Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bavinck and Common Grace

I've been reading about Common Grace lately. It's a distinctive of reformed theology though it has other Protestant and Catholic parallels, such as Natural Theology, Natural Law, General Revelation. What the main difference is Common Grace's ability to escape a systematic definition. Some of the greatest proponents of Common Grace have maintained that they surely believe it exists, though they don't know exactly what it is. It arises naturally from experience. All around us we see people who do not live, at least confessedly, under God's special atoning grace. Yet, many of them are incredibly profound thinkers and artists. Their work and thought confesses aspects of a Christian world-view, though without the terms of the confessions and creeds. It also arises from the reformed theologians desire to maintain that everything good is God's free gift, that is, man not only did not merit it but God actively gave it. Further it avoids distinctions between nature and grace, which are common to other areas of theology. Common Grace theologians maintains it's not limited to the work of culture, but that even rain that waters crops is a common grace. Everything that prevents sin and promotes life which is not distinct to only those who live under God's Saving Grace could be called Common Grace. We find biblical support for such a theology in John 1:9 and Acts 17, as well as many other places in the Bible.

One of the greatest proponents of such a view is my man Herman Bavinck, the contemporary of Abraham Kuyper. Bavinck represents some of the best of Dutch Neo-Calvinism. Here are a couple quotes:

The three sisters, logic, physics, and ethics, are like the three wise men from the east, who came to worship Jesus in perfect wisdom


The good philosophical thoughts scattered through the pagan world receive in Christ their unity and center


mrteague said...

Common grace resonates w/ me. The world is fallen but not satanic through & through. I think "fallen" describes something pure ruined by mixture rather than total depravity. God's image, though marred, is in man, & therefore in the world.

Bryan Halferty said...

"ruined by mixture" interesting... like things living outside of the God's created order? I heard recently a good description of "total depravity"--not in depth, as in the as depraved as possible, rather, effects all things and aspects of creation.

Also, you anticipated my paper I'm working on, it'll be on the Imago Dei and I'll post it--hopefully--within the next few weeks.

mrteague said...


"Ruined by mixture": another way I've thought of it is taking a statue (image) and marring its face/appearance so that it no longer reflects what it was intended to. The image isn't completely destroyed but it doesn't fulfill its purpose either, which purpose consisted entirely in being a likeness. To illustrate this point one time while sharing at a homeless shelter, I began my message by spitting in a cup of water and then asking who wanted a drink. A little theatrical, but it got the point across. The cup contained mostly water, and just one glob of spit, but the whole cup was ruined for the purpose of drinking, and this reflects human get the picture...

Matt and MissyKamps said...

I really love the doctrine of common grace too... especially because I grew up in the Dutch Reformed tradition. Teague, I like your analogy of the cup of water or the statue. The cup of water is the better of the two analogies and it gets to what I was thinking when I first read your post, Bryan. Common grace helps us to see the world as all a gift from God, including culture, agriculture, cities, what have you...but it may also tend to minimize the sin pollution found in these things. As praiseworthy as a glass of mostly pure water is (or the culture), it should be equally revolting and saddening to us to find out that the water is only mostly pure because Teague spit in it.
The goodness found in the original creation is superseded by the greater goodness of the new creation. Superseded is the wrong word.

Bryan Halferty said...

Here's what Graham Greene says about God's love, it reminded me of your analogy Teague. ‘Oh,’ the priest said, ‘that’s another thing altogether—God is love. I don’t say the heart doesn’t feel a taste of it, but what a taste. The smallest glass of love mixed with a pint pot of ditch-water. We wouldn’t recognize that love. It might even look like hate. It would be enough to scare us—God’s love. It set fire to a bush in the desert, didn’t it, and smashed open graves and set the dead walking in the dark? Oh, a man like me would run a mile to get away if he felt that love around.' "
--The priest in Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory

JP said...

Thanks for the lead on Bavnick Bryan! Yes, Graham Greene's Whiskey Priest. Also Walker Percy's Manic Priest (Thanatos Syndrome)and searching depressives (Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman, The Second Coming, Lancelot) and bad Catholics (Love in the Ruins)come to mind; Also poets like W.H. Auden and Dylan Thomas; and musicians like Benjamin Britten--to name just a few more 20thC. examples: the glory they unveil in spite of their wretchedness hints to me that seeking sinners are often better able to expose God's Grace than the self-conscious, trim-n-tidies whose identity and energies are restricted to the comforts of the four-walled fold. Yes, God's love is foreign and untamed; it should be enough to terrify us before it exorcises our fear.