Davenant Guides: Natural Law

“By natural law . . . we mean that order of rule of human conduct which is (1) based upon human nature as created by God, (2) knowable by a...

David Haines & Andrew A. Fulford, Natural Law: A Brief Introduction and Biblical Defense (Lincoln, NE: Davenant Press, 2017), 124 pp.

In this volume are two little complementary books on natural law: a philosophical defense by David Haines (pp. 1-48) and a biblical defense by Andrew A. Fulford (pp. 49-115). The two respective parts are undoubtedly too brief to settle the matter in the minds of natural law critics, but will be indispensably helpful for pastors, students, and scholars seeking to find their bearings on the topic, and will correct a number of common misunderstandings.

I found Haines’ part of the book beneficial in a number of respects. First, Haines provides careful definitions for many of the terms and categories attending any discussion of natural law. For example, Haines defines natural law as follows:
“By natural law . . . we mean that order of rule of human conduct which is (1) based upon human nature as created by God, (2) knowable by all men, through human intuition and reasoning alone (beginning from his observations of creation, in general, and human nature, in particular), independent of any particular divine revelation provided through a divine spokesperson; and thus (3) normative for all human beings.”
Second, Haines offers a well-ordered, systematic approach to natural law theory that begins in the being and eternal law of God, then works briefly through the doctrines of creation, providence, anthropology, and epistemology. This provides the reader with a sense of the dogmatic and philosophical depth of natural law theory.

One particularly helpful distinction presented by Haines pertains to the analogical relationship of natural law to God’s eternal law. The two concepts are not coextensive, for “(1) man cannot know the mind of God, neither by intuition, nor by any reasoning process, but man can know the natural law, and (2) though the natural law finds its basis in the eternal law, eternal law is not based upon the created natures, but rather is the Divine mind from which all created natures flow.” Thus, natural law participates in eternal law without the elision of the Creator / creature distinction.

Third, Haines demonstrates the historic stature of natural law theory via references to a wide array of theologians and philosophers past and present. One can only hope that this sampling of literature will encourage readers to dig deep into these rich resources.

Fourth, Haines presents a brief defense of natural law theory against its critics. Cornelius Van Til is especially in view here, as well as Karl Barth and Stanley Hauerwas, among others. In the definition cited above, the second point is directed toward such critics, positioning natural law theory against their claim that fallen human beings cannot truly know such moral standards apart from the intervening, salvific assistance of divine special revelation. Haines observes that no classical Christian natural law theorists maintain the notion of an independent, autonomous fallen human intellect – the notion which Van Til and others erroneously suggest inheres necessarily in natural law theory.

Andrew A. Fulford’s exegetical defense seeks to demonstrate from Scripture (1) the “objective order to the universe” previously described by Haines, (2) the objective visibility of this order before the eyes of the entire human race, (3) the fact that “at least some unregenerate people perceive this order.”

Fulford then devotes a chapter each to Old Testament passages, extracanonical Jewish texts, and New Testament passages. The analysis of each passage is quite short, though nonetheless compelling in its summary form. It at least inspired in me an interest in looking at each individual passage in greater depth on my own at some point. Fulford keeps his focus constrained, for the most part, to the demonstration of his modest three points, which seem self-evident in many passages. As might be expected, Fulford devotes the most space to relevant passages in Romans, with some fleeting but helpful interactions with contemporary scholarship on these texts.

Lastly, Fulford outlines the benefits of this study, arguing that the biblical case for natural law is useful for apologetics, for understanding the history of the early church, for finding common ground with unbelievers in missions, for defending a Protestant Christendom, for resolving exegetical questions, and for meditating upon the goodness of God’s law.

All in all, this little book accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. I was able to read through the book easily in a few hours, and found it to be a great resource.

I should note two things briefly in closing. First, in the interests of full disclosure, I won a copy of this book from the publisher in a Facebook contest, but I was not required by them to give a review. Second, though the content of the book is excellent overall, the presentation occasionally contains some errors not caught in the editing process. One of the more notable examples may be found on page 37. The first full paragraph ends with a statement setting up a quote from Edward Feser, only for the quote to be missing entirely.

Update (2/7): I have been told via the Davenant Facebook group that the above error will soon be fixed... even as soon as this month, given that the book is print-on-demand.

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