It takes someone with the theological confidence of David Bentley Hart to sharpen knives against contemporary conservative appeals to Natural Law on the pages of First Things magazine. I was unaware that this had happened—I refuse to subscribe to First Things’ print edition because I do not want to lend financial support to what is to me an odious theopolitical trajectory, though I’m a regular reader of the First Thoughts blog and the On the Square essays. I was unaware until yesterday, when Frist Things decided to make Hart’s magazine essay, previously behind the pay wall, an On the Square essay for the day. I commend the folks at First Things for making Hart’s essay more widely available.

Because the essay is actually in the magazine, there’s no comment section for the On the Square version—it simply links to the magazine content. I was sure there would be strong push back were commenting available, and this morning, I wondered if there had been responses elsewhere. I wondered enough to Google around a bit. My, have there been!

The folks at the Witherspoon Institute were quick to jump into the breach, as might have been expected given Robert P. George’s relationship to that organization (George is among the leaders of the so-called New Natural Law movement).

R. J. Snell, co-author with Steven D. Cone of a forthcoming Pickwick volume, Authentic Cosmoplitanism: Love, Sin, and Grace in the Christian University (first copies due off the press any day now), pushed back with a Witherspoon blog post the day before Hart’s essay was made publicly available (the day before yesterday) and again yesterday. (The first response to Hart was cross-posted at Real Clear Politics). Rick Garnett has mentioned the debate at the Mirror of Justice blog. More positive (and earlier) responses to Hart’s essay have come from Michael Potemra at National Review Online, and from Rod Dreher on his blog at the American Conservative site.

As this particular constellation of blogs indicates, this appears for the time being to be a debate among self-identified conservative Christians. I’ve always suspected David Bentley Hart of being an outlier in this group; he’s far less inclined to indulge the habits of conservative culture-warrior-ing so prominent at times at First Things. At any rate, as a Christian who finds the labels “conservative” and “liberal” equally useless, and as one who, under the influence of Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder, has learned to see in the culture wars a temptation to be resisted, there are important theological issues at stake in this debate, and I commend the various contributions to interested readers. I think it’s safe to say that we haven’t heard the last word on the topic from David Bentley Hart.