Despite its marginal place in contemporary dogmatics, the doctrine of common grace potentially has much to offer to a theological account of the created order. Describing its relationship to special grace, however, to salvation, is no easy task. This article finds that Abraham Kuyper—the most prominent supporter of the doctrine—attempts to describe this relationship in two ultimately irreconcilable ways. In addition, it argues that only one of these ways—one in which common grace is always ordered to special grace—is acceptable. Such an account, which is defended by Kuyper’s contemporary Herman Bavinck, provides the basis for an understanding of the created order that should resonate with Christian theologians both inside and outside the Neo-Calvinist tradition, including those who have been influenced by Karl Barth.
Kuyper“Common Grace” p. 169. Kuyper’s conservative critics who believe he downplays the breadth and depth of sin in creation are mistaken. The need for the doctrine of common grace arises from Kuyper’s belief in the extent of sin’s power not from downplaying its significance. See for example David Engelsma Common Grace Revisited (Grandville: Reformed Free Publishing Association 2003) pp. 34–41. Interestingly it is Calvin himself who could be accused of downplaying the significance of sin if the total inability to do good is the standard. Calvin can speak of “traces of the image of God” remaining in humanity after the fall that are evident in human reason. Calvin Institutes vol. 1 p. 277.
Herman Bavinck“Calvin and Common Grace,”Princeton Theological Review7 (1909) pp. 438–439. One thing this description leaves out is what happens to common grace after Christ. If one says that common grace is waiting for the arrival of special grace then the immediate effect of Christ’s work would be limited which Bavinck clearly does not want. It seems that Bavinck should deny the continuance of common grace after the resurrection since its caretaker role is no longer needed. There is no indication however that he ever acknowledged this was an issue.
Bavinck“Common Grace” p. 60. What is the distinction between “mode of being” and “essence”? Bavinck does not say. Also note again the language of preserving and maintaining. There is no hint of “progressive common grace” here.
Kuyper“Common Grace” p. 170. See S.U. Zuidema “Common Grace and Christian Action in Abraham Kuyper” in Communication and Confrontation by S.U. Zuidema (Toronto: Wedge Publishing Foundation 1971) p. 55.