Duplex Regnum Christi: Christ’s Twofold Kingdom in Reformed Theology
By Jonathon D. Beeke
272 pages (paperback), $64.00
As Christians who identify with the Reformation traditions have wrestled with Christian social responsibility and the Christian’s place in the public square, few topics have generated more controversy than the nature of Christ’s rule and kingdom. For readers interested in the historical development of Lutheran and especially Reformed thinking regarding these issues, Jonathan Beeke’s Duplex Regnum Christi is essential reading.
It is hard to have a debate when debaters use the same terms with different meanings. The two sides inevitably talk past each other. Beeke’s fascinating study challenges historians and theologians to attend to their terms carefully to ensure they understand their texts, not to mention one another. Conversations about the nature of Christ’s kingdom and rule frequently have generated more heat than light, not to mention plenty of confusion. Beeke’s careful reading of primary sources, terminological precision, and charitable engagement with secondary literature is both refreshing and insightful.
Whereas contemporary participants in these conversations typically utilize language referring to Christ’s “two kingdoms,” Beeke observes that their early modern predecessors preferred to use the language of Christ’s “twofold kingdom” (duplex regnum Christi):
The majority of the Reformed orthodox did not distinguish Christ’s mediatorial kingdom from his essential kingdom on the basis of scope or boundary, but on the basis of the mode of Christ’s governance (i.e., covenantal administration). Thus, Christ’s essential kingdom and mediatorial kingdom comprise one kingdom that is universal in scope, but the two aspects of this kingdom are administered according to different covenantal arrangements, each then with a very different purpose and end. (21)
After a brief survey of early and medieval sources, Beeke examines key texts from the sixteenth-century Reformers Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Martin Bucer in Part 1 of the book. In Part 2, he compares these Reformers with their theological heirs in the influential Reformed universities in Leiden (Franciscus Junius and Antonius Walaeus), Geneva (Francis Turretin and Bénédict Pictet), and Edinburgh (Johannes Scharpius and David Dickson). Beeke concludes the study with three central observations regarding theological continuity, development, and motivations.
First, building on the historical work of Richard Muller and others, Beeke argues that the range of diversity and development between the sixteenth-century Reformers and their seventeenth-century theological heirs (together with the continued diversity within the later tradition itself) exists within a framework of general continuity and agreement on essential theological and methodological concerns. Beeke makes a convincing case that both the early and later Reformed traditions were united in affirming Christ’s sovereignty on the one hand and the twofold nature of Christ’s rule on the other. He also offers compelling illustrations of diversity in the tradition. For example, some followed Pictet in making Christ’s universal reign of power a subset of his mediatorial reign, whereas others followed Gulielmus Bucanus in identifying Christ’s universal reign with his reign of power and distinguishing these both from Christ’s particular reign over the church, a reign identified with Christ’s reign of grace (110–11). In other words, Reformed theologians were united in affirming Christ’s twofold rule, but they differed in how they defined and connected the two “folds.” Another example relates to eschatology. Some theologians (e.g., Amandus Polanus) held that Christ’s mediatorial reign would continue into eternity, while other theologians (e.g., Junius) held that Christ would hand over his mediatorial kingdom to the Father upon his return on the day of judgment (134; see also 116–18).
Beeke’s second central observation is that one area of significant development in the tradition relates to the locus or placement of the doctrine of Christ’s rule within the theological system. According to Beeke, the early Reformers were more likely to discuss the nature of Christ’s kingdom and rule in the context of ecclesiology and the relationship between temporal and spiritual authority, whereas later Reformed thinkers tied discussions of Christ’s kingdom and rule more closely to Christological reflections regarding the person and work of Christ.
Beeke may be correct, but it is not possible to know from the book. His own citations of the six “representative centers” of the later tradition clearly contradict the claim that the doctrine was treated in relation to Christology rather than church government. Beeke himself points out that Turretin treated the doctrine under the headings of both Christology and church government (165, 182), as did Sharpius (192, 197). In his commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith, Beeke observes that Dickson only treated the doctrine under the headings of church government and civil magistracy, and he did not treat it under the heading of Christology at all (210, 212). Pictet, we are told, located the doctrine in relation to Christology and covenant theology (180–82). From the evidence presented, only Junius and Walaeus appear to fit Beeke’s claim that Christ’s twofold kingdom was typically treated as an aspect of Christology rather than ecclesiology.
Beeke’s downplaying of ecclesiology is related to his downplaying of politics. This downplaying runs counter to the developing scholarly consensus that there was a high degree of overlap between political theory and the doctrines of God, Christ, covenant, humanity, salvation, church, and eschatology during the early modern period. Therefore, it would have strengthened Beeke’s political observations (found throughout the book) if he had engaged more of the rapidly growing academic literature on the relationship between the development of theological and political ideas during the period of Reformed orthodoxy. Furthermore, his third central observation is not clear. To say that theological development was not determined by varying political contexts (19, 124, 216) seems obviously true, but to imply that theological development was not driven significantly by political concerns (217–19) again runs contrary to much of the academic literature and would need to be substantiated more thoroughly.
While the decision to downplay ecclesiology, political context, and the political implications of early modern reformed Christological debates is not the most compelling part of the book, this does not take away from the work’s major contribution in relation to terminology and concepts. Beeke’s careful reading of the early modern sources illustrates the theological connections between biblical Christology, anthropology, soteriology, and eschatology, and the relative facility of different theological terms in handling these concepts. What is the relationship between the authority Christ possesses in accordance with his divine nature (his essential kingdom) and that which he possesses in accordance with his taking on a human nature (his mediatorial or economic kingdom)? In what sense is that authority shared universally with all human beings created in his image? In what sense is that authority shared particularly with those human beings who are members of the visible church? How was that authority experienced before the fall, under the old covenant, and now under the new covenant? How will that authority be experienced after the second advent of Jesus? Beeke’s rich exploration of the Reformed tradition’s reflections upon the Scriptures offers a wealth of wisdom for retrieval as well as for constructive Christian theology and ethics.
Beeke also offers some extremely helpful practical suggestions for more fruitful debate and further study of these matters. He encourages his readers to replace the terminology of Christ’s “two kingdoms” with the terminology of a Christ’s singular but “twofold kingdom” (220). Some participants in the conversation about the nature of Christ’s authority and rule desire to avoid an unhealthy dualism between the realms of “nature” and “grace” by emphasizing the universality of Christ’s sovereignty over all things (223). Yet other participants are concerned to emphasize that Christ does not rule all things in the same way, either by distinguishing “spiritual” matters from those that are “temporal,” or by distinguishing matters shared by believers and unbelievers in “common” from those that are more “distinct” (221). Beeke suggests that a terminological shift from “two kingdoms” to Christ’s “twofold kingdom” might help to increase the common ground between these perspectives by emphasizing that the proper distinction is modal rather than spatial. In other words, instead of asking, “In what sphere does the activity of the Christian plumber belong?” Beeke suggests asking, “In what manner does Christ rule the plumber who confesses Christ as redeemer?” (225). Finally, Beeke commendably warns against historical flattening that ignores the diversity of the Reformed tradition on these issues, or anachronistic narrations of Christian history as the inevitable march to one position or another, usually the preferred interpretation of the scholar (225–26).
Beeke’s study is a truly remarkable demonstration of the relevance of Christology to Christian political theology. As a work of historical theology, its terminological and conceptual findings are instructive and its practical suggestions are promising. Though they differed in important ways, Reformation theologians from Luther, Bucer, and Calvin forward generally agreed that Christ rules all things, but Christ does not rule all things in the same manner at the same time. Duplex Regnum Christi offers rich food for thought for those who seek to follow Christ in this present age as we await his second coming.
Drew Martin (PhD, Vanderbilt University) is adjunct professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Charlotte, North Carolina) and co-pastor of West Charlotte Church. He is a contributing author to the Oxford Handbook of Reformed Theology and is currently writing Vital Christianity: Francis Grimké on the Christian Life (Crossway).