Jenson offers a typically witty and condensed assessment of “natural theology” and its relation to the gospel in his America’s Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards. The confrontation arises from the basic missionary character of the Christian church. Because it bears a missionary faith, it always confronts and intrudes upon “some antecedent apprehension of God” and this antecedent religion fights back. This antecedent religion is “natural theology,” and the church’s aim is always to offer a reinterpretation of this antecedent religion on the basis of the gospel.
Jenson says that “‘christology’ has the function of delegitimizing this resistance.” Natural theology affirms what is “of course” the case with God, and “Christology is the analysis interior to getting over such self-evidencies.” For Western theology, the antecedent “natural” religion was “that of Socrates and his inheritors,” and it is unique mainly to the degree that this was the first natural theology confronted and evangelized by the church (111).
Western theology has long been impressed with the “body of shared belief” between the Greek philosophical tradition and the gospel and attributed those commonalities to the “natural” human ability to know God. In modern societies, believers and non-believers live together and it becomes “tempting to put the public sphere under the rule of God ‘naturally’ known and restrict the gospels theological import to one or another inwardness” (112).
Thus our polity comes under “the aegis of a late-antique Deity” while our religious life is a “smorgasbord of Jefferson’s banished ‘religions,’ free to do anything but make any difference.” Jesus is an acceptable public figure so long as he is reduced to a teacher, personal savior, so long as he is not Lord of all.