A few hours ago I received the following message through my blog from professor R. Scott Clark in response to an article of mine that recently appeared on The Aquila Report. After discussing the matter on the phone with this brother, I’ve decided to address a few things.
My response will be limited to the professor’s use of William Perkins along with a corroborating footnote pertaining to Johannes Wollebius.
Here we can find a relevant quote from William Perkins, with an excerpt of that quote immediately below. (Bold and italicized emphases mine throughout article.)
Judicials of common equity are such as are made according to the law or instinct of nature common to all men and these in respect of their substance bind the consciences not only of the Jews but also of the Gentiles for they were not given to the Jews as they were Jews, that is, a people received into the covenant above all other nations, brought from Egypt to the Land of Canaan, of whom the Messiah according to the flesh was to come; but they were given to them as they were mortal men subject to the order and laws of nature as other nations are. Again, judicial laws so far as they have in them the general or common equity of the law of nature are moral and therefore binding in conscience as the moral law.
It’s to misread Perkins to infer that in the civil realm it is just the law of nature that is binding upon all men. Instead, we should take Perkins to mean that it is the law of nature that makes the judicial laws of Israel suitably binding upon all men. To miss that point is to miss Perkins’ point. The law of nature establishes the foundation upon which civil laws can and should be applied to all nations.
Perkins distinguishes particular judicial laws that were peculiar to Israel’s commonwealth that don’t have this same quality of nature, which further punctuates his point that morally rooted judicial laws are universally applicable. Example: the brother should raise up seed to his brother. (Johannes Wollebius holds a similar view that distinguishes judicial laws that are grounded in natural law from those that are not.*)
The judicial laws in view were not themselves natural laws, for the judicial laws were both made and given to menunder Moses “according to” what was already instinctive to them. Moreover, these judicial laws were given to the Jews not by virtue of their unique covenant standing before God but in their common created capacity of being “mortal men subject to the order and laws of nature as other nations.” So, the judicial laws are neither to be seen as fundamentally moral nor particular to a covenant nation but rather as having expansive moral import based upon something even more fundamentally primitive in nature, which makes way for their trans-nation application.
R2K wrongly takes the fundamental moral basis upon which judicial laws can be found universally applicable and turns that natural law foundation into the only feature that carries through to the nations. In doing so, R2K denies Perkins’ position, which couldn’t be clearer. It is the judicial laws themselves that have universal judicial application and not merely the instinctive properties of natural law contained within them: “Again, judicial laws… are moral and therefore binding.” Perkins also informs us of the reason why the judicial laws can be universally and morally binding, which is because “they have in them the general or common equity of the law of nature.”
Apropos, for civil magistrates to govern according to the general equity of Israel’s judicial laws (WCF 19.4) is to govern strictly according to those civil laws that were rooted in the common equity of the moral law and not according to the judicial laws that pertained to the land promise or other non-moral aspects of Israel’s society. Yet R2Kers (like the referenced professor) offer an alternative paradigm of governance, which would limit civil magistrates to govern strictly according to natural law yet not according to Israel’s judicial laws that are rooted in natural law. Aside from departing from the nuance of Perkins and Wollebius on the binding moral relevance of Israel’s civil code, one need only consider the historically global results and degeneracy of such governance in order to appreciate the ineffectiveness of natural law in the civil realm. But that shouldn’t be surprising since natural law was never intended to be a model for wielding the sword! The civil laws were given for a reason, and in the minds of men like Perkins et alia the intrinsically moral civil laws are forever binding upon conscience because of their divinely inspired relation to natural law:
Perkinscouldn’t be clearer thatjudicial laws grounded in natureare bindinguponconscience. In the minds of Perkins, Wollebius and those who followed in their footsteps, the OT judicial laws that stemmed from common equity were so inexorably tied together that in theReformedtradition to apply the common equity of natural law was in fact to implement the civil code!Westminster 1647 corroborates with the expectation that civil magistrates ought to punish according to the natural law immorality of blasphemy etc., which is a moral consideration rooted in, yet extending beyond, the law of nature with respect to a revealed civil sanction.
When we come to the American Revision of thestandards, we may not whimsically alter the original import of general equity, which according to historical precedent wasinexorablytied both in significance andsubstance to the civil code (as opposed to intending anebulous and uninstructive law ofnature with respect to civilgovernance). In sum, Clark the church historian is wrongeven on his appeal to hisownhistorical sources.
R2K as non-confessional with no suitable alternative:
As a mental exercise one might simply consider – even if civil magistrates needn’t consult OT civil laws in the formation of contemporary civil laws, would the more moderate (and, therefore, less consistent) R2ers argue that civil magistrates oughtn’tever consult OT civil laws that relate to the moral law? If not, then when does it become advisable to do so, when all else fails? Plain and simple, to be a creedal R2Ker one must self-project either as (a) antinomian in their laissez-faire R2K consistency (e.g. D. G. Hart, Lee Irons and perhaps Michael Horton) or else (b) happily inconsistent and arbitrary (e.g. R. Scott Clark). One must either condone – even support! – same sex civil unions or else arbitrarily object to them contrary to their R2K profession of Reformed orthodoxy. Indeed, Natural Law condemns such acts as sinful but not as criminal. The latter assessment is either a matter of Special Revelation or autonomous reasoning. R2K opts for the latter, unaided reason.
Fromtheir respective ivory towers, R2K ethicists offerabsolutelyzeropractical alternativeto Westminster civil ethics. None! For although natural law calls for eternal damnation for the least of all transgressions, it is mute with respect to temporal punishment for even the greatest of all transgressions. If R2ers would for a moment make practical application with their armchair ideology (perhaps put even a morsel of meat on the bones), they might begin to see how arbitrary, inconsistent, fraught with error and just plain useless their abstract kingdom theory really is.
For Perkins, the “substance” of these judicial laws that were given to the Jews binds not just “Jews but also Gentiles…” Contrary to the R2K consensus, these judicial laws are universally binding not because their foundational equity is to be equated with, and reduced to, natural law without remainder, but because these judicial laws expand and complete what is contained in natural law! Indeed, within the judicial law is a foundational general law of nature, but it is the judicial law itself that Perkins claims now binds all men: It is the “judicial laws so far as they have in them… the law of nature…” that are binding upon conscience. In other words, the judicial laws that are trans-binding are those judicial laws that are grounded in a natural law that is common to all men. What mustn’t be missed either with Perkins’ or my redundancy(!) is that judicial laws are morally trans-binding whenever they are founded upon the moral law revealed in nature!
For the confessionally Reformed, judicial laws are fittingly applicable to all nations precisely because of the instinctive features within them that would be common to all men. For the Westminster Divines, to implement the moral law in the civil realm was to apply OT civil law. What we may not do is project the natural law foundation for judicial laws as being the only feature of the law that remains universally binding in the civil realm, at least not if we want to maintain a Westminster civil ethic. Apropos, bestiality is instinctively and fundamentally immoral. So is same sex marriage. Notwithstanding, what apparently is not intuitive is whether such “private” and “victimless” transgressions should be deemed criminal and, therefore, punishable under the law (hence the spectrum of views within R2K on these practices as well as other deviant ones).
One final word:
Two Kingdom theology has been widely refuted for many years. The most devastating critiques I’ve read are written by RTS professor James Anderson. Dr. Anderson’s critique and follow-up critique are uniquely useful because they demonstrate with analytical rigor how David Van Drunen’s Two Kingdom paradigm, which I believe is representative of at least Escondido if not the rest, is logically incoherent. Dr. Anderson’s two critiques are stated with precise premises and progression of thought that is open to evaluation. Any takers?
Although possible, it does seem doubtful that R2K proponents will consider the riches of Westminster’s civil ethic until they come to grips with the bankruptcy of their owned treasured system. Another problem is that R2K proponents are not typically rigorous systematic theologians or analytical in their theological approach but rather often historian types. This has made it difficult for them to critically interact with opposing positions, form counter arguments, and defend their position against internal critiques. A tendency to assert rather than argue has not yet proven to be a formula for fruitful discussion. I remain doubtful it will become one anytime soon.
*Johannes Wollebius, draws a similar distinction. “In those matters on which it is in harmony with the moral law and with ordinary justice, it is binding upon us.” Exceptions would apply to “those matters which were peculiar to that law and were prescribed for the promised land or the situation of the Jewish state, it has not more force for us than the laws of foreign commonwealths.” The only question is whether kidnapping, homosexuality, or even blasphemy are acts related to the promised land or peculiar to the Jewish state, or are these matters of morality, which would entail judicial penalties biding upon all nations.
Christians and non-Christians alike have grieved this past week while also trying to process ethical questions regarding longtime convicted kidnapper Cleotha Abston who is being charged with abducting and murdering Eliza Fletcher.
Many ethical questions are at hand and convictions run passionately deep regarding how those questions might best be answered through a Reformed Christian world and life view. As strange as this might sound to many, some Reformed Christians have little regard for “worldview type” answers to ethical questions that intrude upon the sphere of civil government. Among the leading critics of a confessionally Reformed view of civil government are those who subscribe to what is called “Reformed 2 Kingdom” (R2K).
R2K is a position that posits that Christians are citizens of the spiritual kingdom of God along with inhabiting the earthly kingdom of this world, which includes as fellow members all people without distinction. R2K has been opposed by those who would define it not as a species of a distinctly Reformed 2 Kingdom model but instead anoffspring of a Radical 2 Kingdom paradigm because of a non-Reformed balance between Scripture and Natural Law. Although R2K rightly appreciates that there is a law of nature that is revealed to all humans in conscience without distinction, the R2K movement is increasingly radicalized by denying Scripture its rightful place of influence in the civil kingdom, which too falls under the governing domain of God. Consider one leading proponent of R2K:
With their Natural Law paradigm, R2K proponents deny that Abston ought to have been executed according to Exodus 21:16 for his first kidnapping. In theory, R2Kers could advocate for capital punishment for kidnapping, just as long as they don’t justify the penalty on the authoritative word of God!
The task at hand:
Questions before all nations include…
Which sins ought to be considered crimes?
What should be the punishment for criminal acts?
How might we best justify our answers?
Civil magistrates are governing authorities established by God for the punishing of wrongdoers. In light of this awesome God ordained responsibility, Natural Law proponents tell us that the Scriptures are neither necessary nor permitted to inform civil magistrates on the details of how to govern society in a manner pleasing to God. (Noodle that one around in your head for a moment.)
For the R2K crowd, God requires civil magistrates to govern society according to the “Book of Nature” alone. It would be displeasing to God for Christians to desire and pray that the general equity of OT civil law be implemented today because capital punishment finds its NT fulfillment in excommunication. (More on that later.)
Because there are no theocracies today, we’re told that civil magistrates may not glean from Old Testament law which sins should be deemed crimes. Nor may civil magistrates seek to determine suitable punishment for criminal acts by searching the Scriptures. Natural Law is exclusively sufficient for the task.
Natural Law and fallen autonomous reasoning:
Natural Law informs us that the least of all sins deserves God’s wrath. Yet R2K proponents also maintain that civil magistrates should not punish some sins at all and all remaining sins should not be punished equally severely. Accordingly, God’s preceptive will is for civil magistrates to determine by the light of fallen nature alone whether bestiality, homosexual acts and abortion (just to name a few sins) are to be considered purely sins, criminal acts too, or simply amoral. (Even if nature were to inform us that these sins should also be illegal, how successful and unified have the nations been over time on deriving a “Natural Theology” of sin, crime and penology to that effect?)
Natural Law began with creation and was operative during the time of Moses through today. Natural Law could not have contradicted Israel’s civil sanctions lest God could deny himself. Furthermore, neighboring nations would not have violated the “Book of Nature” by executing kidnappers according to the God of Israel’s wisdom during the Mosaic era. Accordingly, there’s no reason to believe that Natural Law in any way forbids putting a kidnapper to death today, (lest the cross of Christ has altered Natural Law). Therefore, why think that non-theocratic nations today ought not govern in a way that would have been more exemplary for non-theocratic nations during the Mosaic era? Should we believe that God would be angrier with non-theocratic nations today if they turned to Scripture to try to determine which sins should be considered crimes? Would God be angrier with non-theocratic nations if they were to execute kidnappers according to Special Revelation rather than justifying the loosing of kidnappers after limited incarceration based upon Natural Law inference?
At the very least, if Natural Law has not changed over time and God’s two forms of revelation are complementary and never antithetical, then why should we accept the claim that God would not have the nations adhere to the general equity of Old Testament civil law, which is fundamentally the moral law applied to the civil realm?
Various reasons have been given why we are not to govern society according to OT equity.
Much can be said. First off, the death penalty preceded Moses. Did the death penalty that preceded Moses typify and anticipate the same eschatological manifestation? Secondly, what about the non-capital offenses that were not sanctioned by death? For instance, I can possibly see how OT civil restitution might typify eschatological judgment in a Roman Catholic sense, but how in a Reformed sense in which there’s no doctrine of purgatory that can identify as the anticipatory eschatological manifestation ofOT restitution?
Finally, since the death penalty preceded Moses and was instituted for violations against God’s image bearers, why should we suppose there is no lasting and intrinsic temporal value for such civil sanctions? Why, in other words, should laws that would be so useful for governing any OT society be considered secondary to typology, or so devalued by the cross of Christ that they lose timeless societal value? After all, if every transgression or disobedience received just retribution, then mustn’t civil sanctions still serve a functional societal purpose simply by virtue of all nations requiring governance before and under God? In a word, is biblical typology all that antithetical to biblical penology?
Aside from a false disjunction that would implicitly presuppose that Israel’s civil code and spiritual kingdom are somehow mutually exclusive concepts – the Reformed tradition has always maintained that salvation was always spiritual; hence not all Israel was Israel. Secondly, why should we believe that God’s wisdom and righteous judgment loses practical applicability upon King Jesus’ commissioning the church to disciple the nations under the whole counsel of God? How does the cross make foolish and passé the wisdom and general equity of civil laws that were intrinsic to a nation that would seek God’s wisdom in civil justice? Is the Son of God no less King over the nations than Lord over the church?
We cannot logically deduce that which is not deducible. Nor is it wise to require God to provide answers in the exact places we might hope to find them. That is to come dangerously close to putting God to the test.
Scripture is replete with examples of Jesus not providing answers in the context in which people often sought them. Accordingly, citing Romans 13 in an effort to refute Westminster civil ethics through the employment of a fallacious argument from silence is on par with concluding that (a) Jesus was not a teacher sent from God; (b) Jesus was not good and, therefore, not God; (c) Jesus intended to establish Israel as a political power but failed with the passing of John. (Mark 10:17-18; Acts 1:6,7; John 21:20-22)*
How can “undisputed wisdom… not be made applicable…”? Wisdom not relevant? Something seems intuitively doubtful about such claims. Are the Proverbs no longer applicable because there are no theocracies today? What about the Ten Commandments? Aren’t civil laws the application of moral laws in the civil sphere, after all?
Plain and simple, the Confession does not teach that the civil law “can not be made applicable to any nation today…” Rather, it teaches the very opposite! It teaches that nations are obliged to implement the judicial law as the general equity of it may require.
R2K types misread Westminster Confession 19.4 by saying that the preservation of the general equity of the OT civil code now applies solely to church discipline.
By this miscalculation, when the Divines advocated for the preservation of the general equity of Israel’s civil law, they weren’t allowing for anything like maintaining an equity of civil justice. Nor were they establishing biblical principles of accommodation by affording freedom to rearrange and substitute non-essential aspects of the law such as stoning for hangings (or today lethal injection, and DNA for the principle of two or three witnesses.). Rather, we’re asked to believe that the Divines were actually teaching the preserving of the general equity of capital punishment by applying the death penalty to ecclesiastical excommunication!
Clearly, the prima facie rendering of 19.4 and the associated proof-texts don’t support such a fanciful interpretation. (Genesis 49:10; 1 Peter 2:13-14) These verses have nothing to do with church discipline but rather everything to do with civil magistrates.
The OT reference pertains to the scepter not departing from Judah along with the future obedient allegiance of the peoples. Whereas the NT reference pertains to a secular punishing of evil doers, not ecclesiastical censure of professing believers!
The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and to him shall the gathering of the people be. Genesis 49:10
Submit yourself to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake; whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that to well. 1 Peter 2:13-14
The way in which modern day R2Kers interpret the preserving of the general equity of the law cashes out not as preserving the general equity of the law but an utter obliteration of it.
Not to belabor the point but given this pervasive perversion of 19.4, probably more should be said:
There was excommunication under the older economy, a “cutting off” as it were (an exile of sorts), which was not accompanied by OT execution. Yet in God’s wisdom both were operative, presumably with distinct purposes. Accordingly, it seems a bit dubious that excommunication is equitable to execution. Moreover, it is simply fallacious to argue for a repeal of directives that pertain to the state from directives that pertain to the church. Yet we are asked to believe that OT capital punishment for wrongdoers is equitable to and swallowed up by excommunication. What then is the general equity for capital punishment for those already outside the church and, therefore, cannot be excommunicated, non-ecclesiastical warning? Moreover, what is the general equity of OT civil sanctions for the Christian who warrants a lesser penalty than death, ecclesiastical admonishment?
It’s not just arbitrary, it’s simply silly to think with the expiration of Israel’s theocracy that the Divines actually thought the wisdom of the civil law was no longer to resemble the original penal sanctions in their general equity, while also maintaining that the civil law is perpetually binding in its general equity! The linguistic gymnastics is astounding.
Let’s not force the Divines into contradiction. Excommunication and capital punishment aren’t close sisters. They’re not even distant cousins. To see how distantly disanalogous they are, one need only consider that repentance lifts the penalty of excommunication, which was not the case for capital crimes under the older economy.
Consider the following R2K attempt to reduce Westminster civil ethics to absurdity:
Actually, Algebra teachers do know without discursive reasoning that truth in general and the intelligibility of algebraic truth in particular presupposes God. (Developing this apologetic insight, especially as it relates to the moral pressure of not thinking false thoughts, extends beyond the scope of this article.) Moreover, Algebra teachers are also held accountable for suppressing God in the classroom by not taking every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5b)
But aside from the implicit and rampant Thomism of the day that misunderstands the epistemological underpinnings, limitations and implications of natural law and natural theology, it’s hardly controversial, nor terribly relevant, that one can possess warrant for belief x while not being able to offer it. After all, even if one can know something apart from being able to offer warrant for her true-belief (epistemological externalism), why is the ability to offer internalist epistemic justification somehow superfluous, let alone forbidden?! Are beliefs that are not self-consciously justified always as defensible as those that are self-consciously justified? Is the ability to justify civil laws from special revelation morally and functionally irrelevant? Why should we accept that self-conscious epistemological justification that comes from (propositional) special revelation lends no force to the justification of penal sanctions, or that such revelation is implicitly forbidden by God to be invoked in “earthly kingdom” discourse?
Regarding manslaughter and murder, a significant reason why man is to be held responsible by civil magistrates to honor and protect human life is because man is uniquely created in God’s image. (Genesis 9:6) Yet defiantly, R2Kers have dismissed this OTrevelatory justification for “harsher penalties” as an irrelevant divine tidbit that is implicitly forbidden to be invoked in the earthly kingdom. Although all men everywhere know in conscience something of the dignity of human life, natural law doesn’t reveal that humans are God’s image bearers. Accordingly, why shouldn’t unbelievers be instructed in the Scriptures according to a fundamental reason why capital punishment is required by God? In other words, apart from invoking Scripture’s teaching on the dignity and relevance of the imago Dei as it relates to capital punishment, what is the natural theological basis for execution? Was Natural Law sufficient for Moses? What’s easier to interpret, discuss and debate, the propositions of Special Revelation or General Revelation, (Systematic Theology or Natural Theology)?
Here’s the crux:
R2K reasoning leaps from the premise that (a) people know things they aren’t prepared to justifyto the grand implication that (b) offering a robust justification for beliefs is of little use if only we can muddle through without having to give one! In other words, R2Kers confound (c) the common grace ability of societies to “function” (no matter how badly) according to a subjective standard of “good enough” with (d) the ethical question of whether there is a moral imperative to apply the objective standard of Scripture to society whenever possible. (In passing, we might consider how well societies are doing with the R2K ethicist’s hope that “the elected official may understand that human life should be protected…”)
One more for the road. Now fasten your seatbelts!
No, you are not losing your mind!
Apparently Christians may not protest unjust laws that persecute Christians because our kingdom is not of this world. Is campaigning for a particular political candidate who embraces Christian values permissible? Or, is that too close to mentioning justice while forming an unservile political action committee? Does this professor ever try to vote a candidate out of office, or is that to disobey political status quo that is established by God? Oh, and Nero cannot break God’s law because he gets to submit to himself?! The logical trajectory of a position can often be its best refutation, as in this case.
Common misguided arrows about Westminster Civil Ethic:
Westminster civil ethics are not eschatologically dependent. Which is to say, a doom and gloom amillennialist can hold to a Westminster civil ethic because the question turns not on how things might end up but on how things ought to be.
Contrariwise, a postmillennialist can believe that we are to be governed by solely natural law in the civil realm.
Westminster civil ethics are not inexorably tied to cultural transformation. Which is to say, one can believe that such civil laws will never possibly be legislated until the church first believes that they should. And even then, there’s always the eschatological question of future Christian influence in society.
That Muslims might want to see the world oppressively governed by the Koran is irrelevant to whether God’s people should desire that the general equity of God’s civil laws be legislated lawfully and not by force.
Capital punishment is not contrary to the Great Commission, for anyone on death row should be pleaded with to turn from their sins and receive Christ as he is offered in the gospel.
That some Christians find the prospect of certain civil sanctions repulsive for today raises the question of whether these same Christians would have delighted in such laws had they lived under Moses. It seems to me that Christians who mock the notion of such laws for today have shown themselves incapable of contemplating the intrinsic wisdom and goodness of such laws prior to the cross. Their disdain is trans-testament.
There will always be additional theological, philosophical and confessional arguments that can be levied against the proffered position. I do hope, however, that I have addressed at least minimally the more common ones.
Full circle, how might one go about justifying whether a convicted kidnapper who violates the imago Dei should be punished? Secondly, what is the “natural theology” consensus for the penal sanction, assuming there should even be a penalty?
As I’ve argued on the subject of the Christian Sabbath, if one wants to deny Westminster’s civil ethic, then by all means do so yet without claiming the imprimatur of the Westminster Divines.
In closing, let’s hear from some opponents to Westminster civil ethics who at least acknowledged the Divines’ civil ethic.
*Footnote for the hazardous appeal to Romans 13 to argue R2K from silence:
Mark 10:17-18: When a rich young ruler called Jesus good, he neither affirmed nor denied that he possessed that quality of person but instead said nobody is good but God. Depending upon one’s pre-commitment it might be inferred that Jesus was not good and, therefore, not God; yet the text neither affirms nor denies either conclusion.
Acts 1:6, 7: When the apostles asked Jesus whether he was at that time going to restore the kingdom to Israel, he neither affirmed nor denied such an intention but instead said that it was not for them to know the times or epochs that the Father has fixed by his own authority. Dispensationalists, given their pre-commitment to a restored national Israel, infer from the answer a confirmation of their theology, that the kingdom will be restored. Notwithstanding, no logical conclusion can be deduced from the text with respect to the restoration Israel’s kingdom.
John 21:20-22: When Peter asked Jesus whether John would be alive at the time of Jesus’ return Jesus told him that if he wanted John to remain until such time it was no business of Peter’s. Jesus then put to Peter his task, which was to follow Jesus. Jesus’ answer did not logically imply that John would remain or not, let alone whether Jesus would even return one day! The answer even caused a rumor among the brethren that John would not die (John 21:23). John in this very epistle (same verse: 23) remarked on the unjustified inference that caused the rumor: “Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?’”
Links to quotes by David Van Drunen , Lane Tipton, Rick Phillips and Darryl Hart
Although all men know by nature that homosexuality is sin, it’s only through Scripture that one can adequately defend the claim. (Natural theology types are free to try sometime.)
Since most people are autonomous in their thinking, it’s understandable why most cannot justify with any consistency and without avoiding arbitrariness, the claim that homosexuality is morally wrong.
Although many straight people still find homosexuality unnatural – unnatural does not imply moral deviance. Even the claim that something is unnatural presupposes a network of beliefs about reality, truth, and ethical standards that cannot adequately be justified apart from Scripture. Whether homosexuality is sin is indeed a worldview question.
Sure, in general revelation there is natural law that pronounces guilt for sin upon all mankind, including guilt for homosexuality. Notwithstanding, natural law can grow increasingly dim in the minds of the ungodly. Yet even when natural law was shining more brightly upon social conscience, it was never to be interpreted apart from special revelation. With the rejection of the Bible, mankind is left to grope in darkness but not in search for moral standards – rather for moral standards that are philosophically defensible in the context of a larger worldview context that should be consistent, coherent and explanatory. On the authority of God’s word, we know it cannot successfully be done, which has been corroborated and verified since the time of creation.
Accordingly, two unhappy alternatives:
Apart from viewing homosexuality through the lens of Scripture, one is left with two unhappy alternatives: (i) a bigoted rejection of homosexuality or else (ii) condoning what is known in conscience to be morally deviant. In other words, apart from Scripture one either can judge correctly yet for sinful reasons, or else violate conscience (and live in moral conflict) by condoning in the name of love, no less, that which is an abomination in God’s sight.
Regarding natural theology, the church needs to wake-up from its Thomistic slumbers and distinguish (i) the universal knowledge of sin through natural law from (ii) the sole basis by which we might adequately defend the possibility of such knowledge. The former pertains to knowledge that permeates all moral creatures regardless of one’s worldview; whereas the latter relates to an epistemological defense that is unique to the Christian worldview. Without God’s word as the foundation for the only worldview that can reconcile moral absolutes with life experience, in whose name might we dare judge any behavior as sinful?!
In order to avoid imposing personal preference upon others, one is left to condone a practice that is contrary to God’s word. In other words, the “open minded” (to everything but God’s word, that is), if they’re to remain free from such bigotry, are constrained to not object to deviant behavior, “for who are we to judge?” Without God’s word, through the illumination of the Spirit, confirming to us that which we indeed know by nature to be sin, our beliefs would be reduced to subjective doubt and philosophical skepticism. Indeed, apart from the propositional revelation contained in Scripture we cannot adequately justify the knowledge we have, at least in any robust philosophical sense, that there even is such a thing as natural law. If that is not true, then God has not made foolish the wisdom of this world. (Again, Natural theology types are free to try sometime.)
An insurmountable natural theology conundrum is that apart from special revelation, we’re consigned to non-authoritative personal preference, even though the Spirit unambiguously and universally testifies that homosexuality is sin. Perhaps the biggest irony in all of this is that without God’s word, ultimate autonomous virtue leads to defending deviant behavior against conscience. That’s where the world lives today. It doesn’t have a good enough reason to condemn sinful practice without being bigoted, so the world defends what God condemns.
In sum, apart from Scripture one is left either to go along with ungodly behavior to avoid personal prejudicial preference, or else undergo the conflicting guilt that comes with arbitrarily disapproving of a practice that is known to be morally wrong. At the end of the day, the Christian’s righteous disapproval of ungodly behavior is not available to us apart from values informed by Scripture and no amount of natural law can get us out of that Thomistic, humanistic predicament. No amount or natural law can get us to a defensible natural theology of sin. We must distinguish knowledge from the justification of the possibility of knowledge.
Yet Christians can rejoice in at least this: God is not mocked; the fool is confounded once again.
Matthew Barrett and Steven Duby set out to defend Natural Theology, but in the final analysis they discuss Natural Revelation as it relates to Natural Knowledge. As early as @5:55 Steven Duby slides into a discussion on the Natural Knowledge of God gained through Natural Revelation (even as it relates to the “pressure” that restrains men in conscience). There is a bit of sliding back and forth between terms (Natural Revelation and Natural Theology) that carries throughout the episode; yet it is merely maintained that all men know God through revelation of himself in nature. Surprisingly, the discussion never touches upon the question of whether man in his fallen and unaided reasoning can construct a Natural Theology of God, let alone a true one, and how such a theology might be defended.
Notwithstanding, it’s a fine introductory presentation of the realty, usefulness and limits of Natural Revelation and Natural Knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed it! (Seemed like swell guys too!) I dare say Cornelius Van Til, even in his most sanguine moments, would have been delighted by this brief presentation. That said, I’m not prepared to jump on the Natural Theology bandwagon quite yet based upon those delights. Moreover, I’m not quite sure who the target audience was as it relates to persuading people to embrace such an expression of Natural Theology. Certainly not the Reformed, for what was offered was plain vanilla and uncontroversial in the Augustinian tradition with respect to Natural Knowledge through Natural Revelation. Perhaps they targeted some extreme fundamentalists who are opposed to learning anything from unbelieving thinkers? Not sure. Anyway, the discussion was most enjoyable, though Thomists and Arminians might be a bit disappointed because Natural Theology was never explored!
Some possibly related reservations as they relate to apologetics:
Natural Revelation (or General Revelation) indeed teaches us much about God. Without Scripture unregenerate man knows God is all powerful, omniscient, and omnipresent (and other perfections too).
Romans 1 teaches that natural man actually knows God. And not just that all men know God, but that they know the one true and living God, which is why it can be said that all are without excuse. Indeed, men suppress the truth in unrighteousness, but it is the truth they suppress (and not false conceptions of God). In moral and epistemic rebellion, natural man turns the truth he knows into a lie. Without exception, that is universally man’s response to what he knows by nature as he lives in God’s ordered universe. Accordingly, any treatment of the viability of Natural Theology should be placed in that context – man’s twisting and suppression of the truth.
In a defense of Natural Theology it might’ve been interesting to have heard what sort of catholic creed might be formulated by an unconverted fallen race, and how naturally devised theological distinctives, even if it were possible not to fashion them according to minds at enmity with God, could be epistemically justified. After all, even the converted need special revelation to justify the possibility of acquiring knowledge through general revelation. So, aside from the natural distortion of natural revelation, there’s also the justification of knowledge that warrants consideration.
Some further context before addressing some apologetic considerations:
There is knowledge of God that is properly basic. It is apprehended directly (as opposed to discursively), yet not in a vacuum but always through the mediation of created things in the context of providence. Without reasoning from more fundamental or basic beliefs, the unbeliever actually apprehends God in conscience through the things that are made. Man’s knowledge of God is mediated through the external world, but it is apprehended immediately by God’s image bearers apart from argumentation or modest reflection. (It’s not discursive.) This is why Paul can say that all men have this knowledge of the truth. Not all men can follow the argumentation of someone else’s Natural Theology, let alone are capable of formulating their own, but all men directly apprehend God’s Natural Revelation of himself.
Moral considerations regarding Natural Theology as it relates to Classical Apologetics (CA).
To try to prove God exists in order to get someone to believe God exists is to go along with the charade of the fool who has said in his heart there is no God. Engaging the folly of unbelief in this way is to become like the fool (as opposed to properly answering the fool). In short, by not affirming this one foundational apologetic truth that all men know God and are, therefore, without excuse, the employment of CA easily can imply several distinct yet related untruths (by what it omits, if not assumes) in methodological practice.
Before reading on, it’s important to understand that it is only the fool who has said in his heart there is no God. So, naturally, let’s not become like her.
1. It’s seemingly implicit in the employment of CA that God has not plainly revealed himself in creation and conscience through which man knows God exists. After all, why use CA to prove God’s existence unless all aren’t certain God exists?
Many additional untruths are seemingly made implicit by those who don’t recognize and submit to this one truth, that man already knows God.
2. CA would seem to imply that such unbelief is an intellectual matter, not an ethicalone. It too easily suggests one needs better arguments in order to become intellectually persuaded of what is already known yet suppressed. The apologetic emphasis is on proof and persuasion, and not the need to gently expose one’s willful, sinful rebellion that manifests itself in a denial of the truth. It focuses on a supposed need for intellectual enlightenment and not an actual need for moral repentance (from denying the God who has made himself known).
3. CA too easily implies that all men are not culpablefor denying that God has plainly made himself known. After all, the implicit need of the unbeliever would seem to be intellectual persuasion, not a need to avoid wrath due to rebellion against God who is known a priori.
4. If CA implies man is not culpable, then CA impliesGod’sinjustice, for God would be unjust for punishing those who aren’t culpable.
5. By trying to overcome the unbeliever’s alleged agnosticism or atheism, CA seems to deny that no one seeks after God. Accordingly, CA easily implies that an alleged seeker is not in ethical rebellionwhile she masquerades in an intellectual pursuit of the answer to whether God exists.
6. CA would seem to imply that God is not a necessary precondition for the possibility of seeking God (and denying God). In other words, CA grants the requisite tools of investigation (common notions) are implicitly neutral ground and not merely common ground that can only be justified if it is first true that God exists.
7. If it’s implied that common ground is neutral ground, then CA implies that there are brute facts that can be interpreted without worldview bias. In other words, it grants that the facts of nature can exegete themselves without any reference to God as sovereign interpreter.