Luther’s Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms in the Context of his Theology

Heinrich Bornkamm

In this essay, the distinguished church historian of Heidelberg University gives us a guided tour through one of the most complex and controversial problems in the interpretation of Christian ethics. Luther’s “two kingdoms” doctrine has been variously praised and damned in recent theology. Thinkers such as Nygren, Althaus, and Ebeling have defended the doctrine as the source of a salutary political realism (since it reminds us that no social order as such will ever be identical with the kingdom of Christ), combined with a definite sense of Christian social responsibility (since the “kingdom on the left” is also God’s kingdom, in which his will-to-justice is to be enacted). On the other hand, theologians such as Barth and Bonhoeffer have condemned the doctrine as the source of a hopeless dualism and defeatism.

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