Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Response to John Frame on Natural Law

Recently one of our graduates and staff members who writes extensively on the internet and appears on the radio and pod cast show Apologetics.com, Christopher Neiswonger, brought to my attention an article posted Saturday, September 2, 2006, by John Frame on the question of natural law. Because the view that I have of natural law is very different from either of the possibilities set out by Dr. Frame, I thought it might be useful to create a responsive post. At the link you can find the original article for comparison.

First, Dr. Frame says that the key natural law debate among Reformed commentators is “between Kuyperians and Klineans. Kuyperians argue that Scripture governs all aspects of human life. Klineans believe that politics and general culture are governed by natural revelation and common grace. In their view, “Christians should not urge distinctively biblical principles upon institutions of the broad society.” My first reaction was the same as Chris Neiswonger’s when he brought the article to me: this is a false dichotomy. It is not correct to say either that human governments must rely on Scripture and nothing else or that human governments must rely on natural revelation and common grace and ignore Scripture. And this dichotomy assumes that the content of natural revelation and common grace is somehow different from the content of Scripture with respect to moral law and government. But this is not so. The traditional Reformed view held by John Calvin and others is that the natural law and general revelation or common grace are all reflective of God’s nature. The Scripture, likewise, is reflective of God’s nature, so natural revelation and common grace, as correctly understood, cannot contradict Scripture. In fact, because of the fallibility of our human understanding we must always test our understanding of natural revelation and common grace through the Scripture. It is the Scripture that testifies to the existence of general revelation. It is the Scripture that gives Natural Law a role in governing the nations. So even if we are to rely on Scripture alone, we must accept a role for natural law.

Dr. Frame makes an argument of 13 points against “natural revelation” and the Klineanian position. The first point is that “natural revelation was not sufficient before the fall of Adam.” If by sufficient, Frame means that God saw no need to speak to Adam and Eve, then this is obviously not true. God has always added special revelation to general revelation and is undoubtedly all wise in doing so. But this is not to say that general revelation did not have an important role. If we look at what the biblical account reveals to us of what God said to Adam and Eve, we discover not an infinite amount of information explaining all of life and conduct, but rather a very limited number of specified communications. God did not have to tell Adam not to torture the animals. He did not have to tell Adam not to play cruel tricks on Eve. God did not have to tell Adam that he must eat or that he should not walk off cliffs. Instead, God installed in the human mind moral knowledge, reason, logic, the ability to understand language and the faculties necessary to make relative sense out of the universe. This was accomplished through the divine light of the divine Logos. Gordon Clark, Carl Henry and Ronald Nash have already written extensively on the Logos doctrine. But it is God’s general revelation and common grace that made it possible for Adam and Eve to naturally do what was right, in their best interest, and in accord with the will of God, prior to the fall. They did not need extensive instructions from God as to what to do or not to do. Before sin entered the world they did what was righteous naturally.

With the fall came the new problem that Adam and Eve no longer thought clearly, no longer acted rationally and no longer were righteous. From then on, human beings have had trouble with suppressing the truth that God has revealed to them. But that does not mean that they are not aware of the truth; it means they try to ignore it and they distort it. When we humans discus God’s rules we often communicate the law inaccurately to other human beings. But human beings are aware of God’s existence, the basics of God’s nature and God’s moral demands. Humans are also aware of their own shortcomings in relation to God’s moral commands. This is why man is morally accountable to God. A main point of Romans chapters one and two is that all human beings, whether Jew or Gentile, are morally accountable to God because they are aware of God’s law.


Sacchiel said...

Excellent thoughts! Is it safe to say logic and reason must exist if these very words are meaningful?

Dean McConnell said...

Yes. As The second person of the Trinity is the divine Logos, logic and communication existed from eternity in the Trinity. God's creation of humans in His image and His general revelation give us words and logic. And, we could not be discussing words and logic with words and logic if this were not so.