The Bookstore at Southern hosted a panel discussion of Southern Seminary professors on Andrew T. Walker’s newest book Faithful Reason: Natural Law Ethics for God’s Glory and Our Good. The panel, moderated by John D. Wilsey, featured Walker, Dustin Bruce, and President R. Albert Mohler Jr. The panelist discussed the book’s premise that Protestants can hold to a form of natural law without abandoning the authority of Scripture.

Three questions raised during the panel highlight the distinctiveness of a Protestant approach to natural law.

How Can Natural Law Benefit Protestants?

“I discovered that in all the issues I’ve spent my life studying—marriage, transgenderism, abortion, and other sexual ethics—they each crystalize under the issue of natural law,” Walker said. “Certain trends in the mid-twentieth century pushed it to the wayside, but many Protestant scholars are trying to retrieve natural law.”

Natural law discussions often arise when Christians try to persuade unbelievers of the goodness and order of God’s universe, but that’s not why Walker wrote this book.

“From my experience, natural law is rarely convincing to secularists,” Walker said. “I want Christians to understand the coherence and moral intelligibility of our ethics and be able to explain why we hold the beliefs that we do. Anything true in Scripture is something we should be able to discern through reason. We have better reasons for the positions we hold and natural law allows us to have that discussion. Everything is biblically rooted in the creation order and nature bears witness to God the Creator.”

Where Does Natural Law Fit in the History of Christian Thought?

“When I read the Bible, Tertullian, and the other earliest Christians, they all assumed some kind of natural law,” Bruce said. “An understanding of natural law persisted through the Middle Ages, especially in Thomas Aquinas, and through the Post-Reformation era with Reformed Scholasticism, until the twentieth century with Karl Barth.”

The need for reasserting natural law is pressing today because the social fabric of society has untethered itself from previously assumed moral commitments.

“A nation can only withstand so much moral disagreement before collapsing,” Bruce said. “We are quickly losing shared language and ideas from the Constitution and Declaration of Independence that were found in the natural law. This means we are losing the ability and willingness to have intelligible conversations.”

Walker remains optimistic about the durability and stability the natural law offers for the modern world.

“The natural law finds a way,” Walker said. “Man suppresses the truth in unrighteousness, and like a beachball you try to hold underwater, nature will find a way to reassert itself. Ontology wins.”

How Do You Prevent the Loss of Scripture’s Authority?

“We need to distinguish, natural religion, natural theology, and natural law,” Mohler said. “The Protestant concern is that adding ‘natural’ to a term can seem like a system that rivals biblical Christianity.”

Mohler believes Walker’s book is firmly Protestant and does not place undue emphasis on nature at the expense of Scripture.

“Walker’s book focuses on the good of natural law,” Mohler said. “The world needs to hear a very clear Scriptural defense, but natural law declares the catastrophe of modern secular thought and autonomy. That’s a far deeper rebellion of the creation order than just the first chapters of Genesis. Externally, the cosmos declares the existence of God and internally testifies to the glory of the creation of God. When the natural law goes this far and no further, it’s genuinely Protestant.”

Walker affirmed that his defense of natural law depends on Scripture as the supreme authority.

“If you are going to engage in natural law categories you need to know how far you can go,” Walker said. “Nature is a product of grace. We don’t begin from a pure plane of neutrality. My vision for natural law is always grounded in Scripture and the belief that God is not a god that creates in chaos or contradiction. Everyone is participating in the creation order and the natural law is universally binding whether they recognize it or not.”

Rightly understood, natural law can explain how general and special revelation support one another. But sometimes theologians appeal to natural law at the expense of Scripture.

“If natural law is ever an occasion to not invoke Scripture and be embarrassed about Jesus you need to get back to revelation proper,” Walker said. You need special revelation to make sense of general revelation. Both are modes of God’s revelation.”

Go deeper and view the full discussion.