Editor’s note: The following letter appears in the Fall 2020 issue of Eikon.
From Eikon’s first issue, the editorial vision has been to direct our focus toward fostering a uniquely Protestant and evangelical formulation of natural law. The recently named president of Bethlehem College and Seminary, Joe Rigney, wrote an essay in the first issue of Eikon “With One Voice” (Spring 2019), making the case from the start of this journal that special revelation and general revelation are never in conflict, but complementary. No more is this true than for matters of biblical anthropology, where the Christian vision for gender and sexuality faces particular derision.
In his recently released and magisterial volume Politics After Christendom, David VanDrunen defines “natural law” as “the idea that God makes known the basic substance of his moral law through the created order itself. Human beings therefore know this law simply by virtue of being human, even apart from access to Scripture or to other forms of special revelation. They know it through their natural capacities as they live in the world.” Elsewhere, he defines it as “the moral order that directs people to the proper human goals corresponding to the purposes for which God made them.” I agree with VanDrunen’s wording and would add my own definition of natural law: the moral theory that a God-given and self-evident universal moral order exists that acts of reason and practical deliberation, in theory and in practice, can grasp as intellectually knowable and understand as behaviorally directive. This comprehension of the moral order and its basic goods defines and identifies which actions are imminently reasonable and worth pursuing—even apart from an immediate appeal to divine revelation—by achieving the purposes or goals consistent with goods constitutive of human nature’s design. The language of “immediate appeal” is simply my insistence, as a Protestant, that any theory of natural law will, eventually, need to be grounded in Scripture for its foundation.
We believe the value of the natural law resides less in its apologetical persuasiveness (though we do not deny its significance on this front), and more in its ability to give intelligible explanation of the creation we read of in Scripture. Natural law is action-guiding and action-explaining by providing an account of the directiveness we intuitively act upon to achieve the ends and goods consistent with our design. For example, when Genesis speaks of the “one flesh union” of man and woman, we believe that natural law is at its best when it articulates the meaning of “one flesh” as a corporeal, embodied union of man and woman. Male and female design supports a directiveness to an embodied union. This union’s distinctiveness in its procreative potential makes it unlike other forms of sexual expression, and only this union can ever be genuinely marital as a result.
We are excited that the Fall 2020 issue of Eikon is devoted almost exclusively to the topics above, whether using the taxonomic categories of “natural law,” “creation order,” or “general revelation.” We believe the disjunction between Protestant rejection of natural law and Catholic reception of natural law need not be as stark as commonly rendered. To that end, we present this issue to remedy an ethical imbalance within the Protestant tradition that needs retrieval consistent with our Reformational heritage. We have assembled a roster of natural law thinkers hoping to speak “with one voice” about the ways God has ordered this world for our good, and ultimately, for his glory.
Andrew T. Walker is an Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Eikon‘s Executive Editor.
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