Home
/
RELIGION & LIBERTY ONLINE
/
Protestants and natural law, part I
Protestants and natural law, part I
Jun 23, 2024 4:46 AM

So, why don’t Protestants like Natural Law?

The short answer is: there isn’t a short answer.

So starting now, and continuing for who knows how long, I plan to tell the story of the Protestant struggle over natural law, plete rejection by Karl Barth in the 1930s to the recent hint of renewed interest among Protestant intellectuals. My view is that natural law is a forgotten legacy of the Reformation — one that contemporary Protestants desperately need to rediscover. Along the way, I’ll respond to standard Protestant objections and discuss what limitations the Reformers perceived in natural law.

For much of Christian history, some type of natural-law theory has been used as a bridge to connect the Christian faith and culture, the church and the world. But in recent times, Protestant churches and theologians have rejected natural law as a way of showing their differences with the tradition of Roman Catholic moral theology.

The scope and unity of Roman Catholic social teaching is impressive, but without the recurrent appeal to natural law, it would lack a skeletal structure upon which to build its body of social teaching. Modern Protestant social ethics, by contrast, has no skeletal infrastructure parable strength. Unlike Roman Catholic moral theology, which is done in the context of the magisterial (or teaching) authority of the church, Protestant ethics has never had a “supreme court of appeals” to decide what’s licit and illicit. While the Bible is the principal authority in Protestant ethics, the matter of determining “authoritative” moral teaching plex and subject to personal interpretation. To a fault, I might add.

In his opening address at the first Christian Social Congress in 1891, the Dutch Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper emphasized the catholicity of natural law in relation to Pope Leo XIII’s new encyclical Rerum Novarum. “We must admit, to our shame,” said Kuyper, “that the Roman Catholics are far ahead of us in their study of the social problem. Indeed, very far ahead. The action of the Roman Catholics should spur us to show more dynamism. The encyclical Rerum novarum of Leo XIII states the principles which mon to all Christians, and which we share with our Roman patriots.”

At the heart of Rerum novarum and the recent encyclical Deus caritas est, by Pope Benedict XVI, is an appeal to reason and human nature, but not in a way that denigrates faith or revealed truth. “From God’s standpoint,” insists the pope, “faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself. Faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly.” The Christian Church fulfills its responsibility to form consciences and to promote justice, when, as Benedict insists, social teaching is argued “on the basis of reason and natural law.”

We’ve barely begun, so check back soon for part 2.

This has been cross-posted to my blog on natural law, Common Notions.

Comments
Welcome to mreligion comments! Please keep conversations courteous and on-topic. To fosterproductive and respectful conversations, you may see comments from our Community Managers.
Sign up to post
Sort by
Show More Comments
RELIGION & LIBERTY ONLINE
Government and Gambling
Over at Mere Comments I note the recent invective against gambling leveled by Al Mohler and Russell Moore. I contend that as opposed to casinos, lotteries are in fact the most troubling example of state-sponsored gambling. And I also worry a bit about the use of legal means to prohibit gambling, as it isn’t so clear to me that gambling is always and in every case a moral evil. Thus, I write, that cultural rather than primarily political attempts to...
Biased in Favor of the Entrepreneur State
Yesterday I argued that since bias is inherent in institutions and neutrality between individual and social spheres is illusory we should harness and direct the bias of institutions towards a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles. One of the ways we can do that in the economic realm, I believe, is to encourage a bias toward entrepreneurship and away from corporatism. As Derek Thompson, a senior editor at The Atlantic, says, “It would...
Commentary: Human Excellence and the Moral Life
After 50-plus years of social unraveling, many reformers still see the “therapeutic model” as a cure for what ails American society. Or would a return to the classical virtues, as a means of healing first the person and then the culture, be the way of renewal? Rev. Gregory Jensen offers some thoughts in this week’s Acton Commentary (published Feb. 22), spurred by the reading of Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010. The full text...
Libertarians, Religious Conservatives, and the Myth of Social Neutrality
When es to our view of individual liberty, one of the most unexplored areas of distinction between libertarians and religious conservatives* is how we view neutrality and bias. Because the differences are uncharted, I have no way of describing the variance without resorting to a grossly simplistic caricature—so with a grossly simplistic caricature we shall proceed: Libertarians believe that neutrality between the various spheres of society—and especially betweenthe government and the individual—are both possible and desirable, and so the need...
No Olympic Dream: Monti’s wake up call to Italy
On Valentine’s Day, just one day before having to tender its application to the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland, Italy’s pragmatic Prime Minister Mario Monti showed no romantic spirit by canceling his nation’s dream to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. In a last-minute decision made Feb. 14, Prime Minister Monti explained at a press conference that the already overburdened Italian taxpayers simply cannot afford to finance the estimated $12.5 billion to bring the 2020 Olympic Games to Rome. “I...
What does it mean to be On Call In Culture?
Most of us know what it feels like… this pull toward something. Whether it is art or science or writing or business—there is something inside you that says, “Yes, this is where I belong. This is what I was meant to do!” As Christians this realization e with a bit of disappointment mixed with the excitement of finding our place. We somehow wish that our calling were something of a more spiritual nature…something that mattered more. But here’s a question:...
Since Christ Died for Us
Yesterday my son asked me why today is called “Ash Wednesday.” In that question I could hear the echoes of another question, “Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?” The latter question is found in the Heidelberg Catechism, and the brief but poignant answer has stuck with me since I first encountered it. First, the catechism clarifies that our death does not have redemptive power: “Our death does not pay the debt of our...
Gleaner Tech #2: The Global Village Construction Set
[Note: This is the second in an occasional series ongleaner technology.] The Global Village Construction Setis a collection of 40 machines needed to “create a small civilization with forts…like a life-size Lego set.” ...
Happiness is Subjective
One of the conclusions from last mentary was that the government shouldn’t be in the business of promoting a particular vision of the good life in America. That’s not to say that the government doesn’t have some role in promoting mon good or making some normative judgments about the good life. But it shouldn’t get anywhere near the level of specificity of promising a family, home, college education, and retirement for all. In part this is because while moral good...
Samuel Gregg: Inequality Anyone?
Over at National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg takes a look at a recent Charles Blow op-ed in the New York Times in which the writer hyperventilates about statements made by Rick Santorum on the subject of e inequality. Economically speaking, e inequality reflects the workings of several factors, many of which are essential if we want a dynamic, growing economy. Even your average neo-Keynesian economist will acknowledge that, without incentives (such as the prospect of a higher...
Related Classification
Copyright 2023-2024 - www.mreligion.com All Rights Reserved