01 July 2014

Natural Law or Theories of Natural Law?

Go here to read a superb piece by Matthew Tuininga, Why We Need Natural Law More Than We Need a Theory About It. (Matt was also presented an excellent paper at the Convivium Calvinisticum 2014 that I described briefly here.) Working with and against mid-twentieth century French Protestant philosopher Jacques Ellul, Tuininga explains why theories of natural law trailed the phenomenon of natural law and why such theorizing accompanied the decline in the utility of natural law itself. Ellul ultimately concluded that natural law offered nothing useful in to a secularized society.

Tuininga demurs at Ellul's pessimistic conclusion:
I also think that he – and many contemporary Christians – are too quick to dismiss the moral sensibilities of a world that remains under the common grace of God. Ellul wrote in the shadow of a shattered Europe, with millions of the dead able to testify to what law had howbecome in the hands of dictators and soldiers, guerrillas and criminals. But even in the late 1940s and 1950s Americans were much more optimistic (witness the baby boom) because they realized that the European experience was not the whole story.
And I believe my work bears out Tuininga's cautious optimism. Thus, although it wasn't central to my argument, my article Looking for Bedrock: Accounting for Human Rights in Classical Liberalism, Modern Secularism, and the Christian Tradition (download here) demonstrates that secular of approaches to human rights invoke a form of natural law analysis, albeit one without ontological foundations.

And, if there are still any Protestants in the Reformed tradition who think belief in natural law is somehow inconsistent with that tradition, I would direct them to my most-frequently downloaded piece, God's Bridle: John Calvin's Use of Natural Law (which you too can download by going here).

1 comment:

  1. I am not so sure or, perhaps, not sure what you mean. I thought your God's Bridle article did an excellent job of laying out several kinds of "belief in natural law" that "somehow" would run contrary to the reformed faith, e.g. belief that natural law arises from man's autonomous reason alone without reference to God or that it is sufficient for God-pleasing action. Obviously, those whose belief in natural law lessens their perception of their need for Christ or the extent of Christ's personal reign would be believing in ways inconsistent with reformed faith. If you mean only that there is some possible construction of "natural law" that one may believe in consistently with Christian faith, I think all would agree. I would summarize Ellul's objection to natural law not as an objection to belief in it, but as an objection to the claim that belief in natural law is the sufficient center of a Christian account of law. I summarized his views here: http://issuu.com/clsnet/docs/cls_journal_spring2011final/12