"Natural Theology" continues to be a topic of concern. In this light, I have bought and read the translated book Natural Theology by Geerhardus Vos. From advice given by others, I have read Vos' book first before the introduction by Dr. Fesko. With no disrepect intended to Dr. Fesko, the two are quite different, with Fesko's introduction reading like his reflection and criticism of Vos on the topic of Natural Theology instead of a true introduction. I further note that, alongside the beginning section introducing Natural Theology, Vos continus with what he see as its application in the various theistic arguments, and then he moves to a taxonomy of theism and religion itself, before ending with the immortality of the soul. Evidently, all of these especially the "systems of religion" are much less important in an introduction compared to to overview of the history of Natural Theology.
One helpful thing about Vos' book is his clarity in stating that natural theology is for unbelievers to condemn them, and thus the main application of natural theology is stated to be in the theistic proofs. (Questions 2, 10; Vos, pp. 3, 5). Against Jordan Steffaniak, whose definition of Natural Theology is rather idiosyncratic, for Vos, Natural Theology is about the Theistic Proofs. Therefore, "Natural Theology" for Vos is all about establishing how God is shown to from nature to be God, without appeal to Scripture, yet such is non salvific in nature.
The Reformation and Natural Theology
25. Was the Reformation favorable to the development of natural theology?
No, for it opposed the Roman Catholic doctrine of tradition as well as the semi-Pelagianism of the Roman Catholic Church. For that reason, it preferred to stick to Scripture alone and wanted people not to rely on their own powers for their knowledge of God or to seek Him by their own means, but rather simply to believe in God.
[Geerhardus Vos, Natural Theology, 10)
That the Reformation was not favorable to Natural Theology is stated by Vos, and even grudgingly acknowledged by Fesko (J.V. Fesko, "Introduction," in Vos, xxv), albeit Fesko made the astonishing claim that this silence does not imply outright rejection of Natural Theology, and thus argue for an essential continuity of the church on the topic of Natural Theology. As opposed to the supposed continuity between Thomas Aquinas and Geergardus Vos, Lane Tipton has instead argued for a deeper natural theology by Vos in line with Reformed doctrines of sin and salvation (Lane Tipton, "The Deeper Protestant Conception of Natural Theology: Natural Theology in Light of Vos' Reformed Dogmatics," Reformed Forum (Fall/ Winter 2022): 3-13), a really interesting article indeed.
Reflections on Natural Theology
Now, while all that is interesting and helpful, I struggled to see why Natural Theology itself is necessary. Vos' focus on the Theistic Proofs tie Natural Theology with apologetics. Yet, it is clear after thinking it through that the theistic proofs do not work. The ontological argument fails because it assumes certain views on ontology that many people today reject as simply not true (e.g. something can have more "being"), the cosmological argument fails because it at best establishes a cause which could be anything including an impersonal principle, the moral argument assumes objective morality apart apart from God, and so on. None of the theistic arguments truly work as they are advertised, as sound arguments irrefutably proving the existence of God. If that is all Natural Theology can offer, then certainly we should throw away Natural Theology as a concept, since it is useless even if it is true. However, after more thought, perhaps the trascendental method of the theistic proofs work. In this case, they work not because the arguments are sound; they are not, but because the mere fact of their existence and their resonance with various peoples show that all men have the sensus divinitatis and thus God is real.
All in all, Vos' book on Natural Theology is indeed helpful. That said, if this is all Natural Theology is, it retains its place in the apologetics section, as methods by which people have historically thought that the existence of God could be proved.
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