David VanDrunen on Subjective and Objective Morality

In his very fine piece Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, Dr. VanDrunen writes:

Christians should always be distinguished from unbelievers subjectively: they do all things by faith in Christ and for his glory. But as an objective matter, the standards of morality and excellence in the common kingdom are ordinarily the same for believers and unbelievers: they share these standards in common under God’s authority in the covenant with Noah (p. 31).

So far, for me, the book was reading along quite nicely. I was fully on board. In fact, I still find myself immensely appreciative of a 2K perspective, especially where they emphasize the spirituality of the Church and her status as a pilgrim people, sojourning and exiled on the earth. Furthermore, I have read Kline’s writings and am in general agreement with the way he relates the Noahic and Abrahamic covenants and covenants of common grace and special grace, respectively. Furthermore, I still have much more of DVD’s works which I need to read before offering a fuller and fairer assessment.

However, I am afraid that the above quote may prove to be an Achilles heel for his otherwise sound biblical-theological project. If by “objective standards” under which both believer and unbeliever stand, DVD means God’s natural law, or general revelation, then I cannot sign on to his claim. Allow me to give an example.

Let’s say I am a scientist at a pharmaceutical company (our gracious God knows we have plenty of those here in New Jersey!). Furthermore, there is another scientist in my lab as well, but she is not a believer. To be sure, as DVD points out, we will engage our cultural—common realm—work of performing experiments to find a drug for (let’s say) the common cold (suffered by both believers and unbelievers!) in radically different ways subjectively. Perhaps she will be work at her experiments so that she can receive a patent and score some big bucks. Or, maybe she wants to be famous. Or maybe she has a genuine love for humanity and is really sick (!) and tired of seeing humans suffer terribly from head colds and related diseases. But the Christian’s standard is not those things, subjectively. His standard, first and foremost, is to Glorify God in his work.

But objectively, can we say they both have the same standard? To be sure, God’s law written on their hearts is binding on the both of them. God’s created laws of physics and chemistry bind them both to do good and proper science. God’s moral law on their hearts and his image in them dictates how it is wrong to steal other people’s ideas and claim them as their own. But are there not also laws which are not given in natural law which are objective that also cause an antithesis between them in the lab? Take for instance the Christian Sabbath. It is an objective dividing marker which is not contained in general revelation or natural law (while the idea of Sabbath observance is, the Christian Sabbath on Sunday which is due to the resurrection of Christ is contained only in special revelation). The unbeliever in the lab should be resting on Sunday in worship of God, but she is at the lab ambitiously pursuing her patent. The Christian is at church. As an objective matter, their standards of morality are not the same. In other words, natural revelation/law alone is not always sufficient for morality in the public sphere.

That is only one example. What about family life? At best, natural revelation/law tells us in our conscience to be sexually faithful to our spouses. While that is necessary for both scientists (me and the unbeliever), it is not sufficient. There is more to marriage than sexual fidelity. The Bible (an objective form of morality) tells us that a husband is to love his wife, seeking to be tender to her. Furthermore, the wife is to be submissive to the husband as the church is to Christ. Now, that commandment is not in general revelation. And to be sure, the indicative which grounds these imperatives is redemptive. And the unbeliever knows nothing of redemption in Christ. Yet, would we say that the unbelieving scientist is not to be submissive to her husband because she is not a believer? Is she really guilt free for being at the lab advancing her career when her husband needs her back at home to take care of whatever it is that need taking care of? Would I be wrong to correct my fellow scientist telling her (in a loving and godly way) that she should not work on Sunday and that she should be submissive to her husband? Yeah, I know, in today’s world that would go over like a lead balloon. But the point is this: Does not God’s special revelation bind the unbeliever morally as much as does natural revelation? Is there really such thing as a common objective morality alone in the public sphere? Or, must special revelation always accompany it? Can we really make objective verses subjective distinctions in this way without compromising the antithesis which exists—objectively!— in the common realm between believer and unbeliever? The Bible does, will, and should make a visible, objective difference in the common pursuits of the believer.

For this reason, I am skeptical of DVD’s project at this point. Again, that is not to say he and the 2KT position in general are not making valid points. They are. And the church needs to hear them. But I do think this bifurcation of special and general revelation in the common realm unnecessarily throws a monkey wrench into the 2K works.

 
 

34 Responses to “David VanDrunen on Subjective and Objective Morality”

  1. Mark Winder says:

    Great remarks, Jim – well and clearly expressed.

    But could you clarify something? Assuming that God’s special revelation binds “the unbeliever morally as much as does natural revelation,” how would this be different from a theonomic position? If special revelation is necessary for an objective ethic, then what beef would you have with theonomy? Should then the unbeliever not be bound to God’s Law? I don’t want to open a can of worms, so please don’t reply if you don’t have the time. But if you can, I’d be interested in hearing an objective(!) distinction.

    • Hi Mark, good question! The difference is I don’t think God’s special revelation should be made the law of the land. Not all things which are moral should be legislated. This is where I am sympathetic with the 2K position. Not all anti-2Kers are theonomists! :)

  2. Adam Parker says:

    See, I tend to think that the Sabbath is taught in General Revelation, and I would argue that the command for wives to be submissive to their husbands can be substantiated from Natural Law. For example, Paul seems to base his view of gender roles on general revelation in 1 Tim. 2.

    I agree with you that the unbeliever is guilty of disobeying the Sabbath, per se, but the fact that it is on Sundays is simply a form of the command. To be sure, the unbeliever should be worshipping God one day in seven, but the Christian should certainly observe the Sabbath on Sundays. Hopefully that’s not a confusing claim.

    Lets pick a specifically Christian ethical dilemma. Can you think, Jim, of ANY Scriptural commands which are not for unbelievers? I can. Partaking of the sacraments, for example. Would anyone claim that unbelievers are guilty of not taking communion?

    What I am claiming is that we have examples of commands which are in special revelation and yet should not be applied to everyone. I offer communion as a really obvious example. You wouldn’t want unbelievers to obey the command to take communion, and neither would I. But we can all agree that unbelievers should obey the moral imperatives contained in General Revelation.

    • Good point Adam. Yes, I want to affirm that not all commandments are for all people. Though I might want to broaden the application. In some sense the Lord’s Supper is commanded of all people in so much as all people ought to rightly repent, believe the Gospel, and worship the one true and living God. In so much as all people everywhere are commanded to worship God, and the sacraments are a part of worship, in that way they are commanded. But your point is well taken, unless one is a believer he ought not to partake of the Lord’s Supper. But even here is another example of a command given only in special revelation which applies to the unbeliever. Though it is not applicable in the common sphere. And its the common realm that we are discussing here.

  3. Good thoughts Jim. I think you’ve raised some good concerns here. I would be interested to know how Dr. Van Drunen would respond. Maybe he will in the comments here?

    On the two examples you give, I wonder if DVD would argue that the Sabbath law instituted as a creation ordinance is one-day-in-seven, and it is part of a set of commandments (1-4) that are summarized as love the Lord your God with all of yourself. Likewise, the regulation of male-female roles in marriage is part of the order of creation and further regulated in the moral law (commandments 5-10), which is summarized as love your neighbor as yourself. I understand DVD’s teaching on natural law to be that while the basic thrust of those laws are part of natural revelation, special revelation (Ex. 20, Deut. 5) makes them more precise. But precision is not required to establish a common morality.

    • Jay, but the Christian Sabbath is a distinctly special, redemptive command. And I think the unbeliever is guilty of breaking the Sabbath when they don’t observe it on Sunday (so, for example, Jews who observe the Sabbath on Saturday are as guilty of breaking the Sabbath as are atheists working aggressively to advance their careers. There are not two Sabbath days).

      • Certainly, I agree. But the commandment’s form should nonetheless be distinguished from it’s matter (i.e. one day in seven). The unbeliever knows the matter of the law because it is revealed naturally, but he does not know its special form. This means there may be an outward kind of obedience with respect to the matter, but not with respect to the form. So the observance of various religious holy days besides the Christian Sabbath among mankind in common shows that the law (materially speaking) is stamped on the human heart. God’s image bearers come with knowledge (i.e conscience) that moves them to such practices.

        I think the key is the matter-form distinction.

        • If you want to make that distinction, I guess that’s OK. Though the Bible doesn’t. My point is, however, that the Christian Sabbath commandment is an objective standard which makes an objective difference in the public square. It is binding on both believer and unbeliever (both the form and the matter!), and when the believer obeys it it will make a visible difference in the public square (i.e., he will be at church and she will be at work!). The difference that it makes, however – and here I think the transformationalist may squirm – may actually be a negative one in terms of making a worldly difference. My lack of time in the lab (because I believe in the Sabbath and that I should love my family I may only spend 40 hours a week in the lab whereas the unbeliever may spend 80) may result in my not finding the cure to the common cold – the unbeliever may find it first. Which means that faithfulness to God has a very practical and objective consequence: in this instance, my career not being as successful in a worldly sense than that of the unbeliever’s career. But let’s not pretend that there are no objective, special revelational standards which bind both believer and unbeliever.

          • Mark Winder says:

            Should there be blue laws, then?

          • Jim, I really don’t mean to be argumentative brother, but following Turretin, I think the Bible does make the distinction. God’s moral law is by definition immutable, thus when we see the fourth commandment changing from last day observance in the OT to first day observance in the NT, we are forced to do two things. First, we must recognize that the actual day of its observance cannot be of the material principle of the commandment. Instead, it must be of the category of form. (I suppose we could use different ontological categories than those of Aristotle, but Christian theology has benefited from the use of his categories in other areas.) Second, we must ask this question: What the material principle of the commandment? IOW, what is that aspect of the command that cannot change. That’s where we answer “one day in seven.”

            Of course, my point in all this is to say that perhaps a way to understand DVD’s teaching on natural law is to understand that the form of the Sabbath command (i.e. the actual day of its observance) is not that which is known by nature. Only the material principle of the command is known. That does not mean that the unbeliever is unaccountable for the proper NT observance. He is. And that goes for any commandment. Take the first for instance. As believers with knowledge of special revelation we know that no one can come to the Father except through the Son. Therefore, obedience to the first commandment (and therefore every commandment) requires more than the knowledge revealed by nature. But nonetheless, the law still stands and eternally binds everyone. It only ultimately serves to condemn the unbeliever. But penultimately it also, ordinarily speaking, serves to restrain his sin to some degree. As I understand DVD (and I may be wrong) it is only in this second sense that it serves as “standards of morality and excellence in the common kingdom.”

            That’s my two cents. Now I’m bankrupt! :-)

  4. Ashwin Ramji says:

    Jim, I’d argue that God instituted a Sabbath rest upon all mankind. But the Christian Sabbath is unique in that it is linked to faith in Christ. Only because we believe in a resurrected Messiah do we celebrate our rest on the first (rather than last) day of the week. So let’s make a distinction here: merely celebrating your rest on the first day will do nothing for you apart from faith in Christ. To impose the Christian Sabbath on all mankind is, therefore, tantamount to turning the Gospel itself into Law.

    • Jim Cassidy says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Ashwin. So, would you say that the unbeliever is not culpable for working on Sunday?

      • Ashwin Ramji says:

        Hi Jim,

        WCF 21.8 states: “This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs before-hand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.”

        The Christian Sabbath is for both rest from our work AND worshipping God. Clearly non-Christians won’t do the latter, so why not tell the unsaved plumber who is working on Sunday he’s a sinner for not being in church? That would be true to the extent that he’s not worshipping God, but to make the sin believing in Christ would be a clear case of law-gospel confusion.

        To clearly differentiate first and third use of the law, it would be more appropriate to invite my plumber friend to church one Sunday where he hears the law faithfully proclaimed about the Sabbath rest (and the myriad other laws he’s likely breaking) and cries out in despair (if so quickened), “Whatever shall I do?” Thereafter he would hear the Gospel, repent of his sin and receive Christ by faith. Then he would desire not just to keep Sabbath, but to do so on Sunday with the rest of the brethren out of gratitude to our risen Saviour. Suppose my plumber friend declines my invitation to church. Should I not ask him to fix my broken toilet? To answer yes would be suggesting that I, as a Christian, am under obligation to an unsaved person for their personal performance under God’s law. Again I turn to WCF:

        26.2. “Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.”

        If my plumber is Christian and wants to work on Sunday, as my brother I have a duty to remind him of Christ and to encourage him not to work on the Sabbath. If my plumber is not Christian and chooses to work on Sunday, as my neighbor I should show him the law. Apart from that, I don’t mind having my toilet fixed. Furthermore, I should not prefer a Christian plumber to a non-Christian one per se. I should simply prefer the plumber who will do the best job for the lowest cost. If one happens to be willing to come out on Sunday because he’s not a Christian and the other won’t because he is, I will pay the first and rejoice with the second.

  5. David says:

    Does not God’s special revelation bind the unbeliever morally as much as does natural revelation? Is there really such thing as a common objective morality alone in the public sphere? Or, must special revelation always accompany it? Can we really make objective verses subjective distinctions in this way without compromising the antithesis which exists—objectively!

    I don’t see VanDrunen denying this in what you quoted from his book. I think that when he speaks of natural law providing the objective standard, what he means is that natural law provides the standard by which work is judged in the workplace, not by God but by employers, customers and clients.

    Later in the book, he acknowledges that “Christians are Christians seven days a week, in whatever place or activity they find themselves, and thus they must always strive to live consistently with their profession of Christ” (p. 162). I think this embraces the point you are getting at.

    But then he also observes that

    the normative standards for cultural activities are, in general, not distinctively Christian. By this I mean that the moral requirements that we expect of Christians in cultural work are ordinarily the same moral requirements that we expect of non-Christians, and the standards of excellence for such work are the same for believers and unbelievers…. If we hire a non-Christian plumber to work in our home or hire a non-Christian employee at our shop, for example, would we expect the same sort of behavior from them? Of course we would! These characteristics are universal human obligations. (p. 168)

    Does this help?

    • Jim Cassidy says:

      Hi David,

      Well, to be honest, not exactly. Aren’t there things we would or would not expect from a Christian plumber that are different from an unbelieving plumber? For instance, we would expect greater integrity from a Christian plumber, wouldn’t we? Grace makes a difference in someone’s life. We wouldn’t expect a Christian plumber to come out to our house to unclog a toilet at 10 AM on Sunday morning. We wouldn’t expect to catch the Christian plumber watching pornography on his iphone while working in our bathroom. But, quite frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if that occurred with an unbeliever. That is no to say that it wouldn’t happen with a Christian plumber – Christians struggle with pornography too. But it would be a greater shocker with the Christian than the unbeliever for a reason. Now, to be sure, there are standards which are universal which apply across the board. Water still flows with gravity for both the believer and unbeliever. But lets not kid ourselves into thinking that grace – and thus the antithesis – does not make a visible, tangible difference in the public square.

      • David says:

        Jim,

        I would expect a Christian plumber to conduct himself in accordance with his profession of faith. If he happens to be a member of my church, then I would not expect him to unclog my toilet on the Lord’s Day. So yes, it is true that grace makes a difference and it is also true that we have different expectations of Christians. But I don’t think this contradicts DVD’s point that “as an objective matter, the standards of morality and excellence in the common kingdom are ordinarily the same for believers and unbelievers.”

        Let’s face it: In general, we don’t require our workmen to be Christians, nor do we exempt non-Christian workers from our expectation that they will display all the virtues of excellent workmen.

        For example, my physician is not a believer. But I would not trust him with caring for my health if I didn’t fully expect that he would display all the virtues and excellence of a good doctor. And this every bit as much as if he were a Christian. If I were going to hire a carpenter to build me some furniture, I would not first try to find out whether he were a Christian. And the reason for this is that “the standards of morality [what makes for a good workman] and excellence [what makes for good work]” are the same believers and non-believers. The criterion for evaluation is the quality of the work. And there is not a whole lot of evidence that Christians excel non-Christians in the workplace.

        So, however much grace might make a difference in someone’s life (and I’m not denying that it doesn’t), and however much the antithesis might make a difference in the public square (again, not denying it doesn’t), these things don’t factor into my evaluation of my doctor (or my auto-mechanic for that matter). Do they for you?

        Also: You point out that we expect more integrity from the Christian workman, and I suppose we should. But of course integrity is one of those virtues that is part of that objective standard by which we measure ALL workman, not just the Christian ones. Both believers and unbelievers know what integrity is and we all are equally capable of measuring it. So as far as I can tell, the fact that grace may make a difference in a Christian worker doesn’t negate DVD’s point either.

  6. Jim Cassidy says:

    @Mark

    Why would there be blue laws, Mark? Only a Theonomist would do something silly like that! Remember, not all things which are moral should be legislated by the state.

  7. Jim Cassidy says:

    David,

    I hope you are correct, and I am wrong here. DVD’s book, as I have said, is a fine piece and I am enjoying it very much. I am in general agreement with 2KT, though I sense my version of 2KT and that of DVD may have some discontinuity.

    For instance, I agree that objectively the believer and the unbeliever stand under the same moral standard in the public sphere. But what is that standard? Natural law alone? I can’t go there. Natural law was never meant to be “alone.” As Van Til points out, even in the garden before sin God’s creation was never presented to Adam apart from his special revelation. In other words, the unbeliever is no less morally obligated to have God’s special law inform his common realm endeavors. That does not mean he cannot do “good” – in a relative sense – work. Of course he may. Even Caesar can do relative good, keeping relative peace and order by way of the relatively just use of the sword (Rom 13). He may even do better work than the believer (and more times than not, the unbeliever does outdo his believing counterpart). But the point is, he is not morally justified not keeping conditions of the new covenant.

    I’ll put it this way. The resurrection of Christ has ramifications not just for a small private voluntary society. But its implications are global, affecting the creation itself.

    Let me ask you this. Does the fact that the unbeliever not believe in the Christian worldview get him morally off the hook from not living it?

    • David says:

      Jim

      For the most part, I agree with what you say here, and no, of course the unbeliever is not off the hook for failing to repent and believe the gospel and then live in a manner consistent with his profession of faith. I would be surprised if DVD didn’t basically agree too. But I think this is beside the point. I think what DVD is speaking of here is not the objective standard to which God holds men accountable, but simply the objective criteria by which we evaluate whether a person has skillfully fulfilled their vocation. If those criteria didn’t exist, we could never say that someone was a better lawyer than someone else, a better baker, musician, basketball player, etc.

      • Jim Cassidy says:

        So, David, you don’t think he’s talking about natural law? Natural law as a standard (which is given by God), and man’s standard by which he evaluates the quality of one’s work seem two very different things. DVD does speak about excellence, but he is also speaking about morality – which is a God given, God evaluating thing. You may be right however, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the book to find out more. I do hope he qualifies himself in such a way that he does not unduly separate special revelation from general revelation. That strikes me as being more in lines with German idealism than Reformed biblical-theology. If – IF! – this is a fair reading of DVD I would even go so far as to suggest that perhaps he has moved away from Kline as well.

        • David says:

          Jim,

          I do think natural law figures into the picture, though I don’t know that he uses that terminology in the book. Regarding the issues you’re raising, DVD spells his position out pretty clearly in Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms. He has a chapter on Van Til in which he discusses where he agrees with him and also where he feels VT may have spoken a bit differently than his Reformed predecessors, especially with regard to the issue of cultural commonality between believers and unbelievers.

  8. Keep in mind, Jim, that the believer is living in two kingdoms simultaneously. There will always be messy overlap. But your original post seems to assume “a priori” that the Bible commands the unbeliever to be faithful to one’s spouse, etc. Aren’t you leaving out human inability? Sure speaking law drives people to Christ, but for the reason that they CANNOT keep it, not that they CAN. If they could, then I’m sure the theonomist / law keeping view view would make us a better society (Christian America anyone?). You see the problem? The purpose of the law is to drive us to the Gospel. I also agree with Ashwin that a proper law-Gospel distinction is critical in viewing this issue, not to mention the proper Noahic v Abrahamic covenants and their intent.

    • Jim Cassidy says:

      Hi Scott, I agree with a proper law-Gospel distinction and the difference between the Noachic and Abrahamic covenants. However, you seem to be forgetting the first use of the law as well. The covenant of works – or law – is operative as a continual force imposing itself justly against all men – even now after the fall (this is why the CoW, we can say, is republished in the Mosaic admin). But the moral law is inclusive of not just the 10 commandments, but also our Lord’s explanation of the them. The moral law is also inclusive of new covenant obligations and commandments: i.e., the Law of Christ. So, for instance, during the reading of the law in our service we will often use 1 Cor 13, the love passage.

      That, by the way, is not theonomy. It seems each time a 2Ker hears a Christian say that the unbeliever is obligated toward the moral law as given in special revelation, they get really nervous and spat “Theonomy! Theonomy!” Relax, dudes, there is a position between radical 2K and Theonomy. Its called Van Tillian, Vossian, Biblical-Theology.

      • Ashwin Ramji says:

        Hi Jim, the theonomy word never came to my mind when I read your post, so I confess – I’m relaxed. :) But at the same time, perhaps you’re seeing something “radical” in Van Drunen’s position that isn’t there. 2K is indeed Biblical (your reply above insinuates that it isn’t) in that it draws a distinction between the two spheres of God’s sovereignty without forcing them to remain entirely separate. The distinction is necessary so as to let law be law and gospel be gospel. Perhaps there is such a radical 2K view out there that wrenches the kingdoms apart and doesn’t let law have anything to do with gospel or perhaps puts law and gospel in just one kingdom, but I don’t think this is the view of the vocal proponents of 2K in the Reformed world such as Van Drunen or Darryl Hart. Are you reacting to a position that Van Drunen doesn’t actually hold? Maybe your view of his position will change when you finish the book (which, I’ll admit, I haven’t yet read).

  9. Peter Dietsch says:

    Jim,

    I’ve read VanDrunen’s book before, and am presently leading a men’s group through a chapter by chapter discussion of it. Needless to say, I really appreciate the book and believe it to be a helpful, balanced, and irenic corrective to the transformationalism that marks much of evangelicalism (and some Reformed churches). Also, I think it will be helpful to continue reading the book to the end and taking note of the several helpful categorical distinctions that VanDrunen makes.

    For instance, in chapter 4 (beginning on page 75) VanDrunen explores the ‘spiritual antithesis’ and ‘cultural commonality’ which exists between believers and unbelievers. In chapter 5 (especially pages 119-123), VanDrunen explores three parts of the common kingdom: the state, the family, and ordinary labor. In that section, he makes this point on page 120: “Christians nevertheless have some special responsibilities within their family relations.” He then goes on to discuss what some of those are from Scripture.

    In the last two chapters, VanDrunen provides a more detailed analysis of these categories, particularly chapter 7 that deals with education, vocation, and politics. There he fleshes out and applies the categories of ‘spiritual antithesis’ and ‘cultural commonality’ in more detail.

  10. Jim Cassidy says:

    Thanks all for your many good and irenic responses!

    Allow me to take a moment and recap my position. I think we may have gone off the original trail here and there. This post was neither about the Sabbath nor vocations in general (certainly wasn’t about plumbing, even if the discussion is going down the drain!).

    My concern has been and still is one of basic revelational epistemology. It is not with a 2K perspective as such. I am happy enough to call myself a 2Ker. We all are to one extent of another. But my concerns is over the way in which special revelation falls out of the picture altogether in the common realm. Is natural revelation alone ever sufficient for the common realm? In one sense, I want to say yes. But that is strictly a pragmatic yes. Yes, natural revelation is sufficient for an unbeliever to order a society in which evil is punished and good rewarded. But is it sufficient in an epistemological/moral sense? And the answer to that has to be absolutely, positively no. Natural revelation was never intended to be used without special revelation. The unbeliever can never know the moral good without special revelation in the absolute sense. And as such that will have a negative effect on his public life. Such a negative effect could be offset were the unbeliever to employ the teaching of special revelation. To be sure, privately, the unbeliever’s use of special revelation is still displeasing to God – for without faith it is impossible to please God. Nevertheless, we can say that that unbeliever is knowing and doing good in a better way having employed special revelation.

    In other words, let us not despise the common use of God’s special revelation.

  11. John Hendrickson says:

    I have not read all the comments above, so forgive me if I am repeating anything here.

    First, Jim, excellent examples.

    My major gripe with DVD and the idea that we can have common ground with unbelievers apart from God’s Special Revelation is that it ignores total depravity and the consequent noetic effects thereof. That is, fallen man cannot be expected to rightly understand apart from the corrective lens of the Bible. Even the Christian remains reliant upon the Word. His regenerated heart does not suddenly enable him to decipher Natural Law in accord with what God intends.

    I also (and maybe, Jim, you just did not want to address this) cannot understand why the Bible should not be asserted as the ultimate authority for all mankind, whether they believe it or not. I had my pastor tell me we should not assert such to the magistrate because “he doesn’t believe it.” Well, taking that logic to its absurd end, then we ought not preach anything to the lost because they “don’t believe it.”

    DVD may have some good points which need thinking about. But I find the R2K movement insidious. It gives timid or uninformed Christians a reason to not obey all of the great commission’s mandate (teaching the nations to obey all Christ commands), as will as disarming them from using the most powerful weapon they could marshal against unbelief: the Word of God, which has the guarantee of God’s Spirit going forth with it and not coming back void.

  12. Ashwin says:

    John, are you certain that your only basis for relationship with unbelievers is special revelation? Were you not, from the womb, an enemy of God? Did you not have friendships with other enemies? Was the basis for your friendships God’s special revelation or, more likely, your mutual interest in swingsets and games of hide-and-seek? And did you suddenly lose all such friendships when you were saved? Could you no longer enjoy a cold one and a hot dog with an unbeliever at a baseball game, or must there be some redemptive purpose when the Phillies beat the Padres? Frankly I don’t believe that opponents of 2K actually live in a manner consistent with their beliefs. 2K not only is consistent with Scripture, but it’s also borne out in our daily lives.

  13. John Hendrickson says:

    Hi Ashwin, I did not intend to say the only basis for relationship with unbelievers is special revelation. My point is that fallen man’s “exegesis” of Natural Law is not to be trusted, especially when we have a clearer and more sure Word. And as it an infallible Word because it is God’s then it has supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice for all mankind, not just believers.

    The Bible is the most perspicuous declaration of God’s Word given to man. In order for man to truly understand the meaning of his existence and his purpose in life is through it. That is, all experience can only be rightly related and interpreted as He reveals in special revelation. Fallen man suppresses the truth and perverts the exercise of the image of God in himself. The redeemed man likewise needs the same corrective lens to keep him on track.

    For example, look at the debate over capital punishment. Most of it centers around whether or not it is a deterrent, the idea being that since it appears not to be then it ought to be dispensed with. Now I could argue with this non-biblical based reasoning by saying if only there were more executions which were more swiftly administered then we might see a greater deterrent effect. But is this necessary or even how Christians ought to confront such a question? I do not think so. I believe the consistent Christian will not try to argue or debate the consistency or validity of the deterrence effectiveness of the death penalty. It is beside the point. God has already told us why we are to apply it. It is required because man is made in the image of God. Period. It is God’s required retributive justice.

    The Christians of this nation ought to be coming out of the woodwork to express this true and right point of view. The unbeliever may not want to accept it. But that does not it any less authoritative or true. This is God’s creation and he tells us how to understand it and what the rules are. He has given us the Bible because our fallen hearts (believers and unbelievers both) cannot be trusted to rightly interpret and apply Natural Law.

    Now, the

  14. Ashwin Ramji says:

    Hi John, thanks for the clarification. However, I’m not sure I understand why the 2K view, then, is as insidious as you wrote earlier. I am a 2K’er, and I’d agree with what you wrote.

    2K does not believe God has one law for the kingdom of man and a completely different law for the kingdom of God. God has one law, pure and simple. However, it is revealed naturally in the kingdom of man and specially in the kingdom of God on earth, the church. All will be judged on the last day according to whether their works were consistent with the totality of God’s law, but only the understanding of the elect is sufficient for them to understand that their works are dung and require the work of a Saviour.

    The question is, how does the elect gain such understanding? 2K would hold this is accomplished by the Holy Spirit and ordinarily through the Word and sacrament ministry of the church. This doesn’t mean that the elect have no responsibility toward proclaiming God’s glory throughout the kingdom of man, but it does mean that while God’s purposes can be stated in redemptive terms, redemption happens ordinarily through the church, which is the only place one may glimpse the kingdom of God through the ordinary means of grace, not necessarily our daily activities apart from the church.

    If 2K is not true, then I’d feel great pressure to fulfill the Great Commission as an individual, because everything would have a redemptive purpose because God would be redeeming people as much at a baseball game as He does each Lord’s Day. As I stated before, I don’t even think non-2K’ers live this way.

    The question I think Jim was addressing in his post is, on what basis can a 2K’er not tell a non-believer that they are sinning against God by, for example, working on the Sabbath? The answer is not that we don’t believe they’re sinning, but that pointing out the fullness of God’s revelation (which is only through special revelation) on the basis of natural revelation is both contrary to the manner in which God works and a fundamentally losing proposition. Help them, instead, understand what they lack on the basis of natural law alone. You can, of course, speak of your own relationship with Christ, but if they don’t yet acknowledge their sin, they won’t understand their need for a redeemer. It is only when they reach the depths of their sin that the beauty of a crucified Saviour becomes clear, and that by the power of the Holy Spirit alone through the Word and sacrament ministry of the church.

    Because 2K is so overwhelmingly dependent upon the sovereignty of God, we should not assume that everyone we meet everywhere we go will respond to their sin. And that’s okay – the Holy Spirit will give understanding to whom it gives understanding. But it also means that when I meet people in the church who are going to leave worship to go to work (which happens a lot in my church), I can be more blunt with them than I would the average person on the street, for to them greater understanding has been given … assuming the church does what Christ has authorised and mandated it to do.

  15. John Hendrickson says:

    Ashwin, I was with you until you said “The answer is not that we don’t believe they’re sinning, but that pointing out the fullness of God’s revelation (which is only through special revelation) on the basis of natural revelation is both contrary to the manner in which God works and a fundamentally losing proposition. Help them, instead, understand what they lack on the basis of natural law alone.”

    I believe my comment above points out the essential problem with what you advocate: “My major gripe with DVD and the idea that we can have common ground with unbelievers apart from God’s Special Revelation is that it ignores total depravity and the consequent noetic effects thereof. That is, fallen man cannot be expected to rightly understand apart from the corrective lens of the Bible. Even the Christian remains reliant upon the Word. His regenerated heart does not suddenly enable him to decipher Natural Law in accord with what God intends.” Romans one makes clear that your position is untenable. Fallen man denies the authority of God as he is revealed in the Creation, including himself. Why would we think he can be rationalized to the Truth apart from special revelation?

    The practical outworking of are shown in the response I received from my pastor when I suggested that Christians need to press the claims of God as given in the Bible. He responded that we cannot do that because they don’t believe it. Really? He even takes it further and says that Christians are “wrongheaded” for even being involved in politics. Another manifestation of this errant belief shows in his preaching and teaching ministry. It contains absolutely nothing that relates to the everyday life we live in the world outside our own inner lives or that within the church. Oh yes, he does mention the fallen world, at times, but only to focus on our own inner spiritual response. The point being, he gives no biblical interpretation of the world we live in. But if God created all things then how can we rightly know its meaning and purpose apart from his special revelation since Romans one tells us natural revelation is rejected and suppressed in unrighteousness by the unbeliever?

    Another example of how your position leads to absurd application is Misty Irons and her advocacy for Christians to accept the sodomite agenda of same sex marriage. Need more be said for the biblical hypocrisy involved in supporting and approving of such?

    Romans one and two make clear that there is no lack of correlation between natural law and the Bible. Why any Christian would want to self-consciously tie one hand behind their back by excluding God’s Word from fulfilling their duty as a human being and, especially, a disciple of Christ while on earth is absurd. What we can be sure of is that when man is left to natural law alone he perverts it. A review of the laws of nations shows the seeds may be there but the application is distorted. Witness the perversion that is more and more embedded into our culture and society through legislation. We have a more sure word. One that unambiguously makes known what God demands of all mankind. He has not told us to keep it to ourselves and from the unbeliever. In fact, he says it is something that should be the envy of those who do not submit to it:
    (Deu 4:5-8) Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.
    Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?

  16. MarkG says:

    Uuuh, if it is okay to pull your neighbors ox out of the ditch on the Sabbath it is surely okay to unclog his toilet on Sunday. …so long as it is done in faith.

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  18. Baus says:

    Dear Jim, my comment is a little late here (7 months later) but I wanted to suggest that while the “objective/subjective” distinction is helpful, the best understanding of it really requires an understanding of the “structure/direction” distinction.

    I have addressed that crucial distinction in relation to the “(neo-) two kingdoms view” here:
    http://honest2blog.blogspot.com/2012/04/sanctifying-common-2.html

    One clarification offered by the structure/direction distinction is that the antithesis is a “directional” matter. And ethical/moral (and other kinds) norms are indeed an “objective” structural matter.
    The WLC 121 says there is “there is less light of nature for” the Sabbath, but it is nevertheless objective (others have pointed to Scriptural argument for that). And I think it can be argued from 1 Cor.11:8-9 that a wife’s submission to here husband is a matter of natural revelation.

    In any case, a deeper problem with VanDrunen’s approach is that while he insists that Christian’s ought to do their cultural activity in faith to God’s glory, VanDrunen does not think the implications of faith will result in real concrete differences in a Christian’s faithful cultural activity. VanDrunen does not consistently work out the fact that the unbeliever’s access to (common) general revelation and cultural action is always ‘partly falsified’ (mis-directed) through unregeneracy (falleness-apart-from-redemption), nor does he consistently work out the fact that a believer’s access to (common) general revelation and cultural action can be ‘re-directed’ in concrete ways through faith.

    I have elaborated on that in the comments to my post (above).

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I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve. (Romans 16:17-18)

 
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