Is there an incoherence for eternal punishment without a ‘natural theology’? That is what anonymous commenter ‘ChristianTrader’ believes (which you can see in the comments to this post here).
Here is what ChristianTrader asked me in regards to rejecting natural theology (as I do) relative to his reading of Romans 1, and then his application of his theological exegesis applied to his question of a coherence to eternal punishment. He writes:
3)Without natural theology/natural law, eternal punishment does not make any sense. Contrary Romans 1, people have an excuse. If one has an excuse, then how in the world does eternal punishment remain a coherent idea?
Here is my response to ChristianTrader (and remember, my response is “bloggy” and off the top, on the fly):
People don’t have an excuse because God’s Self-revelation in Christ has already contradicted any ground for people to stand on in their own noetic prowess (which is completely held captive by their own inner longings apart from it being put to death in Christ … at least that’s what Rom. 8.3 implies theologically). Eternal punishment, as I understand it, is grounded in Jesus Christ and in his substitutionary vicarious relationship for us with the Father. It is not contingent upon some sort of ‘absolute’ or ‘pure nature’ (as what you are communicating presupposes) principle that is somehow secondarily (and I mean causally) grounded in itself. But nature is contingent upon God’s own Word upholding it for his purposes, which is and has always been ‘in and for Christ’. So the coherence of eternal punishment, dialectically, can only be maintained when we conceive of it through Christ conditioned lenses; which means, that when the ‘Fall’ happened the ‘fall’ happened in ‘relation’ to creation’s purpose and ‘relation’ to its purpose in Christ for the Father by the Spirit. In other words, the ‘Fall’ signaled a movement in creation which disoriented it from its ground of being in and for Christ; which then this ‘non-being’ (or privation of being) results in a separation from its proper relation to God in a God-world relation mediated through Christ. To be separated from the ground of being (which ultimately is in and conditioned by Christ) is where the coherence for ‘eternal punishment’ comes in (if there is a coherence for such an ab-surd thing!). It is to be eternally separated from the only being who is eternal in himself.
That was my quick response. [And just to be clear in regard to my last clause: I think all of humanity is actually represented by Christ in his humanity for us, and so it would seem inexplicable that anyone would actually and/or ultimately reject the ground of their being (or salvation) in Christ … and yet according to the Dominical teaching this is exactly what has and will happen for some. So as T. F. Torrance would say it, there is a “surdness” to this.]
I think it is important to bear in mind that natural theology is representative of a theological methodology. It is not something we simply read directly out of scripture; instead it is a methodology that can or cannot be (which I think the latter) co-ordianted with a way to read and situate the themes and theology of scripture.