Series of ‘Ask The Pastor’ Questions — Part I

Dear Pastor,

What’s “open theism”? Why might it be attractive? What might its danger be?

Open Theism is that belief that while God knows all things He can not know that which by definition can’t be known, which includes the future. This cornerstone belief of Open theism contradicts passages like Isaiah 46:10

Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

This denial cuts the heart out of the historic Christian doctrine of God’s Omniscience. This in turn calls into question the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. If God does not know the future omnisciently then it is difficult to see how it can genuinely be said that He controls the future is any substantive sense.

The Open Theists argument has been that the advantage of their system is it yields a God who cannot be charged with evil (how can God who didn’t know the future be held responsible for wickedness in the future?) and it allows for a libertarian free will that allows for genuine human involvement in creating the future.

Obviously its danger is that for every bit of libertarian free will that it gives to man it takes that much from God, thus shifting sovereignty from God to man. Also it becomes an open question of how a God who is neither omnipotent nor omniscient is worthy of being worshiped. If the best that God can do for those who have had evil visited upon them, is to sit down and have a good cry with them, then Open Theism brings the open question as to whether that God is worthy of our Worship.

What’s atonement? What are the classical ways of understanding / describing Christ’s atonement?

In Christian Theology Atonement is the means by which the justice and wrath of God are averted. In Christian Theology, because of the Fall, God and man are at enmity. Because of man’s sin the Holiness of God requires the justice of God to visit fallen man unless some kind of acceptable atonement can be found by which the wrath of God can be averted without calling into question God’s Holiness. In Christian theology God Himself provides the necessary atonement with the incarnation of the 2nd person of the trinity for the purpose of being the Elect’s, substitute, penalty bearing, sin-bearer thus serving as the propitiation that turns away the personal and just wrath of God from deserving sinners and as the expiation that bears sin away. The effect of the atonement is the reality of reconciliation between warring parties put into place by the work of satisfaction of the substitute. (Mt. 20:28)

Ransom to Satan Theory (Christus Victor) — This theory holds that the work of Christ terminates upon the devil. The atonement is provided to Satan. Satan holds men in thrall and Christ pays the ransom to Satan in order to redeem men and negate Satan’s claims. Some of the ECF held that God deceived Satan in the work of the Cross by tricking the Devil into accepting Christ’s death as a ransom since the Devil did not realize that Christ could not die permanently.

The emphasis in the Christus Victor theory of the atonement is Christ as triumphant over sin, Satan and death. Christ has come and triumphed and those who look to Christ triumph in and with Christ.

Mystical Theory — Here the emphasis falls not so much on the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ as it does on His incarnation. Christ in His incarnation and perfect life is the second Adam who reverses the course of sin that the first Adam set for humanity. The atonement of Christ is accomplished by Christ purifying the sinful fallen nature by the power of his divine nature and presenting that to the Father as the first fruits of a saved humanity. Men are atoned for as they are united to Christ by faith and experience ethical transformation.

Martyr Theory — The premise is that it is not God who needs to be reconciled to man but rather man that needs to be reconciled to God. In order to accomplish this Christ dies as a noble martyr and men are redeemed by being overawed by his example of faithfulness to truth and duty, which instills in them a determination to moral improvement to likewise be faithful to truth and duty. In this theory there is no connection between the death of Christ and the salvation of sinners in terms of Christ’s death being a payment for sin.

Moral influence Theory — This theory transfers the power of the atonement from the finished work of Christ to the response of men to the appeals that come forth from the work of Christ. Here the idea is that the atoning work of Christ will lead men to such a state of mind and heart that will itself be acceptable to God. It is that state of mind and heart underneath Christ’s moral influence that is accepted as atonement before God and not the atonement itself.

Governmental Theory — This view holds that Christ did not die for men’s sins but rather as a means of revealing God’s displeasure with sin and to show forth what men’s sins deserved. As such the atonement is not a satisfaction rendered up because of God’s intrinsically Holy Nature but rather in order satisfy the necessities of divine Government. This death of Christ thus does not forgive men but makes men forgivable if they will render up the kind of behavior that God requires. The death of Christ serves to uphold God’s moral government while leaving men to earn their forgiveness. The obvious problem here is that this theory moves from a Christo-centric means of forgiveness to a anthropocentric means of forgiveness. Christ’s death does not save men but makes them savable. The importance of the cross is eclipsed by our response to the Cross. In this theory the chief impact of the atonement is upon man and not upon God and so is subjective. It’s intent is not to provide forgiveness of sin but rather to be a deterrent to sin.

Commercial Theory — In this view sin is seen as withholding the honor that is due unto God. Should this kind of sin remain unpunished it would detract from the majesty of God (impugn His dignity). Consequently every sin must be followed either by punishment or by satisfaction. Man can not make the necessary satisfaction that is required by dishonor being done to the Great King’s name. God therefore, in showing mercy, provides the satisfaction Himself by becoming man in order to provide the only satisfaction that can meet that which man requires. The commercial theory is weak in expressing a relation between God’s honor which must be vindicated and His justice which must necessarily punish unatoned sin.

Penal – Substitution Theory — This is the theory that is taught by Scripture and so is embraced by Biblical expressions of the Reformed Faith. In the Biblical understanding of the atonement we find that God and man are at enmity with one another and reconciliation has to take place. The atonement that Christ provides is objective and by that we mean it terminates (is offered up to) the Father. It’s intent is first and foremost to propitiate God and to reconcile Him to sinners. However, there is also a reflex action in the atonement in as much as God is reconciled to the sinner, the result is that the sinner is reconciled to God (Romans 5:10). It is important to stress this primarily God-ward direction in the atonement if only because the primary error in all errant theories is that the atonement is seen as being primarily subjective and manward.

Second, orthodox views of the atonement require the ‘once for allness’ of Christ’s sacrifice. The atonement accomplished is unrepeatable and when applied by the Spirit of Christ is indefeasible. Justification is an accomplished fact and not a process. (Hebrews 7:27)

Third a Biblical view of the atonement requires us to see it as vicarious. Christ is our substitute and Vicar. He accomplished in our stead what we can not accomplish on our own. (Hebrews 9:28)

Fourth a Biblical view of the atonement requires forensic categories. Our sin is imputed to Christ and His righteousness (passive and active) is imputed to us.

Fifth, a Biblical view of atonement requires the sacrificial language of propitiation and expiation. Christ in His atoning work turns the personal wrath of God away from sinner while at the same time taking sin away. Further the language of sacrifice is seen in the whole idea that Christ is our ransom. Scripture teaches without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. The shed blood of Christ is the ransom price that is offered up in sacrifice that we might be loosed from our bondage.

What’s the place of the Ten Commandments in the Christian life?

The place of the Ten Commandments in the Christian life is both to continue to convict and remind us of our need for Christ who provides for us the only righteousness that is acceptable before the Father. The law continues to work in the Christian’s life to preach Christ in as much as it remind us that we remain sinners and that as sinners our only hope is in an alien righteousness.

The law however has what is called a ‘third use.’ This use of the law in the Christian’s life is to inform and instruct them in what is pleasing to Christ. The ‘third use’ of the law is to propel us in sanctification and Christ likeness.

The Puritans had a proverb that taught that the law sends us to Christ for justification and Christ sends us back to the law for sanctification. I believe that is a life long reality. Throughout our lives the law sends us to Christ to remind us that we are insufficient in and of ourselves to provide what we stand in need of, while at the same time out of sheer love of God and passion for His glory being known the law conforms Christians increasingly to Christ.

So, paradoxically enough, the place of the Ten Commandments in the Christians life is to remind that they are covenant breakers who need Christ’s covenant keeping righteousness while at the same time it is to propel them on in ever increasingly becoming covenant keepers in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit of Christ. We see this in the Heidelberg Catechism where the Law is given in the first section to convict of Sin but then in the section on gratitude it is given as the means by which we show our gratitude for being saved from the condemnation of the Law.

Is the Reformed faith “spiritual” enough? What is a Reformed understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit?

Depends what you mean by ‘Spiritual.’ If by Spiritual in that question you are asking if the Reformed faith is imbued with a sense of God’s majesty, splendor and awe, that radically energizes and captivates the Redeemed, then I would say there is no expression of Christianity that is more Spiritual than the Biblical faith which is sometimes synonymously called Reformed. The Reformed faith fills one with passion for the extension of the Kingdom and the desire to see all of creation Redeemed. The Reformed faith fills one with compassion for the lost and rebellious. The Reformed faith seeks to see everything in light of God’s light and to assess all things in relationship to who God is. The Reformed faith compels one to know God throughout ones life and then in turn to make Him known. The Reformed Faith believes that the ‘good,’ the ‘true’ and the ‘beautiful’ only come to fruition by submitting to the Biblical World and life view. If the Reformed Faith isn’t Spiritual enough then nothing is.

The Reformed understanding of the Work of the Holy Spirit is that he is to convict the world of Sin, righteousness and the judgment to come. His job is to make Christ known just as the son was to make the Father known. The Spirit also is the work of the Sanctifier in the lives of believers and the Church. He is the one who continues to cause us to thirst for Christ and He is the one who slakes that thirst with Christ. The Spirit is also spoken as the inheritance which is to come. He is given as kind of a promissory note of all the glory that believers will share with Christ. The Spirit is also the person of the Trinity that is the driving force in the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God. One way that the Spirit does this is by illumining the minds of God’s people and the Church in the reading of Scripture so that we might know how to apply God’s Law-Word to every area of life.

Ecclesiologists talk about the “institutional” and “organic” natures of the church, and the “visible” and “invisible” church. What are these about?

Institutional and organic are typically distinctions that are spoken of in relation to the Church visible.

Institutional Church — The Church as it is considered in its organizational role. This is the Church as considered from the vantage point of its structures, ministries, government, and institutional influence. The Church in its institutional capacity is the Mother of all believers and exists as an agency for the conversion of sinners and the up building of the saints.

Organic Church — The Church as it is considered in its relationships, communal life, confession of faith, and joint opposition to the World. The Church organic is the fellowship of the believers united by the bond of the Spirit.

Visible and Invisible are typically distinctions that are spoken of in relation to the all of those who are in the outward administration of the covenant vis a vis those who have the essence of the covenant.

Visible Church — The Church as it is seen before the World. The whole body of confessing members, both regenerate and unregenerate as known by God and gathered to worship. The Church as seen in its corporeal manifestation.

Invisible Church — The Church as known by God. This would be the true Church and encapsulates all the saints who are in the bosom of Christ.

When should and when should the church not speak on social issues?

First of all, I’m not sure what a ‘social issue’ is. Are there social issues that are not issues because of the different theologies held by different people that are making them a ‘social issue?’ In other words are social issues in reality theological issues under another guise?

I guess the short answer is that the Church should speak on social issues whenever the Scriptures speak on social issues.

How do you respond to someone who says, “Spirituality is Moses’ face glowing when coming down from meeting God on Mt. Sinai, and religion is Moses dragging two stone tablets with God’s commands on them”?

I would say that this is a false dichotomy.

First of all Moses’ face glowed with the Shekinah glory of God for the precise reason that He spent time in God’s presence. If we are now to shine with that Shekinah glory of God the only way to go about it is to likewise spend time in God’s presence just as Moses did and the way to do that is by spending time in the Scriptures and in prayer. There is no separating Spirituality from the fullness of God’s spoken Word and the presence of God in His Word. There is no separating Biblical and Christian Spirituality from Biblical and Christian religion and anybody who seeks to introduce a dichotomy between the two will likely end up in a very confused state. We can not get to Biblical Christian Spirituality apart from Biblical Christian religion. We cannot have the effects of Biblical Christianity (Biblical Christian Spirituality) without having the carrier of that Spirituality (Biblical Christian religion).

Letting You Listen Into The Conversation

Many of you know that the Reformed world in the USA is going through a really donnybrook of a battle between some who have styled themselves Federal Visionists and those who claim to be defending the historic traditions of the Reformed faith. Many of you know I have a problem with some of the beliefs of combatants on both sides of the contest. Below I reproduce a conversation I recently had with somebody on this division within the Reformed Church. The person who is pro FV comments are in italics.

For one thing, the majority of the PCA has not determined the state of the question or even the legitimacy of the charges against men like Steve Wilkins even if they have appointed a committee to do so. As usual, these things on closer examination fail to pass muster when we consider all the attendant factors.

KJ this is revisionist history. The PCA GA, by higher than 90%, accepted the committee report that clearly determined that FV was out of bounds. All that is happening with the Wilkins case is the application of that denominational decision. Actually, upon closer examination what fails to pass muster when the attendant factors are considered are KJ’s assertions.

Secondly, it is clear–whatever you or others think of the matter–that Federal Vision theology springs generally from normal received traditions in flux at differing points in the Reformed traditions we have to this point since the sixteenth century.

You can find almost anything as a ‘normally received tradition’ somewhere at some time in 500 years of Reformed history. So what?

Look, it’s this simple … If the gatekeepers in current Reformed denominations don’t desire FV then FV isn’t going to survive in those denominations. That is the way that all organizations work. Many Reformed denominations have determined that they don’t want FV getting into the water supply of Christendom through their channels thus bringing about the same kind of coup that dispensationalism won 100 years ago when it got into the water supply and infected everything.

The answer is easy here KJ. Let the FV people go build their own denominations. If, as many have said, ‘Ichabod’ is pronounced over the denominations that have given the old ‘heave ho’ to FV then in a short amount of time those denominations will dry up and FV will stand as champion on the grave of that which it detests.

I am too much of a historian to admit the idea that the Reformed tradition was fully developed and constant throughout its entire five hundred year length to this point. So, is it really a compromise of the doctrine of justification by faith? Maybe it is according to Muller who has his own limitations in looking at the Reformed histories and the corresponding traditions but I daresay that some of the men he has studied would be less impressed with his results.

Yes, and many men who study the works of those who don’t like Muller wouldn’t be impressed with their works. Again, I ask … ‘So What?’

Certainly, the Reformed tradition is still not fully developed, and who would contend that it has ever been constant? These are ‘Captain Obvious’ statements. Again, the point of the matter is that different groups desire different trajectories for their version of the ‘Tradition.’ Let each go their own way.

And yes the Federal Vision is, in its less thought out expressions, is a compromise on the doctrine of justification by faith alone.’

But to further throw a wrench in the works…let us do what you have supposed and grant the premise. I’m frankly not sure that this is the momentous occasion that the Reformation was in looking at ‘the article at which the church stands or falls’. Is the Church herself on the brink of destruction because sola fide is purportedly at risk in a denomination not .0000000000000000153254 percent of the entire Christian Body on this planet?

You don’t come to truth by counting noses KJ. By this reasoning something was amiss with Elijah since he was one of the .0000000000000000153254 percent of the entire faithful body in Israel. Being the avid student of history that you claim to be you surely realize that minorities often are those who save the day.

Remember the Mustard Seed.

Go ahead, drop a zero on the right side of the decimal from that percentage and include all the other Reformed bodies that have commented negatively on the FV and what do we have other than a very small group–something like the leaf way up high on massive oak that is hundreds of years old–telling the entire Church how she must view this issue.

Just imagine how small of leafs Luther and Calvin and Bucer, and Zwingli, and Peter Martyr and Bullinger et. all must have been. And yet …

No doubt a proper understanding of justification by faith alone is important and central to the gospel, but it is not equivalent to the gospel.

Is this like saying a proper functioning ovary is important and central to getting pregnant, but it is not equivalent to getting pregnant?

Well, sure, but no woman will ever get pregnant without a proper functioning ovary. Just so, no one will ever be saved without a gospel which casts all on Christ alone.

And, frankly the dismissing of the importance of justification by faith alone is troubling.

There are times when other more central matters have pressed to the fore in the history of the Church and I believe we face more important issues than this one especially when (let us come back to reality now) it is not immediately clear that the Federal Vision advocates are in every instance denying that which they have sought to affirm every inch of the way.

There is some truth there. I believe that public square a-nomianism (Radical Two Kingdom Theology) in the church is just as dangerous as FV. I believe that Feminism in the Church is just as dangerous as FV. I believe that humanistic psychology in the Church is just as dangerous as FV. There are many different ways in which the Church can be poisoned. I also agree that not all FV advocates are in every instance denying what they are being said to deny though certainly some of them do. Still, among all the dangers the Church faces FV is certainly a danger that the Church should react strongly against. Now, if she would only act against the other dangers.

The discipline present in Reformed churches carries with it a stench that originally belonged to her Roman subjugators.

That is always what the minority says when they are getting tossed out on their ears. Sometimes, no doubt, they are correct. Sometimes they aren’t.

If anything, the Reformed churches of our land are due for a major overhaul. I pray for revival. Repentance and true revival. The kind that would scare the crap out of the White Horse Inn guys. That would solve our problem a whole lot faster than the countless disciplinary actions sure to follow if the SJC and Mr. Inquisitor General Andy Webb gets their way.

I join you with the prayer for Reformation in head and members. I support the idea that every generation must re-interpret and re-apply the Reformed faith so that it remains the living tradition of the dead and not the dead tradition of the living. I also agree that the White Horse Inn guys would probably soil their undergarments with the kind of Reformation I envision. But for all that I am pretty sure that your vision of Reformation and my vision of Reformation are at such odds that we would be disappointed if either of our visions came to pass.

It is a good thing that God’s vision will come to pass when genuine Reformation comes and not Horton’s and not Webb’s and not Wilson’s and not Johnson’s and not McAtee’s.

Well … maybe McAtee’s

No Such Thing As Instant Spirituality

I just finished to listening to a lecture given by Dr. James Schaap of the Christian Reformed Church entitled, “What About a Bicentennial.” It is basically a sociological examination of the current trends in the West and how they impinge upon the question of whether or not the CRC will be in existence to celebrate a 200th anniversary.

There is a great deal that Schaap goes into that merits conversation. It would easier to analyze if I had a transcript but one thing that jumps out is how he deals with the issue of ‘Spirituality.’ Now Schaap’s lecture is devoted to making sociological observations. As near as I can tell he is being descriptive far more than prescriptive and consequently he is just laying out the way things are without (sociologically speaking) without necessarily directly offering his thoughts about whether what he is describing is good or bad.

What catches my attention about the issue of ‘Spirituality’ is how in the last 10 years or so it has become the latest ‘be all end all.’ In the 70’s if you didn’t have a church bus ministry you obviously didn’t love Jesus. If in the 80’s you didn’t train people in Evangelism Explosion then you obviously weren’t serious about reaching people for Jesus. If in the 90’s you didn’t embrace Church growth methodology you didn’t care about the lost and dying. So now, since the turn of the Century, if you don’t talk about ‘Spirituality’ you can’t be taken seriously in the Church or in the Seminary.

Well, the only success that I ever saw in Church bus ministry as a teenager in the 70’s was the success that came with making out in the back of the bus on the way back from the youth outing. In the 80’s I memorized Evangelism Explosion cold in Seminary and came away thinking that using the approach was like trying to sell a used car. In the 90’s I largely decided that Church Growth methodology smelled of sulfur and was from the pit. And I am afraid to say that all the urge towards Spirituality leaves me spiritually cold.

Still, no one can deny that it is all the rage. Go to any Barnes and Noble book store and head to the ‘Spirituality’ section and you will see it maxed out with everything from Aura to Zen. Flip on the television and the Spiritual realm jumps out at you. Look through the catalogs of most Seminaries and you will find a heavy emphasis on ‘Spiritual formation.’

Sorry, but I’m just not buying. I am sure it is the contrarian in me (though some are more likely to say the proper word is ‘curmudgeon).

This is the way I figure it. Branch Rickey once said that, ‘luck was the residue of hard work.’ Similarly, it is my conviction that ‘Spirituality is the residue of understood Theology.’ If you want to see Christian Spirituality in somebody then teach them Biblical Theology. If you want Spirituality from your ministers that resonates with passion then teach them about the beauty of God and quit with the ‘three easy steps to acquiring passion in your spiritual life.’ The way to develop spiritually sensitive people is not by sending them to some kind of Spiritual lamaze class but the way to develop spiritually sensitive people is by teaching them a Christology that naturally gives birth to Spiritual sensitivity.

Look, if you are having problems with the eggs that a chicken lays you don’t spend your time looking at the egg. Rather you spend your time considering the Chicken’s diet. It’s the same with Spirituality. Spirituality is a byproduct of something prior.If you get the something prior correct you will get the right byproduct. The something prior for Spirituality is Theology. Theology is the Chicken that lays the golden eggs of Spirituality. Deformed Spirituality in people comes from an improper Theological diet. Change the diet and you won’t have to worry about egg.

Now some people will inevitably conclude that Theology is dry, arid and boring. If that is what your experience is with Theology then I can only recommend that somebody expose you to Theology for the first time. The problem with people who’s study of Theology has left them Spiritually arid can only be corrected by exposing them to genuine heart rattling, soul stirring, eye opening, hunger stirring Theology.

When we teach people Spirituality in our Churches apart from Theology we give people the equivalent of a fluffernutter sandwich. All the calories and twice the sugar. When we work on ‘Spiritual formation’ in our Seminaries students as if following some kind of ‘Richard Foster connect the dots spirituality coloring book’ we end up mass producing something that is so contrived and blatantly phony.

Just teach Theology. Give them Augustine. Give them Edwards. Given them Tozer. Give them Owen. Give them Turretin. Give them Bavinck. Give them Dostoevsky. Give them Solzhenitsyn. Give them Dickens. Give them Blake. Give them Dante. Give them Bastiat. Give them Van Prinester, Give them Nock. Give them Chesterton. Give them Belloc. Give the Van Til. Give them Clark. Give them O’Connor. Give them Mencken. Give them Dickinson. It’s all Theology. Make them participants in the great conversation of the West that has been going on for 2000 years. Put them at the Battle of Waterloo. Make them march with Hannibal as he crosses the Alps. Have them walk with Shire through the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Put them in Charlemagne’s court. Have them think about the Dreyfuss affair. It’s all Theology.

Tell them if they want Christian Spirituality then they will have to accrue it the old fashioned way by laboring to enter into the conversation. Tell them that True Spirituality doesn’t come from a few semesters of smarmy ‘think deep thoughts and meditate real hard on your inner self’ curriculum. Tell them that if they are blessed by God they might develop true Spirituality before they die… if they never stop crying out for it day and night. Tell them that Spirituality doesn’t come about apart from living in family and covenant community life. Tell them that Spirituality requires brushing up and looking real close into the eyes of the reluctant dying a few times. Tell them that if they want to be real Spiritual they will need to scrub a few bathroom floors, change a few diapers, comfort the bereaved all the while putting food on the table.

Trying to form Spirituality in people without saturating people in the great conversation is like, paraphrasing C. S. Lewis, bidding the gelding to be fruitful before its grown any gonads. It’s like slamming the oven door while the cake is still cooking. It’s like trying on a size 3 dress before the dieting has started. Spirituality is a byproduct and people will never hit it by aiming at it.

Spiritual formation is the residue of understood Theology.

If you want to Christian Spirituality quit aiming at it and go wade hip deep into the great conversation.

Natural Law

Natural law — A law or body of laws that derives from nature and is believed to be binding upon human actions apart from or in conjunction with laws established by human authority.

Natural law theory suggests that in the order of the Universe there is a certain objective communication of basic truths that should govern mankind and that these objectively communicated truths can be known by all mankind because these truths naturally resonate with mankind given that they are part of the objective order which communicates these basic truths.

Put in Christian hands, Natural law, as noted in the previous post, should become the authoritative source for the governance of cultures in every realm save the Church realm. In the Church realm God’s revealed Word is to be the source of authority. Natural law is to govern in this way because according to some it is ‘the only available basis of morality for non-Christians, people who do not live within the covenant community and do not share its history and memories.’1

The contrary position to Christian Natural law theory is that God’s revealed law-Word should govern in every area of life. This position does not create the kind of dualism that Radical Two Kingdom Theorists advocate, insisting instead that God’s word speaks to every area of life and not just to the redemptive realm. The contrary position to the implied autonomy of man in Christian natural law theory is called ‘theonomy,’ which is the position advocated in Isaiah 8:20 where we are instructed to repair to ‘the law and to the testimony’ as opposed to other modes of revelation in order to gain insight into God’s mind.

Now as we examine Natural law theory we must first say that we agree with Natural law theory that the moral order of the universe is so constructed that man does look out upon the universe and knows and understands that there is a proper moral ordering that should be followed. Christians would say that this is so for several reasons. First man knows and understands that there is a proper moral order because man, like all of creation around him, is part of God’s general revelation that pronounces that basic moral order. Man is not only a receiver of general revelation that pronounces God’s basic moral order but he is also a sender of that message in as much as he is a part of the creation in which God and His order is revealed. Because this is true when man denies God’s moral order he at the same time denies himself since he himself is a living declarative embodiment of God’s moral order. Second man knows and understands that there is a proper moral order because man is created in God’s image and being created in that image he can not avoid seeing what God shows by way of a proper moral order. Third man knows and understands that there is a proper moral order because God has written His law upon man’s heart.

All of this is true, and we gladly go this far with Natural law theorists. However at this point there is an immediate dividing of ways because while Biblical Christians admit to all this they include another element that Natural law theorists don’t seem to take as seriously as they should. That other element is the noetic effects of sin. Man does know all that we have admitted that he knows but Scripture teaches that man suppresses that truth in unrighteousness. Man does know that message that the moral order is sending but because he will not have God rule over him he holds down that knowledge insisting that he doesn’t know what he does indeed know. It is this truth over which Christian natural law theorists stumble. Man does know at his deepest level that (as one example) abortion is murder and yet man buries that knowledge in concrete all the while insisting that what he knows is that murder is not murder, nor is it wrong when he wants to murder.

Now often at this point Christian Natural law theorists will insist that people who posit the noetic effects of sin to be as extensive as they say it is are exaggerating the noetic effects of sin. “Certainly,” they say, ‘man is not so fallen that he can’t rightly interpret the unchanging laws that exist in nature that define for man what is right just and good by the use of right reason.” They further insist that while man may be dead to spiritual realities that it is an over-reading of the Scriptures to suggest that because of sin man is unable to read non-spiritual truths aright. First, we would note that this is the same kind of objection that Arminians raise concerning man’s will. Arminians object that dead in sin can’t mean dead to the point that man’s will can’t respond. Natural law theorists are arguing that dead in sin can’t mean dead to the point that man’s intellect no longer completely suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. Second Reformed Natural law theorists are forgetting their Van Til. Van Til insisted that fallen man’s mind remained sharp like a saw blade but the problem was that, because of sin, the saw blade always cut at the wrong angle. Man’s mind does indeed remain sharp but he always reads God’s moral order in a way that serves his God hating agenda. Now that fallen man sometimes exhibits felicitous inconsistency by getting some things right is not testimony that he is interpreting Natural law aright but rather is testimony that since this is God’s world it is impossible, short of insanity or death, to get everything perfectly wrong. We would say it is an odd thing for Reformed people to argue that dead in sin means enough life to read Natural law aright and to embrace what they read.

More later on the problems of Natural law theory.

More on VD and Natural Law

As observed above, nearly everyone, at some level, believes that life is valuable and therefore that lethal violence against others should be prohibited by law. Most people would also agree that this applies, perhaps especially, to those who are weak and unable to defend themselves. Based upon such convictions, people today overwhelmingly condemn infanticide as a terrible crime. Beginning from this widespread acknowledgement of natural law truth, we could attempt to show how these proper moral sentiments are inconsistent with a pro-choice abortion position.

Dr. David VanDrunen
Reformed Natural Law Theorist

We admit that, at some level, all people believe that life is valuable. However at the level that counts for public policy it is clear that people insist that they do not believe that life is valuable. 50 million aborted children since 1973 could be brought in as witnesses to that truth. We are happy to concede that people who think that infanticide is ‘a terrible crime’ but who support abortion are inconsistent but it is obvious that they have resolved that contradiction in the direction of allowing abortion and we would further suggest that over 30 years of pointing to Natural law theory has not convinced them to change public policy. Further it would be naive to think that vast number of people who support abortion haven’t already been confronted with the contradiction that is involved with them being against infanticide. Natural law can’t convert people.

Indeed one could even insist that it is Natural law theory that has given us the public policy of abortion. To be sure it is not Natural Law theory coming from the hands of godly men like Dr. VanDrunen but could it not be Natural law theory coming from the hands of people from different faith commitments? Could they not use Natural law theory to argue that Nature teaches that since people are responsible for their own bodies they are free to choose what does or doesn’t happen in and to their bodies? Now naturally Dr. VanDrunen (and all good Christians) would vehemently disagree that such a reading would be a proper reading of Natural law. Here we find the problem with Natural law and that it is subjective to the max. The nature of Natural law is always in the hands of the one doing natural law. If Natural law is done by somebody in the Muslim faith with Muslim presuppositions, they are going to discover that Natural law teaches basically what the Sharia teaches. If Natural law is done by somebody who has as their beginning point feministic Humanism they are going to use Natural law to show that nature declares that abortion is proper and fitting.

Now, everyone agrees that in a Redeemed culture that is looking at truth objectively Natural law is going to teach what it genuinely does teach — God’s moral order. But the problem for Dr. VanDrunen and others who want to rebuild Natural Law theory is that they don’t sufficiently take into account the noetic affects of sin. All men know God’s moral order but they suppress that truth in unrighteousness and so come up with Natural law theories that are driven by their a-priori faith commitments whatever those faith commitments are. Now to be sure nobody is able to scrub their godless Natural law theories clean of any Christian influence. All unbelieving Natural law theorists must climb up into God’s lap in order to slap Him in the face. The fact remains that whatever overlap there is in Natural law theories that fall from the hand of pagan Natural law theorists with law consistent with what Christian Natural Law theorists would come up with is a case of the pagans not being able to totally get out of God’s world. It seems passing strange for Christians to suggest, that because an overlap exists in all cultures between what pagans believe and what Christians believe, that therefore proves the viability of Natural Law theory. Such a belief fails to see that overlap results not from pagans no longer suppressing the truth in unrighteousness and accordingly reading Nature aright, but rather results because it is literally impossible to get a culture off the ground that is not supported by some remnants of God’s reality. Reformed natural law theorists miss the contradiction that pagans are doing all they can to get away from the reality that since this is God’s World it should be governed in accord with Christian interpretations of Natural law theory, while Christians are doing all they can to move toward the reality that since this is God’s world they should be governed by God’s law. How can any Natural law theory be universally accepted by all men in order to bridge that yawning chasm?