Common Grace, 2.4

Common Grace, 2.4 September 29, 2020

This post is part of a series walking through the second volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace.

Given “the problem”, i.e. that the world isn’t all bad and believers aren’t all good, Christians explain “the solution” by means of Scripture as explained in the confessions. But what is the world’s view here?

The world’s answers to this problem (which is more of a ‘situation’ than a problem, to at least some worldly observers) have as much influence on the world as our revealed dogma does on us. All of us live by and on our presuppositions, so we can’t just ignore these beliefs even if they are beliefs with which we disagree. Hence Kuyper’s length study of worldly philosophy here.

The two broad categories of worldly answers are:

  1. “People of practice”, who defer to common sense.
  2. “People of the academy,” who rely on philosophy.

Starting with the first category, the people of practice/common sense divide the human race into three groups or classes:

  1. The ordinary/middle/decent sort, who judge both sides (2 and 3 below), judging the left as evil and the right as proud/hypocritical. The judgment of the middle of itself is that it is generally good, albeit flawed and occasionally weak. There is no real need for repentance or guilt, just a mild sense of trying to do better next time.
  2. The right “precisionists” whom the world counts as the super-holy and apart, even sometimes as the fanatics or super-pious.
  3. The left “scoundrels,” or openly wicked people.

Within this view are lots of varieties, but mostly mere gradations of degree or style. Any problems, especially with the middle can be fixed by education or socialization–coerced if absolutely necessary. Carried to its logical conclusion, this breakdown of humanity leads to gossip and malice, even within families, such that complaining becomes the dominant human activity. And it’s easy to see why this is necessarily the result. When we think to ourselves “we’re all good people” what we usually really mean by that is “I think I’m a good person, and I don’t want anyone saying otherwise, so I’m going to extend this idea to everyone else.” Then we see the awful things that other people do–even if just in small and petty ways, and either despise them for it (malice) or tell others about it with some small amount of glee (gossip), and then begin to gripe either about their actions or about the hypocrisy that doesn’t allow us to pursue the same course (complaining).

I’m not completely sold on Kuyper’s reasoning that the common-sense view leads specifically to gossip, malice, and complaining. That feels more like a time-period-specific conclusion relevant to the Netherlands at the end of the 19th century (or beginning of the 20th, or whatever). Which isn’t to say theses aren’t problems now, just that it’s better to point out that sin in general and public/social sin in particular are the results of a worldview that begins with the assumption of the general goodness of human nature.

More on that in the next post, where Kuyper points out the problems inherent to this view.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO


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