Thursday, November 03, 2011

Two Kingdoms - Zylstra Article Review

Okay, so part of my trying to read more and stay up to date has involved the Two Kingdoms debate. I am still trying to work through it, and so I thought I would do so here on my blog. Interaction would be appreciated. This will be a series of blogs.

I have to admit that I was a late comer to this Two Kingdoms debate that seems to rage so hot. And I confess, I am not sure why it is so hot. To me both Neo Calvinist Transformationalism and the Two Kingdoms doctrines are both allowable in at least the Three Forms of Unity bounds, so I don't understand the heat. I understand that their are outliers at both ends that probably do fall outside of confessional bounds, but one cannot define the position through the outliers. So, I will start with the couple of articles critiquing Dr. David VanDrunen in the Pro Rege magazine of Dordt College. Both are by Dr. Carl Zylstra, one from one from June and the other from September.

To be fair, I have met both men. And while I am not sure I fit into a Two Kingdoms mold completely, maybe I am closer to that position. Like I said, I am a late comer to this. It should also be noted for fairness sake that the RCUS has recently defunded Dordt College. That vote has come up I believe 7 times since I have been a member at Synod. I have voted 5 times to continue funding and 2 times to defund. So there you go. Now onto the critique.

Dr. Zylstra's first article sets the tone with the title "Serious Education for Serious Christians". Not exactly a friendly title since the implication is that everyone else is a non-serious Christian. The article is motivated by a reference to Dordt in Dr. VanDrunen's book Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms. This reference is about Dordt College's football program and an attempt to justify it as part of a Biblical Transformationalist Worldview. It also comes in a footnote, but Dr. Zylstra leaves that part out. What is sad is that Dr. Zylstra really seems to miss the point of the book so bad it makes one wonder if he read it. Zylstra states on page 40:

"And indeed the burden of the book in which he makes his critique of Dordt College is to defend his contention that those of us who believe that every occupation in life and every social activity in which we engage should be governed by explicity biblical principles are ourselves the oddballs who really shouldn't claim to be Reformed at all."

Now that is not actually correct. The goal of the book is to chart the doctrine of Two Kingdoms through church history and along with it the use of Natural Law. VanDrunen states in many of his writings that Christians are Christians all the times and thus are always governed by biblical principles in every area of life. Zylstra's quote leaves the impression that VanDrunen would think it okay for Christians to cheat at football (since that is what started this whole article). Not so. In fact, that is not the point of the Two Kingdoms doctrine as I understand it. I believe VanDrunen would say that Christians ought to participate in football, but realize that it does not advance Christ's kingdom when they take a knee and pray after a touchdown, or when play without holding the defensive line. In fact, historically, the Transformationalists have been the ones who avoided football, which is why it was so controversial when Dordt added the program. Some activites Transformationalist have always said could not be redeemed and thus were to be avoided. Football was one of them. Dancing another less we forget Abraham Kuyper's own words. Dordt allows both now.

Zylstra next does something that I find just boarderline insulting. He inserts a paragraph on page 40 that tries to imply VanDrunen supports slavery. The paragraph not only really interrupts the flow of Zylstra's own argument, it reeks of poisoning the well. Yes, VanDrunen covers the Southern Presbyterians in his book. Yes, the Southern Presbyterians believed in the Spirituality of the Church and the Two Kingdoms. Lest we forget they separated into their own denomination when the Gardner Spring resolution made a requirement for Church membership a loyalty oath to the United States. But remember the point of this book was a historical overview. No where does VanDrunen endorse slavery. No where. Slavery is not really even the the content of much the Southern Presbyterian chapter. Also, Zylstra is just wrong when he claims that the Southerns held to a Two Kingdoms view so they could hold slaves without feeling guilty. Contrary to Zylstra they did feel it could be biblically justified. Go read R.L. Dabney's Defense of Virginia and the South if you don't believe me. Such actions on Zylstra's part are just plain sophistry and not worthy of real debate.

Zylstra makes his first biblical defense of Dordt on page 41 by quoting Zechariah 14:20. Zylstra uses that to claim that not only priests wear bells inscribed Holy to the Lord, but also the farm horses and the draft horses. Everyday activies he claims are now to be considered holy to the Lord. It is a goal. This is the best part of his article by far, and gets to the heart of the disagreement I believe. So, I will speak more of this in another post dealing with the Bible quotes specifically.

This article did not do a good job of anything. I do not feel he showed VanDrunen wrong anywhere, nor did he lay a foundation of Serious Education. He did not really even provide a defense for Dordt as a Christian institution. It also seems he should have waited for the next book by VanDrunen because a historical overview book is just not a good one to interact with. And if you do it should be limited to disagreements about the history, charges of misrepresentation, or other similar things. The next post will look at Zylstra's second article which does aim at the Living in God's Two Kingdoms book.


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