Common Grace, 2.32

Common Grace, 2.32 April 13, 2021

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

What “workings of grace” are functions of only particular grace?

  1. The “presence of God’s children in this world.”
  2. The “preaching of the world,” either hearing such preaching or reading the Scriptures for ourselves.
  3. The Spirit “grips the emotions and the consciousness of some people.” (273)

These workings have certain characteristics. Namely the first is spontaneous and unintentional from our perspective. The second we do on purpose. And the third is a direct and mysterious work of God in the world. In turn, these workings have diverse effects:

  1. They “affect those who are elect to salvation.”
  2. They harden those who are not.
  3. They affect “human life in general” and individual lives negatively by restraining sin and positively by “advancing the development of our natural powers.” (273-274)

All of these are from particular grace and for particular grace. But! They also “radiate their glimmerings” into the “completely other goal” of common grace. This is “sensed” when we use the phrase “Christian nation”/people/state/society/etc, as contrasted with “pagan” or “Islamic” states/societies/etc. The difference is not supernatural blessing, it is normal human development that has flourished in one place but not in others because of the human flourishing influenced by the cross. Pre-Golgotha, there was only natural–not human–development. (274)

So now “Christian” nations are ascendant, especially since the Reformation over the last four centuries. That is, Christian Europe is now ascendant. This is clearly not because Europe is full of super virtuous and regenerate believers, either now or in the past. Yet, the name “Christian” is held, even by those theological liberals who call on specific parts of the faith that weaken particular grace in favor of common grace. So even when we’re dealing with those who claim to be Christian but are functionally nonbelievers, particular grace strengthens common grace. This isn’t the goal of particular grace, of course, it’s just an effect of it.

The line between “modern Christians” and believers is over whether Christianity is just a reflection of the best of human nature (with Jesus as the apex), or that humanity is broken by sin and in need of Divine intervention. The doctrine of common grace keeps us from ignoring the human aspect of the faith and holding a proper balance without falling into modernism. The attempts to blend modern and orthodox into a ‘hybrid’ will fail in their three manifestations:

  • Philosophical: Schleiermacher, Schelling, Von Baader, use orthodox terms but end in vagueness.
  • Mystical: doesn’t bother trying to explain the mystery of human nature, but then reduces all mystery to psychology and largely ignores the sacred in Scripture.
  • Historical: attempts to get at the ‘real’ Christ behind the Scripture narratives.

These are just jumbled beliefs, made more mixed by the addition of some who may be (lapsed?) genuine believers and interested unbelievers. Still, they all exist under the umbrella of ‘Christian culture.’ (After all, our advances didn’t come form paganism or Islam.)

This is not a view endorsing cultural conservatism, with a pure “core” protecting the rest. Instead, we might think of the “core” as the regenerate church–then the worldly church, then the national church, then the tradition, then those influenced by the faith, then the good people, then those who don’t care. These are concentric circles, in which particular grace works only at the center. It influences common grace, but common grace works throughout. Even modern Christians recognize something of their debt to the center (if little else). They want the benefits without letting Christians have the influence–which suggestion we reject.

Obviously there’s a lot going on in this chapter, and an interesting jumble of stuff that is historically accurate, historically inaccurate, and theologically mixed. The next few chapters will sort some of Kuyper’s ideas out, but frankly his myopic view of his own time is a challenge to get around in parts of this chapter. Still, this is worth wrestling with: what is the impact of the church on the world, and how should we account for it? I’m not sure Kuyper has the right answer, but it’s a good question nevertheless.

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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