Sunday, September 25, 2022

Law-Gospel, Natural Law, and Natural Theology

In Reformed teaching about salvation, the Law-Gospel distinction, is codified in the distinction between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. The Law, functioning as the revelation of righteousness, was the standard and condition for eternal life if gained "naturally." Adam, placed in the Garden of Eden, was placed under the Covenant of Works, which he failed. This same law, without the ability to grant righteousness, remains the standard for eternal life, for all mankind (Rom. 2:6-11). The law is universal to all, given to all, demanded of all. In contrast to that, the Covenant of Grace was given to the elect under her head Jesus Christ. Jesus fulfilled the conditions of the broken covenant of works; fulfilled the law (Mt. 5:17, Rom. 10:4). Thus for the elect, salvation is freely given upon condition of faith alone. By faith, a person believes in Jesus and is saved. The Gospel, while to be preached to all, is particular, for it speaks of a salvation that those who do not believe do not have, of a message that many parts of the worlds in various epochs of history do not hear. The Gospel in this sense is particular, focusing on a select group in history (those who believe Jesus), and not applicable to those who do not (for whatever reason whatsoever).

Recently, certain Baptists (Bethelem Bible Church) have posted this innuendo on Twitter:

The allusion is made that there is a link between Federal Visionist Douglas Wilson, who denies the Law-Gospel distinction, and those who reject Classical Theism, and that both are of course leading believers down a cliff. But that there is such a link is a mere assertion. I for one am against the Federal Vision, reject Douglas Wilson, hold to the Law-Gospel distinction, and yet also reject Classical Theism. But more than just personalities, a greater problem for such people is that there is a logical inconsistency between the Law-Gospel distinction and those who are broadly on the Classical Theism Ressourcement project: namely, their downplaying of the universality of natural law while promoting the idea of Natural Theology.

What is Natural Law and what is Natural Theology? Natural law is the law revealed in nature concerning the created things. It is a branch of philosophy/ ethics whereby what is good and ought to be done is understood from what is seen in nature. Natural Theology on the other hand is a much more contested concept. According to David Haimes, Natural Theology "is that part of philosophy which explores that which man can know about God (His existence, divine nature, etc.) from nature alone via man’s divinely bestowed faculty of reason, unaided by special revelation from any religion, and without presupposing the truth of any religion" (David Haimes, Natural Theology, 12). Jordan Steffaniak of the London Lyceum however rejects this definition for "the task of utilizing natural means via our renewed reason (i.e., the light of nature) in service of theological construction under the authority of Scripture, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the context of the church." However, as I have pointed out in my response, Steffaniak's version is not the definition most people would probably have when they see the term "Natural Theology." Haimes' definition, on the other hand, would be the definition most people would run with.

Placing the concepts alongside each other, it is clear that Natural Law corresponds to the "Law" in the Law-Gospel distinction. Natural Theology on the other hand is a misfit. Haimes' Natural Theology asserts the ability to gain certain true knowledge of the true God by all men regardless of religion, whereas the Gospel gives true knowledge of the true God only to those who repent of their sins and turn to Jesus Christ. In other words, Natural Theology attempts to gain something that can only be true given the Gospel (knowledge of God) in a way that is through the law (from creation apart from any religion). Natural Theology is thus a mongrel of Law and Gospel, violating the Law-Gospel distinction in its very essence.

It is therefore inconsistent for someone to hold to the Law-Gospel distinction and at the same time subscribe to the Ressourcement project in its recovery of Natural Theology. For sure, one can be a Classical Theist without being part of the current Ressourcement project, but that is certainly not the case for many of the current crop of "Great Tradition" converts. Many of them are in love with the "Great Tradition," including the "recovery" of Natural Theology, and thus the growing inconsistency between their soteriology and theology proper will increase.

Ressourcement and the downplaying of the universality of Natural Law

With regards to the critique on Douglas Wilson, one curious thing is their attack on Wilson's vision of a Christian society. Now, it is perfectly leigitimate to criticize Wilson's view of a Christian society, but I find it interesting that the same group of people who are attacking Wilson on this are also advocating for or at least staying silent on the withdrawal of Christian witness on the issue of the Natural Law (under the guise of a rejection of the "Religious Right"). The Law is universal and is binding on all humans regardless of ethnicity, language or religion. Natural Law especially is the law of creation, and therefore ought to be implemented in society regardless of ethnicity, language, nationality or religion. But the same people trumpeting the Law-Gospel distinction, teaching that the Law is universal upon all peoples, are also the same people who downplay the universality of the Natural Law. There is a downplaying of what the Natural Law demands as it pertains to the correct moral response to things like Drag Queen Story Hour and the LGBTQ+ agenda as a whole. If Natural Law is so universal and binding, then why is it that those who trumpet the Law-Gospel distinction neuters the Law at precisely the point where it is binding on society? Why are American Christians in general having morals like David French who asserts that one should have the freedom to violate Natural Law? If Natural Law is true, then LGBTQ+ in all its forms should be criminalized, period! Gross violations of Natural Law should never be permitted in any society, and the Reformed tradition has always understood that to be the case.

Ressourcement and the promotion of epistemic "G-law-spel"

A polemical angle of the Law-Gospel distinction is that one should not mix Law and Gospel together into a tertium quid - "G-law-spel." The Federal Visionists including Douglas Wilson do this, denying the Covenant of Works and moving works into the Fiducia element of faith. But if that is true, then the Ressourcement project is mixing Law and Gospel in the epistmic sense, creating this mongrel called "Natural Theology," which is not truly natural and yet not supernatural. In Natural Theology, God is known truly in nature in part, and then the other part of that knowledge of God comes in the Gospel. If the mixing of Law and Gospel is an error, then likewise this epistemic mixture called Natural Theology is in error as well. Since God is necessarily Father, Son and Spirit, those who reject the Son do not have the Father (1 Jn. 2:23). Even as God revealed His truth through Creation (Rom. 1:20, Jn. 1:4), it did not result in knowledge of God, for the mind of sinful man is the darkness that does not know or understand the light (Jn. 1:5, 10)

According to Haimes, "it is natural theology which provides us with the truths necessary for the proper functioning of the principle of appropriate predication" (Haimes, 21). In other words, Classical Theism without Natural Theology is deficient, because Natural Theology provides the tools necessary for Classical Theism to function. Now, other Classical Theists can dispute this assertion of Haimes, but it seems clear that parts of the Ressourcement community can only function if Natural Theology is accepted as true. If that is true, what does this tell us about the assertion that attempts to associate Douglas Wilson and those who reject Classical Theism, except that it is attempting guilt by association, attempting to pass off anyone who rejects Classical Theism as no different from Federal Visionists? However, as we have seen, a belief in the Law-Gospel distinction actually undermines a key component of the Ressourcement project. NoCo radio's slander notwithstanding, it is clear that a true belief in the Law-Gospel distinction would result in a rejection of Natuural Theology, and thus undermine much of the push towards Classical Theism especailly in its Thomistic variant.


The Law is given to all, demands from all, and is revealed in nature. Natural Law is of nature, available to all and reflects God's order ruling creation. Natural Law corresponds to God's Law. The Gospel on the other hand is not unviversal but particular, supernatural in nature, for a people elected by God for saving faith in Jesus Christ. True Christian theology therefore is likewise not universal but particular, supernatural in nature, the epistemic property of the elect of God who gain true knowledge and wisdom by faith in Jesus Christ.

Natural Theology, partly by nature, partly by grace, is the analog of the Glawspel. It is just as illegitimate. But just as it is integral to some for the working of Classical Theism, thus a consistent application of the Law-Gospel distinction would undermine some defences of Classical Theism. Would NoCo Radio therefore repent of their slander against those of us who reject Classical Theism? I doubt so, but one can always hope.


russedav said...

I'm always amazed at how those who vainly try to maintain the absurdly claimed Law/Gospel distinction conveniently forget the Protoevangelium from the beginning in Genesis, and Hebrews several passages (7:12; 8:13: 10:9; also Eph 2:11-22; 2Cor 3:11; Galatians 3) that plainly decree Christ in his life, death and resurrection, fulfilled and thus abolished Law in himself, believers being in him. Anyone who fulfills a covenant or contract knows it no longer has any effect. One must choose between Christ or Law. Also consider how many places νομος is anarthrous.

Daniel C said...


I don't see any indication you actually understand the Law/ Gospel distinction. Please show me you understand what it states first, thanks.