21 December 2009

Robert George and the New Ecumenism

by Phil Johnson



    know what you're thinking: we've already beaten the Manhattan Declaration to death, and we don't need another TeamPyro post on the issue.

I was feeling the same way myself two weeks ago, but the horse keeps coming back to life. Last week, for example, the New York Times published this feature profiling Robert P. George, the sole Roman Catholic in the triumvirate of authors who wrote the Manhattan Declaration. George is a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton and heir to the late Richard John Neuhaus's mantle as American conservatism's leading Catholic intellectual.

George, like Neuhaus, is ecumenical in a uniquely Roman Catholic and conservative sense. In a recent Touchstone article pleading for Christian unity in the midst of cultural division, he celebrates the fact that "the pro-life movement and . . . other godly causes to protect the vulnerable and heal a wounded culture" have brought Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern orthodox believers together despite their fundamental doctrinal differences. George seems to suggest that the moral issues are, after all, vastly more important than whatever points of doctrine once divided Protestants from Rome (and Rome from Constantinople).

In fact, George implies that the main reason the ecumenical movement exists and is growing today is because the old doctrinal issues that divided Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants simply aren't relevant in the culture war. Allowing doctrinal differences to keep us from putting up a completely united front in the culture war is "misguided," George says. How could our benighted spiritual ancestors have been so foolish as to disfellowship one another over differences about the gospel? Take, for example, "the differences between Catholics and Lutherans regarding justification." Were those really fundamental differences in the first place, or were the Reformers and the Council of Trent mostly just talking past one another? George offhandedly asserts that those things were mostly "misunderstandings" that have now been "clear[ed] away."

He writes,
For Christians who are part of this new ecumenical alliance, ancient animosities and mutual suspicions have quite simply vanished. No longer do we view each other as "heretics" or "apostates," much less as "infidels." Many of us find it increasingly difficult to fathom how it could be that generations of Christians did perceive and speak of each other in these harsh terms. Despite our differences, we regard each other—effortlessly—as brothers and sisters in the Lord. We joyfully work together across the old lines of division; we pray together; we support and counsel one another; we listen to—and learn from—one another; we seek understanding and, much more often than not, are able to find or establish it. Together we pray for the "complete and visible" unity that would truly be the fulfillment of Christ's prayer.

Yet read the rest of the article and see if you don't come away with a strong impression that George's own idea of "a more perfect unity of mind and spirit" can never truly exist unless Rome's Pope is in charge of it.

Anyway, be sure to read the New York Times piece. It's an insightful behind-the-scenes look at how the conservative movement's agenda is being shaped. It further highlights some troubling ideas underlying the strategy that produced the Manhattan Declaration.

In short, Robert George's contribution has been to seek ways to argue against gay marriage, abortion, and other social evils by appealing to "natural law" rather than Scripture. George is convinced that conservatives in the culture war need to build their case on "principles of right reason and natural law," not biblical law. George wants conservatives in the culture war to make their appeal to logic, not the Bible. In the words of the NYT article, "George is the leading voice for a group of Catholic scholars known as the new natural lawyers. He argues for the enforcement of a moral code as strictly traditional as that of a religious fundamentalist. What makes his natural law 'new' is that it disavows dependence on divine revelation or biblical Scripture—or even history and anthropology. Instead, George rests his ethics on a foundation of 'practical reason': 'invoking no authority beyond the authority of reason itself,' as [George himself] put it in one essay" (emphasis added).

Even the New York Times writer (David D. Kirkpatrick) seemed to sense that the biblical truths of original sin and human depravity posed a fairly fundamental challenge to Robert George's notion that society can be won to righteousness through human reason alone. He writes,
I asked George several times if he was really hoping to ground a mass movement in abstract principles of reason so at odds with the prevailing culture. It was a bet, he said, on his conviction about the innate human gift for reason. Still, he said, if there was one critique of his work that worried him, it was the charge that he puts too much faith in the power of reason, overlooking what Christians describe as original sin and what secular pessimists call history.

It is a debate at least as old as the Reformation, when Martin Luther broke with the Catholic Church and insisted that reason was so corrupted that faith in the divine was humanity's only hope of salvation. (Until relatively recently, contemporary evangelicals routinely leveled the same charge at modern Catholics.) "This is a serious issue, and if I am wrong, this is where I am wrong," George acknowledges.

This is indeed a serious issue, and George is wrong. What sinners in this decaying culture need is redemption and spiritual rebirth, not merely sounder moral logic and more convincing rational arguments about why their sin is bad.

Read the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians for an extended biblical rebuttal to George's strategy.

As we have been saying for years, the gospel—not natural law, moralistic logic, philosophical reasoning, or political strategizing, but the gospel—is the power of God unto salvation. God's Word doesn't need an intellectual's rational arguments to prop it up. It may sound foolish to suggest that the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed clearly and supported only with "thus saith the Lord" carries more weight or is actually more efficacious than an elaborate philosophical argument, but that is, after all, what God himself says—and "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Corinthians 1:25). That verse comes in a context where Paul is explaining in detail why the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, and why the gospel is ultimately a more persuasive and more effective means of individual and cultural transformation than all the philosophical arguments, moralistic reason, and academic logic the brightest minds and most eloquent orators of this world have to offer.

If evangelicals really want to make an impact on our culture, we need to keep that in mind. We need to get to work proclaiming the gospel in our own communities. And frankly, we ought to leave the philosophical strategy in the culture war to people who have no sharper weapon. Declarations of spiritual unity with moralists, academicians, and religious figures who reject the gospel are a sham and a lie, and such declarations do undermine the gospel and muddy our testimony—regardless of anyone's original intent.

Phil's signature

57 comments:

Respectabiggle said...

I haven't made a decision either way on the MD (and nobody on Earth is going to notice my signature or its absence there, anyway), but your arguments at the end of this piece have very clearly nailed down the case against Natural Law. Thanks for that concise indictment.

Ben said...

Any chance this will come up in some QnA between Drs. Mohler and MacArthur at Shepherd's Conference?

Maybe a session on "Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist Ought to Repudiate Cobelligerence"?

Jon Elliff said...

Gracias Phil.

CR said...

PJ: snip snip It may sound foolish to suggest that the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed clearly and supported only with "thus saith the Lord" carries more weight or is actually more efficacious than an elaborate philosophical argument, but that is, after all, what God himself says—and "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Corinthians 1:25). That verse comes in a context where Paul is explaining in detail why the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, and why the gospel is ultimately a more persuasive and more effective means of individual and cultural transformation than all the philosophical arguments, moralistic reason, and academic logic the brightest minds and most eloquent orators of this world have to offer.

Well, I don't know that Paul's arguments in 1 Cor is a criticism against using legitimate arguments (e.g., on abortion) in light of natural law (and even governmental law). God is also Lord of natural law and governmental law. I think the criticism by Paul of foolish doctrine of men would be things like pantheism or some other foolish doctrine.

And arguments against abortion can be examined in light of natural, government and biblical law.

The problem with appealing to Scriptural law, exclusively, against certain social evils, is that, not everyone believes in Scripture. Now, I disagree with George that we should abandon biblical arguments, but when we interact with the public on certain social evils, there is nothing wrong with defending the unborn also on a natural and governmental law basis.

Daryl said...

""This is a serious issue, and if I am wrong, this is where I am wrong," George acknowledges."

What a scary, foolish, statement by George.

Christian said...

Good thoughts, Phil. Thanks for the ongoing commentary on this issue.

The infatuation of leaders at Southern Seminary and elsewhere in the Southern Baptist Convention with Robert George ought to be alarming to Southern Baptists and indeed, to conservative evangelicalism as a whole.

We hear a lot of talk about the need for a Great Commission Resurgence to go along with the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC. However, with several of the leading lights among Southern Baptists today signing on to things like MD, appearing at apologetics conferences with Roman Catholics and hosting conferences with R. George, one wonders whether the Conservative Resurgence was conservative enough. Not to mention the other evangelical signatories, of course.

During the height of the Cold War, Martyn Lloyd-Jones stated that Catholicism was more dangerous than Communism. I would imagine this was in the context of an incipient form of co-belligerence in his day, particularly with Anglican evangelicals. It appears that we're seeing those chickens come home to roost now with things like ECT and the MD.

Phil Johnson said...

CR: "The problem with appealing to Scriptural law, exclusively, against certain social evils, is that, not everyone believes in Scripture."

Oh, I see: Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the superior power of human persuasion, huh?

I have never understood how the secular public's unbelief is an argument for stifling the proclamation of biblical truth in the marketplace of ideas or supplanting the plain commandments of God's law with cleverly-devised arguments drawn from natural law or human philosophy.

But I hear people all the time suggesting that it's a waste of time or an ill-advised strategy to declare the Word of the Lord if people don't already believe it.

Frankly, I think the set of presuppositions on which that argument is built is the whole reason the church has so little influence upon the culture today.

CR said...

No Phil that's not what I said.

Nuno Fonseca said...

Saudi Arabia has no trouble with homosexual marriage. But then again, there's no gospel there either.

Get your priorities straight, declaration signers!

Paul said...

There have been many times when secular judges have struck down some law that might be seen as discriminating against homsexuals on the basis that it was "irrational" and therefore the only motivation for the law could be bigotry. That is quite infuriating and quite arrogant and amounts to little more than these judges proclaiming, "Everyone who agrees with me is sane, and everyone who disagrees with me is crazy."

Yet is seems as if those Christians who are trying to use "natural law" arguments are making the same kind of error. Are supporters of abortion, gay marriage, and secularism (which include many of the most educated and accomplished people in society) just being "irrational?"

It is amazing just how adept the unregenerate man will be at using his (God-given) reasoning powers to suppress the truth in unrighteousness.

Nuno Fonseca said...

I must disagree there, Paul. Natural Law is the way to go.

Just today I had a conversation with a non-Evangelical friend about gay marriage. It went fine. I made sure that my only concern as a Christian was to present everyone - including gays - to the means of Grace: the Gospel. Having clarified that homosexuals are sinners like I am and she is, and that only faith in Christ crucified will impute that righteousness that reconciles us with the true God, holy and just, I moved on to talk about gay marriage, as a common citizen concerned about what's good to the common well-being of my country.

I introduced her to the damage that equating the validity of heterosexual marriage with gay marriage is very likely to cause to our demography (less kids>less workers>less taxpayers>less welfare, etc); the problems that it would cause to the checks-and-balances of individual rights (egg: churches couldn't refuse to celebrate gay marriages and the State couldn't impose that duty to those churches); and I got to throw in there the lack of arguments there would be left to counter polygamy (just for funsies).

In the end, I managed to give a clear Gospel presentation and a good case against gay marriage, without any confusion between Law and Grace, the Church's agenda and my political viewpoints that, tough derived from Scripture, find a common ground in Natural Law.

2-K theology rules!

SOLI DEO GLORIA

SniperedPastor said...

It is ironic that George is a Princeton professor who is diametrically opposed to Cornelius van Til, that other earlier, and profoundly more biblical Princeton professor. van Til's argument for usage of the word of God to prove every argument trumps George's at every level. And van Til was probably one of these most read philosophers in history - taking in the original writers in their mother tongue. He saw what others here have noted: Who's rational argument or interpretation of natural law will we use?

The only absolute authority that everyone must agree with is God's. He provides the moral compass, and we don't get to say why his compass makes superior natural law or not.

And one more point: It's not the superior point that wins the war anyway, it's the best marketed point in our culture. (Just ask that guy that wrote Rich Dad, Poor Dad)

Bobby Grow said...

Phil,

I agree with your critique of George's use of reason; but where do you think that comes from? He is, and Rome is, pure and simple Thomist. This dichotomy between Faith and Reason fountain-heads from there.

What I find ironic about your critique is that your sword cuts both ways. I wish the TULIP and its history was as pure and biblical as we are lead to believe; but unfortunately it is not. It's informing doctrine of God is as thoroughly "Thomist" as George's ethics and natural law are. So either the "Calvinist" can simply reject what I just said; or accept it, and just remain internally inconsistent when critiques are made of natural law theory.

Just my 2 cents . . .

CR said...

I found Nuno's comment interesting and on target.

I liked his approach of sharing the gospel but also explaining from a natural law perspective what's wrong with gay marriage.

I agree with Phil's point that the gospel and not natural law is the power unto salvation. I would disagree with George that society can be won to righteousness by natural law, period. (Maybe it can reach closer to "morality" (ostensibly) which is not the same thing as righteousness).

The problem with appealing to biblical law, exclusively, to the natural man, is that he hates God. And we can clearly see this. What's the problem with society with putting up the ten commandments on a public building? Is it because there's something wrong, with Do not murder or Do not steal or Do covet your neighbor's wife? No, there is nothing wrong with it, but because God said it, they're opposed to it.

But the natural man does understand murder is wrong and stealing is wrong. In fact, if he is not in Christ, God's going to judge the murderer of his sins, because he knows it's wrong.

So, we shouldn't completely abandon natural law arguments. especially with people who are not Christian. They are natural and not born-again and there is nothing wrong with interacting with the natural man who is not born-again on why abortion or homosexual marriage is wrong from a natural, government, or legal view.

I believe we have a responsibility (especially to those who cannot defend themselves) not to abandon other arguments just because because some of the people (many of them) are unregenerate and refuse to embrace the gospel.

William Dicks said...

Hi Phil,

As always you write with great thought behind the message. Now I know you don't believe that Christians should not be involved in the political process at all, and that we should not be involved in standing against certain immoral issues of the day such as abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.

The question is the how, why and with whom of involvement. Could you perhaps flesh this out a bit in one of your posts? If you already have such a post, could you point us in that direction?

CR said...

William,

What you can do is do a search within the Pyro blog and put in politics and you'll find Phil's blog positions on this issue.

You know, as an aside, I think one of the important things we can do is lead people into a discussion of the gospel, especially with those conservatives who are non-Christian and who are already predisposed to be against abortion and gay marriage. E.g., you can ask them why do things like this happen and just lead them into a discussion.

I'm not saying you can't do this with liberals but since they're already predisposed to be for abortion and gay marriage perhaps a better issue to lead them to the gospel is issues on war. Most of them are against any kind of war, even just wars, and you can ask them why do these things happen (like war) and just lead them into a discussion. Just a thought.

Mark B. Hanson said...

I think George wants to be evenhanded in his consideration of who will need to change opinions in order for there to be organizational unity among "us", but he does tip his hand with this sentence:

"Pope John Paul II has invited Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Christians to reflect with him in light of Scripture and the earliest practices of the Church on ways to reshape the exercise of the Petrine office."

The use of the phrase "the Petrine office" carries the implicit assumption that the pope does occupy Peter's place, and seeks to become - indeed, must become - the leader of all Christians somehow. There is certainly no consideration that the office referred to could be done away with, or could ever be considered "one among equals".

Still I think George is trying to operate in good faith from the basis of a bad faith.

Frank Turk said...

It's hard to disagree with Phil's critique of George since George doesn't disagree with Phil's critique.

Here's where I might part ways with my friend and senior both in sanctification and faith: "preaching the Gospel" is not the same as "reasoning from nature", and each has a separate objective theologically.

We don't preach the Gospel to renovate the culture: we preach the Gospel to call men out of the world of darkness and into the light of Christ. We actually preach the Gospel to rob the culture of men.

But these men will return in some way as pilgrims through the culture and to the final kingdom of God. The church is the vehicle of that pilgrimage. And while we declare the kingdom we are headed toward and are in fact citizens of, the general revelation in creation is our ally and our common ground with those such as ones we once were.

In this way, political reasoning is not Gospel reasoning. The ultimate end of the politics of this age is the ministry of the sword -- to punish those who are lawless, not to reform them. So when we think about what ought to be law, we can decide that we will never pass a law against covetousness (for example) because ending covetousness requires reform of one's nature and not merely some kind of self-restriction; but on the other hand, outlawing murder, rape, theft and lying are plainly ways to restrict the one with no moral compass from doing things that will harm others. Someone who would consider murder must also consider that he will be caught and that punishment will follow.

This, btw, follows the logic of Rom 1&2 which says that while some men are given over to unnatural desires because they are hardened idolaters, they do know what God's decrees are -- they simply do not follow God's decrees. Rom 2 makes it clear that they are condemned by their matters of obedience because it points out that they ought to know better than their disobedience.

I had a chat with my wife on this to see whether the Holy Spirit was with me or not, and she said that we can't expect fallen people who are not born again to reason with a clean conscience. We should expect them to resist their conscience.

The irony is that I agree with her -- but we cannot expect to enforce the demands of the Gospel when people are determined to resist the demands of the Law. We should expect to enforce the matters of natural law in our courts, and then preach to the world the matter of Gospel in the streets and our worship.

Probably not the majority opinion here, and I am on a forced hiatus so I won't be able to defend this today. Feel free to dismantle the whole thing in my absence.

Paul Edwards said...

Robert George is my guest today at 4:20 pm ET to discuss this topic. Stream it live at http://www.godandculture.com

John said...

Snipered pastor has correctly understood the issue as one of apologetics. Is presuppositional apologetics the only legitimate apologetic for believers? This leads to other questions, such as the following:
1. Can society be made better through enforced morality?
2. Should we as Christians be focused on preaching the gospel to the exclusion of social morality?
3. What methods should we use to pursue these goals?
So I see these ideas as interrelated. Personally, I think Israel is a great example of how social morality is an epic fail. I see the real issue for the church as one of spreading the gospel, so I tend to stick with VanTillian apologetics. Still, there must be a balance here...and if banning homosexual marriage can be accomplished by Natural Law arguments, should we not pursue those?

Frank Turk said...

link troll.

:-)

ockennedys said...

I might be just a dullard, but aren't we confusing terms a bit when speaking of "natural law"?

God's general revelation is fairly limited in scope (though incredibly deep in implication). The created universe reveals that a great, grand creator God exists and even tells us creatures something about his divine attributes. But general revelation falls far short of providing solid grounds to win any argument in the culture war. As Romans makes clear, natural man actively suppresses God's general revelation anyway -- the gospel, not logic, is the way to cut through that suppression.

I suspect that some of you may have the Kantian/Jeffersonian/American view of "natural law" in mind as well. That is, the idea that certain moral principles are self-evident from the created order. Putting aside the deistic roots of the American understanding of natural law, there is little reason to think that resorting to these kind of natural moral principles will be effective.

For example, I think supporters of homosexual marriage would response to Nuno's argument by attacking the underlying presumption that gay marriage is less likely to lead to offspring. Modern technology allows lesbian couples to have children via artificial insemination. And most people on the other side of the culture war would argue that lowering the birth rate actually would be desirable. The bottom line is that natural man desires gay marriage, abortion and the like because his heart is wicked. No amount of logical persuasion will change that. Only the gospel has the power to bring sight and life to the spiritually blind and dead.

Frank Turk said...

ock --

I agree with what you have said. I disagree that this means we have a stalemate, therefore, between the lost and the redeemed. Further, I deny that we can therefore have no non-theological agreement on things like common law.

The two examples I would provide to support my statements:

[1] The success of the church and the Gospel in the first 3 centuries to convert men from pagan moral oblivion to something we would call more civilized. There is absolutely no question that while the church was placed under severe persecution, the example and testimony of the church by example was its key persuasive characteristic. We can raise up the hard-reformed line that it was only God's grace which softened the hearts of those who saw that example, but that will quickly deteriorate into hyper-calvinism: would one then say that all who were softened that way were saved, or is it true that some were softened and attracted to the example of the church and Christians but not saved?

Or are we Wesleyans now, and attribute that to "common grace" which leaves people in an indeterminate state but perpetually on the verge of accepting God's revelation -- both general and special -- at face value?

[2] The myriad ancient civilizations with neo-mosaic codes. You can't possibly say Hammurabi, for example, was in some way like Abraham or Samuel with a dim light of revelation -- yet Hammurabi's code was so similar to the Mosaic code that many non-believers would hope to convince you that Moses was influenced by Hammurabi because of the broad similarity between the two.

I have a hard time completely endorsing the idea that men have nothing left of the image of God in them because of the fall, or reading Rom 1&2 to mean that men are simply with no ability to perceive the moral law of God. The argument in Rom 2 is not that men cannot see that law, but that because they can see it, and do abide by some of it sometimes, they are merely convicted as without any excuse.

CR said...

Frank: snip snip There is absolutely no question that while the church was placed under severe persecution, the example and testimony of the church by example was its key persuasive characteristic.snip snip would one then say that all who were softened that way were saved, or is it true that some were softened and attracted to the example of the church and Christians but not saved?

If I understand you correctly, then I fundamentally disagree with this and I think Scriptures is in disagreement. Once we give any credit to the church of its example for "softening" even if it's small, then salvation becomes a work of the church. It's no longer Christ alone, but it's Christ plus the example of the church. It is true that the Gospel advanced in the first three centuries. It wasn't because of the "success" of the church. There is a direct correlation between the persecution of the church and the advance of the gospel. (That would partly explain why the gospel is not being advanced in the US, because the American church is no persecuted).

But it's not a cause-effect relation. The sole and exlusive cause of the advance of the gospel is the Holy Spirit. God normatively works through a remnant and it's only in times of revival does He work through majorities. The early church was an example. The Reformation was an example and the Great Awakening was an example. And we should pray for more revivals.

Now, the church is called to be a good example, in fact, not only a good example, but blameless especially to the world but that in no way softens the heart of man. The only thing that softens the heart of man is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.

I do agree with you that men can perceive the moral law of God (no matter how depraved they are). They perceive it for two reasons: because of general revelation and because of their conscience.

There isn't any problem with the law or general revelation. The problem is with man. General revelation nor the law was never designed to bring men to salvation post-Fall. Only special revelation can do that.

Jonathan Vowell said...

George was definitely even-handed, especially with this statement: "Our efforts to overcome division must not be made at the expense of truth. A unity worth having is unity in truth. Regard for truth must, therefore, shape, and will necessarily limit, what we can do in the cause of Christian unity."

Perhaps that is why he still gives preeminence to the "Petrine office": as a faithful Catholic, his loyalty to and view of the pope are based on "truths" that are "not negotiable." I'm no ecumenicist, and I definitely disagree with George's placement of human reason above divine revelation (did the failures of the Enlightenment teach us nothing?) but I do think that he has stated the entire issue of "new ecumenism" rather well.

As to the whole "Gospel and Natural Law" thingy, my hat is thrown into CR's, Nuno's, and Frank's circle. Both the Gosepl and Natural Law (or any form of rational argumentation) have different uses, yet both are equally necessary tools for our use. All that is true (whether its revelation be general or special) belongs to the children of God. There is obviously a hierarchy (e.g., the Gospel is of greater necessity for people than Natural Law), but we should not throw the lesser out because it is the lesser.

ockennedys said...

Frank,

My point wasn't to suggest that the redeemed are at a stalemate in dealing with the lost about moral issues aside from communicating the gospel. I'm not sure what you mean by "common law," but I certainly agree that men of all stripes can have non-theological agreement on matters of public morality.

I just don't see how the Bible provides any reason to think that resorting to "natural law" when attempting to change the culture would be either effective or desirable.

To address the two examples you raise,

[1] From my limited knowledge of early church history, I agree that the church's example was its key persuasive characteristic (especially in the face of severe persecution). But those cultures were transformed first and foremost through the spread of the gospel. As to those who were "softened" but not saved, my strong suspicion is that they were convinced by seeing the church's love in action rather than by logical appeals to natural moral law.

[2] I'm not able to speak to the myriad ancient civilizations with neo-mosaic codes (though Hammurabi's code was a highlight of the Louvre). Assuming you're right that myriad codes exist and that they all share a high degree of similarity with the mosaic law (which I doubt), that certainly would argue for a shared conviction on certain moral issues. I wouldn't find that surprising in the slightest because I don't think it can reasonably be disputed that some moral convictions share near universal cross-cultural recognition (e.g., people shouldn't kill each other without reason). That, I would argue, is a function of (1) the fact that God has given all men a conscience that testifies to the moral implications of at least certain actions (or, as you suggest, the fact that sinful man retains some of the image of God post-fall); and (2) the fact that certain of God's laws redound to fallen man's benefit. Thus, most societies outlaw murder both because people inherently know it's wrong and because we don't want to be killed by our neighbor. Indeed, the organization of government to enforce such laws is evidence of God's common grace in restraining the natural sin of man.

It's a very large leap, though, to say that the existence of some common moral convictions can be used to convince people of the wisdom of moral precepts as to which there is no semblance of universal agreement. Having that as our goal seems especially foolhardy with an issue like homosexuality, when man's disposition to homosexuality is itself a judgment of God against man's sinful rebellion.

Even if appealing to natural law would be effective in winning the culture war, I don't think it would be desirable to resort to natural law as the means to achieve public morality. If nothing else, we would run the risk of misrepresenting the church of Christ as being more interested in moralism than gospel transformation.

Craig and Heather said...

Or are we Wesleyans now, and attribute that to "common grace" which leaves people in an indeterminate state but perpetually on the verge of accepting God's revelation -- both general and special -- at face value?


So..... are you saying that Wesleyans teach a false gospel?

Frank Turk said...

Heather -

Nope. I'm saying that at some place we have to be consistent with what we say we believe.

I think Wesleyan doctrine is faulty, and weird, but not so much so that it is a hallmark of unsaved people.

Rather my point was that it seems to me that the arguments against natural law bounce around so much that they cannot be rightly said to be reformed, or arminian, or any other thing which is caused by semi-systematic thinking.

And I say that knowing that Phil rejects natural law as a valid way to reason with the unsaved. I'll bet (heh) he can straighten me out, and eventually will.

:-)

Frank Turk said...

CR saith:


| If I understand you correctly, then I
| fundamentally disagree with this and I
| think Scriptures is in disagreement.
| Once we give any credit to the church
| of its example for "softening" even if
| it's small, then salvation becomes a
| work of the church. It's no longer
| Christ alone, but it's Christ plus the
| example of the church.

It's Christmas, so I'm going to go easy on you, CR.

What do you make of Paul's instruction to Titus to teach people to "adorn the Gospel" with good works?

| It is true that
| the Gospel advanced in the first three
| centuries. It wasn't because of the
| "success" of the church. There is a
| direct correlation between the
| persecution of the church and the
| advance of the gospel. (That would
| partly explain why the gospel is not
| being advanced in the US, because the
| American church is no persecuted).

It's difficult to go easy on hypercalvinist, but given that I think it is unintentional on your part, I'll respond with this:

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

| But it's not a cause-effect relation.

Except when it is. In Scripture.

| The sole and exlusive cause of the
| advance of the gospel is the Holy
| Spirit. God normatively works
| through a remnant ...

Aha!

| ... and it's only in
| times of revival does He work
| through majorities. The early church
| was an example. The Reformation
| was an example and the Great
| Awakening was an example. And we
| should pray for more revivals.

Again I say "Aha!"

| Now, the church is called to be a good
| example, in fact, not only a good
| example, but blameless especially to
| the world but that in no way softens
| the heart of man. The only thing that
| softens the heart of man is the
| supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.

For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.

you know: or not.

| I do agree with you that men can
| perceive the moral law of God (no
| matter how depraved they are). They
| perceive it for two reasons: because of
| general revelation and because of
| their conscience.
|
| There isn't any problem with the law
| or general revelation. The problem is
| with man. General revelation nor the
| law was never designed to bring men
| to salvation post-Fall. Only special
| revelation can do that.

Who said anything about the Law bringing any to "salvation"? I am talking about how, in a democratic society, we can reason with the unsaved to influence the formation of legislative actions.

Frank Turk said...

I encourage everyone who thinks that Hammurabi's code does not cover the same moral law as the Mosaic law (sans the regulations of tabernacle worship & sacrifice, of course) to read it for yourself:

Code of Hammurabi

CR said...

Frank: What do you make of Paul's instruction to Titus to teach people to "adorn the Gospel" with good works?

I agree wholeheartedly with that statement.

Frank: It's difficult to go easy on hypercalvinist, but given that I think it is unintentional on your part, I'll respond with this:

Oh, thanks for being "nice" to me. I'm not a hypercalvinist.

Frank:How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

I agree wholeheartedly.

Frank: Except when it is. In Scripture.

No, it doesn't. This is similar to some people saying that it is their faith that saves them. Faith does not save them. It is work of the Holy Spirit that saves. Because once you say faith saves them, then faith becomes a work. Faith does not cause salvation. Similarly, the church by its example does not persuade people. Our good works do not persuade people. Our gospel preaching doesn't save people. We must proclaim it, and proclaim accurately, but like Lloyd-Jones said, we leave it to the Holy Spirit to Act, because He alone, saves.

Frank: For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.

It seems like you're setting up a straw man? What is it that I'm supposed to disagree with what you said here? We are to preach the gospel in all its fullness relying upon the Holy Spirit and He will produce the results.

Frank: Who said anything about the Law bringing any to "salvation"? I am talking about how, in a democratic society, we can reason with the unsaved to influence the formation of legislative actions.

No one. Gosh, I was just agreeing with part of what you said.

Anyway, we're talking past each other. I'll give you the last word.

sbrogden said...

One (that would be myself) if Robert George is Timothy George's brother. They were both involved in writing TMD and are both infected with the same ecumenical sickness.

Timothy claims to be an evangelical, but provides no evidence thereon. He stand closer to Rome than to the Bible.

Frank Turk said...

oh brother -- "the last word". I did typo "hypercalvinist" for "hypercalvinism", so I offer the correction with an apology.

[quote]
Hyper-Calvinism is sometimes defined as the view that God will save the elect apart from any means. Some, but very few, modern hyper-Calvinists hold such an extreme view. Those who do hold this view oppose all forms of evangelism and preaching to the unsaved, because they believe God will save whomever He chooses, apart from human means.

The most famous example of this kind of hyper-Calvinism was when John Ryland heard William Carey talking about becoming a missionary to India, and told him, "Sit down, young man. When God decides to save the heathen, He will do it without your help."
[/quote, Phil Johnson, spurgeon.org]

CR --

This is exactly the kind of "calvinism" you are espousing, and as I said, I think your hypercalvinism in this case is unintended, so I am not going to berate you for it. I am only going to point out that the direction you are heading will eventually discredit the preaching of the Gospel as the means by which the Holy Spirit save -- for fear that man will get credit for some work.

As to the passages of scripture you "agree" with, consider that all of them indicate that how we act will influence, and in fact will dictate, whether someone can or will hear the Gospel.

It is one thing to say that only the Gospel will reform men by the new birth and allow them to live by a higher standard than the law. It is another entirely to say that we cannot speak to unregenerate men of the law because they cannot grasp it and have no intention of keeping it. Surely some are beyond any reasoning (cf. Rom 1), but Rom 2 says many are not.

It is senseless to appeal to obedience to God to those who do not even know God. It is another thing entirely to appeal to their own knowledge of the creation (which is a derivative knowledge of the creator) and the implicit moral order to presents.

All societies make law based on general revelation. It is right that we should seek laws which are in that sphere of man's ability to know -- and present the Gospel as something which is a remedy to the moral order in which man can only be reckoned as a failure.

Whether that's 2 kingdoms theology or not I cannot decide -- because I have my own objections to that broad cleft of the way things are under Christ.

stratagem said...

If what George said were true and those about whom he is speaking now all look effortlessly past our doctrinal differences, then I wonder why those people are still members of different denominations? Maybe it's not so effortless after all; in fact, maybe it's an outright, whitewashed sham.

CR said...

Well, Frank, I've often contemplated for a couple of months whether I really should comment at all on blogs because I may be a terrible communicator when it comes to writing.

Thanks for the opportunity to clarify something. Let me be absolutely clear about this: while it is not our gospel preaching or praying for the harvest that saves men let me be clear about this: men will not be saved apart from the proclamation of the gospel nor will there be a harvest if we do not pray that the Lord send laborers (matt 9:38). I apologize if I've said in any of my comments that means is not important.

Thank you, brother for allowing me clarify.

Craig and Heather said...

Thank you for the clarification Frank. That's a relief, for sure.

I know I can be a royal pain here sometimes. Often the discussion is way over my head or I end up on a completely different track than everyone else. I do apologize for any disruption I've caused.

The whole "how to spot a heretic" and recognition of what understandings of Scripture constitute false teaching just makes my head hurt. But I know it's not something that will magically disappear if I ignore it long enough.

Pseudo-Christian cultists like Mormons and JW's are no-brainers. And there is no question in my mind as to whether the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are incompatible with protestantism.

But my heart tends to be very slow to mark individual Catholics as unsaved unless I know what they personally have accepted to be true.

Perhaps some would consider that to be "soft" or undiscerning....but I spent most of my life as a generic protestant Calvinistic Christian who simply repeated what was taught from the pulpit or various literary pieces. I always knew that belief in Jesus Christ is the only way of Salvation but it's only been over the past couple years that I've had the desire to really dig into Scripture for myself and KNOW God on an intimate level. I would go so far as to say I doubt I'd truly been born again before but I suppose only God knows for sure.

Most of the religious additives I'd learned as a kid have ended up on the scrap pile and I haven't looked back. But, as I said---it was a long time coming. And the wounds from the pruning are still pretty tender. So I try to be careful about how I view others who claim to be Christians (and say they have placed their faith in God incarnate) but currently appear to be messed up in some key areas of doctrine.

I pray for you Pyros. It isn't easy to maintain balance between humble servant and authoritative teacher.

God bless,

Heather

Bobby Grow said...

I just find it interesting that Thomism hasn't been referred to at all in this whole thread (except by me); and yet this is exactly what George's whole ethic is informed and shaped by.

Thomism also is the same metaphysic through which the Pyro's doctrine of God finds its shape.

So why is it wrong for George to be a Thomist; and okay for the Pyros to use Thomas' categories for articulating God? This seems like a double standard.

Craig and Heather said...

I'd love to engage you, Bobby. But still haven't gotten a handle on what "Thomism" is. Guess I need to spend more time reading up on that one.



Hope you're feeling well.

Heather

Phil Johnson said...

Bobby Grow: "I just find it interesting that Thomism hasn't been referred to at all in this whole thread (except by me); and yet this is exactly what George's whole ethic is informed and shaped by."

I ignored your comment about Thomism because your argument seemed too far-fetched to warrant a serious reply.

My complaint with Thomism is focused on its use of natural law as an apologetic. Aquinas was fiendishly enthralled with Aristotelian philosophy and its empirical approach to epistemology. That is why he relied so heavily on natural law as an apologetic.

In other areas of doctrine, Thomas was heavily indebted to Augustine. For example, he had a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God and the primacy of grace. I have no complaint with those emphases, because I'm convinced they are biblical.

Your argument seems to be that if we reject Aquinas's Aristotelian apologetics, we must also reject the Augustinian (and biblical?) elements in his teaching because those, after all, are elements of "Thomism," too.

My reply: that is jejune and simplistic.

If you ever catch me quoting Aquinas as some kind of magisterial authority, then you can haul this argument out and we'll debate it. Until then, let's stay on topic.

Calvinism is not the topic of this post.

Bobby Grow said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bobby Grow said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DJP said...

Perhaps I can clarify for Phil.

When Phil says, "Until then, let's stay on topic. Calvinism is not the topic of this post," he is not saying, "Please, by all means, pour out another 750 words on your hobby horse."

He means... well, he means stay on topic, and Calvinism is not the topic.

Glad to help.

ockennedys said...

Okay, there's no question I'm just a dullard (not sure where I got Kant from, but meant to refer to Locke). If we're going even more old school on the natural law discussion, I might have to dust off the old books on the shelf to participate. Then again, I might expose my family to some rare disease by loosing the ancient dust up there. Maybe it would be best for all concerned if I just stand on my ignorance and continue to reject natural law as a valid means of moving the culture in a more Christian direction.

Bobby Grow said...

DJP,

When you figure out how theology works, let me know. The fact that you can't make the connection between the interconnectedness of how ideas relate to ideas -- in theology -- is baffling.

Selective pleading works, I guess, in 'Pyro-land' . . . commenting in such lands is pointless. I guess I'm a glutton for punishment, I always hold out hope that you guys will break your molds. I guess the saying stands with "old dogs" . . . ;-)

peace.

Christian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Johnson said...

Bobby: "Peace."

Goodwill to you, too.

Like I said, when you see me quoting Aquinas as some kind of magisterial authority, you come back, and we'll have the debate you're so keen to provoke.

Or you can search the Archives, and if you find a place where I've cited Aquinas as a model to follow, point it out to me; I'll repost it, and you can have at it.

If you can't find that anywhere, it could well be that you're trying to attribute an opinion to me that I don't even hold.

To insist that I MUST go off-topic in order to engage that debate with you is irrational. If you want to have a hissy about it, I can recommend a group blog or two where fits and conniptions are deemed great blogging. Around, here, that sort of "logic" doesn't carry a lot of freight.

Craig and Heather said...

...it could well be that you're trying to attribute an opinion to me that I don't even hold.

I wonder if this is how a lot of evangelical Manhattan Declaration signers feel about the apparent contention that their adding of their names to the list is equivalent to tossing out the centrality and purity of the Gospel in favor embracing of Roman Catholic dogma?

Whether or not it is wise to sign the paper, I guess we all need to be careful with the temptation to assign motives which may not exist.

H

Phil Johnson said...

PS: to Bobby:

I did the research for you. I Googled to see if I have ever said anything about Aquinas and his Aristotelian categories on our blog. Here's what I found.

I'll let that stand as my final answer to your query.

Phil Johnson said...

Craig and Heather:

You might have a valid point if anyone here had tried to assign such motives to the evangelical signatories of "Manhattan." The problem for what you have insinuated is that we have bent over backward to stress that we don't believe any of of them would ever deliberately abandon the gospel.

Our charge has been that their support for the document is confusing to anyone who doesn't understand the gospel or those evangelicals' commitment to it.

Bobby Grow said...

Phil,

The fact that you follow the TULIP is all the evidence I need for a reliance on Thomist categories. That's not a hissy.

For me to point out that point in re. to your critique of George who also uses Thomist categories seems very salient.

My responses that "DJP" deleted (I'm assuming) were only intended to clarify and defend myself against the rhetoric that my points were "simple" and "jejune." If you reference TULIP as a touchstone, then you reference Thomas (explicitly) and categorically. This is directly pertinent to critiquing George; because his usage of "natural law" is utterly dependent upon the same Thomist categories.

Why I'm not allowed to explain myself here is amazing. I'm not trying to draw you into a debate; don't really want to debate you, Phil. I just wanted to highlight an interesting irony that I saw at play in your critique of George (how that is not "on topic" is also beyond me).

Merry Christmas

Bobby Grow said...

Phil,

I just read that post in re. to "Pagitt" (or whoever that guy is). To deny reliance on Thomas, and then accept the TULIP (as all Pyros do) is interesting (inconsistent). Ok, I'll stop . . .

Phil, contrary to what you might think; I really appreciate you! You're a good brother, and I wish you a merry Christmas (btw, I know I'm inconsistent in many ways too).

Craig and Heather said...

Phil Johnson,

I was not intending to point fingers or make personal accusations against you or your co-authors. I apologize that my wording was unclear.

I was simply considering a potential perception of some MD signers concerning all the negative attention the MD has recently received on this blog.

When I say "we" need to be careful to not assign motives, I think primarily of myself, as I tend to read other people's blogs and comments and jump to conclusions about what they are trying to say. God's been gracious to work on humbling me in this area.

I appreciate very much that you all are concerned about the confusion the co-signing of this document may produce.

Our charge has been that their support for the document is confusing to anyone who doesn't understand the gospel or those evangelicals' commitment to it.

If I understand your comment and the previous Manhattan posts correctly, you may be right.

The chosen approach to making your charge known may also strongly suggest to evangelical signers that by leaving their name on the document (regardless of their personal conviction before the Lord), you would believe that these people are unconcerned about whether they create gospel confusion. That is a potential logical conclusion, not an accusation, btw.

It is possible to say with words that there is no belief that anyone is deliberately being evil--yet with overall "tone" relay a very different message.

It is not my intention to start a debate or simply harass you all. Your blog has been of value in my own spiritual growth and I would hope that my comments here do not cause you to bristle with annoyance. However, if my presence and thoughts are unhelpful to you, I can accept that and will go my own way.

Respectfully,

Heather.

CR said...

Heather,

try not to take take things personally on blogs and by all means don't go your way. No matter how hard we try things always come out a little more curt in written form.

Craig and Heather said...

Thank you CR.

I really am not personally offended and hope my comment didn't come off as "I'm gonna take my toys and go home".

I just tend to get pushy sometimes and don't want to overstep. After all, I've got my own blog where I can throw around all the stray thoughts I want and not risk offending the host :)

Truly, it is impossible to be able to please everyone and I don't expect others to customize their personalities to please me. I don't mind reading along quietly if my comments are disruptive.

I was just thinking that sometimes, there are unnoticed rough edges on a delivery that can be smoothed over if someone is willing to say "you know, a lot of people might be understanding your position to look like yyyyyy---are you sure that is what you intend?".

It gives opportunity for refinement, if necessary, so that the message may be more clearly heard without undue offense being caused.

To be perfectly honest, I'm still not convinced that it is wrong to sign the MD. But I did ask to have my own name removed because the document itself seems to have a very divisive effect among believers who might otherwise agree.

The fact that I had become so uneasy about having my name attached to the MD indicates that I had not sought God's direction as carefully as I thought.

I would suggest that anyone who finds himself feeling a strong need to defend his signing of the MD against those who have built a case against signing, perhaps he could take that before the Lord and ask if the decision was made too hastily....

Regardless of where we land on the "rightness" of signing, if we put that document on center stage, it will, by default, detract from the centrality of the Gospel.

Heather

Phil Johnson said...

Bobby Grow: "My responses that "DJP" deleted (I'm assuming) were only intended to clarify and defend myself against the rhetoric that my points were "simple" and "jejune." If you reference TULIP as a touchstone, then you reference Thomas (explicitly) and categorically. This is directly pertinent to critiquing George; because his usage of "natural law" is utterly dependent upon the same Thomist categories."

See, that's called the genetic fallacy. Moreover, the threads of similarity and realationship between Thomist soteriology and Calvinism are a lot less clear-cut than you imply. That's only one of several reasons your argument is simplistic and jejune.

But for the umpteenth time, this is not the place to have that discussion. Not only does the above post have nothing to do with Calvinism; it makes no reference to Thomas Aquinas, either. You're the one that brought him up. I realize he stressed "natural law," but he didn't invent the idea, and this post was not making any argument about Aquinas per se.

Incidentally, one of Thomas's central beliefs, and something he wrote tons of material in defense of, is the doctrine of divine omniscience. Would you suggest that everyone who argues against Open Theism is a "Thomist"? Do you think everyone who accepts the doctrine of divine omniscience is so indebted to Thomas that it would be inconsistent to accept omniscience and yet reject Aquinas's stress on natural law? Are we obliged to entertain a debate about Thomism in our meta every time a post makes reference to divine omniscience?

That's essentially the argument you've tried to make about Calvinism. It's silly.

Period.

I'll clarify one more time: because this post made no reference to either Thomas Aquinas or Calvinism, the debate you want to have is off topic here, and any further reference to it, by anyone--for ANY reason--will result in a ban. (And it will be a permanent ban if the culprit is a repeat offender.)

Post Tenebras Lux said...

Just because a person, like me, affirms natural law, doesn't mean they would ever sign the Manhattan Declaration. Other examples include Michael Horton and R.C. Sproul.

I absolutely agree that, at least in general, we shouldn't quote Scripture when arguing for certain political policies. When I engage in civil debate, I am doing so as a citizen of this country, not as a citizen of the heavenly kingdom (a Christian). And I do so with what God has given us, natural law. Natural revelation and Scripture are not enemies, both have been given to us by God. And when I engage in a certain debate in the political and civil realm, it's not to convert to Christianity. Not everything has to do with the gospel and evangelizing. It has to do with desiring to live in an orderly society that promotes the common good for the Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, and everyone else that wishes to live in peace.

The intellectual and biblical case is with the proponents of natural law and two-kingdom theology. And for those of you who like to cite certain 20th Century Reformed theologians against natural law, know this; they are arguing against what the Reformed tradition has taught ever since the Reformation. Calvin affirmed natural law. Check these links.

http://www.wscal.edu/clark/1998rsclexnat.pdf

http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2009/11/13/once-more-resources-on-the-two-kingdoms/

http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2008/01/01/resources-for-reformed-approaches-to-natural-law/

One more thing, the Reformed understanding of natural law is different from Roman Catholicism's view.

Bobby Grow said...

Phil,

Alright. So it's okay for you to explain how jejune my argument was; and then not allow me to respond to your assertions.

Actually my points would be more of a post hoc fallacy, if anything; but they aren't (all someone has to do is go read a general history of theological ideas and my points stand, and thus are pertinent to talking about George's own framework for engaging natural law.

As far as omniscience, this "language" flows from "negative theology" (as does all the lang. of "omni") using man/nature as the standard --- i.e. God is what man is not. Open theists are just as much classical theists as (conceptually) "Classic Calvinists" are --- they just take the logic its other way.

You seem to assume ideas just come out of a vacuum; that they have no history, that concepts just fall out of the sky, and you've found them --- that's simplistic, Phil.

Hopefully my response here, won't get me banned; I'm only responding to your responses to me (it only seems fair that you allow me to do that, esp. when you're calling my knowledge of certain pertinent points into question).

I think Robert George is a brilliant guy; but that his approach and engagement of "natural law" is misguided. Nevertheless, I'm sure the LORD is sovereignly using his work and works of others to save lives (not that I think sanctions or gives validity to George's hierarchical usage of "natural law" --- wherever that came from).