In Biblical Faith and Natural Theology, Barr sets forth a self-consciously biblical case for the legitimacy and reality of natural theology, that is, a knowledge or understanding of truths about God available to all humans via the natural order (in contrast to knowledge via “special” revelation, such as inspired religious texts). In so doing, he attacks head-on the view of Barth and those modern theologians largely influenced by him, who maintain that there is no place for natural theology in a truly Christian revelational theology.
Chapter 1 (“Natural Theology in This Century: Concepts and Approaches”) sets the scene by reviewing the traditional notion of natural theology, along with some more modern conceptions, and provides a preliminary assessment of the cogency and influence of Barth's vehement repudiation of natural theology. Barr notes that if the Bible itself were to sanction or take for granted something like natural theology, then any argument pitting natural theology against special revelation would fall to the ground.
In Chapter 2 (“Paul on the Areopagus”), Barr considers one of the primary biblical passages traditionally thought to offer support for natural theology: Paul's speech to the Athenians, as recorded in Acts 17. After noting Barth's failure to properly exegete this passage, Barr counters various misguided attempts to evade the conclusion that the apostle's apologetic discourse implies some form of natural theology.
Chapter 3 (“St Paul and the Hebrew Background”) contends that Romans 1:18ff, another passage prominent in debates over natural theology, provides further evidence that Paul was sympathetic toward the notion of natural knowledge of God, contrary to the claims of commentators such as Barrett, Cranfield, Reicke, and Käsemann.
Chapter 4 (“Natural Theology in the Jewish Tradition”) draws attention to clear elements of natural theology in the Wisdom of Solomon and discusses the likelihood of its having influenced Paul's argument in Romans 1. Barr also touches on the implications of this strain of Jewish tradition for the thesis that the New Testament eschews natural theology as the product of pagan Greek philosophy.
In Chapter 5 (“Within the Old Testament”), Barr extends his survey of scriptural support for natural theology to the canonical books of the Hebrew Bible, with discussions of Psalms 104, 19, and 119, the Wisdom literature, the Prophets, and the Pentateuch.
Chapter 6 (“A Return to the Modern Discussion”) revisits Barth's repudiation of natural theology and provides a more detailed critique, considering such factors as Barth's identification with Protestant tradition, his opposition to National Socialism, the influence of modern biblical scholarship, and Barthianism's own reliance on a “hidden” natural theology.
Chapter 7 (“Religion, Tradition, and Natural Theology”) explores points of both similarity and divergence between “the biblical God” and “the God of the philosophers”. Barr considers here the extent to which the natural theology of the Bible might need to be corrected and extended.
In Chapter 8 (“The Image of God and Natural Theology”), Barr discusses the notion of mankind's being made “in the image of God” and its implications for the validity of natural theology, interacting critically with Barth's earlier and later interpretations of the phrase.
Chapter 9 (“Science; Language; Parable; Scripture”) considers the implications of Barr's earlier arguments in four areas: the relations between theology and natural science; the connections between natural theology and the linguistic medium of the Bible; Jesus' use of parables; and the need to revise our doctrine of Scripture.
In Chapter 10 (“Natural Theology and the Future of Biblical Theology”), Barr concludes by discussing how the practice of “biblical theology” would have to change if it were conceded that natural theology has an important role to play within the Bible and thus in its interpretation. The problem of the Israelite destruction of the Canaanites is considered as a case study.