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Common Grace

From Oxenham M., (2021) ‘Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide through Character and Virtue Education’ in Secular, Sacred, More Sacred, Langham Global Library. ICETE Series, p.64-66

…concerning God and grace, the question is about how the grace of God operates in the secular world (the question might also be framed about how God exercises his sovereignty outside the Church).   To be clear, the question is not about salvation grace but about the common grace seen as goodness that God gives the world to continue the creational mandate and generate culture[1].   The point of reference in this discussion is surely Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, but Abraham Kuyper’s vision of sphere sovereignty presented in God’s Gifts for a Fallen World also represent an authoritative and very useful contribution. Richard Mouw[2] aptly summarises three models that lead to the vision of common grace and Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty. The following diagram summarises these three models.

The first model presupposes that God’s grace operates in the world exclusively through the church. This vision considers the Church as the sole mediator between God and the world, and thus anything that God wishes to do in culture, education, law or politics must pass through the church.  Although found in many faith traditions, this model has typically been seen in Catholicism and has led to the establishment of Christian schools, Christian political parties, Christian publishers, etc.

The second model suggests instead that God is at work only in the church.  This is the model that generates the harshest division between the sacred and the secular as it entails that God’s grace does not operate in culture and cannot be found in the secular sciences.  It is a vision of depravity and abandonment that ironically is shared by secular society as well, that is most happy to relegate God to religion and claim total autonomy in all other spheres of knowledge and life.

The final model is expressed in Abraham Kuyper’s view of sphere sovereignty.  For Kuyper, God was sovereign in all spheres of life, as he famously wrote: ‘There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine[3]’.   But the key is also that God is directly acting in common grace in the entire world, hence unmediated by the church. This is why, for example, Kuyper founded the ‘Free University of Amsterdam’, that was seen to be free from the church and from state and that was directly offering the goodness of education to the world under the influence of the grace of God.

The bridge-making position taken in this website towards that which is ‘secular’, adopts this position of sphere sovereignty and common grace, assuming that God is at work in the particular educational tradition of character and virtue education (expressed through many sources, including elements from ‘secular’ philosophy).

Back to #1.3 . Exploring the Roots 

[1] ‘The common grace of Kuyper was merely a favor of God that gives the world ‘the temporal blessings’ of rain, sunshine, health, and riches, and that restrains corruption in the world so that the world can produce good culture. It was not a grace that aimed at the salvation of the reprobate, a grace that was expressed in a well-meaning offer of Christ, or a grace that was grounded in a universal atonement’ (Johnson, G., 2003  ‘The Myth of Common Grace’, The Trinity Review http://www.trinityfoundation.org/PDFThe%20Trinity%20Review%200055a%20TheMythofCommonGrace.pdf  (accessed 27/11/2018), p.6)

[2] See Mouw, Richard, J., 2000,  ‘Some Reflections on Sphere Sovereignty’, in Religion, Pluralism and Public Life: Abraham Kuyper’s Legacy for the Twenty-first Century, ed. Luis E- Lugo, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans

[3] Kuyper, A., 2015, Common Grace: God’s Gifts for a Fallen World, Lexham Press, p.488

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