VanDrunen Taken To The Woodshed In Venerable Westminster Theological Journal

As a minister, one spends his share of time reading Theological Journals and thick theological tomes dealing with theological minutia. Often one comes across in these readings in house debates over particular subject matter between different camps. Usually (though not always), such debate in the Academic tomes is muted in terms of criticism. When an Academic says something like, “my opponent perhaps has not been as thorough as they might otherwise have been,” what one has just read is an explosive polemic for the Academic journal world. Typically Academic Journals and Tomes are not known for their polemical food-fight nature. They are typically restrained and dry as dust.

However, in the Fall 2013 publication of the Westminster Theological Journal ones finds one of the most pointed and denunciatory articles that I’ve ever seen in a Academic Journal. It is still pretty mild by Iron Ink standards but by the standards of Academia it is red hot. I’ve extracted just a few of the quotes below in order to reveal how sizzling this peer review article is.

And of course, the reason I’m doing this is that the peer review article under consideration is an unraveling of Radical Two Kingdom Theology. This peer review article especially zeroes in on R2K guru David VanDrunen’s, “Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought.” The peer review article is written by William D. Dennison, Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Covenant College.

For those who are keeping track, this is now at least the third devastating major academic peer review article written surrounding the pseudo-theology called “R2K,” by eminently qualified people. There was a peer review by Kerux. There was a peer review by Dr. Cornelius Venema. And now there is this peer review by Westminster Theological Journal. One can only hope that R2K is running out of friends.

What this post is concerned with is exposing the repeated frustrations of Dr. Dennison at how inadequate Dr. VanDrunen’s work has been. Later post’s here at Iron Ink may go into the substance of Dr. Dennison’s critique. Keep in mind I have been far from exhaustive in noting every expression of frustration by Dr. Dennison in his column in the WTJ.

NL for Dennison = Natural Law. NL2K = R2K (Natural Law Two Kingdom).

“How effectively does VanDrunen accomplish the enormous task he has set out in this volume? The breadth of VanDrunen’s volume and the scholarly material selected convey impressive intentions; the depth of his scholarly analysis, however, remains elementary and exhibits a number of shortcomings ….

In spite of these intentions, however, VanDrunen provides no indication that he grasps the methodological issues gripping the field of interdisciplinary scholarship over the past century. In fact, the work unfolds in a typically amateur manner; it yields to the popular outlook that any study involving more than one area within the academic curriculum qualifies as an interdisciplinary study. In light of this attitude, he exhibits no comprehension of how an approach of interdistiplinarity (moving from particular disciplines to integration) must be viewed and implemented into a final integrated interdisciplinary study. This failure results in serious limitations in his producing a profound academic integrative study….

Although VanDrunen mentions that classical non-Christian writings had an influence on the tradition of NL, nowhere
does he unpack the substance of their effect, a critical omission. VanDrunen teaches at an institution that states her continual devotion to the work of Cornelius Van Til and, yet, in his writing, he exhibits little understanding of Van Til’s transcendental technique….

This latter domain of natural rights is crucial in connecting NL from the medieval period to the Enlightenment, but VanDrunen ignores it entirely in its medieval construction. Simply put, natural rights are sometimes attributed by scholars solely to the seventeenth century (e.g., rights of property, permissive rights of government, rights of self-protection, marriage rights), but these rights in fact have their roots m the medieval era, specifically the canonists of the twelfth century. In this regard, VanDrunen provides no evidence that he has any scholarly comprehension of the patterns of constitutional thought that tie together the canonists (twelfth century), the conciliarists (fifteenth century), and the constitutionalists (seventeenth century)….

… VanDrunen’s volume provides no credible reason to adopt his thesis that NL is a necessary canon to relate to the civil kingdom (culture). After all, nowhere in the volume does VanDrunen provide his reader with a precise and concrete definition of NL from the Reformed tradition….

With this explanation of sin missing, VanDrunen’s study has done nothing to differentiate itself fully from medieval Roman Catholic scholasticism and what Van Til calls “less-than-consistent Calvinism,” a form of Calvinism that traces its theological roots to a classical synthesis between reason influenced by antiquity and Christian revelation (e.g., Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield at Old Princeton). VanDrunen may try to deny this, but any close reading of the corpuses of Kuyper, Bavinck, and Van Til will clearly demonstrate that VanDrunen’s construct of NL fails to sidestep the pitfalls described by these three premiere Dutch thinkers regarding the extension of medieval scholastic thought through Old Princeton. In fact, this reviewer is certain that Van Til would view VanDrunen’s assessment of NL serving as a common point of contact to discuss ethical responsibility in the context of a common culture as having compatibility with Roman Catholic Scholastic thought….

VanDrunen has failed to display the transcendental or interdisciplinary work necessary to claim that the Reformed tradition only accepted from the pagans those ideas that, through common grace, had affinities with the truth of biblical revelation. Until VanDrunen exhibits that he has done this work in examining the concepts of reason and nature in Greek and Roman thought, his claim that autonomy has had no place in the Reformed tradition with respect to NL is, at best, worthy of skepticism (p. 133)….

VanDrunen’s failure to contend with the inner effects of sin within the construct of NL in the Western tradition leads to two further problems in his work….

Although VanDrunen realizes that the present conception of NL functions within a fallen world, ironically he does not seem to grasp the practical interdisciplinary ramifications of that fact….

Only one who is truly enclosed within an academic ivory tower or who naively isolates the immediate life of the church could suggest that the 2K doctrine can truly serve as a serious directive for the Christian’s relationship with culture. In the providence of God over four centuries, we have already witnessed the horrifying results of this doctrine in the hands of sinful believers. To even suggest that a consistent application of principles found in Meredith Kline’s view of the covenant as well as his view of common grace—whether correctly or wrongly represented by VanDrunen— can present the Christian with a fitting path to follow in responding to culture is further evidence of a naive understanding of a fallen world….

VanDrunen is either ignorant of this state of affairs or willingly avoids the issue which would challenge the theoretical construct of his 2K thesis….

Specifically, VanDrunen’s study shows no familiarity with Kuyper’s Romantic appeal to the Calvinistic appeal to the Calvinist roots of the Republic….

Again, VanDrunen’s failure to apply a transcendental critique upon the historiography in Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thought prevents him from elucidating the dynamics a” work in Kuyper’s philosophy of history….

Surprisingly, however, VanDrunen’s volume never really deals with this key figure (Herman Bavinck — BLMc) in the contemporary agenda of his thesis. Finally, perhaps, one of the most serious and problematic contentions of
VanDrunen’s thesis appears in his assessment of the 2K doctrine as an essential component of confessional Reformed orthodoxy as portrayed in the West minster Confession of Faith (pp. 189-92)….

In the overview of this section of the Confession (chs. 20-23), however, VanDrunen makes some questionable dogmatic statements…

In the judgment of this reviewer, VanDrunen is here superimposing his understanding of the 2K doctrine on the
Confessional Standards….

As VanDrunen superimposes his dogmatic view of the 2K upon the West minster Standards, his evaluation and interpretation of the Confession for the life of the church should raise enough alarm that anyone intending serious
scholarly use of his volume should proceed with grave caution.
This review has offered serious questions about whether VanDrunen truly understands the concrete historical, cultural, and interdisciplinary context of the thinkers and writers to whom he refers in his analysis of NL2K. Although he has shown adequate dependency upon English editions of primary texts, questions remain about whether he grasps these authors’ intentions. In addition, doubts linger as to whether VanDrunen has examined enough of the corpus of various individuals’ writings to present a fair and correct assessment of those investigated. From Augustine and the Epistle to Diognetus to Van Til and the Van Tilians, VanDrunen to a certain degree has imposed upon almost every individual with whom he deals his own analysis of NL2K. For this reason, anyone consulting VanDrunen’s work must add their own primary document investigation to test VanDrunen’s often revisionist scholarship. We still await, therefore, a definitive work on NL2K in light of Reformed orthodoxy; at best, VanDrunen’s study serves as a minor footnote to any sincere historical study of the subject.”

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

2 thoughts on “VanDrunen Taken To The Woodshed In Venerable Westminster Theological Journal”

  1. This is a rather scathing review. When you prefaced the review, I thought it was going to be milquetoast, but even by “academic” standards, I felt that it was very harsh..

    I have been telling my fellows members at my PCA church that no matter what R2K claims to say, it is NOT consistent with presuppositionalism in the CVT “tradition”..

    When you have unequivocal statements from CVT that says that natural and supernatural revelation presuppose each other and that they are mutually meaningless without each other, I dont see how a dead guy’s writing can be any clearer and how this can’t be directly antithetical to the R2K doctrine.

    Pastor M, I await your further analysis of this article. Thanks.

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