One of the more interesting ways in which theonomy is contra confessional is its Barthian-like rejection of the classic Reformed doctrine of natural law and implicitly it’s skepticism regarding natural revelation.
Over the last thirty years or so, many of us have had to wade through the theonomy/reconstruction literature. It is evident from some of the reaction to the post on natural law and homosexual marriage that some of our theonomic brothers haven’t done their homework. It isn’t as if I haven’t provided you fellows with lists of resources on natural law. Once more:
1. Resources for Reformed Approaches to Natural Law Not all of these are online. Ask your reference librarian, in any public library, to order them for you by inter-library loan. It should be free or nearly free.
3. Some considerations from the confessions. The WCF opens thus:
Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation.
Note that the divines did not say that the light of nature is “not sufficient” for civil government but for salvation. For the divines, as for Calvin, civil government is one thing, salvation is another. Theonomists confuse these two things far too often.
1.6: “there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature….” Notice that the divines taught that there are some circumstances “common to human actions and societies” that are ordered by the “light of nature.” The divines did not share the theonomic/Barthian skepticism about natural revelation and natural law. If I remember my history, the divines did not write during the Enlightenment. I think they were Christians and Reformed at that.
It’s worth noting how often the divines speak about “the nature” of this or that, including the human nature of Christ (ch. 8). Yes, special revelation teaches us a great deal about the human nature of Christ but not everything. Scripture assumes, as do the divines, that, if our sense perception is working correctly, we perceive with them truth about human nature. Scripture doesn’t teach us what an arm or a leg or skin is or even how to eat. Indeed, Scripture doesn’t teach us a great many things about daily life or natural human existence. It doesn’t intend to teach us those things. It intends to teach us about sin and salvation. How do we know what sort of humanity Jesus had, that he is really consubstantial with us? We know it because we know from experience what humanity is and we know from Scripture that he was like us in every respect, sin excepted. If we become skeptical about “nature” as a genuine source of knowledge we risk our Christology.
The same sort of argument applies to the doctrine of the sacraments (29:5). The divines assume that we know what bread and wine are and what their nature is. Scripture does not teach us what is the “substance and nature” of bread and wine, only that they remain substantially bread and wine. We need Scripture to teach us what the sacraments are but nature teaches us what bread and wine are.
The Canons of Dort (RE 1.4) make a similar distinction between what “the light of nature” can and cannot do. The light of nature is insufficient for salvation, but it is sufficient for the ordering of common civil life. This teaching is explicit in CD 3/4/.4:
There remain, however, in man since the fall, the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, and natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and shows some regard for virtue and for good outward behavior. But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God and to true conversion that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. By no means, further, this light, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted and hinders in unrighteousness, which by doing he becomes inexcusable before God.
WCF 10.4: “…be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature….” The Confession assumes that it is possible for human beings to order their lives according to the “light of nature.” A life thus lived is lived according to natural law. This law keeping is insufficient for salvation, but civil life is about law it is not about salvation.
WCF 20.4: …for their publishing of such opinions, or maintaining of such practices, as are contrary to the light of nature….” On Christian liberty, the divines connect “the powers” ordained by God to maintain order (which was a problem during the English civil war!) with this troublesome expression, “the light of nature.” This language and way of thinking about civil life was well and deeply ingrained in Reformed orthodoxy in the 16th and 17th century.
In this article the Confession even contrasts this source of knowledge with the “ceremonial” laws that had expired because they had been fulfilled. 21.1:
The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might.
The contrast here is between common life and stated worship. The former is lived according to “the light of nature.” Instead of applying the RPW to “all of life” (and thus to none of it really) the divines distinguish between daily life and stated worship. The RPW applies to the latter. It is derived from special not general revelation. Do not miss the fact, however, that once again the divines appeal to natural revelation. They always assume that, for civil life and order, it can be known. They even go so far as to teach that “the law of nature” teaches “that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship….”
Unlike our theonomists, the divines believed that there is a natural law, that it can be and is known, that it contains specific precepts that are revealed with sufficiently clarity to be applied, even by the unregenerate, to specific instances. The skepticism that our theonomists have demonstrated toward the perspicuity of natural law is not only downright late modern (who can know anything really?) but contra confessional.