than from natural law" is not really the position taken by Stellman's opponents.

Second, if the Mosaic civil laws are taken as an example of good civil laws, we can see that Stellman's application of the first commandment is not quite correct. There is no civil law requiring that all non-worshippers of Jehovah be punished.

Third, it is amazing that Stellman shudders at the idea of getting rid of anti-Christian religions. Why does he shudder? Isn't that a good thing?

Stellman continued:
Secondly, consider this dilemma: If biblical law is intended to be a blueprint for a godly society, then the State must inflict capital punishment on those offenders who commit capital crimes according to the Old Testament. But then, we're also called to "turn the other cheek" in the Sermon on the Mount. And since there aren't two kingdoms but one, the civil magistrate must somehow figure out how to kill people with the sword as well as with kindness.
Stellman is just confused. The "turn the other cheek" command relates to personal retaliation, not to civil justice. After all, the New Testament confirms that the civil magistrate carries a sword (not an extra sturdy cheek).

Part of the confusion seems to be Stellman's lack of awareness of the fact that even the Old Testament is not "One Kingdom." The King is not permitted to offer up sacrifices, just as the high priest is not the king over the land.

Furthermore, the command to love one's neighbor as oneself (from which the command to turn the cheek derives) is an Old Testament command:

Leviticus 19:18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

It is saddening to discover that Stellman is apparently unaware of this law. That law, of course, is fully consistent with capital punishment, even if Stellman cannot understand the consistency.

Finally, Stellman states:
Finally, since we are called in Philippians to prefer others' needs before our own, then every time we find ourselves at a Stop sign, we must, in obedience to this command, let every other car go before us, until we're the only one left.
This is lousy exegesis on Stellman's part. The verse in Philippians does not mean what Stellman is suggesting.

Moreover, since what Stellman is suggesting is something that would bind the individual, as such, if Stellman were right it would be irrelevant to the issue of whether we have two kingdoms radically separated or not. If Stellman really believes that the verse means that, he ought to be obeying it, even in the most secular and God-ignoring society.

Stellman tacks on one last comment in closing:
(Oh, and you know how in basketball you sometimes do a "pump-fake" to deceive your defender, or how in baseball the manager gives secret signs to the hitter about whether or not to bunt? Well you can just forget about that, they break the ninth commandment).
Again, this exegesis is lousy and irrelevant to the discussion. We could get into an explanation of why deception is permitted in games, we could get into the difference between deception and lying, but most importantly - the 9th commandment is definitely binding on all men. No one ought to break it. And if Stellman's exegesis were correct, then he should not pump-fake, even if he's living in the most pagan society on earth.

In short, the attempted pragmatic objections to the traditional Reformed view fall flat.



Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"We could get into an explanation of why deception is permitted in games"

It's okay to bluff in poker!


Anonymous said...

Excellent points, TFan. I would lean toward reading Stellman's remarks in this instance as humor rather than earnest argumentation for his position; but you would know better than I, as I'm no aficionado of Stellman's theology or style. (In fact, you would know better than I on just about anything, it is true, but that's beside the present point.)

The man digs 'im some U2. I do know that.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...


Most of the R2K defenses I have come across have been pretty lame. This one takes the cake though. I don't know that I have ever come across an R2k variation that would argue against a non-R2K position based upon a faulty understanding of a law that is presupposed as valid yet deemed too inconvenient to maintain. Let's see if I have this right. God supposedly requires that governments turn the other cheek yet that would entail that it cannot maintain order in the way I would like, so I think governments should ignore the alleged command to turn the other cheek. OK - I think I got it now. Let's break one law in order not to break another.

Anonymous said...

I would like to back into this from a couple of places in the New Testament and see what response it brings out?

First, this:

Joh 17:25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.
Joh 17:26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."


1Jn 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
1Jn 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

From John 17 I would note "how" Jesus addresses Our Heavenly Father.

He addresses God, Our Heavenly Father as "Righteous".

The Children of God are called to His purpose and grace through His Righteousness.

Next, He makes a distinction between His Church and the world by indicating the sort of "knowledge" both have, and by that He emphasizes "Who" makes the "revelation" of Himself known.

Then He says something that John himself picks up on and is moved upon by the Holy Spirit to make clear in 1 John 4 about "Love"; God's Love not ours.

Now, with that I want to revisit the point made in the article just so I am clear on it, the difference between the two kinds of kingdom or civil authority that exists in the world created through Christ? As has been established, "all" authority is of God and the Church is subject to "all" authority, to a point.

For me, it is clear that God is making a distinction between two "camps"; His Camp and the devil's.

Here, first, then, in these verses I see the distinction God makes about the two camps:

Exo 20:4 "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
Exo 20:5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,
Exo 20:6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Borrowing from both John 17 and 1 John 4, I understand God means to make clear His "hatred" for those of the devil's camp, the camp of darkness no matter how moral or civil it is in the world; and that "no one" of those thousands that love Him love Him according to their own wills! No one loves God first. After the fall of Adam, all live lives of death and personal destruction. It is by His Grace alone that we would know the Love of God God loves Christ with.

Again, making a similar distinction, I point to this from the book of Deuteronomy:

Deu 15:1 "At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release.
Deu 15:2 And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the LORD's release has been proclaimed.
Deu 15:3 Of a foreigner you may exact it, but whatever of yours is with your brother your hand shall release.

I see God the Holy Spirit with Scripture making distinction between "two" groups of people in both the Old and New Testament records which seems to me to be glossed over?

It seems, as in the Old, so it is in the New Covenant, that God holds those for Whom Christ died, before the foundation of the world,
to a higher standard?

How are we to treat the world?

Do we know who is of the devil's camp these days? I don't, in part. Until I can do as the Holy Spirit teaches me and test the spirits I don't know who is of God's or the devil's camp.

Apparently some of Satan's own human vessels, his people in the world, can come in among us wittingly as we are while some of us unwittingly are unaware of their presence?

Nick said...

That was pretty embarrassing exegesis and argumentation on his part. I could see someone making a far better case than that. I would hope he has retracted his original claim over the last few years.

Jason Stellman said...


You're right, I do have bigger fish to fry at the moment, but I would point out that the post which you chose to critique was actually the 4th or 5th in a little series on the two kingdoms that I did several years ago. I haven't gone back to read them, but I would guess that you'd find less to make fun of if you started from the beginning rather than deliberately starting at the end.

But maybe not.

Turretinfan said...

Well, I hope that my responses are not taken as "making fun of" your post.

Turretinfan said...

Only part 5 was brought to my attention, but I'd be happy to respond to the other parts.

Turretinfan said...

And I want to be clear that I don't want to distract from the needed response to the FV. In particular, it is surprising to me that Leithart could sign the FV joint statement and not be held responsible for what it says.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...


You have 137 posts tagged "2K" but only one tagged theonomy, which is probably why that post jumps off your Blog a bit more and was consequently selected. But even if those numbers were reversed, it's highly doubtful that TF would have "deliberately" lifted something out of context, especially to "make fun..." I'm somewhat shocked that you would deliberately suggest such an action, or such a motive.

In any case, are you trying to suggest that something you wrote earlier in the series will overturn the points you made on the post in view? That is not what your words convey but I can at least make some sense of such a sentiment. I raise that interpretation because, well, what's the alternative? Am I to take you literally and believe you think there is something less objectionable in the earlier posts though presumably consistent with the later one? If so, what's the point? Does the less objectionable somehow tone down the highly objectionable?