. The Complexity of Common Grace

The Complexity of Common Grace

Calvinists believe in total depravity: no one is untouched by the effects of sin and we all have mixed motives in what we do. How then would one account for the goodness, the beauty, the mercies, and the glories we see in this depraved world?

Common Grace is the concept that, despite the sinfulness and depravity of the world, God has blessed all of creation and everyone—whether or not they are numbered among the believers. Flowing from God’s mercy and good purposes for the world, Common Grace mitigates the effects of sin and offers to the world evidence of God’s goodness.  

205 Kuyper 7Abraham Kuyper divides Common Grace into three types: Universal Common Grace (all creation), General Common Grace (all humanity), and Covenant Common Grace (those who live under the covenant, even if they are not elect). Each of these interact with Special (salvific) Grace to accomplish God’s redemptive will.

Kuyper was deeply concerned with culture and how the church ought to work in and through it. He believed in Christ’s lordship over all things. While he championed the idea of sphere sovereignty: the concept that the various spheres (family, church, state, etc.) have duties and responsibilities over their respective domains and should not encroach on the competencies of the other spheres, he also preached that Christ’s rule extended over all these.

Kuyper believed that secularism had established itself in culture because it had command of government institutions, the arts, science and the terms public discourse. In order for Christians to have a place alongside the secularists they must excel in these areas as well. Good things can and do come from these institutions and individuals, and these good things we can rightly see as God’s own through his provision of Common Grace.  

How does this play out in our lives today? How do we navigate the complex relationship between the sacred and secular in an increasingly post-Christian West? How should the church think about the goodness, kindness, and charity we see outside of the Christian world?

The answers are very complex and Kuyper wrestled with them for his entire life. No aspect of life is untouched: the mission of the church, the function of the state, the nature of art, music and architecture, education, science, and beyond.

Even though he lived and died almost 100 years ago, these questions remain relevant today, and Kuyper’s voice can be instrumental in helping us formulate our own answers. Fuller Theological Seminary professor Richard J. Mouw praises Kuyper’s Common Grace:

Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace is founded on a deep devotion to the notions of God’s sovereignty and our obligation to participate in the divine call to be obedient to the lordship of Jesus Christ in all areas of life. The release of this multi-volume series is timely because many Christians these days—Wesleyans, Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Mennonites, and others beyond the boundaries of Reformed/Presbyterian life and thought—are looking for resources for equipping Christians to find alternatives to the various ‘world-flight’ spiritualities that have long afflicted the broader Christian community. This work gives us a much-needed opportunity to absorb Kuyper’s insights about God’s marvelous designs for human cultural life.

Kuyper’s key work on these themes, the three-volume Common Grace, is available in English for the first time as part of the Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology

Get Kuyper’s Common Grace now!

Written by
Jake Mailhot
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  • Several items are noteworthy The first if all men are not touched by the fall of Adam beyond the common death experience of a literal grave the question of evil is not addressed fully. Dying you shall day it the first point incidence of actual biblical reality men fell by dying in spirit and latter to the grave. Augustin wrestled with this issue finally ending up on the rocks with seminal transmission of Adams week and nature to sin while at the same time tying seminal transmission to a necessity of a virgin birth. Actually there are few options in direction total depravity may take. This is built upon Pau’s notion in using Pneuma, Psyche, and Sarx. He believed evil was resident in the flesh of man. He lamented, O Wretched Man That I am and underscored it with a simple statement, “all Men have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God.” If the tendency to sin is not part of the make up of the corrupted human soul we fail to answer the question of Why Does Evil Exist. This allows the possibility of gain the favor of God by performing meritorious deeds. Calvin and Luther were very close in defining this issue. To bad political correctness has become a rubric of higher authority than the writ itself. Humanism has taken over the science of God centered theology. Look at the human condition after over a hundred years of a theology of human good. We are doomed with a dying justice system, we are slipping into the sins which are not worthy to mentioned with no restraint another larger than life war is growing out of avarice and greed. Read the first two chapters of Nahum where in the last verse exhorts men to see the consequence through losing national leadership bring national disaster. Why, a nature or bent toward sin is a reality the 21st millennium You chose, Election or lawlessness. I imagine this was part of the mindset of the Reformers as they attempted to answer the why is there sin and not goodness. The solution to the problem can only come from the free given GRACE of God.

    • I agree with the writer above, in many areas. I think Kuyper was straining to explain something that has already been explained in Scripture. The idea that God has blessed things takes it one step beyond what I think scripture tells us. Ultimately God has created all things to reflect His glory, (Colossians and Romans). That was the case in a perfect sense, with perfect harmony, before Genesis chapter 3. Once sin entered into the world, and the curse of sin upon mankind and creation, the ability to reflect God’s glory was affected and tarnished. The nature of creation itself, including mankind, still is for the purpose of reflecting the glory of God, even though we missed the mark. Romans 1 reminds us that creation itself continues to ground, waiting for the redemption of Christ, to bring it back from the tarnished state of first sin to its original ability to reflect God’s glory. God’s glory is still in 8 in mankind and creation, that is what the author is observing and trying to explain as some common grace.

      This goodness observed, is not an innate ability to do goodness, but rather creation including mankind still straining to fulfill its original purpose, to reflect God’s glory not his own goodness. Our ability to do just that is completely absent, all that is seen is what reflection still remains in the tarnished mirror of our lives. Without 3 demption of Christ, the best we can do is sense the strain of Creations groaning with anticipation of the consummation.

      Pastor Lex DeLong

Written by Jake Mailhot