Reforming natural law.

Author:Pryor, C. Scott
Position:Letter to the editor

J. Daryl Charles' analysis of Protestants and natural law is spot-on ("Protestants and Natural Law," December 2006). I conducted a thorough review of John Calvin's writings on natural law and, like Charles, concluded that Calvin made free use of the classical natural-law tradition with, however, a clear acknowledgment of the limits of natural-law practice among its non-Christian proponents. And I also concur that, for Calvin, the natural law, implanted by God in human nature (and largely tracking the Decalogue), combined with the faculty of conscience, inescapably reveals the divine order and thus renders humanity liable to God's judgment.

Charles does an excellent job of locating the errors of Barthians and contemporary radical Anabaptists toward natural law. Yet, whether owing to his limited space or their limited numbers, he neglects to confront another orthodox party for whom the natural law is also anathema--the theonomists. Emphasizing the antithetical approach of Cornelius Van Til popularized among conservative Presbyterians in the decades following the Second World War, but with seemingly little regard for Van Til'S balancing comments, epigones such as Rousas Rushdoony, Gary North, and Greg Bahnsen held that natural law was nothing more than a capitulation to the spirit of human autonomy. Only God's law, derived primarily from the Mosaic covenant rather than the Sermon on the Mount, could provide a God-centered (theonomic) foundation for Christian ethics and politics.

The error of the theonomists is not that they give too little regard to law as part of the created order but that they truncate the sources of God's law. Disregarding Scripture's own references to sources of knowledge outside its corpus (including knowledge of the law), the theonomists try to erect a platform for ethics on only one of God's forms of revelation. Calvin would not have agreed. General (or natural) revelation is as much from God as is special (or biblical) revelation.

Yet Calvin would have agreed with the theonomists that God's enscripturated revelation is a valid source of law even in the public square. Christians today must not place all their eggs in the natural-law basket. If, as the saying goes, all truth is God's truth, then it is equally true that all God's truth is true.

C. Scott Pryor

Regent University School of Law

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Karl Barth argued "vehemently for a rejection of natural-law thinking," writes J. Daryl Charles, and was...

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