Explaining why the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) repudiate Abraham Kuyper’s worldview of common grace, the previous editorial contended that the worldview of common grace is neither biblical nor confessional.
A third reason is that, although there are scattered, ambiguous references to a “common grace” in the writings of John Calvin, common grace in Calvin does not have the meaning, the prominence, or the role ascribed to it by Kuyper. This is to say that for the Reformer common grace is not the foundation and impetus of the Christian worldview.
In his fine study of Kuyper’s Princeton lectures on a Calvinistic worldview, Peter S. Heslam repeatedly calls attention to this remarkable fact. Heslam states that at Princeton Kuyper wanted to confront the Presbyterians with “the traditional teachings of the Reformed faith.” He then adds, “the one exception to this pattern was the doctrine of common grace, which was not normally considered one of the essential or fundamental doctrines of Calvinism, and does not occupy a prominent position in Calvin’s theology” (Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism, Eerdmans, 1998, p. 140). In fact, Calvin spoke of God’s common grace only “occasionally” (p. 178).
When Heslam comes to his “final conclusions” concerning Kuyper’s efforts at establishing a Calvinistic worldview in the lectures at Princeton, wittingly or unwittingly he passes a devastating judgment, not only upon Kuyper’s common grace and the worldview of which it is the foundation but also upon the entire body of Reformed theology that has been affected by Kuyperian common grace. As for the common grace of Kuyper’s lectures, Heslam says:
The doctrine of common grace, which is not a major element in traditional Calvinistic theology, became, under the influence of Kuyper’s objectives, a doctrine of overriding and central importance. His insistence on the centrality of this doctrine in the Calvinistic worldview was an attempt to make explicit an element that was implicit in Calvin’s thought, and to give systematic expression to an aspect of Calvin’s theology that had none of the coherence Kuyper ascribed to it (pp. 259, 260).
This is bad enough: the very foundation of the supposedly Calvinistic worldview is constructed from what is at best merely a minor element in Calvin himself. Or, as another contemporary student of Kuyper has recently put it, Kuyper built his elaborate theory of common grace out of mere “hints and pieces” in earlier Reformed theology (James Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, Eerdmans, 1998, p. 165).
That the doctrine of common grace as taught by Abraham Kuyper is not to be found in Calvin, or in traditional Calvinistic theology, is widely recognized today. The liberal Dutch Reformed theologian Hendrikus Berkhof has written, “In theology—apart from his broad development of the doctrine of common grace—Kuyper closely followed the Calvinistic tradition, even in its scholastic form” (Two Hundred Years of Theology: Report of a Personal Journey, Eerdmans, 1989, p. 109; emphasis added).
The Christian Reformed Church, however, thinks that common grace is an essential, fundamental, and major dogma of the Reformed faith. She has made it official, binding dogma in her fellowship and has deposed consistories for refusing subscription to it.
What is far worse, indeed intolerable, is the effect that Kuyper’s theory of common grace had on the whole body of Reformed theology. In the words of Heslam: “Kuyper’s treatment of traditional Reformed doctrine amounted to a radical reinterpretation and reapplication of its central tenets” (p. 259). Kuyper set about to modernize Calvinism mainly by means of his doctrine of common grace. The result, says Heslam, agreeing here with critics of Kuyper within Reformed circles, who charged that Kuyper broke with traditional Calvinism, “may justifiably be called ‘neo-Calvinism’ and cannot be taken as an accurate and reliable guide to the theology of John Calvin” (p. 260).
Mind! The theology that Kuyper reinterpreted and reapplied by means of common grace is not Calvinism, but “neo-Calvinism,” and is not “an accurate and reliable guide to the theology of John Calvin.”
Why do the Protestant Reformed Churches repudiate Kuyperian common grace and the worldview of which it is the foundation? Apart from any other reason, because Kuyper’s common grace is not the teaching of Calvin or the Calvinistic tradition and because it corrupts the whole of Calvinistic, Reformed theology.
Fourth, it is the fatal flaw of the common grace worldview that it calls regenerated children of God, who have the new life of the risen Christ by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to live their earthly lives on the basis and in the power of common grace, the grace that they supposedly share with unbelievers. This monstrous evil of the worldview of common grace is seldom recognized. Kuyper himself, so far as I can tell, did not explicitly state this, or even address this issue, in his lectures. But this is the impression that very definitely is left by the lectures, as it is the clear and necessary implication of the thrust of the lectures. Believers and unbelievers share God’s common grace. This common grace is the basis of their cooperation in developing culture. In the ordinances and spheres of creation, therefore, as regards developing culture, believers must live and work by common grace.
If there were no other objection to Kuyper’s worldview than this, this would be sufficient to expose Kuyper’s worldview as erroneous and condemnable. If one thing characterizes the life of the Christian in the world according to Scripture, it is that the believing child of God lives his life on the basis of and by the power of the indwelling Spirit of Jesus Christ, that is, in the power of (particular) regenerating, sanctifying grace. He lives his one, entire life in the power of regenerating grace, not only his life of worship on the Lord’s Day but also his life of “culture” throughout the week. If there were another kind of grace than the grace of God in Christ Jesus (and there is not), the believer would spurn it as useless and dangerous for his holy life. By the quickening grace of Christ, and only by the quickening grace of Christ (Eph. 2:1-10), do the Ephesians live the holy life in the church, in society, in marriage, and in labor to which they are called in chapters 4-6. By the sanctification of the Spirit, andonly by the sanctification of the Spirit (I Pet. 1:2), do the elect strangers manifest an excellent behavior in the various ordinances of creation as they are exhorted to do in I Peter 2:11ff.
To choose another grace for life and work in the world is to choose another Lord and Savior than Jesus Christ.
Where does the Bible instruct the elect believer that, in addition to the regenerating grace of Christ that raised him from death to life, he also possesses common grace and that this common grace is to be the power of his cultural life? By regenerating grace, he believes, worships, prays, and loves his fellow-saints. By common grace, he builds a family, does his job, submits to civil government, gets an education, and plays the piano. In the “spiritual” realm, he lives out of Christ. In everyday, “earthly” life, he lives, not out of Christ but out of common grace that he shares with Socrates, members of the Teamsters Union, Thomas Paine, John Dewey, and Liberace. This is not only false doctrine, with dangerous consequences; it is nonsense.
Fifth, the PRC reject the Kuyperian worldview in 1998 because, after 100 years of the implementation of the Kuyperian worldview by Reformed churches, groups, and individuals in the Netherlands, North America, and other places, the worldview of common grace has proved to be a colossal failure.
Common grace has failed! It has failed obviously! It has failed miserably! It has failed disastrously!
Where is the transformation of culture in the Netherlands by the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, by the Free University, and by all the societies that adopted and carried out Kuyper’s common grace worldview? The culture of the Netherlands has the distinction of being one of the most corrupt, lawless, God-dishonoring cultures in the world.
Where is the transformation of culture in North America by the Christian Reformed Church, by Calvin College, by the Institute for Christian Studies, by all the other Christian Reformed schools, by Princeton Theological Seminary, and by other organizations devoted to the worldview of common grace? North American culture is not far behind the depraved way of life in the Netherlands.
The worldview of common grace has not made Dutch society or North American culture Christian and Reformed. Not one whit! But it has made the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and the Christian Reformed Church in North America and their schools thoroughly worldly.
Kuyper intended his theory of common grace to be a bridge between the Reformed church and the world over which the Reformed believers would move into the world to “Christianize” the world. Kuyper forgot something about bridges. Bridges allow for two-way traffic. Over the bridge of common grace, during the past 100 years, the world has poured into the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, the Free University of Amsterdam, the Christian Reformed Church in North America, Calvin College, and the other organizations that espouse the worldview of common grace.
Common grace has driven out or silenced the gospel-truth of particular grace. Predestination, limited atonement, and irresistible grace are a dead letter. The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands have got rid even of the letter (the Reformed creeds). Universalism in various forms prevails. Universalism is the mind of the world.
Opened up to the world’s way of life by common grace, the churches, their people, and especially their schools adopt the world’s explanation of origins (evolution); accept the world’s demolition of the family (feminist denial of the headship of the husband in the home and church); and approve the world’s adultery (divorce on any ground and remarriage for guilty and innocent parties alike). The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands have sunk away into the deepest, filthiest depths of the wicked world. They sanction sodomy and lesbianism. The Christian Reformed Church, having already declared that the homosexual condition is not sinful (because she insists on listening to the world), is now reduced to a struggle, on her assemblies, to keep out homosexual practice.
Men graced by God with the gift of discerning spirits saw it coming. In the early 1900’s Henry Danhof, Herman Hoeksema, and George Ophoff warned the Christian Reformed Church, as Dutch ministers warned the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, that the adoption of Kuyper’s worldview of common grace would certainly result in a deluge of worldliness. The entire church world at the end of the 20th century can see that the prophecy is fulfilled.
Why do the PRC reject the worldview of common grace? Because God’s powerful, frightening judgment in history upon Kuyper’s worldview is that it has been weighed and found wanting. It has transformed no culture. It has destroyed the churches and schools that embraced it.
The worldview of common grace is hay and stubble that Abraham Kuyper built on the foundation. It will be burned in the day of Christ.
The worldview of common grace is a worldview that has failed.