A Lesson on the Two Kingdoms from Rick Warren, A Lesson on What Not to Do, by Pr. Rossow

Picking on Rick Warren’s theology of the two kingdoms is like shooting ducks on a pond. For that matter, picking on Rick Warren’s theology of anything is like shooting ducks on a pond, but I thought that  his recent comments to a Muslim group make for a  simple lesson on properly distinguishing God’s left hand rule from his right hand rule. Many of our readers are new to this blessed enterprise of promoting and learning the Lutheran Confessions and so I also thought this might be a good introductory lesson to this  difficult Bible doctrine of the left and right hand  kingdoms.

Rick Warren was speaking to the Muslim Public Affairs Council national convention on Saturday and told them that he loves Muslims. He also told them he loves people of other religions,  Democrats, and gays. There is nothing wrong with this statement. I myself love Muslims, Democrats and gays. The problem is the context in which he said it.

Rick Warren is a pastor. His job is to preach the Gospel. He is to be a tool of God as He rules in His right hand kingdom of the Gospel. When speaking to the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Rick Warren is speaking of left hand kingdom matters. If he were there to be a preacher he would have convicted those Muslims of their sin and then preached faith in Jesus Christ into their hearts. This is not what he did. They did not invite him there to preach. That is  the problem.

When Rick Warren says he loves Muslims and gays, it will be mistaken as the Christian Gospel because after all, he is a Christian preacher.  This message  will be misunderstood. Now we do love all sinners, even our brothers in Christ who sin (i.e. each of us) but our message to sinners always has to be twofold. It has to be both law and gospel. If it is just the gospel (“I love Muslims and gays”) the Christian faith will be mistaken as a faith of love, tolerance, and moral relativism. Saying that God loves Muslims and gays without first saying that Islam and homosexuality are pagan and sinful, is speaking a dangerous half truth.

The problem began when Rick Warren accepted the opportunity to speak to the Muslim group. Rick Warren has become a spiritual superstar and this has brought him such invitations. (By the way, it is crucial to note that the likes of John the Baptist, St. Paul and even our Lord himself, never attained the status of spiritual superstar. Jesus came close, as did Luther, but once people actually listened to what they were saying, the raving crowds disappeared. One of the main reasons Rick Warren has become a superstar is because of his softer, culturally relevant and untrue, watering down of the Gospel.) Because of his theological confusion of such issues as the two kingdoms, Rick Warren is constantly misrepresenting the Gospel. He is a preacher. Preachers convict sinners of their sin and where there is repentance, heal that sin with the good news that Jesus Christ has paid fully for that sin. When those two  messages (law and gospel) are not spoken in tandem there is confusion.

The church’s God-given job  is to rebuke sin and forgive it where there is repentance. The government’s God-given job is to keep the temporal peace by establishing civic laws and punishing those who do not obey. When these two are mixed, as when a preacher is asked to speak to a civic group on civic matters, doctrinal confusion often follows.

This is not the only example of Warren mixing the two kingdoms. Last month he made some ridiculous comments about Syria that irritated those who are truly fighting for a just government in that country. Click here for more details. You can also click here or here for more detail on his speech last Saturday.

Does this mean that the Christian preacher has no role in the left hand kingdom? Not necessarily. I actually do not mind that Rick Warren has been chosen to give the invocation for  the upcoming presidential inaugural. At least Rick Warren is on record opposing same sex marriage and when asked directly, he will confess that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. In some ways, it is better having him say the prayer than a pagan or a liberal protesant.

However, when it comes to such invitations to speak in the left hand kingdom, he should just say “Thank you very much, I will use this opportunity to ask God’s blessing upon our president in the name of the only one through whom God answers prayer, Jesus Christ” and then he should leave it at that. No more comment. No more back seat political driving. No more amateur hour on world diplomacy.   That confuses the pure Gospel that he is supposed to defend and proclaim.

One last comment. A primary reason our synod is drifting away from the pure Gospel is because so many of our bishops,  pastors and district staffers are reading and promoting the undisciplined  theology of Rick Warren and others. There was a brother pastor down the road from us, who I respect personally (but not so much doctrinally), who just a few years ago led his entire congregation through Rick Warren’s  forty days of purpose. This is an epidemic in our synod. Brothers, please encourage your pastors to read and promote the Lutheran Confessions and to stay away from the harmful teachings of Rick Warren and others.

I hope this helps some of you who are newer to this confessional endeavor. I also hope you other pastors and educated laymen out there will use the comment section of this post to offer some internet resources for our Brothers to delve further into this matter. Also, where you can clarify or correct anything I have written, please have at it. As Rick Warren has demonstrated, this is a doctrine that can easily be misunderstood.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


A Lesson on the Two Kingdoms from Rick Warren, A Lesson on What Not to Do, by Pr. Rossow — 19 Comments

  1. Good helpful article, Tim.

    Of course, your statement,”If it is just the gospel (”I love Muslims and gays”) the Christian faith will be mistaken as a faith of love, tolerance, and moral relativism. Saying that God loves Muslims and gays without first saying that Islam and homosexuality are pagan and sinful, is speaking a dangerous half truth,” is going to get some people’s knickers all twisted up in a knot. 🙂

    But then nobody likes to hear the Law of God but only by God’s alien work of crushing our sinfulness & bringing us to utter despair of our own abilities can He then do His proper work of lifting us up in Christ Jesus, our only Savior. So, again, good job on the article!

  2. Thanks revgeorge,

    It is a subtle issue and it just struck me that Warren’s presence and words at this Muslim convention were a perfect vehicle to make a contribution to better understanding of the matter.

    I am sure I have oversimplified some things.

    Pastor Rossow, aka “revtim”

  3. Getting the two-kingdoms right is extremely important in this day and age of Christian activism in politics. Back in the 1800’s the guy who wrote Amazing Grace (John Newton was his name I believe) had to convince John Witherspoon to not enter the ministry so he could do something about the slave trade in the political realm at the time. Newton refused to say anything about the slave trade from his pulpit because he thought it wrong to make political commentary from their. The pulpit to him was for the proclamation of the Law and Gospel only. Its purpose was to convict sinners of their sin and then smother them with the good news of the Gospel and then help them maintain their walk with Christ by the proper administration of the sacraments and the teaching of good and sound theology. The historic confessions of both the Lutheran and Reformed both make this abundantly clear. When political activism becomes more important then developing good and sound theology in the Church the Church then loses its mission and becomes conformed to the culture rather than engaging it with the eternal truths of the Law and Gospel.

    There are some good web sites where you can read up on this subject. Try googling two-kingdom theology- you might be surprised what you find. It is not that difficult to get good information these days. It is just a matter of making it a priority in your life. My favorite two-kingdom theology site is the following: http://www.covopc.org/Two_Kingdoms/Two_Kingdom_Social_Theory.html

    I am sure the Lutherans have a good site somewhere too. I know the WELS site is particularly good for this subject.

  4. Just thought of something else to say. The political realm is the realm of reason (not the realm of faith) with many different points of view and cultural groups represented in the public square. Christians are just one group among many in the public square. We can fight with those in the public square against hostile enemies who would seek to destroy the land where we live and we can seek to promote just laws with them to protect us from oppression from those who abuse their power and status (by appealing to common grace and a civic form of righteousness- see Romans chapter 2). But we cannot abuse our power and force the country to become Christian. We are not supposed to involve ourselves in the culture wars. We simply hold out the Gospel to those in the culture with our empty hands of faith when God opens up their hearts to see as we faithfully perform our duties in our vocations and then constantly proclaim the Gospel from our pulpits each Sunday.

    Luther stated that he would rather have an intelligent Turk then a stupid Christian govern his country. We have a duty to elect those to public office who are well versed in American political theory and who have experience and know how to get things done in the political realm. Their theological beliefs are really irrelevant. What we really should be looking for are good leaders who have a commitment to protect the country and who promote just laws. Unbelievers are perfectly capable of those tasks. In fact, unbelievers have more of a vested interest in this life than we as believers do. They are often much better in the political realm than we are.

  5. John Y,

    Thanks for both of your comments. They are very helpful. Thank you also for the websites and the encouragement to our readers to take the time to read up on this important subject.

    You state that Christians should not be involved in the culture wars. That may be a bit of an overstatement but I get your point, that the church is definetely erring these days on thinking that it is its mission to fight these wars.

    Pastor Rossow

  6. We certainly can voice our opinions in the public square but taking a stand as a Christian is fraught with perils. I am of the opinion now that it is best to complain in the public square using the incompetency and corruption cards. We really do not even have to mention our Christian convictions. Christians are looked upon with such suspicion these days in the political realm that I just keep my mouth shut up about it. We can stand arm and arm with many unbelievers these days and fight for things with them politically without mentioning our theological beliefs. When trust has been developed with them we can then openly talk about the Gospel with them. But we can usually fight for issues in the public square using our reason rather than our theological convictions and try to make our cases appealing to reason rather then faith. Try it sometime- you might be surprised by the people who normally would not approach you if they knew your theological convictions.

  7. “Luther stated that he would rather have an intelligent Turk then a stupid Christian govern his country.”

    None of Dr. Martin Luther’s writings ever stated this or anything like the old trope, “It is better to be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian.” To the contrary, several of his writings present exactly the opposite view. In his “On War Against the Turk” Luther said:

    “I say this not because I would teach that worldly rulers ought not be Christians, or that a Christian cannot bear the sword and serve God in temporal government. Would God they were all Christians, or that no one could be a prince unless he were a Christian! Things would be better than they now are and the Turk would not be so powerful.”

    Later he stated:

    “Moreover, I hear it said that there are those in Germany who desire the coming of the Turk and his government, because they would rather be under the Turk than under the emperor or princes… For it is misery enough to be compelled to suffer the Turk as overlord and to endure his government; but willingly to put oneself under it, or to desire it, when one need not and is not compelled – the man who does that ought to be shown the sin he is committing and how terribly he is going on.”

    Regarding having a foolish Christian as a ruler, Luther wrote this in his “Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should Be Obeyed” (1523):

    “What, then, is a prince to do if he lacks the requisite wisdom and has to be guided by the jurists and the lawbooks? Answer: This is why I said that the princely estate is a perilous one. If he be not wise enough himself to master both his laws and his advisers, then the maxim of Solomon applies, “Woe to the land whose prince is a child” [Eccles. 10:16]. Solomon recognized this too. This is why he despaired of all law-even of that which Moses through God had prescribed for him-and of all his princes and counselors. He turned to God himself and besought him for an understanding heart to govern the people [I Kings 3:9]. A prince must follow this example and proceed in fear; he must depend neither upon the dead books nor living heads, but cling solely to God, and be at him constantly, praying for a right understanding, beyond that of all books and teachers, to rule his subjects wisely. For this reason I know of no law to prescribe for a prince; instead, I will simply instruct his heart and mind on what his attitude should be toward all laws, counsels, judgments, and actions. If he governs himself accordingly, God will surely grant him the ability to carry out all laws, counsels, and actions in a proper and godly way.”

    You may read the archived Cranach blog posting, The Wise Turk quote, for more information debunking the fabled urban legend quote.

  8. Let me add one more comment. We have a very rich political heritage in America. Some top notch political thinkers have graced our land. The founding fathers were brilliant political thinkers but when you read about their theological beliefs you become miffed with them. These founders of our country were more politically astute then theologically astute. They accomplished many marvelous things in the political realm but I would not trust any of them theologically. So, my point is we can encourage those in the political realm to submerge themselves in the founding fathers without having to bring up theology at all. Who wouldn’t want a Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin, Washington, Madison, Adams or Lincoln to govern us once again. Point people whose vocation is politics to this countries rich political heritage and keep theology and faith out of it. To be quite frank I am not sure any of these founding fathers were Christians – not even Washington, Madison or Adams.

  9. Carl,

    I get your point and thank you for correcting me about the quote. I still believes it is biblical to believe that unbelievers often have a great moral sense. I get this from reading Romans chapter 2. I think the type of Christian Luther was talking about was a confessional one. If Luther were to come on the scene today and critique some of the Christians who are involved in the political realm he would make the remark which I may have misquoted earlier. Do you think Luther would have approved of some of the Catholic and Anabaptist theologians he often debated and fought with in the political realm? Do you see where this often gets complicated and blurred? Confessional Christians should be involved in politics as their vocations and they can bring much salt into the arena. I am not questioning that. Unbelievers are not aware of the different theological perspectives- they gather all Christians into one group. In order to avoid the confusion it is best to keep one’s theological convictions to himself in the political realm. At least that is my opinion.

  10. From what I have read Luther did become very worried about the thinking of the Turk and their theology as they began to surround Germany later in his life. In fact, I believe he wrote a rather long paper on his views of the Turk and their theology and you are probably quoting from this paper. When an aggressive enemy is surrounding your land you have to alert the people to the danger. It is within this context that I think you are drawing your quotes from. When there is no danger of this aggressive type behavior then the context is quite different. However, this is what makes these issues complex. Thank you for the needed correction but I still stand by what I have stated.

  11. John writes:

    “Who wouldn’t want a Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin, Washington, Madison, Adams or Lincoln to govern us once again?”

    As great as the constitutional heritage of the United States is, we who are in the world but not of it should avoid such romanticism. Yes, these were men of greatness, but they were not all men who governed in the same way. Jefferson & Lincoln, for example, held significantly different governing philosophies. As far as for wanting such men today, the founding Virginians all had their strong points, and Franklin was a wise diplomat. But I would not want to be governed today by a John Adams or an Abraham Lincoln.

    On your larger point, though, I do agree that bad (or no) theology does not ipso facto mean poor left-hand leadership, and despite the contested origin of the “wise Turk/dumb Christian” quote, it is nonetheless true. Certainly some faiths/worldviews (Islam, Atheism) would corrupt one’s ability to lead well in the left hand kingdom, and so faith sometimes needs to be considered, but I doubt many of us would prefer a Senate of 100 LCMS former Sen. Paul Simons over a Senate of 100 Mormon Sen. Orrin Hatches when it comes to vital moral issues such as abortion, gay marriage, religious freedom, home schooling, etc.

    On these issues the church cannot stay silent on the “culture wars”. Perhaps this is where Pastor Rossow says you may be overreaching.

  12. Bob,

    I did not say we could not comment and involve ourselves in the cultural issues of the day but to take sides and then call the side you are on the Christian side in the left-hand Kingdom causes many problems. There are Christians who can be leftist or rightist in their political ideology and then go to Church together and be perfectly united in their theological beliefs. Unity of mind is more important in the theological realm then the political and cultural realm. We seem to have confused the two realms and are more concerned about unity in political and cultural beliefs rather then theological beliefs.

    It is not “romanticism” to say what I did about the founding fathers governing us today. I was just commenting on their superior abilities and compentency in the left-hand kingdom. You can have a compentent rightist or leftist and still have a government that is doing its duties under God. My point is, you want someone with a good moral sense (because of their training and abilities) to govern in the left-hand kingdom. It is good for political ideologies to clash and provide safe guards against the extremes of various ideologies. A balance of power is always a good thing in the left-hand kingdom.

  13. Morality is a great concern in the left-hand kingdom. It maintains order in society. In the right-hand kingdom our morality is like filthy rags and can never put us in a right relationship with God. We are moral pygmies compared to Christ (this is why Paul warns us not to compare our morality with other fallen human beings but compare our morality with Christ’s morality). We should be careful to be moral citizens in the left-hand kingdom but always realize we fall a million miles short in the right-hand kingdom. Luther and Melanchthon developed the following criteria as a theological dung detector. John Bombaro wrote this in a recent article in Modern Reformation magazine: “We therefore get it wrong when we think of orthodoxy as if it was only about a canon of right belief. It is not. It entails and is expressed through God’s liturgical actions, all of which, in the new covenant, are gospel gifts to us.

    Philip Melanchthon had no time for any doctrine that did not keep the gospel good news. For him, new covenant doctrines were only those that met a dual criterion: they must extol the necessity of Christ’s blood atonement and comfort the soul therewith. Luther referred to Melanchthon’s criterion as a theological dung detector that goes off when an alleged new covenant doctrine consists of a “If you/then God” scenario. Law dressed up as Gospel stinks of death, and the dung of human sin and feigned righteousness is sniffed out. The sweet scent of orthodoxy says, “When God/then you” or, as in Ephesians 2:4, “But God, now you.” The Wittenberg tandem was making the point that new covenant orthodoxy consists of doctrines and a liturgy that is exclusively gospel oriented-and if gospel oriented then inherently missional for the ingathering of sinners and the sanctifying of saints. For in the gospel means of grace, God holds out his promised gifts in Christ to be received in faith by all…………God, it seems, has engineered orthodoxy with a content that cannot be anything but missional because its message is always good news for the public domain.”

    As we struggle for a more moral culture and society with unbelievers we have the good news of the Gospel proclaimed into all of our failures in the public domain. Let those in the left hand kingdom maintain their pipedreams in their own self-righteousness (the flowery rhetoric and false promises fuel their delusions). We who have been translated to the right-hand kindom know better and actually become salt which preserves the world while they persecute us in their own self-righteousness. We always hold out the Gospel to them as the left-hand kindom slowly disintegrates and crumbles. When the left-hand kingdom eventually falls God will rescue us by the second coming of His Son who will set up His kingdom forever. Do not be alarmed when the left-hand kingdom falls- it is our job to be salt in society yet knowing all the time that it will eventually fall in God’s good time. This is the paradox of two-kingdom theolgy.

  14. Two-Kingdom Theology is a critical issue today. God is at work in the liturgy. It is God’s activity in us that accomplishes his purposes. We can take no credit for it in ourselves and our own schemes and will power. God’s purposes do not get accomplished because of our morality or our evangelistic man-made schemes (like skits in Church, seeker sensitive services, purpose driven lives, etc. etc). God is at work in the liturgy- this is His means of accomplishing His redemptive plan. We then take this out to the world in our vocations and become servants to those who do not like us very much. However, God calls his elect through us as we perform our duties in our vocations and proclaim the Gospel in our Church’s. Baptism, properly understood, is really a powerful evangelistic outreach. John Bombaro’s article goes into this in more detail. See Modernreformation.org- The Risk of Orthodoxy issue.

  15. We are salt to the culture only because of our commitment to God’s means of grace and His activity in us through the liturgy. This is how Word and Spirit do its work.

  16. I will shut up now and open myself to others who may disagree with me or have more insight than I do. I certainly am open to correction.

  17. I read this. I think you are incredibly narrowed in your views. How did you happen to get this way. We are called to love Muslims unconditionally as jJsus and God do. You represent a very narrowed and dangerous sect. It leads people to do very bad things to others. Please read the current biography on Bonhoeffer. And good luck…and for your own good stop writing this non sense. If makes you look idiodic. This is not sola gratia type understanding of Lutheran theology. You have certainly added your own narrow minded and idoltrous theology to what is going on in Romans. Please read Barth commentary on romans. Given his life and challenges he has the right to speak about such matters as justification. Good luck, friend.

  18. I am somewhat new to the AC, and am a student at Concordia Irvine. I am taking a class in Christianity and Ethics, and we are discussing the Right and Left Hand Rule of God. It seems to me, from my Pentecostal background, which was not as scholastically steeped as my new Lutheran culture, that this is “doing too much.” As a pentecostal, we were taught a very simple concept: Christians live holy; non-Christians don’t. As a result, we are to live in accordance with what God calls for – righteousness and true holiness, without even wasting time forming alliances with unsaved, unholy, hell-bound sinners. In all our doing, we were to live as examples of the blessings of life in Christ, and the utter bankruptcy of life without Christ.

    By contrast, under this Lutheran concept, I am to think that there is something “good” in all of us, even in those who do not know God. We can therefore, walk in agreement with unsaved, ungodly people, when it fits our agenda. The Bible, however, says, “How can two walk together unless they are in agreement?” and “What fellowship does the table of God have with the table of demons?” I think that Luther, still freshly freed from his slavery to Romanism, tried to create something that did not need creating. God is One, and His word is One. God has a Kingdom – Jesus did not say “let your kingdoms come,” but “let your Kingdom come.” Singular, get it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.