He Shines in All That's Fair: Culture and Common Grace, by Richard J. Mouw

Wednesday, June 6th 2007
Sep/Oct 2002

How should Christians respond to the example of the believing marriage counselor who helps a nonbelieving married couple recover from the husband’s adulterous affair? If this counselor rejoices in saving the marriage, even though he has tried but can’t save the couple’s souls, has he somehow betrayed his prior allegiance to Christ and the gospel by fulfilling his professional duties? These are the sorts of questions that Richard J. Mouw addresses in this highly readable, wise, and short treatment of the doctrine of common grace, first presented as the 2000 Stob Lectures at Calvin College and Seminary. This particular doctrine is one that was debated by Calvinists extensively throughout the twentieth century, even to the point of prompting the breach in 1925 within the Christian Reformed Church that led to the founding of the Protestant Reformed Church. But as much as this has been an intramural struggle among Reformed Christians-and Mouw does justice to the parochial (in the good sense) nature of the discussion by linking this doctrine to the supra-infralapsarian debates in Calvinist theology-he shows well how common grace is of interest to all Christians.

Common grace, as this book reveals, is the Calvinist way of discussing where to draw the line between believers and nonbelievers, or between the Church and the world. Some Christians have adopted a separatist position by insisting on the radical difference between Christians and non-Christians thanks in part to regeneration. For these believers, it makes no sense to talk about God extending grace to the unsaved in such providential blessings as rain and sunshine, when it would be equally inappropriate to speak of illness and poverty among believers as examples of divine wrath. For those who defend common grace, as Mouw does, believers need some category to account for the goodness of creation that the saved and unsaved enjoy, as well as the duty that Christians have to love their neighbors and seek the peace and welfare of their neighborhoods. He admits that common grace may not be the best way to talk about these matters, but it is at least an effective way to map out the territory that unites believers and nonbelievers.

In the end, Mouw observes, following the example of the forgotten but insightful Dutch Reformed theologian, Foppe Ten Hoor, that although common grace exists, he does not know exactly what it is. “We stand before a mystery,” he writes. As much as this conclusion may appear to be an evasion, it is actually a refreshing approach to a topic that theologians and church leaders have too often treated as a matter of orthodoxy when it is more a matter for careful and restrained reflection.

Wednesday, June 6th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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