According to a review in the Calvin Forum the theory of Common Grace was given an airing in a meeting of the Calvinistic Philosophical Club, held at Westminster Theological Seminary on October 8, 1941. Dr. C. Van Til, who had recently returned from spending a sabbatic year in truly sabbatic Redlands, California, was the speaker. And his subject was supposed to have been: the bearing of common grace on non-theistic thinking. But the time was too limited to do justice to the whole theme, hence he discussed the question of “common grace” proper. He divided his subject into four parts: 1. Methodology. 2. Kuyper on Common Grace. 3. The Common Grace Controversy. 4. Suggestions for Solution of the Problem. We would like to have a copy of Dr. Van Tibs speech, in order that we might review it and take part in this interesting discussion through the Standard Bearer. Cannot Dr. Van Til or someone else supply us with a copy?
In the meantime several points in the review of the speech we found rather striking. The reviewer writes: “Particularly pertinent was Dr. Van Til’s contention that Common Grace must not be viewed as an isolated problem. Rather, it must be regarded as one aspect, an important aspect, of the whole problem of the philosophy of history.” Some such contention we made years ago in “Van Zonde en Genade,” though I personally would rather prefer different terms and not speak of “the philosophy of history” and of “looking the Absolute in the face” in our present life in this world. Just see “Van Zonde en Genade,” p. 169ff. And let me remind the reader of the following from my speech in the Pantlind: “The problem of so-called common grace concerns the question of God’s attitude over against and influence upon the whole of created things in their mutual connection and development in time, in connection and in harmony with God’s counsel in general, predestination with election and reprobation, the realization of God’s eternal covenant, grace and sin, favor and wrath, creation and redemption, Adam and Christ, and it inquires into the place and calling of God’s people in and over against the world. Viewed thus it is a question of great importance with respect to both, doctrine and life.” I do not mean to suggest that Dr. Van Til in his speech before the Calvinistic Philosophy Club agreed with this definition of the problem, but I do mean to bring out that when he emphasized the fact that the problem of common grace must not be viewed as an isolated problem, he reiterated what we said years ago. In so far, at least, he agrees with us.
Another interesting point that drew our attention in the review of Dr. Van Tibs speech was that “De Gemeene Gratie, Kuyper’s chef d’oevre, next came up for a thorough overhauling.” Well a thorough overhauling” of this work of Dr. Kuyper’s can also be found in “Van Zonde en Genade,” pp. 85-168. In fact, I consider it questionable whether anyone can give De Gemeene Gratie a more thorough overhauling. It is, of course, possible to differ with the contents of our critical evaluation of Kuyper’s work, to give it another overhauling. But it seems to me, that this could hardly be done without giving a criticism of the overhauling we gave that “chef d’oevre” of Kuyper’s. And I am wondering whether Dr. Van Til took the trouble to do this. Interesting it is, too, to notice that an “overhauling of Kuyper’s De Gemeene Gratie is quite possible in 1941, although it was considered presumptuous in 1922-24. That it can be done now, that the work can even be criticized, and that such criticism can meet with evident favor, I consider a change for the better. We are advancing.
Especially did Dr. Van Til subject to his critical analysis, according to the reviewer, Dr. Kuyper’s conception of “spheres” of life, of different “territories or dimensions”, and of his “realm-between” in which “God’s people must vie with the children of the world for the glory of the world.” The reviewer writes: “Dr. Van Til searchingly analyzed Kuyper’s language on these matters, language which inescapably appears to teach that there is a ‘neutral area’ which Christians and non-Christians have in common and in winch God can be glorified by both.” Also to this point we called attention repeatedly. Only, we think that it is also inescapable for anyone who teaches common grace to create such a “neutral realm” or sphere. And we never saw any “solution” of the problem of common grace that avoids creating such a common ground of operation for the Church and the world.
In making his suggestions for a possible solution of the problem the speaker stated that we must think concretely on the problem, and that such elements as “the glorious absoluteness and self-consistency of God, the utter sinfulness of man” must be fully honored, while the question of “realms” or “territories” “demands thorough re-examination.”
Needless to say that we are all interested in this discussion. And once again, I would kindly ask Dr. Van Til whether he could not let me have a copy of his address. Then we can more fruitfully discuss it than on the basis of a mere review.