Philosopher J. P. Moreland is a dear friend with whom I co-edited (with W. L. Craig) a book three years ago, To Everyone An Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview (InterVarsity Press, 2004).
Last week at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (14-16 November 2007), Moreland delivered a paper that caused quite a stir, "How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What can be Done about It." (You can find the paper on the web site for his book The Kingdom Triangle). It all began last Wednesday with a Christianity Today blog post in which his paper presentation at ETS was covered. (See Moreland's response here). Not only were there numerous comments posted in the combox of the CT post, scores of bloggers followed up with their own assessments of Moreland's paper and thesis.
Some of the anti-natural law (and anti-natural theology) commentators on the CT blog and elsewhere are deeply troubling to me, since they seem to not understand how difficult it is to extricate oneself from the force of natural law reasoning. Consider a brief argument I present in a small article I recently published in the Catholic Social Science Review XII (2007), "Doing What Comes Naturally and Not Knowing It: A Reflection on J. Budziszewski’s Work" (footnotes omitted):
The second... argument goes like this: the Scriptural passages most often cited in defense of natural law (e.g. Romans 1 and 2, especially 2:15, which speaks of the law “written on our hearts”) do not teach what natural law thinkers think it teaches, namely, that there are moral truths accessible to those with no direct contact with special revelation. For example, Evangelical theologian Carl F. H. Henry writes:The dual reference to law of nature and law of God presumably arose from the Apostle Paul's teaching in Romans 1 and 2. John Murray in his volume on Paul's epistle to the Romans in The New International Commentary se-ries argues that the term `law of nature’ is a Christian concept rooted in Scripture, not a secular concept to be grasped independently of a revela-tory epistemology. To interpret Romans 1 and 2 in deistic terms of natural religion is unjustifiable.
Although this is not the place to assess Henry’s exegesis, it seems to me that his Scriptural citation is not based on a careful reading or understanding of natural law. For if he had truly grasped the tradition he critiques he would understand that his own point of view--the alleged biblical rejection of natural law theory--is itself dependent on moral notions not derived from special revelation. That is, Henry is affirming and defending a self-refuting position. Let me explain. By claiming that natural law thinkers have incorrectly interpreted the book of Romans, Henry is presupposing a moral notion that is logically prior to his exegesis of scripture: texts should be interpreted accurately. This, of course, is grounded in more primitive moral notions: to accurately interpret a text one should do so fairly and honestly, and one should pursue the truth while interpreting texts. Both these moral commands are logically prior to, and thus not derived from, scripture itself, for in order to extract truth from scripture, obedience to these moral commands is a necessary condition. This means that Henry, ironically, must rely on a moral law known apart from scripture in exegeting the scripture that he claims does not affirm the knowledge of the moral law apart from Scripture