Common Grace, 3.43

Common Grace, 3.43 May 9, 2023

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

We’re still moving towards a definition of a “Christian” family. After all, Jews, Muslims, pagans, etc, call all have real families. Kuyper focuses on the Jews as his example, since they are familiar to Christians (and some live in the Netherlands). He points out that their families are as strong as “ours”, and at times even superior. Their lack of a nation [remember, this is pre-1948] has only strengthened their family life. The fact that they are not Christians does not seem to have affected this.

The same is true of pagans historically, and today in the non-Christian Eastern world (and the Muslim world for that matter). Kuyper makes some unfortunate comments about the “exceptions” in the parts of Africa he thinks aren’t as well developed. (pg 355) Hopefully this is more cultural ignorance than cultural judgmentalism on Kuyper’s part…

Cultural judgments aside, the broader point is that “family life spontaneously and quite naturally springs from the fundamental characteristics of human nature.” (355) It is rooted in creation and is built:

  1. On two genders;
  2. On the command to reproduce;
  3. On the helplessness of the infant;
  4. On the necessity of the “home”;
  5. On the work required for food;
  6. On the “safety and legal certainty” of groups;
  7. On the natural love of a husband for a wife, of parents for children, siblings for each other, etc.

All of this is from common grace and is continuously replenished, despite the unceasing assaults of sin. Again, the family is not “Christian” in itself, even if Kuyper sees the “Christian family” as the pinnacle of the family. Still, the family pre-dates Christianity, as we see even in the history of barbarian Europe. (356)

But there does seem to be some kind of “Christian family.” So what is it? We have to keep in mind two sharp distinctions:

  1. A family is “Christian” if it displays the Christian ethics;
  2. A family is “Christian” in so far as it becomes “a miniature expression of the church.” (357)

These are two separate categories that have to be kept apart when talking about the Christian family. The first of these is the realm of common grace, and involves moral elevation. It has elements in common with the lives of animals like sex, and becomes human only when moral “mutual obligation” and “personal love” develop.

Which isn’t to say that his kind of moral family isn’t important! First, it binds together men and women in the highest moral bonds. Second, it binds together parent and child. This begins with–and far surpasses–instinct. Third, the sibling bond shows the communal nature of mankind. We are to love together, an the family bond “constitutes community on a small scale in terms of numbers, age, gender, and temperament.” (358-359)

Obviously there are lots of factors at work here–genetics, temperament, socio-economics, etc, all affect the health and quality of the moral state of the family. These are all important and lead to ideas like the basic right to a living space. These are all also aside from the “Christian” nature of the family. These external factors are somewhat incidental when compared to “the foundational moral contexts by which the family exist.” Namely,

  1. The man/woman relationship;
  2. The parent/child relationship;
  3. The sibling relationship.

So speaking in general (and excluding key exceptions), does Christianity contribute to these exceptions? Or detract from them? The historical verdict is clear. Monogamy and gender equality has softened and strengthened all of these relationships as the light of the Gospel has shown on them all.

Yet, we’re still in the realm of common grace. The New Testament and Old Testament alike merely “reinforce common grace and place the original creation and name in a brighter light.” (361) We still have good unbelieving parents and bad believing parents, even as the Gospel elevates religion.

More on this in the next post.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast an Amazon Associate (which is linked in this blog), and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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