Worldview on Behalf of a Godly Culture
For a long time, I have thought that the Protestant Reformed Churches
have failed to set forth a full, systematic, positive statement of their
belief concerning worldview and culture. The writers have repeatedly and
thoroughly criticized the common grace worldview and culture of Abraham
Kuyper. But a positive statement of the worldview and culture belonging
to the Reformed faith and life described in the Reformed confessions has
been lacking. An exception is Herman Hoeksema’s pamphlet, The
Christian and Culture, which is, however, brief and incomplete.
The ministers and Christian schoolteachers have always taught the truth
of a distinctively Reformed worldview and the reality of a genuinely
Christian culture, even though the terms were not used. The people have
always possessed the Reformed worldview and lived a Christian culture,
even when they were ignorant of the words.
Only the statement has been lacking.
The lack has been harmful. Members of the Protestant Reformed Churches
have tended to look askance at the "cultural calling" of the Reformed
Christians and to regard the term "culture" with suspicion. Opponents of
the Protestant Reformed Churches have been encouraged to charge
"world-flight" (although they hardly needed this encouragement).
An accusation by Dr. Richard J. Mouw occasioned the positive statement
concerning worldview and culture that is the content of this booklet. He
made the accusation in a public debate over common grace. The accusation
was that their denial of common grace keeps Protestant Reformed people
from being as active in society as they ought to be. Mouw made the
accusation in a part of the debate that precluded a response at the
This booklet is my response, not only to the milder and kinder charge of
Dr. Mouw, but also to the harsher form of the charge against the
Protestant Reformed Churches, made by many in the past, and still made
by some today: "Anabaptists! World flight!"
The work is, at the same time, at least a first effort at the positive
confession, explanation, and defence of a Reformed worldview that owes
nothing to common grace.
"The Reformed Worldview on Behalf of a Godly Culture" appeared
originally as an article in the April 2005 issue of the Protestant
Reformed Theological Journal.
Prof. David J. Engelsma
In the course of a public debate in September 2003 over common grace and
culture, Dr. Richard J. Mouw charged that members of the Protestant
Reformed Churches are not as active in society as Christians should be.1
Mouw’s charge, although milder in tone, was essentially the charge that
the Reformed community has been making against members of the Protestant
Reformed Churches since the beginning of the Protestant Reformed
Churches in 1924.Because the Protestant Reformed Churches deny a common
grace of God as taught by the Dutch Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper
and as adopted as dogma by the Christian Reformed Church, the members of
these churches are unable to live a full, active earthly life in every
sphere of creation.2 The
harsher expression of Dr. Mouw’s charge against the Protestant Reformed
people is: "Anabaptists!" Members of the Protestant Reformed Churches
are accused of world-flight. They are the equivalent in the Reformed
community of the Amish or Hutterites. Since full, active life in the
world arises out of a worldview, or world-and-life view, the charge is
that the Protestant Reformed Churches do not have a worldview.
The thinking that prevails in the Reformed churches is simply this: no
common grace, no worldview.
Underlying the charge that the Protestant Reformed Churches have no
worldview and, therefore, are guilty of world-flight is the assumption
that the only possible worldview for Reformed Christians, if not for all
Christians, is the worldview of common grace. This was certainly
Kuyper’s contention in his Stone Lectures at Princeton and in his three
volumes on common grace, De Gemeene Gratie. This is the position
of Richard Mouw in He Shines in All That’s Fair. This is also the
thinking, widely, in evangelical circles today. Writing in the August
2004 issue of Christianity Today, influential evangelical Charles
Colson begins his "Back Page" article this way:
weeks ago I exhorted a gathering of pastors to engage today’s
cultural battles, particularly to support the Federal Marriage
Amendment. Afterward, the pastors had many questions—but they were
also confused. One asked: "But won’t engaging the culture this way
interfere with fulfilling the Great Commission? Isn’t this our
job—to win people to Christ?" That people still raise this question
surprised me. "Of course we’re called to fulfill the Great
Commission," I replied. "But we’re also called to fulfill the
cultural commission." Christians are agents of God’s saving
grace—bringing others to Christ, I explained—but we are also
agents of his common grace: sustaining and renewing his
creation, defending the created institutions of family and society,
critiquing false worldviews.3
The worldview of common grace dreamed up by Abraham Kuyper a little more
than one hundred years ago holds that, alongside His purpose of saving a
church in Jesus Christ, God has another purpose with creation and
history, namely, the development of a good, godly, and God-glorifying
culture. God accomplishes this cultural purpose with creation and
history by bestowing a certain grace upon unregenerate, unbelieving
people. This common, cultural grace of God works wonders in the ungodly.
It restrains sin in them so that they are no longer totally depraved, as
otherwise they would be. It enables these godless, Christ-less men and
women to perform deeds in everyday, earthly life that are truly good,
and please God. It empowers the wicked to build a culture, an entire way
of life of a society, or a nation, that glorifies God.
God is supposed to give this cultural grace also to His regenerated
people. Hence, it is called common grace. It is a grace of God that is
common to elect and reprobate, believer and unbeliever, alike. According
to the proponents of the theory, the believer lives his life in the
world by the power of common grace. And with it he must cooperate with
unbelievers in carrying out their mutual task of building a good,
Kuyper and his contemporary disciples propose the worldview of common
grace as the basis of the entire earthly life of the Christian.
Regarding his life with God in worship, prayer, Bible study, and
witnessing, the Christian lives and works by the special, saving grace
of God, which is particular, that is, not shared by the unbeliever. But
with regard to his everyday, earthly life of job, citizen of a country,
and neighbour in society, he is called to live and work by common grace.
"The third fundamental relation" of the Calvinist, in addition to those
he sustains to God and to man, according to Kuyper, is "the relation
which you bear to the world." This
relation is based on, and controlled by, "a common grace" of God.4
Although the common grace worldview is certainly a worldview and
although it is a worldview adopted and defended by many Reformed people,
it is not the Reformed worldview. The alternatives are not the common
grace worldview, or no worldview at all, that is, world-flight.
Particularly for Reformed, or Calvinistic, Christians, the alternatives
are the common grace worldview, or the worldview of particular,
sovereign grace, that is, the worldview of the Reformed confessions.
The issue is not merely theoretical. After one hundred years, the
worldview of common grace has proved to be a colossal failure. It has
not produced a godly culture anywhere. On the contrary, it has been a
Trojan horse, or more fittingly a bridge, to let the depraved world into
the churches, into the lives of professing Reformed Christians, and
especially into the Christian schools.
During the same century, other Reformed saints have embraced and
practiced the genuinely Reformed worldview of the Reformed creeds, even
though these Reformed believers never spoke of worldview and though many
of them were ignorant of the term "worldview." They had the genuinely
Reformed worldview in their hearts. This worldview sent these Reformed
Christians into the world, in every sphere of creation, vigorously to
live earthly life to the glory of God, while guarding them against
worldliness. It is time that this genuinely Reformed worldview be
spelled out and defended.
There is another reason for this apology for the Reformed worldview. We
are privileged to live at the time—the end of the ages!—when the
worldview of autonomous, sovereign Man (spell "Man" with a capital "M"
for "Man" who has made himself god) ruthlessly eradicates every vestige
of Christianity from Western civilization and cajoles or coerces all of
human life into the worship and service of Man. This worldview and its
powerful development are evident in the legalizing of the murder of the
unborn and the half-born and in the sanctioning by society and state of
the perversions of sodomy and lesbianism. As prophesied by Daniel 7:25,
in its rebellion against God this worldview thinks to change every law
of God the creator, including the fundamental laws revealed in nature
itself. The worldview of deified Man has no fixed principles, except the
fixed principle that whatever pleases godless Man is right.
Andrew Hoffecker and Gary Scott Smith are right in stating, "one theme
dominates the Western mind since the Enlightenment—autonomy. Autonomy
has replaced the Judeo-Christian God as the single most important
Against this aggressive worldview of the sovereignty of Man stands, and
alone can stand, the Christian gospel and worldview of the sovereignty
of the triune God in Jesus Christ.
There is indeed a "culture war," as Robert Bork,6
and others have told us, and a "culture war" is a clash of worldviews.
These worldviews are not those of the Democratic and Republican parties.
Nor are they the worldviews of political liberals and political
conservatives. But they are the worldview of the spirit of antichrist,
which is already in the world and will produce the man of lawlessness,
according to the apostle in II Thessalonians 2, and the worldview that
sees all things in light of the truth that God is God and that frames
the life of the godly man and woman accordingly.
This latter, which alone is able to resist and demolish the worldview of
autonomous Man, is emphatically not the worldview of common grace. The
history of the past one hundred years has proved that the supposedly
Christian worldview of common grace is powerless before the juggernaut
of the worldview of autonomous Man. By its teachings of a grace of God
in the world of the ungodly and of a grand cultural project of the
Spirit of God among the unregenerate, the worldview of common grace has
opened up churches, schools, and individuals to the mind and practices
of the worldview of sovereign Man. This is fatal.
The worldview that invincibly withstands the force of the worldview of
sovereign Man, and demolishes it, is the worldview of particular grace,
that is, the worldview of the Reformed faith.
By worldview, or world-and-life-view, is meant a comprehensive, unified
view of all creation and history in light either of the knowledge of the
triune, one, true, and living God revealed in Jesus Christ, or in light
of the unbelieving rejection of this God. This view of all things
determines how one lives the whole of his or her earthly life in the
world. The power of worldview is that it frames one’s entire life.
This understanding of worldview is in basic agreement with the
definition of the worldview scholars. James Orr states that worldview
denotes "the widest view which the mind can take of things in the effort
to grasp them together as a whole from the standpoint of some particular
philosophy or theology."9 James
Sire describes a worldview as a "set of presuppositions (assumptions
which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold
(consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about
the basic makeup of our world."10 In
his recent examination of the common grace worldview of Abraham Kuyper,
Peter S. Heslam defines worldview as a "set of beliefs that underlie and
shape all human thought and action."11
The Reformed worldview is that comprehensive, unified view of all
creation and history inherent in the Reformed faith. The Reformed faith
is the body of biblical truths recovered and developed by the sixteenth
century Reformation of the church especially by the theological work of
John Calvin. This faith is officially and authoritatively expressed in
the Reformed creeds, the Three Forms of Unity (Heidelberg Catechism,
Belgic Confession and Canons of Dordt) and the Westminster
Standards (Westminster Confession of Faith, Westminster Larger
Catechism and Westminster Shorter Catechism).
In these creeds, there is no doctrine of a common grace of God, much
less of a grand purpose of God in history to create a good culture by
reprobate, ungodly men and women. The common grace worldview, which by
this time is a sacred cow in Reformed circles, has no basis in the
Reformed creeds—absolutely none. This all by itself is fatal to the
worldview of common grace. Such an important aspect of Calvinism as its
worldview surely must have some basis in Calvinism’s confessions. But
all such basis in the confessions is lacking. The only mention of
"common grace" in the Reformed confessions attributes the teaching to
the Arminians as an essential element of their heresy of universalizing
the grace of God.12
In their fundamental doctrines, the Reformed confessions demolish the
foundations of the worldview of common grace. God has no attitude of
grace toward the reprobate ungodly, who are outside of Jesus Christ in
time and in eternity, but an attitude of wrath: "The wrath of God
abideth upon those who believe not this gospel."13 The
unregenerate have no ability to perform good works, whether by nature or
by common grace, but, as totally depraved, are wholly incapable of any
good: "Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any
good, and inclined to all wickedness? Indeed we are, except we are
regenerated by the Spirit of God."14 As
even the secular scholars are well aware, rather than teaching a grace
common to all men without exception, the Reformed confessions teach
particular, discriminating grace, grace that has its origin in election:
"All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is
pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his
Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by
nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ."15
The Reformed faith, which is authoritatively defined in the Reformed
confessions, not in Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism, has a
worldview. It has its own unique worldview. Kuyper was right when he
asserted that Calvinism is not "a religion confined to the closet, the
cell, or the church"16 and
when he denied that "Calvinism represents an exclusively ecclesiastical
and dogmatic movement."17 But
there was nothing profound, or novel, about these observations by the
Dutch theologian. Calvinism is the pure Christianity of the Bible, and
Christianity, obviously, is not confined to closet, cell, or church. One
needs only to read the book of Proverbs and Ephesians 4-6.
A worldview is made up of the following basic elements. First, every
worldview is grounded in a certain belief concerning God and, in light
of this fundamental belief about God, in beliefs about man, the world,
the purpose of human life, and the goal of all things. Belief about God
is the vantage point from which worldview views the world. This vantage
point is the unquestioned starting point for worldview. The issue for
worldview is theological: "Who is God?"
Second, a worldview lays claim to all of reality, to all of human life.
This is true of the worldview of the Roman Catholic Church, of the
worldview of Leninist/Marxist communism, and of the worldview of
autonomous Man, now reigning in the West.
Third, a worldview authorizes and urges men and women to live earthly
life in all its aspects energetically, enthusiastically, joyously, and
hopefully, as a good, honourable, useful life. That is, earthly life is
good inasmuch as it is lived according to the adopted worldview.
Fourth, worldview has a positive regard for culture and for the use and
enjoyment of the products of culture. By "culture," a notoriously
difficult concept to pin down in a brief statement, we may understand
simply man’s work with creation, whether by mind or body; man’s
development of the creation, including a man or woman’s own gifts and
abilities; man’s production of various inventions, to make human life
easier or more enjoyable; and man’s ordering of his society. Mozart’s
composition of a symphony is culture. The discovery of anaesthetics,
especially for use by dentists, is culture. The ordering of the United
States politically by the founding fathers is culture. But so also are
the farmer’s cultivation of his field, the wife’s care of her home, and
the child’s learning to read, culture.
The Reformed worldview, inherent in the faith set forth in the
ecumenical and Reformation creeds, is characterized by all these
elements of worldview. The vantage point of the Reformed worldview is
the God-given faith that receives Holy Scripture as God’s own revelation
of Himself, of His plan for creation and history, and of His will for
His elect, redeemed, and regenerated people in the world.
Second, the Reformed worldview imperiously claims all of created
reality. All things are ours because we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s
(I Cor. 3:22-23). Since God has given all things to the risen Christ
Jesus, Abraham Kuyper’s famed statement, that Christ claims every square
inch of the creation, is true.
Third, the Reformed worldview sends its disciples into all of earthly
life. It instructs the Reformed Christians that their earthly life is a
holy calling. In the world, in
every human ordinance, they must serve their God. Jesus prayed, not that
God would take Jesus’ disciples "out of the world," but that in the
world God would "keep them from the evil" (John 17:15).
Fourth, the Reformed worldview does not despise, reject, or even fear
culture, that is, all kinds of human activity upon creation and its
resources. The Reformed worldview
requires that we hate, despise, and reject the corrupt culture of
ungodly people, as is the command of I John 2:15-17: "Love not the
world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the
world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the
world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of
life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth
away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth
for ever." Living the Reformed, Christian worldview, one hates and
rejects a concert of music by avowed lesbians crooning the pleasures of
same-sex lust; a movie blasphemously depicting the sufferings of the
Christ; and the dishonest business practices that defraud customers,
investors, and creditors.
But the Reformed worldview calls Reformed believers enthusiastically to
fulfil the mandate of Genesis 1:28, subduing the earth, having dominion,
and that aspect of the mandate that many of its noisy proponents tend to
ignore and even reject: being
fruitful and multiplying.
The Reformed worldview insists on obedience to the purpose of the
cultural mandate in Genesis 1:28: serving and glorifying the true God,
the creator of the world and all things in it. The cultural mandate is
not merely the command to rule and develop creation. The
cultural mandate is the divine charge to rule and develop the earthly
creation in the service and to the glory of God. Without
this purpose, and in defiance of this purpose, there is no fulfilment of
the cultural mandate. This is
conveniently overlooked by many who stress the cultural mandate on
behalf of a Christian worldview. The reprobate, ungodly man or woman
does not, will not, and cannot fulfil the mandate of Genesis 1:28,
because he or she cannot subdue, rule, and develop creation in the
service of God and to the glory of God. God is not in all his or her
thoughts. Therefore, he or she will not seek God (Ps. 10:4). Because he
does not seek God in his cultural activities, even the ploughing of the
wicked is sin (Prov. 21:4). The ungodly subdue the earth and have
dominion in the service of the devil and his kingdom. "Ye are of your
father the devil, and the desires of your father ye will do" (John
The only fulfilment of the cultural mandate is by the Christian, who
works with the creation and lives in the ordinances of creation by faith
in Christ, in obedience to the law governing human life, and to the
glory of God.
The Reformed Worldview
What now is the Reformed worldview?
The Reformed view of all created reality is determined and shaped by the
Reformed faith’s knowledge of the Godhead of the triune, one, true,
living God, who is revealed in Jesus Christ in the gospel of Holy
Scripture. James Orr rightly said "the fundamental postulate [of the
Christian worldview] is a personal, holy, self-revealed God."18 "There
be gods many and lords many, but to us there is but one God, the Father,
of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by
whom are all things, and we by him" (I Cor. 8:5-6).This God is truly
God, so that His people must serve Him in all their life. Indeed, all
things do serve Him, willingly or unwillingly. The truth of the
sovereign God of Scripture establishes the Reformed worldview and
distinguishes it from all other worldviews
The Reformed worldview sees the world as created by this God for the
purpose of His own glory in His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. As the
handiwork of the good God, the creation—the universe—is good. The fall
into sin did not make the creation evil. The fall corrupted the human
race (Rom. 3:9-13).It brought the curse of decay and death on the
earthly creation (Gen. 3:17-18)."But every creature of God is good, and
nothing to be refused," the apostle writes in I Timothy 4:4. The basis
of the goodness of every creature is its creation by God.
Having created all things, God continues to uphold His creation, care
for it, and govern it by His providence. Providence is power; it is not
grace. "Providence [is] the almighty and everywhere present power of
God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He upholds and governs heaven,
earth, and all creatures."19 Providence
keeps creation in existence after the fall. Providence maintains man as
a human, not allowing him to become a beast or a devil. Providence
preserves the ordinances of creation in which humans live their earthly
lives: marriage, family, government, and labour. Divine power does all
this, not divine grace.
On the basis of the doctrine of creation, which includes providence, the
Reformed Christian may freely live in and work with creation, using and
enjoying all the various creatures. This is the teaching of the apostle
in I Timothy 4:1ff.The heretical doctrine that the Christian life
consists of abstinence from marriage and foods is refuted by the truth
of God’s creation of all things: "which God hath created to be received
with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth" (v. 3).
But it may not be overlooked, as many enthusiastic advocates of
worldview do overlook, that God made all things and now upholds and
governs all things for the sake of His glory in Jesus Christ. "All
things were created by him [Jesus Christ], and for him: and he is before
all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the
body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead;
that in all things he might have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the
Father that in him should all fulness dwell" (Col. 1:16-19).
A culture vaguely characterized by "Judeo-Christian principles" does not
satisfy a Reformed Christian. It certainly does not please God. God
demands, and God realizes, a culture characterized by the Spirit of the
risen Christ, a Christian culture, a life in and work with creation that
openly honours Jesus Christ as Lord.
In the light of Scripture and on the basis of the Reformed confessions,
the Reformed worldview views the human race as fallen from its original
righteousness by the disobedience of Adam (Gen. 3; Rom. 5:12ff.).Apart
from Jesus Christ, all humans are totally depraved, in bondage to sin,
spiritually dead, and rebels against God and His Christ (Eph. 2:1-3;
Canons of Dordt III/IV:1-5).As divine punishment, death now destroys
every man, woman, and child, and the curse lies heavy on a groaning
creation (Gen. 3:16-19; Rom. 6:23; 8:19-22).
All possibility of a good, godly culture from fallen, unregenerate
humans is cut off. The hope of unbelieving humanity that by dint of its
own efforts and with the help of the natural process of evolution the
race and its earthly home will become a world of peace and prosperity is
illusory. The just God curses the guilty sinner and his culture. This is
the message of Ecclesiastes: "Vanity of vanity, all is vanity." This is
also the message of history.
Knowledge of the fall of the human race into sin and willing servitude
of Satan warns Reformed Christians that they must expect opposition and
warfare as they devote their lives to the service of the God and Father
of Jesus Christ. The ungodly hate them. The culture of the ungodly
opposes the culture of the godly. In Jesus Christ, "light is come into
the world" in the holy lives of the saints, and the men and women of
darkness hate the light (John 3:19, 20).
The Reformed worldview understands that, carrying out His original
purpose with creation, God redeems an elect church out of the fallen
race by the atoning death of Jesus Christ. The work of redemption
includes the renewal of the elect by the grace of the Spirit of Christ
so that they love, obey, and serve God. This is the beginning of the
fulfilment of the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28.This is the
possibility of good, God-pleasing culture.
In a book that is widely regarded as a classic on the relation of Christ
and culture, H. Richard Niebuhr contended that Christ is the
"transformer of culture." "The movement of life ... issuing from Jesus
Christ is an upward movement, the rising of men’s souls and deeds and
thoughts in a mighty surge of adoration and glorification of the One who
draws them to himself. This is what human culture can be—a transformed
human life in and to the glory of God."20
Niebuhr was right. What Niebuhr ignored was that Christ is the
transformer of culture in the lives and deeds of His elect, renewed
in the lives of His elect, renewed people. Niebuhr ignored this,
because Niebuhr denied predestination. Ignoring this, Niebuhr was
profoundly wrong in his assertion that Christ is the transformer of
culture. Christ is not, and never will be, the transformer of the
general culture of the human race universally.
Because God’s purpose with the redemption of the new human race, made up
of the elect in all nations, is not only their salvation, but also His
glory by their lives, God sends the regenerated saints into all the
ordinances and spheres of earthly life, to live, work, and play to the
praise of God.
The Christian life is not withdrawal from creation and abstinence from
the use and enjoyment of the creatures as much as possible. World-flight
is forbidden. World-flight is sin. The will of Christ for those whom the
Father has given Him is not that they go out of the world, even if this
were possible, but that in the world they be kept from evil (John
17:15). Paul condemns the religious theory and practice of world-flight
as the "doctrine of devils" (I Tim. 4:1). In his searing indictment of
asceticism and world-flight in I Timothy 4:1ff., the apostle exposes the
root of this erroneous notion of the nature of the life of the Christian
in the world. World-flight supposes that material reality is inherently
evil, thus denying the biblical doctrine of creation. In addition,
world-flight misunderstands the will of God for the Christian life:
the world, but not of the world. The purpose of God is that the
light of His own truth and holiness shine the more brightly in stark
contrast with the darkness of the falsehood and depravity of the wicked
The Reformed worldview, convinced of the goodness of creation and
obedient to the will of God, calls every Reformed believer and child of
believers to a full, active earthly life, in home and family; usually in
marriage; in the schools; in labour and business; in the church; and in
the state. At the same time, this worldview frees the Reformed Christian
to use and enjoy the various creatures, to benefit from the cultural
products of the ungodly that are usable, to work with and develop all
aspects of creation, and to develop his or her own natural and spiritual
abilities—all in the service of the Lord Christ and to the glory of the
This was the message of the Reformation, which saw all of earthly life
as a "vocation," a sacred calling. This is the teaching of the practical
parts of all the New Testament epistles, for example, Ephesians 4-6 and
I Peter 2:11-5:14."Occupy till I come" is the charge of the Lord Jesus
to His disciples in the time between His departure to a far country and
His return to conduct the judgment of His servants, "how much every man
had gained by trading" (Luke 19:11-27).
World-flight is a perennial threat to Christians in every age. It is
especially a threat when, as in our day, the visible church becomes
thoroughly worldly. Then especially, the more godly, spiritual people
are tempted physically to flee society. Against this temptation, the
true church must warn. But world-flight has never been, and is not now,
the doctrine and practice of the Protestant Reformed Churches in
America. The implication, or hidden agenda, of the denial of common
grace is not world-flight.
The charge against the Protestant Reformed denial of common grace that
it results in world-flight, "Anabaptistic" world-flight, is false. This
charge has been levelled against the Protestant Reformed Churches from
the very beginning of their history in the common grace controversy in
the Christian Reformed Church in the early 1920s.A favourite tactic of
the Christian Reformed opponents of Herman Hoeksema was smearing him as
a modern Anabaptist advocate of world-flight. In 1922 Christian Reformed
theologian Jan Karel Van Baalen warned the Christian Reformed Church
that, in the controversy over common grace, she stood "on the eve of the
most important struggle that she has yet known. That is the struggle
between Calvinism and Anabaptism."21 Van
Baalen charged that "the denial of common grace is Anabaptist."22
Hoeksema regarded the charge as mere "mud-slinging." He repudiated it.
have you ever heard us defending that we must leave off the various
institutions of society, that we may occupy no government position,
that we may carry on no war? Exactly the opposite is our conception.
We exactly will not to go out of the world. It is exactly our
purpose to abandon no single sphere of life. We have exactly called
God’s people to occupy the whole of life. However, it is our will
that this people of the Lord, which is His covenant people, in no
single sphere of life shall forsake or deny its God. That people is
called, in every sphere, to live out of grace, out of the one grace
by which they are implanted into Christ and love God, so that they
keep His commandments.
Therefore, "world-flight" is not applicable to us, as you yourself
will now agree, brother [Van Baalen]. If "world" is understood in
the sense of "nature," then you see very well that we do not
separate nature and grace but want to live out of grace everywhere.
And if "world" is understood in the evil sense, then we do not take
to flight, but rather fight the good fight to the end, so that no
one may take our crown.23
In a much later work, Hoeksema described his own worldview, which he
called "life-view," more fully.
people of God have their own life-view with regard to every sphere
of life and every institution of the world. The home is an
institution existing primarily for the perpetuation of God’s
covenant in the world. The school is an institution for the purpose
of instructing the covenant children according to the principles of
Holy Writ for every sphere of life. Society, with business and
industry, art and science, and all things that exist, must ... be
controlled by the principles of the Word of God and be made
subservient to the idea of God’s kingdom in the world. In a word,
they have a new life-view. They are members of God’s covenant, His
friends in the world, subjects of His kingdom. And, in principle at
least, they want to live the life of that kingdom also in the
The lives of the members of the Protestant Reformed Churches give the
lie to the charge that their denial of common grace fosters
world-flight. Protestant Reformed people do not ride in buggies pulled
by horses; do not dress the women in black; do not live in communes; do
not abstain from good food and drink or any other lawful earthly
pleasure; do not reject modern technology; do not avoid education; do
not forbid involvement in civil government; do not prohibit working in
the various professions. In short, the Protestant Reformed Churches do
not conceive the Christian life as sitting "met een boekje in een
hoekje" (‘with a little [religious] book in a little corner"). On
the contrary, by the Word of God these Churches call all their members
to a full, rich, active, holy earthly life in all the ordinances and
every sphere of creation. This call is part of Christ’s redemption of
It is another important aspect of the Reformed worldview that it
promises victory to Reformed Christians and their obedient lives in the
world. Every worldview encourages its disciples with the prospect of
future victory. Every one who lives and fights for the Reformed
worldview will live and reign with Jesus Christ in the new world (Heid.
Cat., Q. 32).The cause of the Reformed faith, which is simply the
kingdom of God in Jesus Christ, will conquer all the rival kingdoms of
man and establish itself triumphantly in all creation (Ps. 72; Dan.
2:1-45; Rev. 21-22).The creation itself will be renewed as a new heaven
and new earth in which the righteousness preached and practiced by the
Reformed faith shall dwell (Rom. 8:19-22; II Peter 3:13).
The Reformed worldview, which must do battle and endure reproach
throughout the present age, will have this perfect victory, not in
history, but as the goal of history, in the day of Jesus Christ.
Already in this age, the Reformed worldview is victorious in the pure
worship, sound confession, and holy life of the true church, as in the
faithfulness of believers and their children to Jesus Christ their Lord.
This is a spiritual victory.
But this worldview does not delude its confessors and practitioners with
the promise of a carnal victory within history. The Reformed faith has
always condemned as illusory the "Jewish dream" of a golden age in
history during which the world is "Christianized" and Reformed
politicians in Amsterdam; or Presbyterian theologians in Vallecito,
California, Tyler, Texas, or Moscow, Idaho; or Reformational
philosophers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada rule mankind. The Second
Helvetic Confession expresses the Reformed conviction concerning the
teaching of a carnal victory of the kingdom of Christ in history.
further condemn Jewish dreams that there will be a golden age on
earth before the Day of Judgment, and that the pious, having subdued
all their godless enemies, will possess all the kingdoms of the
earth. For evangelical truth in Matt. Chs. 24 and 25, and Luke, ch.
18, and apostolic teaching in II Thess., ch. 2, and II Tim., chs. 3
and 4, present something quite different.25
The Reformed faith maintains an amillennial eschatology. The same
chapter of the Second Helvetic Confession that condemns the notion of a
golden age as nothing but "Jewish dreams" also warns Reformed Christians
of apostasy, persecution, and the coming of Antichrist in the future.
heaven the same Christ will return in judgment, when wickedness will
then be at its greatest in the world and when the Antichrist, having
corrupted true religion, will fill up all things with superstition
and impiety and will cruelly lay waste the Church with bloodshed and
flames (Dan., ch. 11).But Christ will come again to claim his own,
and by his coming to destroy the Antichrist, and to judge the living
and the dead (Acts. 17:31).26
The worldview of common grace intoxicates those who inhale its vapours
with the giddy prospect of an earthly triumph of the kingdom of God by
the creation of a good, godly culture in history. Charles Colson thinks
that the cooperation of evangelicals and Roman Catholics in building a
culture informed by a biblical worldview can yet, by the power of common
grace, win the culture wars and redeem the culture. In the face of the
pessimism that concludes that evangelicals have lost the culture war,
Colson is optimistic.
millennium is a time for Christians to celebrate, to raise our
confidence, to blow trumpets, and to fly the flag high. This is the
time to make a compelling case that Christianity offers the most
rational and realistic hope for both personal redemption and social
Richard Mouw is more cautious about the possibilities of culture
building common grace. But he too urges the worldview of common grace
among all churches and professing Christians in the hope of
accomplishing great, good, and godly things in the life of society. An
aggressive exercise of "common grace ministries" will promote "the
welfare, the shalom, of the larger human community."28 In
this way Christians are agents of one of God’s "Kingdom goals" in
Abraham Kuyper, sober amillennialist though he was in his dogmatics,
became a delirious postmillennialist in his advocacy of the worldview of
common grace. The cooperation of believers and unbelievers in building a
good culture by common grace will result in the "Christianizing" of
nations, if not of the world. The task of the "church as organism" is
nothing less than "the transformation of human society by bringing it
into harmony with the insights provided by the Christian faith … Kuyper
aimed … to encourage … the Christianization of society … The
Christianization of society would involve bringing all aspects of human
life into conformity with Christian principles."30
The hope of the common grace worldview, an incipient postmillennialism,
is vain. The kingdom of Christ is spiritual, not carnal.Its victory in
history is a spiritual victory in the gathering and preservation of the
church and in the salvation of the elect, which includes their holy
lives in all the ordinances and spheres of creation. The perfection of
its victory, when all enemies will be destroyed and the saints will
reign with Christ over the renewed creation—the true "golden age"—awaits
the end of history at the coming of Jesus Christ. This reality, and not
a postmillennial dream, is the prospect of victory that sustains and
encourages those who are committed to the Reformed worldview.31
In the Reformed worldview described above, what is lacking, so that a
Reformed Christian is hindered from a full, active life in every sphere
What about this worldview, which is nothing other than the faith and
life of the Christian religion, deserves the harsh charge,
What are Christians called to do in the world, that they are prohibited
from doing by this worldview?
As the worldview inherent in the Reformed faith, a hallmark of which is
predestination, as all the world knows, this worldview is a worldview,
not of common grace, but of particular grace. It is a worldview in
harmony with, based on, and empowered by the saving grace of God in
Jesus Christ bestowed on elect believers and their children, and on them
alone. This worldview has distinctive features.
The Reformed worldview is biblical, not philosophical, speculative, or
emotional. The common grace worldview in Kuyper’s Lectures on
Calvinism is highly philosophical and speculative. It lacks all
biblical foundation and exposition. Indeed, there is hardly any mention
of Scripture. Kuyper spun the worldview of common grace out of his
fertile mind, a mind bent on political power and influence in the
In Mouw’s He Shines in All That’s Fair, the common grace
worldview is emotional, as well as philosophical and speculative. Its
source is not the teaching of Scripture, but the feelings of Richard
Mouw: his approval of many of the works of the ungodly; his empathy for
the suffering and rejoicing wicked; and his longing to cooperate with
"decent" unbelievers in creating a culture of justice and peace.32
Particularly with regard to its fundamental tenet of the building of a
good, even godly, culture by a grace of God shared by Christian and
non-Christian, the common grace worldview is plainly, egregiously,
absurdly unbiblical. The Bible does not teach a culture-forming work of
God in the world of the ungodly. The Bible does not know a work of grace
in the society of men and women who hate God and His Son Jesus Christ
resulting in a culture that is good and pleases God.
On the contrary.
God destroyed the world of the ungodly with all their impressive Cainite
culture in the flood (Gen. 4:16-24; 6-8).
The great cultural work of mankind after the flood was the Tower of
Babel. This grand achievement of the seed of the serpent, God hated and
ruined (Gen. 11:1-9).
Great civilizations and impressive cultures appeared in the time of the
Old Testament and are recognized in Old Testament Scripture: Egypt,
Assyria, Babylon, Tyre, and others. The prophets did not admire them,
but condemned them for their idolatry and unrighteousness. Think of the
Nebuchadnezzar’s great image representing four mighty world-powers and
splendid civilizations in Daniel 2. God’s little stone—the kingdom of
Messiah—demolishes the four world-kingdoms. Against highly civilized
Tyre, the prophet pronounced the divine woe in Ezekiel 26-28.
The only culture Jehovah approved in the time of the Old Testament was
that of Israel, insofar as it was godly, and that national and societal
way of life was the product of saving grace.
Where in the New Testament is there a hint, even so much as a hint, of a
positive cultural work of God by His grace among ungodly men and women,
or of a calling of the church to cooperate with unbelievers in building
a good, God-pleasing culture? About the idolatrous civilizations of
Greece and Rome, the "glory that was Greece," over which Reformed
college professors sigh and swoon, Romans 1:18ff. states that the wrath
of God fell on them, giving the people over to a reprobate mind, so that
they were full of perverse sexual desires and practiced sodomy and
In Revelation 18, the last apostle recognizes the marvellous
civilization and remarkable culture of humanity at the end of time—a
"mighty city" of wealth and luxury, of industry and trade, of music and
inventions. He recognizes this civilization and culture, calls on the
reader of the Revelation 18 to recognize it, and then pronounces the
destruction of Babylon the great, and rejoices over its destruction.
God is not pleased to build a culture by means of the ungodly. He is
pleased to destroy the culture of the ungodly.
One culture, and one culture only, pleases God: the godly way of life,
spiritual and earthly, of the holy nation, the city of God, that is, the
church. This pleases Him, because this way of life is His own work by
the Spirit and grace of Jesus Christ. The reality of this culture, the
manner of the building of this culture, and the way of life of this
culture are the biblical teaching about the sanctified life of the
church and about the holy life of believers and their children in the
A second distinctive feature of the Reformed worldview of particular
grace is its requirement that believers and their children live their
earthly lives in the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ and of the
mighty grace that has its source in the incarnate, crucified, and risen
Son of God. The Christian works on the farm or in the factory, runs a
business, studies at school, does research, plays or listens to music,
and eats and drinks by the same grace that empowers him to worship,
confess, pray, and witness to his neighbour. The only power and
possibility of an earthly life that pleases God and contributes to good
culture is the life of the risen Jesus Christ, which is received through
faith in Him. The urgent exhortation of the Bible is: "Live out of
Christ! Walk in His Spirit! Do all in the name of Jesus Christ!"
The Christian does not and may not carry out his worldview, or pursue
his cultural task, by the power of some other grace, by some common
grace. This, however, is what the common grace worldview teaches.
Abraham Kuyper wrote: "And thus now it is one and the same man who
enjoys God’s common grace in the life of society and God’s particular
grace in the holy sphere."33 At
church we live by the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ and saving
grace; throughout the week, we live and work by the power of another
grace, "common grace." To propose another power, another grace, than the power of God’s
grace in Christ for the Christian’s life in society is attempted murder
of the Christian life, nothing less.
Their attempting to live and work in the world by common grace goes a
long way towards explaining why those who practice the common grace
worldview invariably become thoroughly worldly. They are attempting to
live by a wrong and wholly inadequate power, as though a soldier would
go to war with a squirt gun, rather than a machine gun, or would clothe
himself with a nightgown, rather than armour. They are vulnerable to the
destructive influence of the wicked world.
Neither Scripture nor the Reformed confessions attribute the calling of
Christians to live a full earthly life, or the power to carry out this
calling, to a common grace of God, but to the saving grace of Jesus
Christ. It is as those who have learned Christ and who are renewed by
the Spirit of Christ, so that they are new men and women in Christ, that
the Ephesian Christians are truthful with the neighbours; labour
faithfully at some earthly vocation; are kind to each other; avoid
sexual filth; abstain from drunkenness and its debauchery; honour
marriage and the family; and are active in the sphere of labour and
business, whether as employer or employee (Eph. 4:17-6:9).
In the explanation of the law of God and of the model prayer that is the
third part of the Heidelberg Catechism, the Catechism certainly calls
the Reformed believer to live a full, active life in the world. This
life includes right public worship at church; submission to the civil
magistrates; honourable behaviour in marriage and the family; honest
dealings in business; and upright conduct with all one’s neighbours in
society. By this life, one seeks and promotes the coming of the kingdom
of God in Jesus Christ (Heidelberg Catchism, Lord’s Days
32-52).This calling is grounded, not in some original purpose of God
with mankind to create a good culture, or "Christianize" society, but in
the redemption of the cross of Christ. The power of this earthly life in
all its aspects is not a common grace of God that the godly share with
the ungodly, but the regenerating grace of the Spirit of Christ.
"Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by His blood, also renews us
by His Holy Spirit after His own image."34
Honouring Jesus Christ
The honouring of Jesus Christ in confession and practice is a third
distinctive feature of the genuinely Reformed worldview. The Reformed
worldview confesses that the one purpose of God with all things is Jesus
Christ, the incarnate Son of God, our dear Saviour, and the Lord over
all. The Reformed worldview demands a life lived in subjection to and
service of Him. Basic to the Reformed worldview is the confession that
God made all things for Jesus Christ, that all things cohere in Jesus
Christ, and that Jesus Christ must have the pre-eminence in all things.
Jesus Christ, the head of the church, is the one purpose of God with
creation and history. In raising Jesus Christ from the dead, God has
exalted Him to a position of prominence over all things (Col. 1:13-20).
Whatever worldview ignores Jesus Christ, whatever worldview does not
ascribe this centrality, this pre-eminence, to Jesus Christ, is false.
Whatever culture, however decent and humane it may be, does not confess
and obey Jesus Christ as Lord of the culture is cursed.
The common grace worldview ignores Jesus Christ. It leaves Jesus Christ
out of the fine culture it is building with the help of those who deny
Jesus Christ. The common grace worldview ignores Jesus Christ and leaves
Him out of its culture by its own frank admission. According to
the worldview of common grace, God has a cultural purpose with creation
and history altogether apart from His saving purpose in Jesus Christ.
God has two distinct purposes with creation and history. One is the
redemption of a church by the saving grace of the crucified and risen
Jesus Christ. The other is the development of good culture by reprobate,
unregenerate men and women, with the help of Christians, as the original
purpose of God with creation. God realizes this purpose by His common
grace. This cultural purpose has nothing to do with Jesus Christ, the
crucified and risen head of the church. He is certainly not the source,
foundation, life, lord, and goal of this culture.
Abraham Kuyper, who is the father of the common grace worldview, wrote
that "there is beside the great work of God in special grace also
that totally other work of God in the realm of common grace."
This "totally other work" is the gracious activity of God in heathens
and idolaters "to consummate the world’s development." God takes
"delight in that high human development" of heathens and idolaters. For
by this cultural development of humanity "all the glory of God’s image
can mirror itself."
Common grace, according to Kuyper, achieves "a purpose of its own" in
history. "Independently [of Jesus Christ as head of the redeemed church
and of His saving grace]," common grace brings about "the full emergence
of what God had in mind when he planted those nuclei of higher
development in our race." By the independent working of common grace,
"humanity arrives at its goal, it lifts itself up from its sunken state,
it gradually reaches a higher level. The fundamental creation ordinance
given before the fall, that humans would achieve dominion over all of
nature thanks to ‘common grace,’ is still realized after the
fall. Only in this way, in the light of the Word of God, can the history
of our race, the long unfolding of the centuries as well as the high
significance of the world’s development, make substantial sense to us."35
Richard Mouw’s recent defence and expansion of Kuyper’s worldview of
common grace likewise asserts that God pursues a cultural purpose in
history that is separate from His saving purpose in Jesus Christ. Mouw
speaks of "multiple divine purposes." "As God unfolds his plan for his
creation, he is interested in more than one thing. Alongside of God’s
clear concern about the eternal destiny of individuals are his designs
for the larger creation."36
Positing two, independent purposes of God with creation and history is
dualism. Dualism is the destruction of worldview! By definition,
worldview sees all of created reality whole. Worldview is a
comprehensive, unified view of history and the world. The advocates of
the worldview of common grace do not have a worldview, but worldviews.
One is the worldview of God’s work of glorifying Himself by the
redemption of a church by the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The other is
the worldview of God’s work of glorifying Himself by the development of
good, godly culture by the ungodly by the common grace of God.
Still worse, the common grace worldview teaches a great purpose of God
with, and a marvellous work of God in, history that has nothing to do
with Jesus Christ, the incarnate, crucified, and risen Son of God. And
if this worldview ignores Jesus Christ, it denies Him. It denies Him
with regard to its worldview. Nothing less than this is the damning
Reformed indictment of the worldview of common grace: It denies Jesus
Christ with regard to what is proposed as one of the great purposes of
God with history and with regard to what is advanced as the foundation
of all human life in the world.
Kuyper struggled with these two weaknesses of his theory of common
grace, its inherent dualism and the separation of God’s work of cultural
development from Jesus Christ. He tried to solve his problems by uniting
both the work of redemption and the cultural work of common grace in the
person of the eternal Son of God. "Holy Scripture repeatedly tells us of
the intertwinement of the life of special grace with that of common
grace but simultaneously discloses that the point at which the two come
together is not Christ’s birth in Bethlehem but his eternal existence as
the Eternal Word."37 "The
work of creation and the work of redemption—and to that extent also the
work of common and of special grace—find a higher unity in Christ only
because the eternal Son of God is behind both starting points."38 In
support of this attempt to overcome both the dualism and the ignoring of
Jesus Christ that characterize the worldview of common grace, Kuyper
appealed to Colossians 1:13ff.
Kuyper’s attempt failed. It merely thrust the dualism back into the
person of the eternal Son. Now the eternal Son of God has two
independent purposes with, and works in, history. Besides, Colossians
1:13ff. does not make the person of the eternal Son of God the beginning
and goal of all creation, the one purpose of God with the existence and
movement of all things in history, and the one who must have
pre-eminence in all things. The one who has this importance with regard
to creation, all things, and history is the dear Son of God, into whose
kingdom elect believers have been translated (v. 13); in whom we have
redemption through His blood (v. 14); who is the firstborn of every
creature, which cannot be said of the eternal person of the Son (v. 15);
who is the head of the church (v. 18); and who is the firstborn from the
dead (v. 18).This is not the person of the eternal Son, although Jesus
Christ’s person is the eternal Son, but the man born of Mary,
suffered under Pilate, and raised bodily on the third day. Him
God has honoured with such incomparable honour. Him the Reformed
worldview honours. And Him the common grace worldview denies.
A fourth distinctive feature of the Reformed worldview is its insistence
that the norm, or standard, of all of everyday, earthly life, in all the
ordinances and spheres of creation, is the law of God as clearly
revealed in Scripture. God’s law in Scripture governs sexual conduct;
marriage; the family; life in the church; labour; business; medicine;
relations with the neighbour; and the behaviour of the Christian towards
Reformed, Christian life is not lawless. It is not ruled by man’s own
will. It is not governed by the current thinking and practices of the
depraved world, which contraband are then smuggled into Reformed
churches as the cargo of "general revelation."
The worldview of common grace opens up the individuals, churches, and
schools that embrace it to the world’s lawlessness. In the name of
common grace, they approve feminism and egalitarianism; divorce and
remarriage for any and every reason; the rebellion of "servants" against
their "masters" in the realm of labour; Sabbath desecration; the
enjoyment of Hollywood’s vilest and most violent, even blasphemous,
movies; and now homosexuality, at least in a "committed relationship."
Acceptance of the wicked world’s "wisdom" and ways by those who hold the
worldview of common grace is inevitable. For the common grace worldview
posits the gracious operation of the Spirit in the ungodly world and
therefore also a great deal of truth and righteousness.39
In sharp contrast to the conforming mentality of the worldview of common
grace, the Reformed worldview is antithetical—unashamedly, boldly,
urgently antithetical. This is a fifth distinctive feature of the
genuinely Reformed worldview. Two radically different groups of people,
hostile to each other, live in the closest proximity. They develop two
fundamentally different cultures in the same spheres of creation. One
group confesses the sovereignty of the triune God and Father of Jesus
Christ and willingly submit to the Lordship of the crucified and risen
Jesus Christ. The other rebels against God and His Messiah. The Reformed
worldview calls Christians to be separate from those who deny Jesus
Christ and thus the one, true God.
Is any truth clearer, or more emphatic, in Scripture than the
God Himself set the history of the human race on its way with the word
of Genesis 3:15, dividing the race into two antagonistic families: "I
will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her
seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." Old
Testament Israel must dwell in safety alone (Deut. 33:28). It is no
different for the New Testament church and child of God.
Be ye not
unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath
righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light
with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what
part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath
the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living
God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I
will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out
from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not
the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a father unto
you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty
(II Cor. 6:14-18).
So overpowering is this truth of the antithesis everywhere in Scripture
that it frustrated the strenuous efforts of H. Richard Niebuhr to
gainsay it. In his acclaimed study of the relation between Christ and
culture, Niebuhr searched for evidence in the Christian tradition and in
Scripture that Christ, the transformer of culture, is not
culture. Again and again, he was forced to admit, honest scholar that he
was, that his champions of "Christ-as-transformer-of-culture" taught
Christ as the foe of culture.
Niebuhr liked to claim Augustine as a "Christian who set before men the
vision of universal concord and peace in a culture in which all human
actions had been reordered by the gracious action of God in drawing all
men to Himself, and in which all men were active in works directed
toward and thus reflecting the love and glory of God." But Niebuhr was
forced to acknowledge that Augustine "did not develop his thought in
this direction. He did not actually look forward with hope to the
realization of the great eschatological possibility…—the redemption of
the created and corrupted human world and the transformation of mankind
in all its cultural activity." Due largely to "his predestinarian form
of the doctrine of election, Augustine[’s] … vision [is that] of two
cities, composed of different individuals, forever separate. Here is a
dualism more radical than that of Paul and Luther."
"Calvin," alas, "is very much like Augustine." There are in this
Reformer ideas that led Niebuhr to hope that Calvin might have taught
"the transformation of mankind in all its nature and culture into a
kingdom of God in which the laws of the kingdom have been written upon
the inward parts." But this is not, in fact, the cultural doctrine of
eternal over-againstness of God and man, Calvin adds the dualism of
temporal and eternal existence, and the other dualism of an eternal
heaven and an eternal hell. Though Calvinism has been marked by the
influence of the eschatological hope of transformation by Christ and
by its consequent pressing toward the realization of the promise,
this element in it has always been accompanied by a separatist and
repressive note, even more markedly than in Lutheranism.
Niebuhr was compelled to fall back on the minor, and heretical, figure
of F. D. Maurice.40
The Bible proved to be as unhelpful for Niebuhr’s thesis as Augustine
and Calvin. Christ as transformer of culture "is most clearly indicated
in the Gospel of John." But, added Niebuhr immediately, "the close
relation of this work to the First Letter of John at once suggests, it
is accompanied there also by a separatist note." Misunderstanding the
"universalistic statements" in the gospel according to John, Niebuhr
thought that John seems "to look forward to the complete transformation
of human life and work." However, Niebuhr recognized that "such
universalistic statements … are balanced in the Gospel by sayings that
voice the sense of the world’s opposition to Christ and of his concern
for the few." Niebuhr concluded by agreeing with the analysis of another
scholar: "The Fourth Gospel … is … the most exclusive of the New
Testament writings. It draws a sharp division between the Church of
Christ and the outlying world, which is regarded as merely foreign or
The worldview of the Bible is antithetical, and the antithesis is
grounded in divine predestination. Whatever worldview fails to reckon
with the antithesis, weakens the antithesis, or denies the antithesis is
The antithesis that is basic to the biblical worldview for the church
and Christian in the New Testament is spiritual. It is the separation
and warfare between faith and unbelief. The believer thinks God’s
thoughts after Him; God is not in all the unbeliever’s thoughts. The
believer does all to the glory of God; the unbeliever lives for self,
humanity, and sin. The believer trusts in God in Jesus Christ for
salvation and, indeed, all things; the unbeliever trusts in the arm of
human flesh, or frankly despairs. The believer obeys God in love; the
unbeliever either tramples the commandments of God underfoot, or
outwardly observes the laws of God out of self-interest.
The antithesis between the seed of the woman—Jesus Christ and those who
are His by divine election—and the seed of the serpent—those who are
Satan’s progeny according to divine reprobation—in the New Testament age
is not physical. The antithesis certainly must, and does, come to
physical expression. The Christian does not worship with the pagans or
with the false church (I Cor. 10:14-22). He may not date and marry an
unbeliever (I Cor. 7:39). He may not cultivate friendship with an
unbeliever (II Cor. 6:14-18). He may not cooperate with unbelievers in
ungodly enterprises, for example, building an earthly kingdom of God
apart from Jesus Christ, the pardon of sins, and lives of holiness (II
Chron. 19:2).Reformed parents educate the children of the covenant in
their own schools, where the instruction is based on Scripture and the
Reformed confessions and where the law of God rules the speech and
conduct of all the students (Eph. 6:4).
But it is not the nature of the antithesis that it consists of, and
requires, physical separation of the church from the ungodly world and
of the believer and his children from unbelievers and their children.
The antithesis is not world-flight. The Reformed Christian may live
fully and freely in every ordinance and sphere of creation, for example,
marriage, labour, and the state. He may develop and exercise all his
natural gifts, for example, scholarship, building houses, making music,
or playing ball. He may associate with the ungodly in everyday, earthly
life, for example, neighbourhood, labour, and state. He may cooperate
with the ungodly in all kinds of earthly activities, for example,
business and the defence of the nation. He may use and enjoy all the
cultural products of the ungodly that are not so defiled and defiling as
to be intrinsically unclean. He may enjoy and learn from the world’s
great literature. He may enjoy classical music. He may avail himself of
the computer. He may benefit from advances in medicine.
All of this earthly activity of the Reformed Christian, including
association with the ungodly and use of their inventions, is due to the
truths of creation and providence. By virtue of God’s creation of all
things, "every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused" (I
Tim. 4:4; cf. I Cor. 10:26).Life in the ordinances and spheres of
creation, which is the will of God for His redeemed people, necessarily
involves physical contact and cooperation in earthly affairs with the
ungodly (I Cor. 5:10).Christians and non-Christians have all things
earthly in common, because of creation and providence.
What they do not have in common is grace. Therefore, although they share
earthly life, they live this earthly life in two radically different
ways, the one to the glory of God and the other in defiance of God.
Knowing that the thinking and practices of the ungodly world are not the
fruit of grace, the Christian is always on his guard against the
ignorance and licentiousness of the ungodly with whom he associates and
cooperates (Eph. 4:18-19).
The worldview of common grace breaks down the antithesis. It is a breach
in the spiritual wall, a bridge over the spiritual moat, between the
church and the world, between the believer and the unbeliever, between
Christ and Belial. Through the breach and over the bridge of common
grace, the godless thinking and unholy practices of the wicked world
pour into the lives of the people, the churches, and the schools where
the worldview of common grace reigns. Abraham Kuyper proposed the
worldview of common grace as a bridge between the church and the world
by which the church could influence the world. Kuyper forgot something
about bridges. They allow two-way traffic.
After some one hundred years, since the invention of the common grace
worldview by Kuyper and his colleague Herman Bavinck,42 the
worldview of common grace has proved to be a failure. It has not
"Christianized" the Netherlands. It has not "Christianized" the United
States. It has not "Christianized" Grand Rapids, Michigan. On the
contrary, it has made the people, churches, and schools that advocate
and practice it thoroughly worldly.
The deleterious effect of the worldview of common grace on its
proponents is being recognized of late by some who have not historically
been involved in the controversy over common grace and who therefore
cannot be accused of having an axe to grind. James D. Bratt speaks of a
"basic ambiguity in his [Kuyper’s] thought. On the one hand, Kuyper
preached religious antithesis: the life-principles of Christians and
unbelievers were diametrically opposed, the spiritual qualities of their
respective actions were inevitably antagonistic …. Later in his career …
Kuyper resurrected the doctrine of common grace: that God gave to
humanity grace which, while not ‘saving,’ enabled them to attain much
virtue and truth … and that cooperation between Christians and
unbelievers was therefore possible and necessary."43 "Basic
ambiguity" regarding the antithesis is fatal to the antithesis.
Writing in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society,
Presbyterian theologian William D. Dennison judges that "Dutch
neo-Calvinism," whose father is Abraham Kuyper, whose project is to
"transform and reclaim the post-enlightenment culture for the Lordship
of Jesus Christ," and whose worldview is that of common grace, "has
become more a child of the Enlightenment and modernity than a movement
preserving historic orthodox Calvinism."44
Sean Michael Lucas sees the same worldliness (he calls it
"secularization") where the common grace worldview dominates. He
attributes this worldliness to the doctrine of common grace.
Kuyper himself used language of the antithesis, his later followers,
particularly in the United States and Canada, more often emphasized
the other two intellectual contributions of the Kuyperian vision:
common grace and the ordering structures of sphere sovereignty. As
common grace came to override Kuyper’s emphasis upon the difference
that the palingenesis [regeneration] made—with its two kinds
of people and two kinds of science—the secularization of the sacred
not only became a possibility, but actually happened at places such
as the Free University of Amsterdam. As a result, American
neo-Calvinists continue to worry that their institutions committed
to Kuyper’s ideals could follow Free University’s path, and such
concern is warranted ....
As modern Kuyperians attempted to transform culture by
obeying God’s law in every human sphere and by cooperating with
God’s common grace, the temptation became the identification of
social "progress" ... with God’s activity. As the sacred was
secularized, or as things common were identified with the continued
unfolding of redemptive history, the public positions that
Kuyperians held looked suspiciously like moderate-to-liberal
American politics granted divine sanction.45
By no means the least significant of the distinctive features of the
Reformed worldview is that it keeps before the Christian that he is a
pilgrim on the earth and that his life, including his cultural life, is
a pilgrimage. The Reformed worldview has a perspective on earthly life
that pays attention to the "cloud of witnesses" of Hebrews 11. "These all
died in faith … and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on
the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek
a country … that is, an heavenly" (Heb. 11:13-16). Active as we are, may
be, and ought to be in earthly life, we may never forget that our life
is a pilgrimage to the celestial city.
The common grace worldview destroys this truth about the Christian and
his life. This worldview makes the "Christianizing" of society, the
building of a grand and good culture, and the improvement of the world
as a form of the kingdom of God the main thing for the Christian. It
tends to fix one’s heart on this life. It tends to make cultural
achievements the goal of the Christian life.
The worldview of common grace also obscures Scripture’s warning that all
who will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (II Tim.
3:12).The church in the world is always a church "under the cross." Why
would unbelievers hate and persecute those with whom they share the
grace of God? How can there be tribulation for Christians at the hands
of unbelievers when both are cooperating by the common grace of God to
fulfil one of God’s great purposes with creation and history? More to
the point, why would non-Christians kill, or even ridicule, professing
Christians who are ready to adopt the current thinking and practices of
the non-Christians (as "general revelation"), who studiously avoid
naming the name of Jesus Christ (since the common grace worldview and
enterprise have nothing to do with Him), and who refrain from condemning
the unbelief and unrighteousness of the non-Christians (because the
lives of the non-Christians are good, true, and beautiful by the power
of common grace)?
But Christ warns that all who lose their hope of His return and of
heaven, because they are wrapped up in this earthly life with its cares
and disappointments, but also with its pleasures and successes, will
perish in the coming conflagration, as the worldly contemporaries of
Noah perished in the flood (Matt. 24:37-41).Christ also pronounces His
woe upon professing disciples of whom all men speak well (Luke 6:26).
The worldview of common grace is not only false. It is also spiritually
dangerous in the extreme.
The last distinctive feature of the Reformed worldview is that it
presents the life—the cultural life—of the Christian as mainly
ordinary, unnoticed, and insignificant according to human standards. In
God’s mind, this "ordinary" life of the Christian is amazing, a wonder
of His grace in Jesus Christ that has brought life out of death, purity
out of filth, and freedom out of slavery.
There is room in the Reformed worldview for the artist, the doctor or
nurse, the official of civil government, the successful businessman, the
lawyer, the godly man or woman who has impact on society. The Reformed
worldview welcomes a Martin Luther, a John Calvin, a J. S. Bach, and
(his philosophy of common grace aside) an Abraham Kuyper. But these high
profile positions do not constitute the cultural life envisioned by the
Reformed worldview. They do not even touch the essence of godly culture
as the Reformed worldview conceives it. To suppose so is elitism: the
foolish thinking of the ungodly world that fawns over talent, power,
riches, and success.
Usually, those who practice the Reformed worldview are lowly people, men
and women of no-account, the weak, the base, and despised, for God has
chosen such. God has chosen the nobodies to confound the wise, the
mighty, and the somebodies, not only in salvation, but also in the
matter of culture. His purpose is that no flesh should glory in His
presence over culture, as no flesh should glory in His presence
over salvation (I Cor. 1:26-31).
The Reformed worldview is not mere intellectual theory. A conviction of
the heart, it expresses itself in a life. This life is godly culture,
the fulfilment of the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28, as renewed in
Matthew 28:20: "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have
This is the contour of a godly culture, as marked out by Scripture, the
Christian tradition, and the Reformed confessions. First and foremost,
one is a lively, faithful member of a Reformed church that clearly shows
the marks of the true church. Article 29 of the Belgic Confession
defines the marks as the preaching of the pure doctrine of the gospel,
the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ, and
the exercise of church discipline upon impenitent sinners.
It is astounding, and significant, that much of the writing about
worldview and godly culture ignores church membership—church membership
in a true institute. In fact, leading worldview scholars disparage
church membership, if they do not hold church membership in contempt.
Prominent theorists of a "Reformational worldview" at the Institute for
Christian Studies in Toronto, Ontario, Canada have themselves abandoned
membership in a Reformed church to affiliate with the United Church of
Canada, which has so apostatized as to be a false church. Charles Colson
encourages the union of evangelicals and Roman Catholics in the movement
known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together so that together they can
fight the culture war. Not only does this movement imperil the church
membership of evangelical Protestants by approving Rome as a true
church. It also minimizes the importance of church membership by making
church membership secondary to the building of a good culture.46
But membership in the true church is the primary expression in one’s
life of the Reformed worldview, as the right worship of the triune God
in Jesus Christ is the beginning of all godly culture. The very word
culture, like cult, denotes worship.
In addition, it is the church, the true instituted church, that is the
powerhouse of the Reformed worldview and the source of the good culture
of a godly life in all the ordinances and spheres of creation. Not the
schools! Not the man-made organizations, like Evangelicals and Catholics
Together! The church has the means of grace, the preaching of the gospel
and the sacraments. Jesus Christ inscribes the blueprint of the
Christian and Reformed worldview on the hearts of men, women, boys, and
girls by the pure preaching of the doctrine of the gospel by the church.
One who lives the Reformed worldview marries in the Lord Jesus and lives
faithfully with wife or husband until death parts them. Fundamental to
the covenant and kingdom of God and to godly culture is the family, and
basic to the family is marriage.
When I see that the great enthusiasts for worldview, culture, and the
kingdom of God tolerate and practice divorce and remarriage at the same
lawless rate and on the same lawless basis as does secular society, I
conclude that these enthusiasts are not serious about godly culture and
the kingdom of God.
And when the well-known proponents of a "Reformational worldview,"
Hendrik Hart and James Olthuis, write in defence of homosexuality,
including homosexual "marriage," I conclude that their "Reformational
worldview" is the same godless, lawless, pagan worldview, upon which the
wrath of God is revealed from heaven, that the apostle condemns in
Romans 1:18ff.Hart has written a fervent recommendation of homosexual
Pim Pronk’s advocacy of homosexuality, Against Nature?47
Olthuis teaches that homosexual "marriages" are not only permitted, but
also recommended. A committed, loving homosexual relation is a "sign of
God’s abundant grace, a token of God’s future in a fallen world."48
The Reformed worldview honours marriage and the family, to say nothing
of basic Christian sexual ethics. It calls the single to the chastity of
abstinence and locates the sexual relationship exclusively in the
lifelong bond of marriage of husband and wife.49
The wife and mother works in the home, caring for her family and
managing the household. No position and work are esteemed more highly
for the believing woman by the Reformed worldview than those of wife and
mother. With the steel in its backbone that derives from basing the life
of Christians on the wisdom of God in Scripture, rather than on the
wisdom of society, the Reformed worldview resists the strong pressures
of feminism. Christian mothers may not ship their children to the day
care centres so that they can pursue careers. They may not ship their
children to the day care centres so that they can make ends meet.
Rather, they must shrink their ends, or have their husbands get help
from the deacons. God calls mothers in His covenant to seek the kingdom
of Christ by rearing God’s children (I Tim. 5:14; Titus 2:4-5).50
The husband and father is called to work diligently at his job, whether
farmer, or mechanic, or labourer in a factory (which was the occupation
of some of the most godly and most culturally productive men in the
kingdom of Christ I have known), or employer, or college professor, in
the service of the Lord Christ (Eph. 6:5-9).To the utmost of his
ability, he must support his family, as well as other forms and
activities of the kingdom of Christ (Eph. 4:28; II Thess. 3:6-12). This
is not merely a necessity of earthly life. It is godly culture.
Of vital importance to worldview is the instruction of the covenant,
baptized children in the Reformed faith and life by the parents. Those
gripped by the Reformed worldview regard children as a blessing. They
are determined to hand the worldview down to their children and
grandchildren. It is anathema to them that their children be ignorant of
the worldview they regard as true, or that the children be educated in
another, false worldview. Education of the children in the truth of the
word of God—the Reformed faith—is the command of God to believing
parents: "He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in
Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them [the
praises of the Lord, His
strength, and His wonderful works] known to their children, that the
generation to come might know them, even the children which should be
born" (Ps. 78:4-6).God wills that the right worldview be passed on from
generation to generation, for He is a covenant God, saving His people in
the line of generations.
This instruction of children takes place in the home and in the true
church, which feeds Christ’s lambs, as well as His sheep (John
21:15).But it must also take place in good Christian schools. Especially
in the Christian schools is all the teaching about worldview—about a
comprehensive view of all things created, in light of God the creator of
all and Jesus Christ the lord over all and on the basis of the Bible and
the Reformed confessions. How objectionable, and often ruinous to
children and young people of the covenant, is the instruction of the
state schools, which teach the worldview of deified Man! How
objectionable, and increasingly harmful to Reformed children and young
people, is the instruction of the Christian schools committed to the
world-conforming worldview of common grace!51
And then there are observance of the Sabbath, submission to civil
government, care of aged parents, love to the neighbour, sitting loose
to riches and things, and all the other aspects of the Christian life as
prescribed by the gospel of the Scriptures.
The ordinary life of every child of God is godly culture.
The godliness in everyday, earthly life of many Reformed Christians in a
locality may very well influence a certain city, or even a certain
nation. Good! There is a powerful
witness to truth and righteousness. More likely, especially in our day,
when the forces of darkness are angry and aggressive, the godliness of
the Reformed worldview, advantageous though it obviously is, will arouse
hatred, scorn, and persecution. This too is good. The war of the ages is
raging, as rage it must in the last days, and in the war we expect
What matters is that the godly life that springs from the Reformed
worldview works out the salvation of the elect believers and their
children, testifies against the godless world, and glorifies God in
The godly life in the world of elect believers and their children is the
beginning of the culture that Christ will perfect in all the renewed
creation at His coming, when the Reformed worldview triumphs in the new
heaven and the new earth. That will be a culture produced and lived by
the power of the particular, saving grace of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
the source of which is election, as even the most ardent defenders of
the worldview of common grace admit.
The culture of Jesus Christ, the last Adam, who alone fulfils the
cultural mandate, will fill the new world after the destruction of that
which Abraham Kuyper regarded as the finest flowering of the worldview
of common grace. Kuyper taught, and presumably his modern disciples
agree, that the fullest and most glorious development of culture by the
common grace of God will be the kingdom of the Antichrist at the end.
closing scene in the drama of common grace can be enacted only
through the appearance on stage of the man of sin ... "Common grace"
… leads to the most powerful manifestation of sin in history … At the
moment of its destruction Babylon—that is, the world power which
evolved from human life—will exhibit not the image of a barbarous
horde nor the image of coarse bestiality but, on the contrary, a
picture of the highest development of which human life is capable.
It will display the most refined forms, the most magnificent
unfolding of wealth and splendour, the fullest brilliance of all
that makes life dazzling and glorious. From this we know that
"common grace" will continue to function to the end. Only when
common grace has spurred the full emergence of all the powers
inherent in human life will "the man of sin" find the level terrain
needed to expand this power.52
Common grace produces the beast!
The common grace worldview is busy building the culture of Antichrist!
The proponents of the common grace worldview who are alive at that time
will be hard-pressed to resist the temptation to regard that glorious
development of culture as the kingdom of God in its finest form. If they
do resist (God being gracious with His grace in Christ Jesus), they
will, at long last, join with us defenders of the Reformed worldview of
particular grace in rejoicing over the utter and final destruction of
the worldview and culture of common grace as damnable in the judgment of
With us, they will then enter a world of new heaven and new earth that
always had Jesus Christ as its goal (Col. 1:19-20), a world in which
Jesus Christ is pre-eminent (Col. 1:18), a world that Jesus Christ has
redeemed (John 3:16), a world that was always groaning under the curse
of the culture of the ungodly and longing for the glorious liberty that
Jesus Christ would give (Rom. 8:19-22), and a world in which the
righteousness of Jesus Christ dwells (II Peter 3:13).
They will then notice that the only works performed by humans in history
that are allowed into the new world are the works of the saints.
"Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith
the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do
follow them" (Rev. 14:13).
The topic of the debate was "Is the Doctrine of Common Grace
Reformed?" Mouw answered the question in the affirmative. Answering the
question in the negative was the present writer. The debate, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was occasioned by the
publication of Mouw’s book, He Shines in All That’s Fair: Culture and
Common Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001) and by a series of
editorials by the present writer in the Reformed periodical, the
Standard Bearer, responding to the book. These editorials have been
published as Common Grace Revisited: A Response to Richard J. Mouw’s
He Shines in All That’s Fair (Grandville, MI: RFPA, 2003).
Audio and video copies of the debate are available from The Evangelism
Society, Southeast Protestant Reformed Church, 1535 Cambridge Ave.,
S.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49506.
propounded the doctrine of a common grace of God as a fundamental
tenet of Calvinism in his Stone Lectures at Princeton Theological
Seminary in 1898.These speeches were published as Lectures on
Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953). Kuyper developed his
doctrine of common grace extensively in a three-volume work, De
Gemeene Gratie (Amsterdam: Hoveker & Wormser, 1902-1904). This work
has not been translated into English. The Christian Reformed Church
adopted the doctrine of a common grace of God as official church dogma
at its synod of 1924 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. These decisions describing
and adopting common grace are found in the original Dutch in the Acta
der Synode 1924 van de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk (n.p., n.d.),
pp. 145-147. An English translation of the 1924 "Acts of Synod" of the
Christian Reformed Church by Henry De Mots has been published by the
Archives of the Christian Reformed Church: 1924 Acts of Synod of the
Christian Reformed Church Held from 18 June until 8 July 1924 in
Kalamazoo, MI, USA (Grand Rapids, MI: Archives of the Christian
Reformed Church, 2000). Evidently, the publisher of the English
translation took care that the pages of the translation should
correspond exactly to the pages of the Dutch original. The decisions
adopting common grace in this English translation are also found on
pages 145-147. More readily available is Herman Hoeksema’s English
translation of the Christian Reformed Church’s decisions on common grace
in his and Herman Hanko’s Ready to Give an Answer: A Catechism of
Reformed Distinctives (Grandville, MI: RFPA, 1997), pp. 63, 101,
Charles Colson, "Reclaiming Occupied Territory,"
(Aug. 2004), p. 64.
Lectures on Calvinism, pp. 28, 30. Cf. Peter S. Heslam,
Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), pp. 268-270:"The doctrine of common
grace ... provided him [i.e., Kuyper] with the only sound solution to
the problem of Christianity and culture, and supplied an incentive and
justification for active Christian pursuit of cultural renewal."
Building a Christian World View, ed. W. Andrew
Hoffecker, associate ed. Gary Scott Smith, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P &
R, 1988), p. xvi.
H. Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and
American Decline (New York: HarperCollins, 1996).
J. Budziszewski, The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and
the Fall of Man (Dallas, TX: Spence, 1999).
Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live?
(Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1999).
James Orr, The Christian View of God and the World as
Centering in the Incarnation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1954), p.
James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview
Catalog, 3rd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), p.
Creating a Christian Worldview, pp. 88-89.
Canons of Dordt III/ IV: R:5: "The Synod [of Dordt]
rejects the errors of those ... who teach that the corrupt and natural
man can so well use the common grace (by which they understand the light
of nature), or the gifts still left him after the fall, that he can
gradually gain by their good use a greater, namely, the evangelical or
saving grace and salvation itself. And that in this way God on His part
shows Himself ready to reveal Christ unto all men, since He applies to
all sufficiently and efficiently the means necessary to conversion."
Canons of Dordt I:4.
Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 8.
Westminster Confession of Faith 10:1.
Lectures on Calvinism, p. 53.
James Orr, Christian View of God and the World,
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 10.
H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York,
Harper & Row [Harper Torchbooks], 1975), pp. 195-196.
Jan Karel Van Baalen, De Loochening der Gemeene
Gratie:Gereformeerd of Doopersch?
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans-Sevensma, 1922), p. 9 (the translation
of the Dutch is mine; the emphasis is the author’s). The title in
English would be The Denial of Common Grace: Reformed or Anabaptist?
H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema, Niet Doopersch Maar
Gereformeerd:Voorloopig Bescheid aan Ds. Jan Karel Van Baalen
betreffende de Loochening der Gemeene Gratie (Grand Rapids, MI:
Grand Rapids Printing Co., n.d.), pp. 67- 68 (the translation of the
Dutch is mine). The title in English would be Not Anabaptist but
Reformed: A Provisional Answer to Rev. Jan Karel Van Baalen concerning
the Denial of Common Grace.
Herman Hoeksema, Behold, He Cometh!: An Exposition of the
Book of Revelation, 2nd ed. (Grandville, MI: RFPA, 2000), p. 211.
25"The Second Helvetic Confession, 1566," Chapter XI, in
Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century, ed. Arthur C. Cochrane
(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Westminster Press, 1966), pp. 245-246.
How Now Shall We Live? pp. 302-307.
He Shines, p. 84.
Creating a Christian Worldview, pp. 134-135.
For a refutation of the postmillennial hope especially of
Christian Reconstruction, but also of the expectation of the common
grace worldview that it will "Christianize" societies and nations, and a
defence of the hope of victory of (Reformed) amillennialism, see David
J. Engelsma, Christ’s Spiritual Kingdom: A Defense of (Reformed)
Amillennialism (Redlands, CA: The Reformed Witness, 2001).
For a critique of the "real reasons" for the common grace
worldview as presented in Mouw’s He Shines, see Engelsma,
Common Grace Revisited: A Response to Richard J. Mouw’s He Shines in
All That’s Fair.
Abraham Kuyper, De Gemeene Gratie, vol. 2, p. 634.The
translation of the Dutch is mine. In his treatment of the covenant with
Noah, which Kuyper regarded as one of the main biblical bases of his
theory of common grace, if not the main basis in Scripture, Kuyper did
not merely distinguish, but separated—compartmentalized—our "spiritual
life of our soul" from "our external existence in the world and on
earth" ("het geestelijk
leven van onze ziel" from "ons uitwendig bestaan in de
wereld en op de aarde"). The former we live by special grace; the
latter we live by common grace (De Gemeene Gratie, vol. 1, p.
Lord’s Day 32.
Abraham Kuyper, "Common Grace," in Abraham Kuyper: A
Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
1998), pp. 176-179.
He Shines, p. 50. In an intriguing theological move, designed
to establish a cultural purpose of God independent of His purpose with
Jesus Christ, Mouw grounds the purpose of God to develop a godly culture
in an infralapsarian arrangement of the divine decrees. On Mouw’s
conception of the eternal counsel, Jesus Christ is ignored by God in one
of His two great purposes with the creation, the human race, and
history. If this were the implication of infralapsarianism, it would be
reason to condemn infralapsarianism out of hand. Jesus Christ is first
in the counsel of God, however the order of the decrees is viewed.
Kuyper, "Common Grace," p. 183.
The flooding of those circles espousing and promoting the
worldview of common grace with the lawlessness of the ungodly world, by
virtue of the theory of common grace underlying the worldview, is by
this time massive and pervasive. Witness the decadence of Abraham
Kuyper’s Free University of Amsterdam, and the death of his Reformed
Churches in the Netherlands (GKN). I mention several concrete instances
in the Christian Reformed Church in North America and in its college,
Calvin College, certainly centres of the worldview of common grace.
Common grace played a powerful, if not decisive, role in the approval of
the evolutionary theory of origins by the Christian Reformed Church in
1991 (see David J. Engelsma, "Creation and Science ... and Common
Grace," Standard Bearer, vol. 67, no. 10 [Feb. 15, 1991], pp.
221-223, and no. 11 [March 1, 1991], pp. 245-247). Evolutionary theory
is lawlessness of thought. Evolutionary theory results in lawlessness,
indeed savagery, of behaviour. Although the decision of the Christian
Reformed Church in 1990 opening the offices of minister and elder to
women and rejecting the husband’s headship in marriage did not mention
common grace, it was in fact the openness to the world worked by common
grace over many years that made feminism irresistibly attractive to that
Church. Christian Reformed theologian Harry Boonstra acknowledges in a
recent book that Calvin College’s enthusiastic endorsement of the vilest
and most violent of Hollywood’s movies as standard fare for its students
roots in the college’s common grace worldview. "The college often
emphasized the doctrine of common grace, especially in the approach to
culture and learning ... One could learn from … On the Waterfront
and ... A Clockwork Orange" (Harry Boonstra, Our School:
Calvin College and the Christian Reformed Church
[Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001, p. 104]). In 2002, Calvin College
sponsored a concert on campus by the notorious lesbian singing troop,
the Indigo Girls. When some complained, the college administration
publicly defended the college’s having avowed lesbians crooning to a
packed house of students of the virtues and pleasures of lesbian love.
The basis of the defence was common grace (see Cathy Guiles, "Calvin
Debates Common Grace in Music," Calvin College Chimes
[October 4, 2002], p. 3).Prominent Christian Reformed theologian Lewis
B. Smedes has publicly urged the Christian Reformed Church to accept and
approve "homosexual people who live faithfully in covenanted
partnerships," that is, as Smedes himself put it, homosexual "marriage"
(see Lewis B. Smedes, "Like the Wideness of the Sea," Perspectives
[May 1999], pp. 8-12).In a book defending homosexual activity and
relationships (the foreword of which is a hearty recommendation of the
book and its message by Christian Reformed philosopher and theologian
Hendrik Hart), a theologian of what formerly was the Reformed Churches
in the Netherlands (GKN), Pim Pronk, points the way that the Christian
Reformed Church will likely follow in approving homosexual "committed
relations." This way is the grounding of the decision of the goodness of
homosexual relations, not on the Bible, but on "general revelation."
This is the way the Christian Reformed Church has already gone in its
decisions approving theistic evolution and women in church office with
the concomitant denial of the headship of the husband in marriage. And
"general revelation" in these contexts is the code phrase for the latest
thinking and behaviour of ungodly society, which thinking and behaviour
are attributed to the gracious working of God in the world of the
ungodly, that is, common grace (Pim Pronk, Against Nature? Types of
Moral Argumentation regarding Homosexuality
[Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993], especially pp. 265-325).
Christ and Culture, pp. 206-229.
For Bavinck’s significant contribution to the worldview of
common grace, see Herman Bavinck, De Algemeene Genade (Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans-Sevensma,
n.d.).The work has been translated into English by Raymond C. Van
Leeuwen in the Calvin Theological Journal 24, no. 1 (April 1989),
James D. Bratt, "The Dutch Schools," in Reformed Theology
in America: A History of Its Modern Development, ed. David F. Wells
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), p. 146. Bratt’s description both of
the antithesis and of the theory of culture-building common grace is
William D. Dennison, "Dutch Neo-Calvinism and the Roots for
Transformation: An Introductory Essay," Journal of the Evangelical
42, no. 2 (June 1999), p. 284.
Sean Michael Lucas, "Southern-Fried Kuyper? Robert Lewis
Dabney, Abraham Kuyper, and the Limitations of Public Theology,"
Westminster Theological Journal 66, no. 1 (Spring 2004), pp.
198-199. Lucas illustrates his charge against neo-Calvinism’s common
grace worldview from the now defunct magazine, the Reformed Journal.
The list of causes by which that group thought to "Christianize" North
America is a brief for the platform of the far left wing of the
Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common
Mission, ed. Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus (Dallas, TX:
Word, 1995). Shrewdly, Colson appeals to Abraham Kuyper’s
politico-religious alliance with Roman Catholics to "Christianize" the
Netherlands in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: "Kuyper forged a
coalition of fellow Calvinists and Dutch Roman Catholics led by Hermanus
Schaepman. Together, they helped bring moral and social reform to the
Netherlands" (p. 39).
Hendrik Hart, "Foreword," in Pim Pronk, Against Nature? pp.
in William D. Dennison, "Dutch Neo-Calvinism and the Roots for
Transformation," p. 287.
For the doctrine of marriage that is basic to the traditional
Christian worldview, see David J. Engelsma, Marriage, the Mystery of
Christ & the Church: The Covenant-Bond in Scripture and History,
rev. ed. (Grandville, MI: RFPA, 1998).
A treatment of the chief cultural calling of the Christian
woman that does not run scared before the feminist furies of our day,
but fears Him who is able to cast both soul and body into hell is Far
Above Rubies: Today’s Virtuous Woman, ed. Herman Hanko (Grand
Rapids, MI: RFPA, 1992).
The importance of truly Reformed education in good Christian
schools is developed in David J. Engelsma, Reformed Education: The
Christian School as Demand of the Covenant, rev. ed. (Grandville,
MI: RFPA, 2000).Chapter 3 is titled, "Reformed Education and Culture."
52Kuyper, "Common Grace," pp. 180-181.