Review – Natural Theology: A Biblical and Historical Introduction and Defense

"Natural theologians believe that the book of nature reveals to human reason aspects of the divine creator that point to the one true God, while freely confessing that only the book of scripture reveals to human faith the gospel by which alone we can be saved." - Ref21

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Aaron Blumer's picture

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We are fallen, depraved creatures, it is true, incapable of saving ourselves; but that does not mean that we have lost the image of God or that our God-given reason can no longer discern God’s presence and nature in the heavens above and the conscience within.  

I see a difference between what is revealed in nature and what human's are capable of seeing in nature apart from grace (whether common or special?). So I wonder if the book goes into that distinction. It's impossible to prove that Aristotle wouldn't have figured out what he did about God without divine grace intervening to some extent.    Maybe it's fair to say reason itself is common grace, so the distinction doesn't really amount to anything. The next question would be, do fallen humans learn anything about God, short of the gospel, without special grace? As the book points out, Romans seems clear that they do, because it's a culpability argument: you're without excuse because you know so much.

I'm just randomly musing and maybe not using the right terms here and there, but the grace factor in natural theology and it's impact on human beings in general interests me.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Paul Henebury's picture

Almost every writer I have read who supports natural theology confuses it with general revelation.  I find it interesting that NT is making a comeback in Reformed circles (e.g., J. V. Fesko).  As a Van Tillian I don't think this is a good thing: https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2010/01/27/natural-theology-an-evangel...

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

How would you summarize the distinction between natural theology and general revelation?

I noticed that in the review the author distginuished briefly between natural theology and natural religion

Not to be confused with natural religion—which Haines defines as the “historical attempt, by a number of Deistic philosophers, to make that which can be known of God via natural revelation into a religion in its own right” (14-15)—natural theology is humbly aware of its limits.

Off hand, I think I see the difference between NT and GR as: GR = source of the theology, NT = the theology you derive from the source. Which is also what we do with Scripture, some major differences being a) Scripture is already propositional vs nature is a step back from that, b) Scripture is much more comprehensive and specific, and c) the claims of authority and sufficiency are not parallel between nature/creation and Scripture.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Paul, I read your post on Natural Theology: An Evangelical Faux Pa?

I need to give it more thought, but at the moment I'm not seeing how your handling of Romans 1 argues against NT. The difference between knowledge of and reasoning to doesn't seem able to carry that weight. For one thing, though Paul uses intuitive language in 1:19-20 ("in" and "within" etc.), he says the knowledge we possess is "shown" and "perceived... in the things that have been made." This looks to me like an appeal to observation of the created world, otherwise why mention "things that have been made" at all?

Then there's Psalm 19.

The article linked to in the post above also talks about basic human capacity to reason being necessary to even read Scripture and make surface sense of it (though we know surface is as far as that can go 1 Cor 2.14).

So is human reason "neutral"? I don't think a neutrality claim is essential to the idea of revealed truth in the creation or reasoning to conclusions from that revealed truth. A person can be deeply biased, for example, and still reason that 2+2=4 and even make a fair judgment on the topic their biased about. I could hate cats and still reason that cats are not evil. So I don't think the effects of the fall have to mean that human reason can't--unwillingly to some extent--add the evidence up and see a few true things about God, "unaided."

I have to put "unaided" in quotes, because I'm not really sure how to define it. How do we put boundaries on that idea? There isn't a single human being who draws breath "unaided." So if we mean "without a specific act of God drawing them to Himself," that's a different question...

But I also think some of the Van Tillian tilt are also defining NT with too much evidence on motivation and execution... "attempt to provide rational justification for theism" etc. implies a sense that theism needs justifying in this way. Like it's guilty of some weakness otherwise. I don't think that's an essential attribute of NT. But if this is what critics of NT see as the difference between NT and general revelation, then I understand why they reject NT.

For my part, I'm interested in doing justice to Rom 1 and other passages, as well as to the unity of truth and the practicality of truth. So I see NT as holding that there is truth about God in what He has made, and it's useful truth, and we should use it for all its worth. 

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Paul Henebury's picture

Good thoughts.  I cannot answer at length right now but here's one or two quick replies:

1. The reception of the outside world and hence its interpretation is part of the created intention.  Hence, our intuitive recognition of creation is one with our recognition of the Creator.  He is not "reasoned" to but is the beginning of reasoning, even if this is not acknowledged.  I believe this is what Paul is alluding to in Rom. 1:21 & 25.  2+2=4 because this is true.  God is the precondition of number. 

2. Human reason is not neutral because of the fall.  It would be biased towards God pre-fall. 

3. By "unaided" I simply mean without reference to Divine presuppositions.  Reasoning TO Scripture rather than FROM it.  

4. Paul's argument is that God has given evidence of Himself within us (innate knowledge) and around us (what I might call instantaneous receptive knowledge).  I only use these terms to delineate between Van Til's claim that man is self-revelatory and the employment of his senses.  Sinners know God is there.  If Paul's argument in Rom. 1:18ff. was that humans fail to reason TO God they would not know Him innately and thus "general revelation" would take on the aspect of a pursuit rather than a state.

5. The Fall effects everything.  However, reasoning about God comes from knowledge of God, even if this knowledge is suppressed (Rom. 1:18) and twisted (Rom. 1:23). 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.