Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Two Kingdoms, Part One: Theocracy

The doctrine of the two kingdoms (i.e., that God rules over two distinct kingdoms, one earthly and civil, the other heavenly and spiritual) is the topic that the contemporary church most urgently needs to discuss and defend. My next few posts will be an attempt to do this.

Crucial in this connection is the fact that, throughout redemptive history, God's people find themselves in one of two conditions, generally speaking. The one is theocracy, and the other is exile.

A “theocracy,” as its name suggests, has to do with the rule of God over a people. But there is more to a theocracy than the bare fact that God is exercising control over his children (which is always the case). A true theocracy exists when God’s dominion is coupled with a domain, when his rule is connected to a realm—an actual piece of real estate within the borders of which God rules his people in a special and unique way.

Though other examples exist, Israel’s situation in the Promised Land is perhaps the most obvious example of a theocracy in the Bible: God had given the land of Canaan to his people and charged them with the task of subduing and exercising dominion over his enemies.

Moreover, when God's people are in a theocratic situation, all of life is holy. There is no distinction between the religious and the everyday, the cultic and the cultural, or the sacred and the secular. It was for this reason that when Israel was in the land of Canaan, their uniqueness and peculiarity extended to both the "religious" and the "non-religious" realms. They were forbidden from marrying foreigners (Ezra 9:1ff), from entering into covenants with other nations (Ex. 23:20-33; cf. Josh. 9:1-15), and even from sharing the diets of the surrounding pagan peoples (Dan. 1:8-16).

In a word, when God's people are in a theocratic context enjoying a God-given land, their uniqueness extends to all areas of life, both civil and spiritual. Or to put it more simply, in a theocracy there are not two kingdoms, but one.

The question arises, then, "What about us? Are we in a theocracy?" Though we often act as though we are, the answer to this question is no. The Church in this present age is in exile.

More on this in my next post....


  1. I very much like where you're going with this, Jason.

  2. I look forward to reading your future posts. A couple of quick questions:

    Does the already-not yet and inauguration / consummation of the Kingdom of God not already cover much of this?

    Do you have scriptural support for the idea that in order to have a "theocracy," you must have an actual piece of ground with borders?

    Are there varying levels of exile? Is our exile the same as that of Judah in Babylon? Did their exile end? Is there a real distinction for the believer between sacred and secular today, or is it a false distinction that we have made for ourselves?

    Finally, Israel was sent into exile because they failed to keep the conditions of staying in the land. Why is the present church in exile?

    If you plan on addressing these in later posts, just say "read and find out..." At any rate, I look forward to better understanding this.

  3. Steve,

    1. Well, yes, but I plan to argue that the role of the church in culture is directly tied to whether we are in a theocracy or in exile. So the 2K paradigm is a bigger issue than just already/not yet.

    2. Yes, but it's not as direct as "There must be real estate for a theocracy to exist." Stay tuned.

    3. Exile is exile, but ours is a bit different in that we live in an overlap of the present and the future which they did not. And yes, I do believe in a sacred/secular distinction.

    4. OC exile was merely a type of the true exile, the consummate covenant curse (the cross). So saying that we are in exile is another way of saying that we carry crosses like Jesus did.

  4. It seems two-kingdom doctrine works well also for those who find themselves living out the complicated realties of a dual citizenship in blogdom.

    Stay tuned, everyone, if you haven't plumbed the archives of the DRD...Stellman does 2K like nobody's business. Which is good, since he also correctly sees this as one of the most important discussions of our day. (Many others think it's important as well, but they are also harboring weird notions like the restoration of Christian monarchies.)


  5. It is really fascinating to see people's expressions change as you explain this 2K stuff. At first they're nodding in agreement, right up until you get to the part where the church doesn't have an important, prophetic, agenda-setting role in the culture.

    Then, the hands start to go up.

  6. JJS,

    How very true that. It is complicated, of course, but I believe what many hear when W2K says the church is that she is unimportant or otherwise being literally undermined.

    The church is prophetic, relevant and important—just not the way we naturally think. That is why it seems like W2K 204 needs a ToC 101 prereq., because like Inigo Montoya says, “You keep using that word—I do not think it means what you think it means.” The ToC helps us understand the notion that God is revealed by hiding.

    Like Forrest says about shrimpin', shaking off Constantinianism "is tough."


  7. ...I mean...

    "It is complicated, of course, but I believe what many hear when W2K says the church 'doesn't have an important, prophetic, agenda-setting role in the culture' is that she is unimportant or otherwise being literally undermined."

  8. "ToC," for all of you not accustomed to Zrim's penchant for abbreviating, means Theology of the Cross.

  9. "Many others think it's important as well, but they are also harboring weird notions like the restoration of Christian monarchies"

    I'll go ahead and bite at this. In what way do you guys think that the the kings of the earth should be warned? How do the rulers of the earth bow down before Christ and kiss the Son?

    Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the theology of the cross. But if a man who is a factory worker can take up his cross and follow Christ and do his job to the glory of God, why can't a government or a monarch take up the cross of Christ and rule to the glory of God?


  10. Faris,

    No one's saying that an elected official can't glorify God as he discharges his duties. The way a president, for example, "bows before Christ and kisses the Son" is by doing what all sinners are called to do: by repenting and trusting in Christ. That's what Paul told Agrippa to do.

    But a factory is still a factory, it is never a Christian factory. And a nation is still a nation, never a Christian nation.

    So in the same way that the cars produced by the newly-converted worker on the Toyota assembly line are no different than they were before, so it is possible that the job a president does after he is converted is pretty much the same as before. But now he's doing it Christianly, though the job itself is not Christian.

  11. Does this mean you're okay with calling them Christianly nations and Chritianly rulers?

    I think we'd all rather have a ruler who saw the people as created in the image of God as opposed to a ruler who does not see the people as created in the image of God. no?

  12. "Does this mean you're okay with calling them Christianly nations and Chritianly rulers?"

    Well, "Christianly" is an adverb, not an adjective (a distinction crucial to the whole 2K idea). So a Christian can govern a secular nation Christianly, but the nation is still secular, as it should be.

    "I think we'd all rather have a ruler who saw the people as created in the image of God as opposed to a ruler who does not see the people as created in the image of God. no?"

    To be perfectly honest, I don't really care what my ruler believes about human origins. The fact is that he "borrows capital" from Christianity anyway, so what I look for in a ruler is someone who represents the issues I care about. And in my experience, Christians have a pretty dismal track record of doing that.

  13. Faris,

    It would seem to me that plenty of rulers throughout history would have confessed some form of the imago dei. After all, believers and non- alike have access to this knowledge as it falls into the category of creation, natural law, etc. In that sense, you may be setting up a false dichotomy, almost like saying, “Wouldn’t we all prefer a ruler who knows good from evil?”. But if you are suggesting that to confess the imago dei means a better ruler, well, history may bear out that such a conclusion doesn’t always figure. That is to say, Christian rulers and non-Christian rulers seem to be about equal in how they have ruled.

    To add to JJS’s notion of the adverb, it may also be that one Xian ruler rules differently then another across time and place. So it may be that the adverb idea should also be understood with a similar qualification. If Xian parents discipline and rule their children differently, we should keep in mind that it would be no different for rulers. Instead of this Christianly phraseology, I prefer to think of believers in all their vocations charged to be (imperfect) covenant-keepers.

  14. I think that, based on your definition, no one since Adam, pre-fall, has been in a theocracy. Israel never entered the land that they were commanded to enter. The entered a fraction of it, but no matter how large a fraction, it was not the land that God promised. They did not fulfill His command to destroy the peoples they were to destroy. Thus, they never entered the theocracy that He had planned for them. I have no qualms with your idea of us being in exile. I feel like the end of Galatians 4 and Hebrews 11:13-16, 39 make that case fairly well. I would say, thought that even in Heb. 11 you see that David never reached the land that was promised based on the reference to him in v. 32. But based on your definition of theocracy, they were not in the land that was promised, or not all of it, in the way that it was promised and therefore they were always in exile, also.

  15. Joshua,

    Well, we do have to take into account Joshua 21:43-45 which says:

    "Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass."

    Moreover, the reference to David in Heb. 11:32, which you cited, says explicitly that he "conquered kingdoms." The point about his "not having received what was promised" (v. 39) is simply that his true inheritance was not the old Jerusalem but the new one (which he will not receive before we are all perfected, v. 40).

    So I stand by my claim that Israel was a theocracy, the rules of which differed strikingly from those of exile (see my next post).


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