This is the fourth installment of The Collaborative blog series on Common Grace. As you have read along, at times you may have been tempted to descend into the valley of despair. It can be depressing to confront the truths of today’s church that has been, and continues to be, embittered by cultural disobedience and dualism in practice and formation.
Yet the riches of our tradition and the renewing work of the whole gospel offers hope. Not a shallow, fleeting feeling of optimism, but rather the hope of Christ that brings to bear the power of the Almighty so that we might be a redeemed people who have been charged with bringing about redemption in this fallen place and in our fallen state. It is this life sustaining, transformational hope where we must find our rest. It is our only true path out of the valley. The Reformation tenet of common grace contributes to a needed correction towards obedience.
Through God’s goodness to all men and women, believers and unbelievers alike, God’s faithfulness to creation still bears fruit in humankind’s personal, societal, and cultural lives. “Common grace” is thus distinguished from God’s “special grace” to his people, whereby sin is not only curbed but forgiven and atoned for, making possible true and genuine renewal from within.
For Reformed theologians common grace answers such questions put forth by Louis Berkhof:
How can we explain the comparatively orderly life in the world, seeing that the whole world lies under the curse of sin?…How can the unregenerate still speak truth, do good to others, and lead outwardly virtuous lives? (Systematic Theology, 4.III.A.1.).
God’s work among non-believers is something with which believers of all Christian traditions struggle. Some portion of it probably best resides under the rubric of the mysteries of God. Yet, there are some theological truths to be embraced by all Christians when it comes to the impact of common grace on people’s lives.
Common grace resolves the tension created from a dualistic worldview and one’s lived experience. My co-worker and global citizens in non-Gospel-ized cultures have a worthy contribution to make. Common grace teaching appropriates the benefits of culture, one’s industry, and one’s non-Christian co-worker. As well, common grace internalizes a humility of heart and openness of spirit that makes room for dialogue, peaceful co-existence, and deeper relationships.
Common grace reframes the conversation of purpose and mission around creation and eschatology. God created a good world, and will one day restore it as a peaceful and sin-free place. In the meantime, my call in this age as a child of God is to help pursue the common good in the midst of human and social brokenness to the best of my ability. Common grace teaches me that my purpose is not my own but part of God’s mission to the world.
Emphasizing common grace directs church leaders to delve in to doctrines of creation and eschatology, as well as God’s mission to the world. The entire Biblical narrative gets re-interpreted into the good of Creation in Genesis 1 and 2 and then connected to the restored New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 and 22. Between these scriptural bookends we find God’s mission of redemption and restoration occurring through the work of the Holy Spirit in God’s people, the church.
This schema places one’s vocational call within rich depths of meaning and purpose. God’s mission that includes the communion of saints to join him as co-laborers (1 Cor 3:9) is a grand invitation like no other ever offered. Running counter to our culture’s vocational narrative— centered on power, leisure, and consumption—this vision makes us the peculiar people of 1 Peter 2:9. We need a peculiarity rooted in a virtuous vision for life and culture rather than a peculiarity marked by scandal, sex, politics, and power.
In the final blog post, of this five part series, we discover six pragmatic benefits of common grace for both individual discipleship and institutional health.
This blog post is an excerpt from a larger work on common grace to be published in the Westminster Society Journal, Vol. 3, Spring, 2019.
What We Are Thinking About
QUOTE. Unbelievers are able to do things that look good to us. They don’t look good to God, for God knows the heart. But they look good to us, and they often bring benefits to society. So non-Christians often improve society through their skills and ideas. They make scientific discoveries, produce labor-saving inventions, develop businesses that supply jobs, produce works of art and entertainment.
– John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life
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Case Thorp is moderator-elect of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the senior associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, and leads The Collaborative.