Turretin, Fan of Natural Law

image52The following is from the Eleventh Topic, First Question, in Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology.

Many arguments prove the existence of such a natural law…

XIII. Second, by the consent of nations, among whom (even the most savage) some law of the primitive nations obtains, from which even without a teacher they have learned that God should be worshipped, parents honored, a virtuous life be led and from which as a fountain have flowed so many laws concerning equity and virtue enacted by heathen legislators drawn from nature itself….

XV. …it is even most absurd that the rational creature as rational should not be subject to him [God] in the genus of morals and not be governed by him suitably to his nature (i.e., by moral means) by the establishment of a law. Hence it follows either that man ought to have been created independent by God (which is absurd) or that he has a natural law impressed upon him, in accordance with which he may be ruled by him.

XVII. Sixth, the testimonies of the most illustrious heathen philosophers, who bravely opposed themselves to that impious opinion [that there is no natural law] (such as Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics). Cicero…demonstrates by various weighty arguments “that we are born to justice, and that right is not established by opinion, but by nature. … Socrates…used to complain that this error was the source of all human vices, since if this were true all justice and pietysocrates would be swept away from the world. “For if nature does not ratify law,” says he, “then all the virtues may lose their sway. For what becomes of generosity, patriotism, or friendship? Where will the desire of benefitting our neighbors, or the gratitude that acknowledges kindness, be able to exist at all? … “True law, says he, “is right reason comformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal, whose commands urge us to duty, and whose prohibitions restrain us from evil.” … “It is not one thing at Rome, and another at Athens; one thing today, and another tomorrow; but in all times and nations this universal law must forever reign, eternal and imperishable. It is the sovereign master and emperor of all beings. God himself is its author, its promulgator, its enforcer. And he who does not obey it flies from himself, and does violence to the very nature of man.”

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Filed under Epistemology, Natural Law, Presuppositionalism

77 responses to “Turretin, Fan of Natural Law

  1. Pingback: Francis Turretin on Natural Law | Heidelblog

    • This piece that Dr. Clark highlights also got my attention more than the rest of the quote. God does not rule us as if we are blocks of wood, but rules according to our nature. So if God is preserving, ruling, maintaining order and blessing by the actions of the unbeliever, he is doing so by natural law upon the consciences of men.

      And, then, if Calvin, Owen and Turretin all believe in the substance of this quote (as I have previously posted), natural law is hardly a novel concept among the Reformed.

  2. Mark Van Der Molen

    Who among the Reformed thinks natural law is a novel concept?

    • Richard

      Try the people at “Vision Forum” for starters. They wind be sounding like Karl Barth.

      • Mark Van Der Molen

        Not really familiar with Vision Forum, but it appears to be some independent 501 C 3 run by Doug Phillips, whoever that is. When I hear “Reformed”, I think NAPARC churches, and in that setting, I’ve not heard of anyone who thinks natural law is a novel concept. Perhaps this blog’s host has some particular Reformed group in mind, hence my inquiry.

      • Mark, I didn’t name names, and I think most people who have been around blogdom are aware of pretty strong reactions against a natural law concept as robust as Turretin’s. Did you notice he quotes the heathen not just to show that they see true things, but to hear what they have to say about natural law? The allegations are that this concept is a Catholic concept and the true Reformed understanding is a form of presuppositionalism that either rejects it or keeps not much more than its name, finding no meaningful role for natural law.

        Googling picked up several examples. One is from something called the the Worldview Leadership Insitutute:

        “Currently, there is a revived interest in natural law within the seminaries of the evangelical community. This is not a good sign. As Dr. Robert Morey points out, whenever there is a lack of biblical understanding, the appeal of natural law flourishes. This is because of its attraction to human wisdom and reason. Morey states:

        It is no surprise that Natural Law and Natural Theology rise and fall in popularity in tandem with the level of sound biblical knowledge. In Roman Catholic and Orthodox countries, where biblical illiteracy is the norm, all you have is Natural Law and Natural Theology. Wherever the Sola Scriptura of the Protestant Reformation gained ground, biblical preaching and revealed theology became dominant, and as a result Natural Law and Natural Theology died away.

        Then Dr. Kloosterman reacted strongly to David Van Drunen’s book A Biblical Case for Natural Law:

        Cornelius Van Til has shown us the mistaken assessments and answers supplied by non-Reformed thought, including those proffered by a coalition of Roman Catholic and post-Enlightenment theorists who have joined together in denying the absolute necessity of special revelation for properly apprehending and rightly using general revelation.

        http://www.opc.org/os.html?article_id=77

        DVD’s response is here: http://www.opc.org/os.html?article_id=78

      • Mark Van Der Molen

        Kloosterman and McAtee never have denied natural law or thought it a “novel concept”. In fact they’ve written to the contrary. I’m not familiar enough with Morey’s work to comment on whether he believes that natural law is some new or novel concept.

        The bone of contention being advanced by Reformed folk is whether natural law was ever meant to function on its own, apart from Scripture, eg. as found in the historical revisionist arguments of Van Drunen, Hart, Clark, and their other R2k co-belligerents.

        So the original question based on the original post still stands : who among the Reformed have said that natural law is a novel concept? I suspect the answer is none, but I’m willing to be shown otherwise.

      • Mark, the question is one you brought to the table. Re-read what I said – it wasn’t that.

        But I will say that the rhetoric suggests that natural law is Catholic rather then Reformed concept. Whatever bare status it is given by some theonomists and neo-Cals, it is not as robust as the concept held by pre-Kantian Reformed men, including the Westminster Divines. When Dr. Kloosterman speaks of “the absolute necessity of special revelation for properly apprehending and rightly using general revelation” he has a view of natural law that is not as robust as Turretin’s in the quote above.

        Anyway, I’m guessing a little bit of googling would find a good deal of anti-natural law rhetoric and suspicion if not outright denial of it. But you could do that, too.

      • Mark Van Der Molen

        And, then, if Calvin, Owen and Turretin all believe in the substance of this quote (as I have previously posted), natural law is hardly a novel concept among the Reformed.

        It was this statement of yours that raised the issue of whether natural law is a “novel concept” among the Reformed. Kloosterman and other critics of DVD’s formulations simply affirm what Calvin and our Confessions teach, i.e., that Scriptures are the necessary “spectacles” to read natural law aright. The critics of R2k I am aware of all affirm natural law consistent with the Turretin quote, but deny DVD’s attempt to pass off a neo- Thomistic version as the Reformed view..

      • Here’s Calvin:
        …Hence it is that every individual understands how human societies must he regulated by laws, and also is able to comprehend the principles of those laws. Hence the universal agreement in regard to such subjects, both among nations and individuals, the seeds of them being implanted in the breasts of all without a teacher or lawgiver. (2.2.13)

        No teacher necessary. I don’t see anything about the absolute necessity of special revelation. If special revelation is always necessary, natural law has been gutted of its significance.

      • Mark Van Der Molen

        Of course, Calvin had much more to say:
        “And for proof thereof, what is the cause that the heathen are so hardened in their own dotages? It is for that they never knew God’s Law, and therefore they never compared the truth with the untruth. But when God’s law come in place, then doth it appear that all the rest is but smoke insomuch that they which took themselves to be marvelous witty, are found to have been no better than besotted in their own beastliness. This is apparent. Wherefore let us mark well, that to discern that there is nothing but vanity in all worldly devices, we must know the Laws and ordinances of God. But if we rest upon men’s laws, surely it is not possible for us to judge rightly. Then must we need to first go to God’s school, and that will show us that when we have once profited under Him, it will be enough. That is all our perfection. And on the other side, we may despise all that is ever invented by man, seeing there is nothing but fondness and uncertainty in them. And that is the cause why Moses terms them rightful ordinances. As if he should say, it is true indeed that other people have store of Laws: but there is no right all all in them, all is awry, all is crooked.”

        John Calvin
        Sermons on Deuteronomy, sermon 21 on Deut. 4:6-9

        I would also commend for your reading David W. Hall’s book “Geneva and the American Founding”, which copiously documents the Reformation principle of the continuing applicability of Scriptural norms vis a vis natural law as a stand alone norm.

      • The theonomists agree with you here but the rest of us don’t see the Mosaic law as necessary for right governance. Actually the theonomists can’t see why you don’t join them given your position.

      • Mark Van Der Molen

        Your argument is with Calvin, not with me or any theonomists.

      • If Calvin thinks Geneva civil law is the result of thinking according to the passage you provided but you don’t, it undermines your argument that the scriptures make clear what natural law does not.

      • WCF 21.7 As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God…

        Why do the divines bother pointing out the law of nature here if the scriptures are absolutely necessary? Your special revelation swallows up natural law. Not so for the divines.

  3. Mark, your fellow co-belligerent Bret McAtee thinks natural law is a waxen nose that leads to Marxism.

    http://ironink.org/2012/08/what-does-r2k-and-cultural-marxism-have-in-common/

    And do you mean to say that Barth’s “Nien!” didn’t set the 20th century tone against natural law amongst the Reformed? You might pick up Grabill’s “Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics” to see just how novel (and dangerous) many seem to think it is.

  4. The bone of contention being advanced by Reformed folk is whether natural law was ever meant to function on its own, apart from Scripture, eg. as found in the historical revisionist arguments of Van Drunen, Hart, Clark, and their other R2k co-belligerents.

    Actually it seems to be whether God is the author of both general and special revelation and that therefore both are equally clear. 2k says yes. Its critics seem to think one of God’s books (general revelation) isn’t clear enough and needs the other to help out, when the problem lies within sinners and not God’s books.

  5. Kloosterman and other critics of DVD’s formulations simply affirm what Calvin and our Confessions teach, i.e., that Scriptures are the necessary “spectacles” to read natural law aright.

    Where do the Confessions teach this? Belgic 2 says in part: “First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.

    All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse.

    Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own.”

    If anything, this seems to suggest that general revelation functions just fine on its own without the aid of special revelation.

    • Mark Van Der Molen

      Zrim, read on into the Canons of Dort about the noetic effects of sin leaving men not able to read natural light aright even in things “natural and civil”. And by way of anticipation, yes, I have read Clark’s recent blog entry of the Canons on this matter and it does not address the point in controversy, i.e, whether natural law should function as a stand alone norm post-fall.

      I would commend for your reading the exchange between Van Drunen and Waddington in the latest Confessional Presbyterian.

  6. Mark, I take that language on the CoD to be a comment on the insufficiency of man, not the insufficiency of natural revelation (such that it needs the supplementation of special rev). You are referring to Article 4 in the Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine, namely The Inadequacy of the Light of Nature. You’ll recall that Article 5 is The Inadequacy of the Law. Per your logic, we’d have to conclude that the Law is inherently insufficient, when in point of fact it also is a point about the inherent weakness of man that renders the Law useless. The same goes for the LoN. It is not inherently flawed. We are.

    • Mark Van Der Molen

      Yes, due to the weakness of man, the light of nature is now so dim to our blinded eyes that God graciously gives us his special revelation. Again, no one in the Reformed denies the light of nature/ natural law or that it is from God or that it is good, but rather whether we can use it aright as a stand alone norm post fall.

      • But the dimness doesn’t affect interpreting the scriptures? Both revealed and natural law are subject to being twisted. The fault is not with either means of God’s revelation.

        Is there a divine grammar or are you dependent on natural reason to understand the subjects, verb tenses, and logic of the scriptures?

      • Mark Van Der Molen

        But the dimness doesn’t affect interpreting the scriptures?

        Yes, but a written word is a clearer revelation less susceptible to twisting/misinterpreting. Even then, it is good that the churches read the Bible corporately via our Confessions to testify to the Truth of Scripture and guard against the errors that flow out of our dimness.

        Both revealed and natural law are subject to being twisted. The fault is not with either means of God’s revelation.

        Agreed.

        Is there a divine grammar or are you dependent on natural reason to understand the subjects, verb tenses, and logic of the scriptures?

        Yes, God inspired every word, every verb tense, every jot and tittle. Despite the fall we retain the natural ability to read His Word and the Holy Spirit illumines our mind to understand it.

      • FYI the latest Ordained Servant focuses on corporate scripture reading.

        http://www.opc.org/os.html

      • Mark Van Der Molen

        Thanks. Quickly skimmed the Williamson piece before heading out to court. Good stuff.

      • When you get back tell us how you used the Bible during your hearing.

  7. …a written word is a clearer revelation less susceptible to twisting and misinterpreting.

    Mark, the distinction is better made between the implicit and the explicit, not the clarity of what’s written in a book being more so than that written on the heart. What is implicit (heart) is just as clear as what is explicit (book). Nobody needs the Bible to know that stealing is wrong. It is clear by the light of nature. Or do you suppose that one may plead not guilty by reason of never having read the Bible?

    But if the Bible is so much less susceptible to misinterpretation then what to make of the RCC? Are Reformed believers just better readers than Roman ones? That’s an appealing idea, but then we have the no-Creed-but-Christ-Biblicists who only read the Bible and yet get so much wrong. The Bible is indeed clear, but given that so many who read it get so much wrong, your suggestion that it is less vulnerable to mis-reading is laughable in the face of reality. People also screw up reading general revelation, but how can we say special revelation clears that up when it gets mis-read just as often?

    But if, as Paul says in Romans, the LoN is sufficient to condemn eternally then why not sufficient to norm provisionally?

    • Mark Van Der Molen

      But if, as Paul says in Romans, the LoN is sufficient to condemn eternally then why not sufficient to norm provisionally

      You continue to elide the important qualifier. It is not sufficient to norm “alone”. The reason, as already provided, is because of what we confess the Bible teaches regarding the noetic effects of sin. The fact that folks such as the RCC would distort the divine written word and want to follow man made norms is not an argument for throwing out the divine written word.

      • Well at least it took you a while before you played the RCC card and resorted to rhetoric like “throwing out the divine word.” My natural reason figured it was coming but due to the noetic effects of optimism I’m still a little disappointed.

      • Mark Van Der Molen

        Your noetic optimism failed to note Zrim dealt the RCC card and I answered him.

      • Mark, while you two go in that direction I have another in mind. It’s part practical and part assessing the weight of what’s involved. And it starts with what might simply be a limit on my imagination: I don’t see you picketing with a sign that says “Thou shalt not kill” in protest of abortion and I can’t envision a letter over your signature that exegetes the story of Sodom & Gommorah for an elected official entertaining gay marriage issues. To the extent that you get involved in such things at all, I’m guessing you tailor your approach to the audience, and neither of those approaches will tend to grab an audience. To use an analogy, you don’t quote the Bible in court. Instead, you argue the law in a way that is designed to be persuasive in that context, and in a way that maximizes the appeal of the argument to that particular judge.

        So, first, it hardly seems radical to use natural law arguments in the public square, and it makes a lot of practical sense. And to the extent that you get involved in such things, I’m guessing you actually tend to employ natural law reasoning rather than Bible thumping. But then I don’t get out much, so maybe there’s a picture of you walking around with a protest sign that consists of the ten commandments.

      • Mark Van Der Molen

        To use an analogy, you don’t quote the Bible in court. Instead, you argue the law in a way that is designed to be persuasive in that context, and in a way that maximizes the appeal of the argument to that particular judge.

        In fact, I have cited the Bible in court in applicable cases and it did prove persuasive. I’ve had judges, opposing counsel, witnesses, and litigants engaging Scriptural arguments in various situations.

        it hardly seems radical to use natural law arguments in the public square, and it makes a lot of practical sense.

        For the umpteenth time, the notion that one can employ natural law arguments in the civil realm is not the issue. As Prof. Alan Strange points out, natural law is just one “tool in the toolkit”. Rather, what is radical is the argument is that natural law is the *only* proper standard in the toolkit.

      • “I have cited the Bible in court in applicable cases and it did prove persuasive.”

        I would really like to hear more about this. I’m not coming up with any guesses on how this might have been valid endeavor. Courts should not be making theological determinations and a judge might well be establishing religion by ruling on such a basis. Maybe your scenarios involved neither of these – what did you argue and how did your argument influence the ruling? Also, what court and at what level?

        “For the umpteenth time…natural law is just one “tool in the toolkit”. Shrillness and impatience are best left in the toolbox, though, right? Maybe you should click on the Sonny Terry harmonica piece and then come back to this conversation.

      • Mark Van Der Molen

        Not intending to be shrill, but let me know when you have finally got the distinction so I don’t need to repeatedly make it–then we can pick up the conversation.

      • I’m not sure the distinction is distinct enough. You would use both the Bible and natural law in the civil realm, I take it. When and why would you use the Bible in the public realm? My concerns might be 1) tactical – it’s not the final word for most citizens so effectiveness is questionable, 2) substantial – our country is not designed to be narrowly based on the Bible and 3) accuracy – the Bible doesn’t answer that many questions about law and policy.

        Meanwhile, I would like to hear more about using the Bible in a court hearing. Concrete examples can be helpful, and it’s of professional interest to me.

      • Mark Van Der Molen

        Here are couple of cases examples to think on:

        Custodial dispute in which a court appointed psychologist recommended my client’s child be removed from her custody. My client is a Reformed Christian mother. The psychologist was not a Christian. I detected that the report subtly painted my client’s choice of private Christian education as “not in the best interest” of the child. The father of the child desired public schooling to provide “better opportunities” for the child, to which the psych report agreed. On cross examination, I explored the psych’s bias against the mother’s Christian beliefs. Psych denied bias, but after running her through various Biblical texts, I exposed her ignorance of the Bible’s teaching on the subject. Then supplied testimony from the client’s pastor explaining the biblical and Reformed confessional basis of Christian education. In closing argument, tied that testimony to some older case law that referenced the custodial parent’s rights in the religious training of the child. Attacked the psych report as a thinly veiled attempt to impose the psych’s irreligious beliefs on this child. After a 4 day trial, judge overruled the psychologist recommendation, and commended the mother for her parenting, and the child remained with the mother.

        Another case involved an unmarried pregnant woman and a request for various medical/ social services to be paid for by the expectant father. The expectant father resisted paying for any services that could be denominated “pre natal” since he said he is “not a father yet”. Saw the opportunity to cite Scripture to explain that he already was a father of a child being “knit in the womb”. When ruling, the judge commented that this case involved not just “two people, but three” and ordered contribution for the services.

        Now some qualifiers. First, in both cases, I would grant the possibility that these courts could have made the same rulings without the presence of Scriptural arguments. I do not know with certainty the extent such arguments had in “persuading” the court, but I am convinced it was helpful in some respect in achieving the outcome. Second, the opportunities to cite Scripture in open court or in administrative body settings have not arisen in most of my cases, but the older I am, the more I am convinced that I may have been blind to the opportunities. I am grateful that I’ve had cases that presented an opportunity to bring the authority of the Word of God to bear in this setting. Third, the more common occasion I have to bring the Word of God is in the role as legal Counselor, particularly in family law cases. I actually enjoy it when I have convinced a party to refrain from a course of action that would violate God’s Word– even though that meant I was arguing against being hired for the case!

        Now in terms of application to this “2k” discussion, there could be a range of reaction. I could be mocked as a “fundamentalist bible thumper”? Or do I confuse the kingdoms by bringing an “inappropriate” normative authority into the civil realm since the Bible is only for the church? Have I erred on some other “2k” grounds? On the other hand, I hold out the possibility I might be pleasantly surprised by the response.

        In any event, I hope this helps advance some understanding.

      • FYI I’m limited to iphone commenting during the work day and I have limited patience for that That’s interesting and the first seems quite clever. More later.

      • Mark,kudos to you. Without knowing about family law in your jurisdiction I can’t say much about the prenatal expense case, but revealing the bias of the expert in that way was shrewd and showing that religious conviction was involved seemed quite relevant.

        Then I don’t need to tell you that family law is where people get irrational and vindictive in a way that is ultimately destructive. That you counsel your client to do the right thing strikes me as quite responsible and aimed toward doing the most good that you can. If you have a client for whom the Bible is persuasive it seems appropriate to give that kind of counsel.

        This can be tied back into our larger discussion. I’ve known family lawyers who would use what might be called natural law principles do a similar thing. They might counsel their client about actions that ultimately would not be for the good of the children and urge their client to treat the ex with at least a modicum of civility for that reason if no other. If you had a client to whom the Bible is not an authority, you would search for similar principles, yes?

      • Mark Van Der Molen

        Yes, in the case of an unbeliever, I would not have a problem appealing to their conscience/ natural law principles. As I’ve said, it is one (but not the only) tool in the toolkit.

        But as a believer knowing that the natural law is essentially equivalent to the moral law which is summarily comprehended in the Decalogue, I have the advantage of knowing that when they accept the natural law argument, they are in fact submitting to the Bible’s teaching. They cannot contradict each other. Thus, I have had the occasion to enjoy watching a client’s surprise when I show him that he just accepted the Bible’s authority on a matter.

      • Mark, you’re swiping at shadows. Nobody over here is even making “an argument for throwing out the divine word.” But if the Bible is sufficient to norm ecclesial life alone (sola scriptura) why can’t natural law norm civil life alone? But maybe you have a biblicist assumption rolling around underneath, because to say sola scriptura for the church is not to deny tradition, and so in the same way to say that natural law alone norms civil life is not to hermetically seal off the Bible from common life. Christian secularists are not legal secularists. So when 2k says that natural law is sufficient to norm common life alone maybe you are listening with biblicist ears instead of Protestant ears.

      • Mark Van Der Molen

        Zrim, at least you again confirm the dispute is not over whether natural law is a novel concept, but whether it alone norms the civil realm. You believe natural law alone should norm the civil realm and believe that contesting that proposition is “swiping at shadows” or “biiblicist”. Then as I’ve answered, you would have to find Calvin, the Reformed tradition, and the confessions guilty of the same.

        Yet, I note you suggest that the Bible is not “hermetically sealed off” (or in my words, “thrown out”) from the civil realm. Am I am hearing you correctly to argue that the Bible is in fact normative (in some sense) in the civil realm and at the same time natural law is the alone standard?

  8. Richard

    A fellow lawyer is going to tell us that “a written word is a clearer revelation less susceptible to twisting/misinterpreting”? Really? In which judicial forum do you practice? I just responded in a brief to a D.C. attorney who twisted a judge’s words halfway from here to Sunday! I should have thought of quoting Mr. Molen, Esq. to him.

    • Mark Van Der Molen

      That folks twist the written word is not in dispute. That you used the written word in a brief to point it out makes my point. Your jurisdiction isn’t about to do away with written court opinions or written contracts in favor of trusting everyone to follow natural law inscribed on their conscience.

  9. Mark, you may want to claim the whole Reformed tradition against natural law alone governing civil life, but in his Institutes (3.279) the man in question summarizes that tradition fairly well by in his sevenfold distinction between civil and ecclesiastical power, saying that the former is regulated by “natural reason, civil laws and human statutes (and the latter by “the word of God alone”). I wonder if you could affirm such a statement.

    Re the Bible being in some sense normative in the civil realm, to the extent that natural law and supernatural law coincide, sure. When it comes to the civil conversation over, say the moral aspects of abortion, I’ve no problem with anybody appealing to the fifth and second greatest commandments. But to say the Bible is normative to civil life in the same way it is to ecclesiastical life is what 2k is wanting to clarify, because the way you guys speak it sure sounds like you make very little distinction. And given that you side with the theonomists (shall I quote Kuyper in his diatribe against theonomy?), some of us have very little confidence you’re aware of the distinction in the best of the Reformed tradition.

    • Mark Van Der Molen

      Zrim, I would need to see the actual quote from Turretin in context to answer your question of my affirmation.

      When it comes to the civil conversation over, say the moral aspects of abortion, I’ve no problem with anybody appealing to the fifth and second greatest commandments.

      It sounds as if you concede the fifth and second commandments have normative authority on that question. If so, then why the insistence to say “natural law alone’ for the civil realm?

      But to say the Bible is normative to civil life in the same way it is to ecclesiastical life is what 2k is wanting to clarify, because the way you guys speak it sure sounds like you make very little distinction.

      Not sure what you mean by being normative “in the same way”. Normative is normative. Yet, that does not mean there is no distinction between civil and ecclesiastical matters. The Bible has something normative to say about each of them without confusing or conflating them.

  10. Mark, again, I’m not using “alone” in the biblicist sense, which is to say that the Bible is somehow radically cordoned off from having any sway in civil life (the way creeds and confessions are barred from biblicist churches). All I’m saying is that natural law was designed for natural life. This seems hardly controversial. It’s simply the flip side of sola scriptura for ecclesiastical life, which doesn’t mean creeds and confessions are barred.

    “Normative in the same way” means the Bible tells us how to order and govern churches, i.e. a presbyterian form of governance. That has no bearing on how civil governance should go, which can be through kings, Presidents, or dictators. But when you don’t clarify that the Bible doesn’t norm civil life the same way it does church life you make way for saying the Bible props up checks and balances democracy (because it resembles presbyterianism) or opposes kings and dictators. All of which sounds a lot like baptizing western civilization, which sounds a lot like Protestant liberalism.

  11. Richard

    I’m with MLM: as a fellow attorney, Mark, I’d be interested to hear how you use the special revelation of the Scriptures in your legal practice, since “the Bible has something normative to say.”

  12. So, Mark, does this do anything to quell for your concerns that certain 2kers aren’t wanting erect some sort of impermeable wall between the Bible and civil life, rather want to see more careful distinctions be made in all of this? Given that you’ve shown discernment, I would imagine you can think of instances that need correction. But maybe the rift is between those who still want to hold out a little more possibility for Christianizing the geo-political nations, and others who are satisfied with a secular state but would rather see people Christianized.

    • Mark Van Der Molen

      Zrim, there have been some helpful discussions, including the one here, that give me hope. Yet, I often see that what is given with one hand gets taken away by the other, so I remain skeptical. If there were some definitive clarifications that removed the impermeable wall created by some of the leaders of this movement, then I would say my concerns would be greatly alleviated. I understand that not all from the “2k” camp hold to the same positions, and that there has been some movement/clarification from the 2k side (eg. Horton at Covenant College, Tuininga’s blog) so from my perspective anyway, we need to keep our focus on the more radical separatist formulations. At least one 2k leader remains unmoved by any legitimate critique and in fact, appears more determined than ever to put more bricks in the wall.

      Which leads to a question I wanted to pose to you. You made the following two statements here, and I am reading these as conflictinng or contradictory. The first concedes the Bible does have normative authority in civil life. The second seems to take that away and suggests that natural law is the sole appropriate authority there. Could you clarify/reconcile these?

      “I’m not using “alone” in the biblicist sense, which is to say that the Bible is somehow radically cordoned off from having any sway in civil life..”

      “But if the Bible is sufficient to norm ecclesial life alone (sola scriptura) why can’t natural law norm civil life alone?”

  13. Mark, I think it’s just a point about priority and propriety. Special revelation corresponds to church life, while natural revelation to civil life. Natural revelation isn’t needed, strictly speaking, for church life but Robert’s Rules sure do come in handy. Contrariwise, special revelation isn’t needed, strictly speaking, for civil life but the Bible sure comes in handy in instances as you describe above. But it’s the biblicists who shun Robert’s Rules for church life and the legal secularists who get hot and bothered at your use of the Bible (I’d imagine) in open court.

    • Mark Van Der Molen

      Zrim, this still leaves me unclear. “Priority” is different from “propriety”. “Handy” is different from “authoritative”. Is it appropriate to say that the Bible authoritatively norms civil life in any respect? If yes, then we are on the way to the discussion of how, to what extent, etc. If no, then this is where I see the cordoning off which you say you don’t want to do.

  14. Mark, I’d hesitate on saying the Bible authoritatively norms civil life because that’s just the kind of language I think is reserved for the church. But I also fail to see how that means the Bible is being cordoned off from civil life. The Bible is the book of the church, and it does seem to me that we should be rather jealous for it. It doesn’t belong to the world. I also wonder what is to be gained by saying it authoritatively norms civil life when a perfectly good, God-authored book fits the bill–natural revelation. Is it that you want God explicitly acknowledged in civil life? But I’m content to see people submit to God-ordained rules by way of natural revelation even if they are unaware. And when I read your examples above, I wonder if you could be as well.

    • Mark Van Der Molen

      Zrim, this looks like the impasse reveals itself again and makes me wonder whether real progress is being made. To say the Bible is just for the church (vs. just given *to* the church), to hesitate to say it is authoritative for civil life, to say that natural revelation is sufficient to “fit the bill” there, all together leave me seeing the Bible cordoned off from norming civil life. As I said above, I believe this runs contrary to the testimony of the Canons. And yes, of course I want to see God acknowledged by all men, wherever they may be. And while in particular situations I can be pleased to some degree to see folks conform to natural law, that is does not mean the Word of God is silent or does not have something to say authoritatively and more clearly on a matter.

      God’s Word is His perfect book too, it reveals His will for all men, and yet it sounds as if I’m told it is inappropriate to appeal to its authority in the civil realm.

  15. So, mark, what’s the alternative here? The Bible norms civil life authoritatively. So what does that make of Turretin’s distinction that civil life is regulated by natural reason, civil laws and human statutes and the ecclesiastical life by word of God alone? I know you punted by demanding the context of his words, but 1) get yourself a copy of his Institutes and 2) trust that I’ve quoted him accurately and that it isn’t all that complicated: he made a distinction that doesn’t really comport with the alternative. What keeps you from being theonomic?

    • Mark Van Der Molen

      The alternative is “both/and” instead of “either/or”.

      As for Turretin, my default assumption is that he is not saying what you think he is saying. That is to say, I suspect he makes proper distinctions, but does not turn them into dichotomies. Not directing this to you personally, but too often in this discussion over the years I have seen dead theologians being turned into personal sock puppets to say something quite different from what they actually wrote. Thus, I would need the quote in the context of his broader work and if you’d rather not supply it, then we’ll have to wait for me to get my hands on it.

      If your definition of “theonomic” is the simple belief that God’s Word is authoritative for civil life outside the church, then the confessions are theonomic by your lights.

  16. Mark, by theonomic I mean the OT judicial codes should be embodied legislatively in every geo-political nation. I don’t know how that comports with something like WCF 19.4. But maybe your more theocratic, in which case your troubles don’t end given the revisions to WCF 23 and Belgic 36. It seems to me the originals were theocratic, as in the the Bible norms civil society therefore blasphemy and idolatry are punishable by law. The revisions deny that. We both subscribe Belgic 36, but it seems to me you have a harder time maintaining that the Bible authoritatively norms civil society when you also confess it doesn’t.

    • Mark Van Der Molen

      Zrim, we’ve been on this merry go round before. Revised Belgic 36 still affirms the normative limits set by the Word of God on the magistrate’s actions that are properly in its sphere. The revision clarified that the suppression and punishment of heresy does not belong in the government sphere.

  17. Mark, then it departs from Calvin (and all Constaninian-era Reformed):

    “Then let us not think that this Law is a special Law for the Jews; but let us understand that God intended to deliver us a general rule, to which we must yield ourselves … Since, it is so, it is to be concluded, not only that it is lawful for all kings and magistrates, to punish heretics and such as have perverted the pure truth; but also that they be bound to do it, and that they misbehave themselves towards God, if they suffer errors to rest without redress, and employ not their whole power to shew greater zeal in their behalf than in all other things.” (Calvin, Sermon 87 on Deuteronomy 13:5)

    But if you really want the Bible to norm society the way it does the church you have to side with Calvin and not the revisions. The church should suppress idolatry and blasphemy. It should also baptize believers and their children. Is that what you want Obama doing? If not, then maybe you really don’t want the Bible norming civil society.

    • Mark Van Der Molen

      you really want the Bible to norm society the way it does the church you have to side with Calvin and not the revisions.

      Not the “way it does the church”.

      I do side with Calvin and the Revisions on the simple principle that God’s Word norms society. Perhaps your acknowledgement of the propriety of an appeal to the authority of the Decalogue on the abortion issue was just a departure from your “2k” position.

      • So a more Kantian-Jeffersonian norming, as in dispense with all the religious trappings and leave all the ethics and imperatives? I mean, it seems to me that if the Bible norms then you must take all the imperatives and not just the ones that all people can agree upon. The beauty of 2k is that it lets the whole Bible norm the church and the whole of natural law norm civil society. Neo-Calvinism seems cafeteria-ish.

      • Mark Van Der Molen

        Zrim, this is nice bit of projection on your part. The natural law itself encompasses both tables, calling all men to worship God, to not blaspheme, not kill, etc. Without the aid of Scripture, you are left with a smorgasboard of imperatives without distinguishing which imperatives are directed to which sphere as you arbitrarily slide your Jeffersonian tray down the cafeteria line.

      • Mark, sorry if I missed it, but, given your perspective, what keeps you from affirming the propriety of a Geneva-like use of civil law? If you could cast the deciding vote on civil enforcement of the first table, would you? If not, why not?

      • Mark Van Der Molen

        Could you put some flesh on what your understanding is of a “Geneva-like” use of the civil law? Having just finished Hall’s book on Geneva, there are many misconceptions (eg. Geneva was theocracy) and I want us to be operating with the same general understanding.

        And what do you have in mind when you use the term “enforcement” of the first table? Are you thinking forced conversion by the sword– or something else?

      • Well you could tell us what you learned from the book. But, really, if you can’t answer whether you prefer Geneva or the USA as a civil state that tells quite a bit. And if some of us have difficulty distinguishing neo-Cals from theonomists in this area your non-answer tends to validate that head-scratching.

      • Mark Van Der Molen

        My question was a prelude to answering yours. There are elements of Geneva that are instructive for today, but if, as it appears, our conversation is veering into meaningless generalizations like “theonomy=neo-Cal”, then I’ve got better things to do. Grace and peace to you.

      • Some people will think you bailed because you can’t convincingly answer the question. Shame on them!

        Obvious distinctions are hard to explain, right?

      • Mark Van Der Molen

        People can think what they want. I remain open to having a respectful and careful conversation if you don’t want to bail on engaging in one.

      • So, Mark, are you calling the Belgic revisions you subscribe (and the WCF) cafeteria? But maybe what the 2k that is informing the revisions is doing is also distinguishing between the personal and political: Yes, natural law teaches that all PEOPLE should worship the one true God and not blaspheme his name, but it is not the duty of the MAGISTRATE to enforce true religion at the point of the sword. Some of us are content to let the SPIRIT take care of enforcing true religion.

        As far as generalizations, does it help to say that all theonomists are neo-Calvinists but not all neo-Calvinists are theonomists?

  18. Heidegger affirmed Natural Law against Barth therefore anybody who affirms Natural law is Heideggerian.

    Makes sense to me.

  19. “Calvin On The Abiding Validity Of The General Equity Of The Mosaic Judicials — Contra Anabaptists”

    “And for proof thereof, what is the cause that the heathen are so hardened in their own dotages? It is for that they never knew God’s Law, and therefore they never compared the truth with the untruth. But when God’s law come in place, then doth it appear that all the rest is but smoke insomuch that they which took themselves to be marvelous witty, are found to have been no better than besotted in their own beastliness. This is apparent. Wherefore let us mark well, that to discern that there is nothing but vanity in all worldly devices, we must know the Laws and ordinances of God. But if we rest upon men’s laws, surely it is not possible for us to judge rightly. Then must we need to first go to God’s school, and that will show us that when we have once profited under Him, it will be enough. That is all our perfection. And on the other side, we may despise all that is ever invented by man, seeing there is nothing but *fondness and uncertainty in them. And that is the cause why Moses terms them rightful ordinances. As if he should say, it is true indeed that other people have store of Laws: but there is no right at all in them, all is awry, all is crooked.”

    * fondness = foolishness, weakness, want of sense and judgment

    John Calvin
    Sermons on Deuteronomy, sermon 21 on Deut. 4:6-9

    “Then let us not think that this Law is a special Law for the Jews; but let us understand that God intended to deliver us a general rule, to which we must yield ourselves … Since, it is so, it is to be concluded, not only that it is lawful for all kings and magistrates, to punish heretics and such as have perverted the pure truth; but also that they be bound to do it, and that they misbehave themselves towards God, if they suffer errors to rest without redress, and employ not their whole power to shew greater zeal in their behalf than in all other things.”

    John Calvin, Sermon on Deuteronomy, sermon 87 on Deuteronomy 13:5

    In a treatise against pacifistic Anabaptists who maintained a doctrine of the spirituality of the Church which abrogated the binding authority of the case law Calvin wrote,

    “They (the Anabaptists) will reply, possibly, that the civil government of the people of Israel was a figure of the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ and lasted only until his coming, I will admit to them that in part, it was a figure, but I deny that it was nothing more than this, and not without reason. For in itself it was a political government, which is a requirement among all people. That such is the case, it is written of the Levitical priesthood that it had to come to an end and be abolished at the coming of our Lord Jesus (Heb. 7:12ff) Where is it written that the same is true of the external order? It is true that the scepter and government were to come from the tribe of Judah and the house of David, but that the government was to cease is manifestly contrary to Scripture.”

    John Calvin
    Treatise against the Anabaptists and against the Libertines, pp. 78-79

    “But it is questioned whether the law pertains to the kingdom of Christ, which is spiritual and distinct from all earthly dominion; and there are some men, not otherwise ill-disposed, to whom it appears that our condition under the Gospel is different from that of the ancient people under the law; not only because the kingdom of Christ is not of this world, but because Christ was unwilling that the beginnings of His kingdom should be aided by the sword. But, when human judges consecrate their work to the promotion of Christ’s kingdom, I deny that on that account its nature is changed. For, although it was Christ’s will that His Gospel should be proclaimed by His disciples in opposition to the power of the whole world, and He exposed them armed with the Word alone like sheep amongst the wolves, He did not impose on Himself an eternal law that He should never bring kings under His subjection, nor tame their violence, nor change them from being cruel persecutors into the patrons and guardians of His Church.”

    John Calvin
    Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses – p. 77.

    • There’s a certain oddness to battling over who most closely approximates the civil views of a man who was so influential over Geneva. For all Calvin’s brilliance, Geneva is not and should not be a model to aspire to.

      • John Knox for his part, was so impressed with Calvin’s Geneva, he called it, “the most perfect school of Christ that was ever on earth since the days of the apostles.”

        Perhaps you would prefer Harare or Mogadishu?

      • I prefer the civil influence of Jefferson, Franklin, and Washington, and it’s not even close. Do your neighbors know that you would execute them, banish them, or put them in stocks if you had your way?

      • Richard

        “Oddness” is one way of putting it. I’d rather adhere to the Scriptures and the Confessions.

  20. Bret, God put you in Charlotte 2013. Why are you fantasizing about Geneva 1541? Maybe Moscow is your real home. But careful, its citizens almost put Wilson into exile for trying to re-create Geneva.

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