Recovering The Realism Of Natural Law

The Christian natural law tradition offers Christians meaningful and coherent moral guidance apart from instrumental calculations of political power and success. That is, the tradition is moral, not consequentialist or ad hoc. Moreover, rooted in a creational theology, it provides important pathways for a cultural apologetic—a means of making its claims comprehensible to those who disagree. This is vitally important in a political season marked by polarization and tribalism. An evangelical natural law tradition can help reconcile such moral guidance with the norms and processes of a liberal democratic order that takes divergent ultimate commitments seriously and serves the common good, not a sectarian good.

In short, we believe the way forward requires looking back.

Christians have long framed their understanding of the nature and purpose of political life in terms of the natural law. Since the early Church, they have acknowledged that humans, by God’s creational design, inhabit a world in which moral norms and obligations help direct us toward our flourishing, and we can derive meaningful political guidance from these truths. Our attempt to articulate a distinctively evangelical understanding of the natural law draws on this long history of Christian reflection and appropriates that tradition in ways consonant with the best of evangelical belief and practice.

Ours is a theory of the natural law that is characterized by both hope and realism. It is hopeful insofar as it is unequivocally moral, relying on creational norms as guidance for human action toward a vision for human flourishing. This hope animates and directs our actions to human goods and takes seriously the idea that the political order has an important role to play in our flourishing. It is realist insofar as it recognizes the consequences of the Fall and the tensions of our moment in redemptive history. These realities temper our expectations for the present, foreclosing any easy moral or political perfectionism. Here, we find St. Augustine a particularly helpful guide—particularly insofar as he both participates in the best of the natural law tradition and emphasizes evangelical distinctives like the unique authority of Scripture and the deep impact of sin on human will and cognition.

Consider, first, the created order and its relation to political life. We take it that the created order is fundamentally good and intelligible. Much of what is good for human beings in terms of life in the body and in society can be understood through general revelation and is shared among all humans (not just Christians). For all the challenges of perceiving, sharing, and applying creational norms (and the Fall produces many such challenges!), we cannot escape the reality that all humans are bound by moral truths that we cannot entirely wish away, ignore, or misconstrue.

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Jesse Covington, Bryan McGraw and Micah Watson | “Hopeful Realism: Renewing Evangelical Political Morality” | July 21st, 2022


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  1. “America is well on its way toward becoming significantly more secular, less just, and less stable…”

    Ordo Ab Chao. We needn’t help stoke these flames.

    Living out our faith locally is our best remedy. It’s the only tool of engagement that truly makes any sense, in my humble opinion.


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