Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics

Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics

Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics

Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics

Synopsis

Is knowledge of right and wrong written on the human heart? Do people know God from the world around them? Does natural knowledge contribute to Christian doctrine? While these questions of natural theology and natural law have historically been part of theological reflection, the radical reliance of twentieth-century Protestant theologians on revelation has eclipsed this historic connection.

Stephen Grabill attempts the treacherous task of reintegrating Reformed Protestant theology with natural law by appealing to Reformation-era theologians such as John Calvin, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Johannes Althusius, and Francis Turretin, who carried over and refined the traditional understanding of this key doctrine. Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics calls Christian ethicists, theologians, and laypersons to take another look at this vital element in the history of Christian ethical thought.

Excerpt

The inspiration for this book came from Peter Martyr Vermigli’s strategic use of a line from Virgil to encapsulate the apostle Paul’s affirmation in Romans 1 that God’s eternal power and divinity has been revealed in creation. While evangelicals today (both inside and outside of confessional traditions) may be surprised — even dismayed — by the Italian Reformer’s strong affirmation of divine witness through the natural order, the older magisterial Protestant tradition (Lutheran and Reformed) not only inherited but also passed on the doctrines of lex naturalis and cognitio Dei naturalis, especially the idea of an implanted knowledge of morality, as noncontroversial legacies of patristic and scholastic thought. Yet among twentieth-century Reformed and Lutheran theologians, a cloud of suspicion and hostility has engulfed questions pertaining to natural revelation, natural theology, and natural law, as the celebrated 1934 disputation between Emil Brunner and Karl Barth made clear. Current trends, however, seem to indicate that at least some Protestant intellectuals are beginning to reel-law tradition.

In his latest book, The First Grace, Russell Hittinger, the distinguished Roman Catholic natural lawyer and moral philosopher, contends that the renewed interest in natural law among Protestants seems to be occasioned by two phenomena. First, he says, “the political success of evangelical Protestantism has made it necessary to frame an appropriate language for addressing civil politics and law.” Second, these same Protestants often “find themselves in dialogue with Catholics, with whom they share many common interests in matters of culture and politics — interests that would seem amenable to natural law discussion.” Hittinger . . .

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