Monday, September 18, 2006

Reply to John Frame on Natural Law, part V

In his eighth paragraph, Frame says “God has never authorized any social institutions or activities to govern themselves without the use of His written words.” While it is true that all present societies are under constructive notice of God’s indirect commands hidden in the language of the Noahide Covenant, that hardly constitutes a thoroughgoing basis for a detailed set of human laws. Nevertheless, one can say that because of the covenant with Noah, no government is run purely on natural law as opposed to natural law and special revelation. But this is really quite a stretch. I don’t think that the government of ancient China asked itself whether or not its laws were in accord with the Noahide Covenant. Instead, they were governed by the knowledge that God had revealed to them through general revelation. But not only do I believe Frame’s argument is incorrect here, but the argument he attributes to Kline is also in error. God has not created any special category of nations that are required to only abide by natural law and not by whatever they know of special revelation. There is no distinction made in Scripture, for the nations, between God’s revelations to them of one sort and another. They must abide by all of God’s truth. As Frame notes, God does judge the pagan nations for their failure to abide by God’s law. But this is not merely a failure to abide by His spoken words. God clearly judges them for a failure to abide by natural law. In Amos, chapter 2, God judges Moab because they “burned, as if to lime, the bones of Edom’s king.” There isn’t anything about treatment of dead human bodies mentioned in the Noahide Covenant, nor is there any special revelation in the Scripture concerning this question. Instead, natural law teaches us that there is a question of proportionality and respect for human dignity. From Revelation, we can add that human beings are made in the image of God and therefore deserve special treatment even when deceased. It might not be wrong for one nation to kill the king of another in war or in judgment, but to burn his bones into lime is clearly unnecessary and cruel. But Moab was probably not consciously aware of this truth from Noah’s experience with God.

Frame’s ninth argument is that “natural revelation is not sufficient for our public dialogue with non-Christians.” If non-Christians do not accept the Scripture and become Christians, there is no reason to believe that they will accept the testimony of Scripture about morality. Nevertheless, many non-Christians do accept the testimony of natural law. This is the difference between common grace and saving grace. All human beings have a certain amount of moral knowledge revealed to them by God despite their efforts to distort it. But this does not mean that they are willing to accept God’s revelation of Jesus Christ for salvation. Yet even though human beings steadfastly choose to rebel against God with respect to salvation, the majority of human beings still recognize that some kind of human law is necessary and that these human laws should be in accord with moral laws. The moral pagans, like Plato and Cicero, are clearly good examples of how sophisticated moral arguments and government can be even without special revelation. Obviously, special revelation can go much further. Plato and Cicero were very wrong compared to Augustine who had the benefit of special revelation. But this does not mean that natural law is useless in communicating with those who do not agree with Scripture.

The Bible is clear about where our knowledge of natural law comes from. Sadly, many philosophers have repressed or rejected the biblical testimony concerning natural law. Romans chapter 2 clearly says that we do have an innate understanding of the moral law built into us or instilled into us. John’s gospel is thought to hint this impression is made by the divine lightof the Logos, the second person of the Trinity. J. Budziswewski refers to this as the witness of the conscience. Budziswewski is also correct in identifying in Romans 1 that there are also witnesses to the natural law from the design of creation, from the design of the human being and from natural consequences of actions and inactions. There are, according to Budziswewski’s reckoning, four witnesses to natural law. I believe that Budziswewski still does not do justice to the witness of the conscience. Gordon Clark, Ronald Nash and Carl Henry have presented a more thorough understanding of the source of deep conscience in their exposition of the divine light and the Logos doctrine. This doctrine is the same as was believed by Augustine of Hippo and, judging by our quote from Calvin above, by John Calvin himself. It is not necessary to rely either on the post modern view that man can know nothing because God’s revelation to him is totally indeterminate, or the Catholic view that God has given man reason and man is able to reason out morality and everything else. The Logos doctrine provides that through the work of Christ as the divine light, human beings, made in the image of God, are aware of God’s existence, logic, the basics necessary for human language, universals, and the basic principles of the moral law. This same position was argued in greater detail by Philipp Melancthon, Luther’s well-known systematic theologian.

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