What Role Does Natural Theology Have in Reformed Thinking? (A Review of Reforming Apologetics by J.V. Fesko)

Fesko sees apologetics functioning in a threefold manner: to respond to intellectual challenges, to clarify the truth, and to encourage believers.

The Gallican Confession (1559), The Belgic Confession (1561), the Canons of Dort (1618–1619), and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) affirm ideas like the book of nature, innate knowledge in terms of common notions, or the light of nature. And in particular, Anthony Burgess, a framer of the WCF, penned a work affirming natural theology (Vindiciae Legis) whose imprint appears in the WCF. Fesko interprets these sources and gives a close reading to the WCF in particular. 

 

Should Reformed Christians engage in natural theology? Or ought we to follow Karl Barth’s famous “nein” to natural theology and instead claim with Barth that all theology starts with Christ? The classical Reformed answer, according to J. V. Fesko, is to answer no to Barth and yes to natural theology.

He has a point. The Gallican Confession (1559), The Belgic Confession (1561), the Canons of Dort (1618–1619), and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) affirm ideas like the book of nature, innate knowledge in terms of common notions, or the light of nature. And in particular, Anthony Burgess, a framer of the WCF, penned a work affirming natural theology (Vindiciae Legis) whose imprint appears in the WCF (So Fesko 2019: 40).

Fesko interprets these sources and gives a close reading to the WCF in particular. In so doing, He closely attends to the original sources and their plain meaning. For example, the Belgic Confession plainly states: “We know God by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book.” The book of nature reveals God.

The evidence shows a consistent positive affirmation of natural theology among classical Reformed thinking. It further shows continuity with earlier medieval theology such as in Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) whom the Reformed Divines frequently cited.

Certainly, natural revelation has its limits since it cannot save apart from God’s word and the noetic effects of sin have damaged the image of God. Yet within these limits, all people possess common notions such as God exists.

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