Authors Jordan Ballor Nota Bene

Natural Law and Denying the Reformation

Who said this about natural law?

“By this thesis, to which the Reformation leaders virtually all gave assent, they denied the Reformation.”

A) Karl Barth
B) Cornelius Van Til
C) Herman Dooyeweerd
D) R.J. Rushdoony
E) Carl Henry

For more, check out Theodore G. Van Raalte’s essay, “Unleavened Morality? Herman Bavinck on Natural Law” in Five Studies in the Thought of Herman Bavinck, ed. John Bolt (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 2011).

By Jordan Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous volumes. Jordan also serves as associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research of Calvin Theological Seminary.

6 replies on “Natural Law and Denying the Reformation”

It was not Barth or Dooyeweerd. But Barth did say this, in a not altogether unrelated context: “The Reformers did not perceive the extent to which even Augustine, to whom they were so fond of appealing, has to be regarded as a Roman Catholic theologian, and the reserve with which he has therefore to be taken.” And this: “If we really wish to maintain the Reformers’ position over against that of Roman Catholicism and Neo-Protestantism, we are not in a position to-day to repeat the statements of Luther and Calvin without at the same time making them more pointed than they themselves did.”

And Dooyeweerd wrote this: “Instead of reformation [the church fathers] sought accommodation; they sought to adapt pagan thought to divine revelation of the Word. This adaptation laid the basis for scholasticism, which up to the present impedes the development of a truly reformational direction in Christian life and thought.” And this: “The example of Augustine clearly demonstrates how even in a great father of the church the spiritual power of the Greek ground motive worked as a dangerous counterforce to the ground motive of revelation.”

There are a number of interrelated reasons for the 20th century rejection of “natural law” whole court by many Protestants. In Barth’s case it had to do particularly with the connection between National Socialist ideology, the identification of natural law with Roman Catholicism, the identification of both natural law and Roman Catholicism with scholasticism (another bad thing), and a general rejection of “Greek” or “worldly” ideologies into Christian theology. Stephen Grabill’s book Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics is excellent on these more proximate as well as more distant historical contexts between the Reformation and post-Reformation eras and the 19th and 20th centuries.

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