Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Reformed Objection to Natural Theology

The time is fast approaching. Mark your calendars for the release of the highly (at least in some circles) anticipated work by Michael Sudduth on the Reformed Objection to Natural Theology.

Here's what one prominent philosopher has to say about the book:

'This book is essential reading for students of the theology of the Protestant Reformed tradition, and very valuable reading for all who wonder whether producing arguments for the existence of God is a proper Christian activity. Michael Sudduth shows that, contrary to the claims of Karl Barth and some contemporary advocates of 'Reformed epistemology', the Reformed tradition has from its first days generally endorsed Natural theology. He goes onto show the failure of philosophical objections to the possibility of cumulative arguments for the existence of God.'
Richard Swinburne, Emeritus Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion, University of Oxford.

BTW, Sudduth promises that you won't get on the road to Rome if you read his book, with apologies to Bahnsen and Clark, I'm sure.


  1. Oh geez, and it's only $89.00, too.

  2. Yeah, it is only for libraries, not for the average apologist that has no access. Just joking (in a sense).

  3. Robert Morey of Faith Defenders will be releasing his exegetical and historical critique of Natural Theology soon too. John Frame will be writing the foreword. His insights from Job and Ecclesiastes are very eye opening. His critique of Roman Catholic NT will be interesting as well.I can't wait for this to come out either. I want take a serious look.

  4. I'm generally unimpressed by what Morey has to say, especially re: this subject. His review (if you could call it that) of Grabill book on Natural Law in reformed theological Ethics was atrocious... utterly. (BTW, his claim to be the only one who understands Van Til and Clark and has synthethized them is likewise worthy of three yawns.)

    I'll save every one the time reading his book. Here goes:


    Natural Theology and Law is Papist! Sudduth obviously wrote his book because he's on the payroll of the Jesuits who have infiltrated the Reformed community, just like that wolf in sheep's clothing David vanDrunen, who we all know obtained his PhD from a university in league with Jesuits, not to mention da debil.


  5. Yeah, Morey's definitely gone off the deep end in several ways.

    It's sad since his "Battle of the Gods" and "Death and the Afterlife" were very good books.

  6. It's sad to see Reformed folk defend "Natural Theology" (which is unnatural and not theology) and the bankruptcy of Romanism's Mr. God-in-General "proofs." The proofs for the philosophically simple "god" are not any god that exists in reality.

    Morrey states:
    "Natural Theology and Law is Papist!"

    The man couldn't be anymore correct.

    Looks like you need another Reformation to get rid of the rest of Romanism.

  7. "Looks like you need another Reformation to get rid of the rest of Romanism."

    So the Reformation, to be true, must get rid of anything that even hints of relationship with Rome?

    So a "true" Reformed should be credobaptist as well as paedocommunionist? Get rid of where Rome was at at the time, huh?

    Anyway, perhaps you need a reformation of the mind? Commenting with such Papal dogmatism about a book you haven't read. I'll be sure to cross you off my list of those to watch on how to develop the intellectual virtues. Or, perhaps we should ditch talk of virtues; you know, get rid of anything that smacks of Rome ala Aquinas.

  8. Paul,
    Natural theology is the sine qua non of every error that Rome has embraced. It is the very grounding of the dialectical framework of her theology and of development of doctrine. Without Natural theology, development of doctrine can't even get off the ground.

    Tell me and explain to me just what you think Natural Theology is describing? Natural?! In a fallen world? Total depravity!

    Go look at St. Ambrose's exegesis of Rom 1:20 and compare it to the gnosticism that Aquinas and other Scholastics think the verse gives traction to. For Ambrose, the verse moves horizontally, not vertically about a Supreme Gnostic Being, and Its attributes that we need to consider.

    Natural Theology is exactly what every heresy was doing: Gnosticism, Arianism, Nestorianism, and Eunomianism. Vis. That we can speak of God prior to and apart from Persons. It is a complete reversal of the Biblical and Patristic Ordo Theologiae. Look at Irenaeus, the Apostolic Fathers, Clement of Rome, there is no *program* of Natural Theology. The only thing that is *natural* and *theology* is Jesus Christ and His Recapitulatory Economy. *This* God doing *these* things for *these* people. The only proof for the existence of God is the observation, experience, and witness of *this* God's operations (energian) and works (ergan) in redeeming His people. If anyone thinks that they can speak of God apart and prior to Jesus Christ, He expresses *another* Way.

    If I were you, I'd go back and take seriously what Cornelius Jansen, Pascal, Calvin, and Luther thought about man's reasoning abilities after the fall. All those men were absolutely right to take aim at natural theology. Only in Jesus Christ and a rigorous persuance thereof can we then erect any kind of philosophy and it is never one that is prior to consideration of 'Who do you say that I am?'. Christ is the Rational Principle of all that can be finally said truly and dogmatically about God and man. He is the paradigm.


  9. "Go look at St. Ambrose's exegesis..."

    The same Ambrose who thought that foot-washing was a sacrament? That kind of spoof-texting is exactly why most of us here don't care for the 'exegesis' (ha!) of the church fathers.

  10. Well of course it's a *sacrament,* just like any other of Christ's works are *sacraments.* Don't be confused by the word *sacrament* and Rome's confusion of hocus pocus. You need to go read some John Romanides.

    But the discussion is Natural Theology so stay focused.

  11. "But the discussion is Natural Theology so stay focused."

    Actually, the discussion is Sudduth's book on the Reformed Objection to Natural Theology.

    For example, what if Sudduth grants that some of your objections work against some conceptions of Natural Theology but not others, like the dogmatic model he proposes in his book? Then you'd be bound to admit that your posts exemplify barking up the wrong tree...ness.

    "If I were you, I'd go back and take seriously what Cornelius Jansen, Pascal, Calvin, and Luther thought about man's reasoning abilities after the fall."

    What if the author discussion this very conception you have and refutes it by analysis of primary sources rather than your regurgitation of what you're holding on to from your former Reformed days?

    Furthermore, even granting your point, there's always that possibility that they're, gasp, wrong. That their objections don't work; or, work against some models and not others.

    You apparently think this issue is so simple that you can refute arguments without reading them. And you'd be correct; unless, of course, you were thoughtful, that is.

    I'm also unsure what you think of "man's reasoning after the fall." Apparently you think it works sufficiently well to reason with me about these things. Or, perhaps I should dismiss eveything your fallen mind comes up with as you seem bent on doing?

    BTW, apparently you missed that Swinburne praised the book. What's an undercover heretic and Papist doing in Orthodoxy? Why did your hierarchy let him into the upper eschalon? Apparently they've been led astray by their post-lapsarian mind...not to mention the Papists and the Gnostics.

    I guess this is another one of those "I'm rubber, you're glue" kind of a thing that usually pops up in discussions with Orthodox (and Catholics, for that matter).

  12. Paul,
    I'll read the book. This is a topic I've specialized in and have studied much. By my lights, Barth is basically right. The issue isn't that if you can't do natural theology, that you are left without reason period. The issue isn't a dialectical opposition between the two. For Barth, reason has no aim, shape, or scope apart from Christ as the paradigm. This is the basis of why he rejects Romanism's analogia entis. So the issue isn't that you can't reason with me, but what is the basis and *rooted-ness* of that reason? If it isn't Christ and His Economy, then it is just playing speculation, which has no dogmatic value beyond pet projects and pipe dreams.

    BTW--funny you mention Swineburne. Sharp guy, but he's still doing what he's always been doing under a different ecclesiastical allegiance. He still *thinks* like an Augustinian by my lights. I'll have to see what Suddoth means by a dogmatic approach (its possible I am barking up the wrong tree and he sees it the same way as I do. But if it smells like Romanism that you can say things about God apart from Person than its Romanism no matter how you try to cash that out). And fyi--I care very little for what SCOBAdox has to say about dogmatic issues.


  13. Photios,

    Of course I made no either-or claim about your reference to reason, I only mentioned that your vague claim would need to be spelled out. Apparently you think claiming that "reason needs to be rooted in Christ and His Economy" is to make an advancement of your previous vague and ambiguous claim. Though I don't find your new claim all the helpful, I'd wager that once you spell it all out your claim will boil down to some debatable point that (allegedly) only Eastyern Orthodoxy can make sense of. And, right about that time, you'll find that your critiques of Natural Theology, if they rest on this highly qualified, debateable, and contentious premise(s), become rather unpersuasive; lacking cogency...and perhaps interest.

    Anyway, glad to hear you will pick up the book. You might find that the author anticipates these further claims you've advanced via Barth &c. For example, he might the work of Stanley Hauerwas who argues that Barth rejected only a particular kind of natural theology related to the Enlightenment, but that Barth also accepted something like thr author's dogmatic model as acceptable. However, even if this is false, this might seem to make appeal to Barth less compelling. Moreover, Barth isn't Reformed, excpet perhaps as a mere flag to wave. And, Barth's Calvin may not be the Calvin we want to look at for Reformed views on Natural Theology.

    The above might be some of the kinds of things the author may point out, so getting the book sounds like a good call on your end.

  14. Orthodox objection to natural theology found here.

  15. Paul,
    I wasn't trying to reclarify anything. I believe the most devestating critique of Natural Theology in the english language is in Dr. Joseph P. Farrell's massive tome God, History, and Dialectic (available at filioque.com). I'd hope that you would take me up on reading that.

    Now think about a few things Paul.

    Notice that every single scholastic manual on theology starts its program of natural theology with the paradigm of essence--attributes--persons (i.e. ordo theologiae). They first start with proofs for the existence of god, this god is defined by what the world is not, the attributes of this essence are considered, and then the persons OF this essence are finally considered. This is the ordo theologiae of scholastic theological manuals.

    Now what might these theological manuals look like if that ordo is reversed to look like the following?

    Persons -- operations (instead of attributes) -- essence

    How would this shape theology?

    What if every single manual of theology started with the Person of our faith, instead of the god of the philosophers?

    What would be the cultural and evangelical impact of this ordo?

    I think Luther intuitively knew what the scholastic model meant. It meant secularism, idolatry, "enlightenment," philosophy, but not Christ. That very model of essence-attributes-persons violates the very principle of sola scriptura. It is because of THAT ordo that men wish to be in disobedience to scripture and justify themselves apart from scripture and scripture is only used then as a means to read philosophical doctrines back into His text.


  16. Photios,

    Sudduth grants that some of the above may be true of some systems of NT, but it's oversimplified and misleading as a generalization. The evolution of theistic proofs is more detailed and sophisticated than you let on. This is covered in ch. 1 of his book. So, why don't we just wait until the book is available to the general public before commenting on the problems of NT as if your complaints work against all models.