Darryl Hart’s Affirmations and Denials, Escondido Theology, and the Two Kingdoms

Darryl G. Hart has posted (well, Reed has posted for Darryl) some affirmations and denials on issues related to DGH’s view of the Two Kingdoms, a view Darryl misleading refers to as “the two kingdoms view” but which departs significantly from the two kingdoms views of Calvin and the Westminster divines. I had originally drafted a response to these long ago, but I never published that response. However, Reed has requested that those of us who disagree with Darryl Hart identify our disagreement with reference to his post and Zrim has recently suggested that I look to this series of posts as being the “substance” of the Escondido view of the two kingdoms.

As a preliminary matter, I’m not sure that this exercise is necessarily the most profitable way of identifying the differences between the historic Reformed position and so-called “Escondido Two Kingdoms”.

The reason I think it may not be the most profitable, is that I think Hart hasn’t put all the cards on the table. There are still significant issues within the movement of which he is a part, which aren’t directly addressed by his affirmations or denials. Those issues include things like the redefinition of “faith and life” to mean “faith and religious life” as fairly straightforwardly expressed in T. David Gordon’s Insufficiency of Scripture, and the covenant theology connected with Meredith Kline and the excessive use of the Redemptive Historical Hermeneutic via Vos, such as Kline’s “intrusion ethic.”

These points aren’t really very directly addressed in Darryl Hart’s affirmations and denials. We can only speculate as to why they aren’t addressed directly. Perhaps he simply is unaware of where his views are distinctive from the historic Reformed tradition. Perhaps he is trying to emphasize his points of agreement, rather than his points of disagreement. There are many such possibilities, nevertheless, since Hart hasn’t provided any explanation, we’ll have to be content with our speculation.

It was these considerations that originally led me to simply shelve my response back when I originally wrote it. However, at Reed’s request and in view of Zrim’s exhortation, I have decided to edit and publish my response. Instead of rigidly following the order of the affirmations and denials provided in the original posts, I have attempted to categorize the affirmations and denials regarding their need for nuance. In point of fact, Hart’s comments are generally vague enough that they could probably be accepted by most folks, even those who disagree most sharply with his view of the kingdoms.

As a sub-order within the categories, since there were three parts to the affirmation and denials: theology, vocation, and ethics, I’ll address the affirmations and denials as grouped under those categories, identified by Hart.

I. Obvious Need for Nuance

Theological Topic

1) Affirmation: Jesus is Lord
Denial: Jesus is not Lord over everyone in the same way; he rules the covenant community differently than those outside the covenant

The Affirmation is obviously orthodox as written.  The denial can probably be understood in an orthodox sense. However, this denial can also be understood in an heterodox sense. For example, if the claim is that the moral law is different depending on whether or not one is in the covenant community, the assertion would be heterodox. In contrast, if the point is that Jesus’ rule outside the covenant community is one of judgment only and not mercy (except predicated on entry into the covenant community) whereas Jesus’ rule inside the covenant community is one of mercy, then the remarks could be understood in orthodox manner. We may, therefore, leave this matter as ambiguously worded, but not necessarily in itself wrong.

2) Affirmation: the visible church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ
Denial: Outside the visible church is not part of the redemptive rule of Christ (even though Christ is still sovereign).

Actually, the invisible church is properly the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, outwardly the visible church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ on earth.

The Lord Jesus Christ is King and Lord over all, although he has a special relationship to the Church.  By way of the Noahic covenant, all mankind are under the redemptive rule of Christ as to their physical and temporal life.  By way of the covenant of grace, only the elect are under the redemptive rule of Christ.  The unregenerate elect are under the rule, but in a state of rebellion.  By way of the covenant God made with Israel when he redeemed them from Egypt, physical Israel is under the redemptive rule of Christ, but in a state of rebellion.

3) Affirmation: the Bible is the only rule for the visible church (in matters of conscience).
Denial: Scripture does not reveal everything but only that which is necessary for salvation.

No. The Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and life. It is the only infallible rule for anyone. It is not the only rule. If it were, conscience itself would not be a rule.

Moreover, the Bible reveals all that is necessary for salvation but also reveals much that is not necessary for salvation.  Also, the Bible reveals many things about the way man ought to live and how man should act in various roles, including the roles of parents, slaves, masters, and civil rulers.

Furthermore, while the gospel teaches us to repent and believe, it is not by obedience to rules that we are saved, but by trust in the Savior that is identified to us in Scripture.

4) Affirmation: Christ alone is lord of conscience
Denial: Christians have liberty where Scripture is silent.
Denial: the pious advice and opinions of Christians is not binding.

The Word of God is binding on the conscience. Thus, when the brethren bring the Word of God to bear, our consciences are properly bound to follow the Word. Additionally, the Scriptures provide teachings that require us to obey (within bounds) the civil magistrate, our parents, our husbands, and so forth. Thus, there are additional restraints on Christian liberty that are, we might say, incorporated by reference.

There is a difference between obliging obedience and binding the conscience.  Parents can oblige the obedience of their children, but that is not the same as binding their consciences in the usual sense, except that children must honor their parents.

5) Affirmation: the visible church has real power (spiritual and moral, ministerial and declarative, the keys of the kingdom) in ministering the word of God.
Denial: the church may not bind consciences apart from Scripture.
Denial: the church may not bind consciences on the basis of one minister’s or believer’s interpretation but must do so corporately through the deliberations of sessions, presbyterians, and assemblies.

An evangelist binds the consciences of all his hearers – especially those outside the church, but also those within the church. He’s one elder – but lay evangelism is also permitted and similarly binds the conscience of the hearers. In fact, any one of the brethren can bind another’s conscience by bringing the Word of God to bear on a situation. He does not do so by his own authority, but the Word binds – the man declares.

The keys of the kingdom are best understood as the ministry of the gospel: the declaration of the person of Jesus Christ whose blood releases men from their sins. These keys are the keys of knowledge that the lawyers of Jesus day took away from the people (Luke 11:52). They allow people to see the way to heaven is through Jesus Christ, the righteous. As William Webster explains:

The keys … are representative of the authority to exercise discipline in the Church and to proclaim the gospel, declaring the free forgiveness of sins in the Lord Jesus Christ. Such a declaration opens the kingdom of God to men or, if they reject the message, closes it to them. The keys are not the possession of a single individual, for exactly the same authority which Christ promises to Peter he also grants to the other apostles in Matthew 18:18 and John 20:22-23. They are all given authority to bind or loose by declaring the forgiveness of sins through Christ. They are all equals under the authority of one head, the Lord Jesus. The authority they are given is a delegated, declarative authority, which is in Christ’s name and comes from him who alone possesses the supreme authority to rule the Church.


This declarative power is something that DGH does not seem to understand. So instead he treats the “keys of the kingdom” in an almost Romanist way, as though they were a title to discretionary authority to gin up laws to bind the conscience, even while affirming that the visible church cannot bind the conscience apart from Scripture, a curious inconsistency – but a blessed one.

Of course, the elders do have authority of oversight, and this entails their doing things such as calling the brethren to worship. The brethren ought to obey them in these things, and consequently their consciences can be bound in this additional limited way that has nothing to do with the “keys of the kingdom” per se.

6) Affirmation: Christ’s righteousness alone satisfies God’s holy demands for righteousness, and believers receive this righteousness through faith alone (i.e., justification).
Denial: believer’s good works, much less unbelievers’ external obedience to the law, do not satisfy God’s holiness but are filthy rags.

I would only add that believers receive this righteousness by grace through faith.

Vocational Topic

1) Affirmation: the church is called to gather and perfect saints through word, sacrament and discipline.
Denial: the church is not called to meddle in civil affairs.

“Meddle” is a pejorative term. Just as sermons should not be “tedious,” the preaching of the gospel should not “meddle.” Nevertheless, the Bible speaks to many things and preachers should preach the full counsel, not holding back because certain topics have obtained political interest. Indeed, the advent of a political debate may make preaching on certain topics more timely and necessary. The fact that something has become of interest to the civil government does not mean it is taken away from the pulpit.

Moreover, the church is called to preach the gospel of repentance and the forgiveness of sins through faith in the name of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. 

2) Affirmation: the Christian family is called to nurture and oversee children in both religious and secular matters.
Denial: Christian families will not all look the same but have liberty to rear children according to Scripture and the light of nature.
Denial: non-Christian families do not rear children in godliness or holiness but still have legitimate responsibility for rearing their children.

Parents have the duty to provide for the physical and spiritual welfare of their children and to raise up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I say “parents” because the term “family” includes both parents and children. I don’t add the term “Christian,” because all parents have the same duty in God’s sight, although non-Christian parents will necessarily fall even further short of their duty than Christian parents. Of course, some non-Christian parents may do a better job of providing for the physical or even the spiritual welfare of their children than some Christian parents.

3) Affirmation: the state is called to punish wickedness, reward goodness, and promote peace and order.
Denial: the state does not hold the keys of the kingdom.

Yes, but as the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) 23:3 indicates:

III. The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.

That isn’t meddling, when properly done, though it can be meddling when improperly done.

And likewise, as the American Revisions of the Westminster Confession of Faith explain:

3. Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretense of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance.

Although perhaps the American revisions lay too much emphasis on ecclesiastical autonomy and religious liberty, the duty of the civil magistrate to nurture the Church of God is clear even in this revision. That doesn’t require the King to become an evangelist or an elder, but it does require him to recognize the Church of God.

4) Affirmation: A Christian is called to use his talents and gifts to serve God and assist his neighbor.
Denial: some Christians are not called to engage in civil affairs
Denial: the responsibilities attending one Christian’s vocation may not be the standard for other Christians.

Christians are not called to be entirely divorced from the affairs of this world. So, it would not be proper for Christians to avoid civic responsibility on the grounds that not all Christians are called to be politicians. Nevertheless, it is true that not all Christians are called to be in political office. Under certain regimes, the Christian’s entire civil responsibility may be to submit to the government (such as under a totalitarian regime).

Ethical Topic

1) Affirmation: Christians have an obligation to submit to God’s laws as they are found in general and special revelation.
Denial: persons cannot obey God’s law truly apart from regeneration by the Holy Spirit.
Denial: non-Christians may not please God in their external observance of God’s law.
Denial: even if non-Christians may not please God, their civic virtue is crucial to a peaceful and orderly society.

Everyone, not only Christians, have an obligation to obey (not just “submit to”) God’s laws as they are found in both general and special revelation. All men imperfectly obey God’s law. Both those inside and those outside the outward covenant can displease God with their works. External obedience to God’s law is possible and can contribute to a peaceful and orderly society.

3) Affirmation: the state and families have the responsibility for establishing and maintaining social order.
Denial: the church does not have the responsibility for establishing and maintaining social order.

The church’s primary functions of evangelism and edification would not and should not conflict with the establishment and maintenance of a godly society. Sometimes, however, they are in conflict with the laws of a nation (in Muslim nations for example). Other times, they may contribute to the establishment and maintenance of a godly society by exhorting men to live godly lives.

The church does not have the duty to exercise the power of the sword, but the civil magistrate does.  Moreover, the church has the obligation to preach the whole counsel of God, which will include preaching those parts of the Word that tell kings the right way to rule, not as to every detail of troop movement, but as to certain general principles.

4) Affirmation: church members have a duty to obey the laws of civil magistrates.
Denial: church members may not rebel against or disobey the magistrate.
Denial: church members must not obey the magistrate rather than God.

There is an obvious conflict amongst these affirmations/denials. Namely when obedience to God conflicts with obedience to the magistrate, everyone (not just “church members”) must obey God.

There is a general rule that we should obey the King, i.e. the civil magistrate. There are times when it may be permissible or obligatory for us to disobey the King. The same morality applies whether a person is a “church member” or not.

5) Affirmation: God has established a pluriformity of institutions (e.g. civil society) for the sake of social order.
Denial: the church has no calling to establish social order but will have an indirect influence on peace and order by encouraging godliness in her members.

I’m not sure what his affirmation intends to say. It’s rather vague to me.

The church doesn’t just encourage godliness among her members but commands all men everywhere to repent.

II. No Obvious Need for Nuance

Ethical Topic

2) Affirmation: Christians please God in their good works thanks to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
Denial: the good works of Christians are not free from pollution (i.e. they are filthy rags).


III. Conclusion 

The biggest problem is that Hart’s affirmations could almost all, with some nuance, be adopted by someone who holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646).  Yet, it is clear that one of the things that defines the Escondido Theology is an opinion that the WCF 1646 was not simply too narrow, but that it was wrong.  While there are some areas where Hart’s affirmations and denials probably represent real differences, they are not presented in a way that actually highlights those differences.  Perhaps, however, this response will help  Hart to work on some updated affirmations/denials that will actually get to the substance of the disagreement.


8 Responses to “Darryl Hart’s Affirmations and Denials, Escondido Theology, and the Two Kingdoms”

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