Natural Theology and Philosophy Matter (Despite the Dishonest Attacks From Johnson and Strachan)
In this episode we’re looking at a common misconception: that moral pronouncements or ideas do not matter unless they are found in the Bible. Is there any value in philosophy, or what has been called Natural Theology?
We made this video in response to statements made by Dr. Jeffrey Johnson and Dr. Owen Strachan of Grace Bible Theological Seminary. They have repeatedly derogated Natural Theology and argued that their position is necessitated by the principle of Sola Scriptura.
Observers in the Classical tradition of apologetics and philosophy have tried to correct these errors, but Strachan and Johnson have shut down the discussion.
Christians may wonder why this dispute matters. Here’s what is at stake:
These Christian leaders are brazenly misrepresenting a key passage in Romans. It is a passage with serious implications on both theology and philosophy. Will the church follow Johnson and Strachan into:
- Their poor hermeneutic and their self-contradictory method of theology?
- Their error of biblicism (informally called “solo” scriptura)?
- Their erroneous and anti-biblical epistemological belief system (Van Tillianism)?
Will the church reject Natural Theology as such?
In past FTNCI material, we have shown how each of these errors would be be both sinful and dangerous.
In the arguments of Johnson and Strachan, we see nearly every methodological sin we have been combatting at FTNCI, and we see them wrapped into a single package: The total neglect of Natural Theology. If we are to be faithful to ALL the truth that God has revealed, then that willful neglect is the error that must be challenged.
What is Dr. Johnson’s error? Johnson believes that Natural Theology “is dependent on divine revelation to go any further than the knowledge of God’s existence” (The Failure of Natural Theology, 118). Thus, he makes Natural Theology out to be a useless task, unable to accomplish anything that is not better accomplished by study of the Scripture.
Johnson understands the majority of Natural Theology to be nothing but vain philosophical speculation. He claims: “It is important not to confuse fallible, philosophical speculation about the nature of God with natural revelation that effectively and universally provides an ineffable and immediate awareness of God.
From these statements we can begin to understand Johnson’s concept of Natural (aka “General”) Revelation and compare them to what the Bible teaches. Johnson’s understanding of these concepts seems similar to that expressed by Dr. James White, another Van Tillian Presuppositionalist. Dr. White conceives of General Revelation as being limited to a small amount of knowledge that all men innately have. Namely: That God (the true God) exists and that he is worthy to be praised.
Dr. White might also include a couple corollary ideas as part of General Revelation, such as the self-awareness of our own sin against God. This is knowledge that Reformed Christians ought to be able to agree that all men have, based on our understanding of Romans 1. But the overall concept of General Revelation taught by Van Tillians tends to be narrowly delimited. Since the knowledge provided by Natural/General Revelation is said by them to be “innate,” Van Tillians do not include in it those items of knowledge that people are observed to develop step by step over time, such as knowledge of science.
On the Van Tillians’ account, Natural/General Revelation is only a small bit of theological knowledge, and it happens to be knowledge that any Bible-believer would also have access to — access that comes in a more explicitly stated form, as we can read right from the Bible.
Dr. Johnson may share Dr. White’s exact understanding of General/Natural Revelation, or his views may differ slightly. In ch. 26 of Johnson’s book “The Absurdity of Unbelief” he includes as part of Natural Revelation the ideas that there is a God, that He created the universe, that He is absolute, infinite, sovereign, all-powerful, omnipresent, imminent, righteous, and angry with sinners, and that he is going to eventually judge and condemn us for being sinners.
It is difficult to integrate Johnson’s statements in that book with his statement in his new book, in which he claimed that Natural Theology is dependent on divine revelation to go any further than the knowledge of God’s existence.
Perhaps Johnson believes that all the above propositions about God are bound up in the idea of God’s existence. In any case, please compare the limits found in Johnson’s concepts of Natural Revelation and Natural Theology with the scope and specificity of the kind of knowledge Paul describes from Romans 1:18 all the way through verses 24–28 on homosexuality and verses 29–32, which list at least 22 specific items of knowledge about moral good and evil possessed by the unbeliever.
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