Sunday, July 10, 2011

Luther and Proofs from Natural Theology

Becker, p. 26.

Contrary to the approach of neo-orthodoxy, Luther held that the fault for man's failure to know God and to read the record correctly lies not at the doorstep of the revelation, whether in the works or in the Word, but in the depravity of human nature.

It would be difficult, for example, to imagine Luther agreeing with the views of John Hutchison, who writes,

"Concerning their subjective or persuasive force, it may be pointed out that the arguments, while they tend to sustain the faith of those already convinced of belief in God, are seldom convincing to those without that faith. It is characteristic of genuine proof that it communicates conviction to minds hitherto unconvinced.  What kind of proof are they which lack this quality?  It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that they are covertly circular, assuming what they ought to conclude."

...  He [Luther]  would never have asked, as Hutchison does,  "What kind of proofs are these which lack this quality?"  He just did not think that way.  Instead Luther would has asked, "how fallen, how blind, and how wicked is man, that he can not and he will not see what God has so clearly and so graciously revealed!"  In the final analysis, Luther and Hutchison and neo-orthodox theologians agree that natural man is without sure and certain knowledge of God, but they would undoubtedly disagree vehemently on the premise on which that conclusion is built.  Neo-orthodoxy would say that man lacks faith in God because no revelation has taken place.  Luther would say that man lacks sure knowledge because he refuses the revelation.  In spite of everything that has been written since Kierkegaard became the fashion in theology, the "proofs,"  for Luther, have a great deal more validity than is commonly supposed.  This is not difficult to establish.


In one of his sermons Luther observed:

If the natural law were not written in the heart and given by God, one would have to preach a long time before the conscience would be touched.... But because it is previously written in the heart, although it is dark and completely faded, it is reawakened by the Word, so that the heart must confess that what the commandment says is right:  that one should honor a God, love and serve him, because he alone is good and does good not only to the pious but also to the wicked.

It is evident that Luther would sooner have agreed with the Platonic doctrine of anamnesis than with the dictum of Aquinas, "There is nothing in the intellect which is not previously in the senses."  

end of quoting Becker

This whole thing is totally fascinating to me because it comes up again and again.  When talking with Atheists, the question of morality relates to this.  Can you live moral lives without God?  (The last atheist I talked to had a slogan:  Be good without God!)  The teaching and the usefulness of proofs of God's existence ties in and how often have we disagreed on that.  My doctrine professor for one person insisted that they can do nothing in advancing faith.  I had told him that I found the cosmological proof cogent and he said:  "That's because you believe already."  I didn't like the answer.

Then there is also this new book on Natural Law which we have started and should dovetail here.

I am also quite glad that there could be things in the intellect which have not been first in the senses.  Aquinas was so smart but he messed so many things up.  There we hit again the limits of reason.

From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
Publishing House ( All rights reserved. Reprinted with

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