“Natural law is the moral revelation that God gives in creation itself. Romans 1:18-32 speaks of things that may be known of God from creation, including a great deal of moral knowledge. Romans 2:14-15 speaks of the law of God being written on people’s hearts, such that even those without access to the law revealed in Scripture are held accountable to God through their consciences. Many prominent Christian theologians have identified natural law as the standard for civil law and government, including not only medieval theologians such as Thomas Aquinas but also reformers such as John Calvin. Thus, acknowledging the importance of natural law is neither unbiblical nor foreign to historic Christian theology.”
Dr. David VanDrunen
We’ve already dealt with the faults within Natural law in relation to the Romans 1 passage that VD cites above. Simply put the fault in appealing to that passage as a source of legitimacy for Natural law theory is that it ignores the context which teaches that men, because of their depravity, suppress the truth they definitely receive from what is revealed. Because this is true, it is naive to think that Natural law theory can be appealed to in order to provide the legal foundation by which to govern cultures that are post-Christian.
Cornelius Van Til underscores this point,
The doctrine of total depravity of man makes it plain that the moral consciousness of man as he is today cannot the source of information about what is ideal good or about what is the standard of the good…. It is this point particularly that makes it necessary for the Christian to maintain without any apology and without any concession that it is Scripture alone, in the light of which all moral questions must be answered. Scripture as an external revelation became necessary because of the sin of man. No man living can even put the moral problem as he ought to put it, or ask the moral questions as he ought to ask them, unless he does so in light of Scripture. Man cannot of himself face the moral question, let alone answer it.”
Second, VD appeals to Romans 2:14-15 as another base of support for Natural law theory. Let us consider that passage.
14For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.
On this passage we must immediately note that the context is the Apostles indictment against Gentiles for their suppressing what they can not avoid knowing. The consequences of their suppression of this known truth is that they exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship things that are not worthy of worship. God having predestined them for such an end thus gives them over to the lusts that they freely desire. This results in a final proclamation from the Apostle in Romans 1:29-32 that they ‘know the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, (yet) not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.’ Romans 2:1-15 finds the Apostle continuing to build the case that the Gentiles are guilty before God even though unlike the Jews they didn’t have God’s written law. St. Paul argues that what proves that they have a knowledge of the moral law of God is seen in that the Gentiles ‘do by nature the things contained in the law,’ and that they have a conscience that judges their conduct consistent with the law. However what we find in Chapter two can’t be made to contradict what we find in Chapter 1 where the Gentiles are characterized as suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. When in the passage quoted above the Apostle says what he does he is not teaching that there are Gentiles who receive the moral law through Natural law mechanisms and who keep the Natural law and so are saved by their righteousness. Such a reading would be contrary to what the Apostle explicitly teaches in 3:19-20, 23. What the Apostle is (again) arguing is that there is a universal sense of obligation — a obligation that is suppressed but still exists. What the Apostle teaches throughout Romans 1-3 is that Gentiles (and all men) are conscious of the moral law to a degree that makes them both guilty before and accountable to God. Romans 2:14-15 thus is anything but a recommendation for a Natural law theory that makes room for the ability of fallen men to not suppress the truth in unrighteousness. In point of fact Romans 1-3 is a round condemnation of any idea of Natural law theory. How can gentlemen like VD appeal to Romans 2:14-15 to support a theory that teaches that men can be governed by their reception and embrace of Natural law when when the immediate context teaches that the Gentiles suppress natural revelation(Romans 1:18-20), worship nature (Romans 1:23-25), act against nature (Romans 1:26-27), and deny their natural affection (Romans 1:31)? If anything the context implicitly suggests that any theory of Natural law that is arrived at by fallen man is a theory that will use Natural law as a means to justify and rationalize their perversions and anti-Christ agenda.
Finally, by way of support for Natural law VD appeals to a long line of Natural law theorists within the Reformed camp. It is undoubtedly true that this long pedigree exists. I would submit however that Natural law theory makes far more sense in the context of Christendom (the context that all these men lived in) then it does in post-Christian culture. Natural law in the context of Christendom has the advantage of making sense if only because there is such a large natural constituency available to buy into what a Christian community would advocate that Natural law teaches. Remember it has been consistently said in these posts on Natural law that God does indeed make His moral order known in natural revelation. The problem is not with the sender but with the receiver(s). In the context of Christendom it would not be a surprise to find that the receivers would be more naturally inclined to correspond with that message which is being sent. Another way to get at what I am saying here is that in a culture embracing a Biblical Worldview Natural law could make perfect sense but in that context one would find that Natural law was nothing but a reflection of Biblical law. So on one hand Natural law could work in a culture shaped by a Biblical Worldview but on the other hand that culture wouldn’t need Natural law since it was looking to God’s Word for guidance. All of this is to say that the long pedigree of Reformed Natural law thinkers that can be pointed to makes sense in light of the fact that they all were living in the context of Christendom where there existed common ground. Natural law in a post-christian context can’t make that kind of sense.
So, the three reasons that VD give for giving Natural law a hearing have been weighed and found wanting.
3 thoughts on “Still Working on Natural Law”
Lately I have been trying to find any kind of information for my project, but unsuccessfully. Now it seems like I finally found a lot. This is the greatest site among all internet-sources.
Your blog is getting better and better! Previous posts were good, but this one is just FABULOUS.
Humph. Someone has to force me to read this post. It’s too big and boring. Brevity is the sister of talent, remember that.