Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Response to John Frame on Natural Law, part VI

Within the ninth part of his argument, Frame not only expresses his doubts about the means of the revelation of natural law, but then disparages natural law arguments because of the examples provided by the Roman Catholic Church. It is true that the Church of Rome is often guilty of providing “natural law arguments” that are stilted and odd. They frequently create difficult problems in their results and ignore scriptural provisions that are clearly to the contrary. A good example is the current argument by the papacy against the application of capital punishment even though the Old Testament and New Testament alike make it clear that capital punishment is in no way forbidden or discouraged by God Himself. This is not because of a problem with the natural law. Rather, it is because of the Roman Catholic Church’s attitude toward Scripture. The Catholic Church has elevated the reasoning of their magisterium above the authority of Scripture. They have made their traditions more powerful than the authority of Scripture by making the magisteium and tradition the “infallible” interpreters of Scripture. By contrast, the reformed Protestant view is that we are, as individuals, able to understand Scripture and God revealing Himself through Scripture precisely because of the Divine Light. It is general revelation that makes it possible for us to understand the words on the printed page and to import into our minds the significance of the universals referred to in the biblical text. It is through God’s saving grace, in and through the work of the Holy Spirit, that those who believe are drawn to God and able to understand and accept the truths of Scripture whose belief is required for salvation. While common grace may make it possible for us to understand the text of Scripture, it is only through the Holy Spirit working in us that we can overcome our hostility to God and accept the actual salvation offered in Scripture. But the fact that non-Christians cannot accept God’s salvation without God’s activity does not mean that the unregenerate are utterly incapable of knowing what God expects of them. This is why they are morally accountable.

Using proper natural law arguments, enlightened and calibrated by the Scripture as properly understood by Christians, gives us a persuasive power far greater than that of the distorted use of natural law. But there is no reason why we should reject God’s tool of the natural law simply because it is misused or misapplied by others. There is no need to argue from nature alone or from Scripture alone, but rather to use whatever tools come to hand and are appropriate in the circumstances. For Frame admits, “non-believers, of course, won’t usually accept Scripture as authoritative, but they may at least respect an argument that is self-conscious about its epistemological and metaphysical presuppositions.” Why should we suppose that they will also reject an argument based on a biblical view of natural law?

The tenth numbered paragraph in Frame’s article says “Jesus Christ rules all spheres of human life including politics.” Here we have no argument. Jesus does rule all spheres of human life. But his rulership is not merely through the written Word of God. Jesus is the Logos of God, the source of the divine light. He rules through all of the kingdoms of the world through natural law as well as through Scripture. Jesus is King, and the natural law is His regent. When He returns, He Himself will rule directly, but until that time He rules through the “rule of law.” The rule of law has been understood by Augustine to be similar to that already recognized by Cicero and Plato. Calvin recognizes the same principles adherent in the natural law view of the rule of law in the quotes we’ve quoted above.

In Frame’s eleventh paragraph, he says “the Gospel will transform the whole creation.” This is again true, but is also a non sequitur with respect to the issue of whether or not non-Christian human governments or partially Christian human governments can be influenced through natural law arguments.

The twelfth clause in Frame’s argument is “Christians should seek the glory of God in all areas of life.” Indeed, there is agreement here as well. Christians should seek the glory of God in all areas of life including human government. We should “bring every thought captive to Christ.” But we do so not only when we submit human government to Scripture, but when we submit human government to God’s will as revealed in the natural law.

Frame’s thirteenth and last numbered principle is that “so natural revelation is insufficient in our witness to the lordship of Christ.” Again, as a statement this would be true. Natural revelation does not tell us enough about Christ for the Gospel to be fully and clearly presented. Instead, we need the Scripture to complete the testimony of the Gospel by describing the ministry of Christ in time and space including His death and resurrection for our sins and the clear articulation of its significance. But the fact that natural revelation is insufficient as a witness to the Gospel does not mean that it is useless or has no rule in human government. This last conclusion simply drives home the original false dichotomy and is an additional non sequitur if the real argument is about whether or not there is a role for natural law in human government. Clearly, there is a role for natural law in human government. Human government is directed to our temporal good rather than to our eternal good as even Aquinas said. But a good human government should be under the rule and authority of God. God has revealed Himself in Scripture as well as in the natural law. So a good human government should be willing to follow the Scriptures as well as the natural law. But the Scripture and the natural law testify to the same truths. The one helps us calibrate the other. The natural law has a reach to those who reject Scripture. But perhaps we can also say that it is a good thing for the government of Christian countries that we have the Scripture since Kuyperians reject the natural law.

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