Natural Law – A Book Review

If you’re not familiar with them, the Davenant Institute says of their purpose that they support “the renewal of Christian wisdom for the contemporary church.” The Institute “seeks to sponsor historical scholarship at the intersection of the church and academy, build networks of friendship and collaboration within the Reformed and evangelical world, and equip the saints with time-tested resources for faithful public witness.”

Lofty and practical goals. Goals that clearly undergird the publication of their Davenant Guides series. Guides like their newly released “Natural Law: A Brief Introduction and Biblical Defense.” And it is well worth the read.

As this short but packed volume by David Haines and Andrew A. Fulford demonstrates – Natural Law theory not only has a place in Biblical theology and New Covenant ethics but also can profoundly inform missiology and public discourse.

In short, the authors define Natural Law as: “an order or rule of human conduct which is based upon the divinely created human nature and which is normative for all human beings.” As such, it predates and in some ways transcends the Mosaic law covenant, and extends into all phases of the New Covenant era. Now that is something to consider deeply for Christians today, and for discussing moral issues with the public outside of the church as well.

The book is arranged in 10 short chapters organized under 2 heads: Part I – The Philosophical Foundations of Natural Law. I.e. Natural Law’s intellectual validity and coherence. Part II – An Exegetical Case for Natural Law. The idea that the Bible itself addresses and endorses Natural Law concepts.

My best digest of it all is simply this – It is obvious to all, that human beings (indeed all of creation) possess certain individual properties, and that each has its best opportunity to flourish when it lives within those properties, and interacts with others according to theirs. In other words use a screwdriver according to what it was designed to do. Don’t use it as a heat source to cook your food, or as a surgical tool. Use a hammer for what it was designed to do. Don’t use your cell phone to hammer nails. And given the way human beings exist, live according what best provides for physical, psychological and spiritual health. Seems so obvious. But in a world where common sense seems to have little if any sway any more – and human beings try to impose their wills behind the bounds of how we come into this world and exist (e.g. not living within the constraints of physical sex assignment) – we imagine we can re-create anything for any reason.

Surveying various historical statements from philosophers and theologians regarding Natural Law theory and then establishing how the Bible makes reference to such ideas – the authors go on to press the need for recovering Natural Law and its implications.

For me personally, this has its first impact in terms of ethics for the New Covenant Believer. I meet regularly with a group of pastors who are discontent with the typical Reformed concept of the 3-uses of the (Mosaic) Law, and Christian ethics. For some, this question is resolved in a simple appeal to the 10 commandments. As though we in the New Covenant era are still bound by them. And to reject that idea invites immediate charges of antinomianism or licentiousness or both. For others, they try to construct a new written code of conduct – a new set of rules extracted from the New Testament. But perhaps, the better answer may be found in recovering Natural Law. A “law” that is not a code per se, but a law which made the murder of Abel by Cain for instance, morally wrong, long before the 10 commandments were ever given. And law which operates by the nature of things as created, rather than a code. A law which then transcends the Mosaic law (while containing commonalities and/or parallels) and which has special import now that the New Covenant Believer is a new creature in Christ – indwelt by the Holy Spirit and beginning to live in accordance with that new nature – even as we will in the resurrection, where a written code would be most unnecessary. And yeah, that’s a heck of a compound sentence. Sorry.

Davenant’s Natural Law truly is an excellent introduction to the topic. An introduction I hope they follow up with more in-depth treatments, exploring the impact on public discourse, missions, and of course, New Covenant ethics.

This is a well written, accessible and enjoyable book that needs a wide readership to spark a very desperately needed conversation. Buy it. Read it. Think about it. Discuss it. You will be rewarded.


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About Reid Ferguson

Reid serves as the pastor for preaching and vision at Evangelical Church of Fairport in Fairport New York. A native of Rochester, N.Y., he has served in various ministry areas during his life, including: a founding member of the former Mark IV Quartet, Youth Pastor at ECF, former board member of the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals (F.I.R.E.), and author of The Little Book of Things You Should Know About Ministry (Christian Focus Publications, 2002). Pastor Reid blogs regularly at Responsive Reiding.