The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture

Thursday, September 13, 2007
Culture without Common Grace
from an article by Protestant Reformed pastor/professor David Engelsma (the PRC has been the main historic reformed voice against the idea of common grace over the years):

The basis of the Christian's active involvement in the various ordinances, or spheres, of earthly life is also creation and providence. In creating the world for man in the beginning, God Himself structured human life in the world by certain "human ordinances" (I Pet. 2:13). These include the ordinance, or institution, of marriage and the family, the ordinance of labor, and the ordinance of civil government. The fall did not efface these institutions. The providential power of God maintains them. As structures of creation, these institutions are good. The saints live their earthly life in these ordinances, and are thus busy with "culture," because creation and providence so structure human life. Not common grace, but the providence that upholds creation explains why Christians are actively children in a family; husband or wife in marriage; parents in their own home; farmer, businessman, or laborer; and citizen of a nation.

Implied is the legitimacy, on the basis of creation and providence, of a Christian's energetic engagement with all aspects of God's rich creation. He may write books. She may paint pictures. He may explore the Amazon. She may discover drugs that alleviate the pain of arthritis. He may be president of a Christian college or a seminary. Communication, beauty, discovery, medicine, education-all are aspects of creation. In the course of this work, or recreation, the Christian may lawfully avail himself of the gifts, knowledge, discoveries, and inventions that divine providence has bestowed on, and produced through, the ungodly. All these things are simply part of the world that God gives to His children.

As regards the Christian's motivation for life in the human ordinances, it is, on the one hand, obedience to God's calling. God commands the believer to live the Christian life in the ordinances, not outside them in asceticism and world-flight. "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake" (I Pet. 2:13). Renunciation of creation and flight from ordinary human life in it are not superior holiness, but the "doctrines of devils" (I Tim. 4:1). The reason is that God wants His holy people to show His glory in everyday, earthly life against the dark background of the ungodliness of the wicked in these same ordinances. Therefore, on the other hand, the motivation of the Christian life in the human ordinances is the desire to glorify God. But common grace has nothing to do with this aspect of the Christian's life in the world.

The way Engelsma uses terms like "providence" and "ordinances" and "creation" sound an awful lot like common grace, as it is often used to talk about culture making...