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What is Natural Theology?

Perhaps the most contentious subject in early twentieith century theology was the issue of the viability or not of natural theology.  This polarity persists in contemporary theology, though today the issue has become even more honed directly in on the issue of analogy.  However, this discussion is usually nebulous in that the perceived relationship between the analogy of being and natural theology is highly disputed.  For most followers of Barth, the analogia entis simply entails natural theology.  For other interlocutors like David Bentley Hart, it is precisely the analogia entis that rules out any natural theology of the sort that Barth criticized. 

The point of all this is simply to ask the question of what we actually mean by the term natural theology.  What is natural theology, properly speaking and how is it to be distinguished from other theological concepts such as general revelation or a theology of nature?

5 Comments

  1. Ben George wrote:

    My take has always been simply: What truth might we know of God sans any revelation other than creation itself?

    The usefulness of the idea is found, for me, mainly in the question: What might I depend on a wholly religiously uninformed person to know about God? In other words, if I found an island of people who had no contact with the outside world, what evangelical foothold would be most sure or even possible?

    Wednesday, May 21, 2008 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  2. Apolonio wrote:

    I think that we focus on natural theology in the sense of looking at creation pointing to a Creator (First Mover, Efficient Cause, etc.) and the attributes of the Creator. I think we need to broaden our concept of natural theology to the point where we accept that non-Christian religions do possess revelation from God in an analogical sense. What we learn from Hindu experiences or Muslim philosophies do indeed come from the fundamental needs of their hearts and therefore is from God. Until we get into the economy of the Trinity, I think that a theology of religious pluralism is natural theology. A theology about non-Christian religion is natural theology.

    Wednesday, May 21, 2008 at 9:40 pm | Permalink
  3. Dan Morehead wrote:

    …use the plural…natural theologies…as description always trumps definition…depends on who you ask…so are you asking about Barth’s conception or someone else’s?

    Thursday, May 22, 2008 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  4. Ben Myers wrote:

    David Fergusson’s essay in the Festschrift for van Huyssteen (The Evolution of Rationality, ed. LeRon Shults) provides a typology of different kinds of natural theology.

    Thursday, May 22, 2008 at 5:37 pm | Permalink
  5. Geoff wrote:

    I’ve been thinking of this for a long time.

    Gospel: Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead, so repent. or Christ crucified, or God reconciling the world to himself in Christ, or repent for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand.

    Natural theology: Stuff one can know/think one knows about God apart from the gospel.

    General Revelation: Anything true one knows about God apart from the gospel and its implications.

    Theology of Nature: How we understand nature and creation in light of God’s self revelation in Jesus Christ.

    Those are very basic statements of my understanding. The reason I mention the gospel first is because I am trying to believe what Hebrews says about God’s chief self revelation being in his son.

    Tuesday, May 27, 2008 at 12:35 am | Permalink

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