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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

The Common Grace Witness of Culture

When we see it as God does.

The Foundation of Culture (3)

“Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”
Acts 14.17

The doctrine of common grace
Common grace is the life-sustaining, fructifying love of God which brings everything into being, endows every creature with purpose and significance, and makes of the cosmos a showcase of beauty, wonder, delight, power, mystery, and wisdom. Common grace reaches to everything in the cosmos because God created everything, and everything belongs to Him. And because God is love, His stewardship of everything is characterized by love as well.

Our interest in common grace relates to our pursuit of a Christian approach to culture. The Scriptures teach that common grace is the foundation of all culture. Human beings are made in the image of God, our Creator. Making and using culture, with the many and varied gifts and skills God gives us, is a function of our being His image-bearers.

Culture, therefore, indicates the workings of God’s common grace, as we have seen, and thus can be a powerful witness to His gracious character and design. The more we know about and appreciate culture in all its forms, the more opportunities we will have to bear witness to the grace of God.

An alternative belief
Such a witness is sorely needed in this secular age. Over the past 200 years, proponents of the theory of evolution have evolved an explanation of the cosmos that dispenses with any need for God. According to evolutionary theory, the cosmos continues to exist on the energy of a great, long-ago cosmic explosion, the effects of which explain the existence and continuance of all things, including life and culture.

It should be obvious that this view cannot be proved; it must be accepted by faith. But if we begin reasoning about things like culture from this evolutionary starting-point, everything we examine will only prove our initial premise—that we don’t need God or any spiritual realities to make sense of the world around us or in any way to guide our thinking about culture.

This faith has become a foundational component of the secular religion of our day. It is proclaimed and defended by determined advocates and enforced in many ways by law, especially in the schools of this land. Where culture is concerned, evolutionary theory insists that chance is the foundation of all things, including all culture. While evolutionists concede that culture requires intention, design, and craft, they insist that culture and all of life bear witness only to chance. No God and no grace are required.

But do the laws of physics and the powers of the material cosmos necessarily exclude the existence or involvement of God? That is, just because we can demonstrate consistently that matter and energy behave in certain kinds of ways—as though their inherent properties cause them to behave in these ways—does this of necessity witness to the fact that the cosmos is its own explanation, and God does not exist?

And therefore that God is not essential for making and using culture?

Not so fast
Not according to Robert C. Bishop and Joshua Carr. In an important article in the Spring, 2013 issue of Christian Scholar’s Review, Bishop and Carr demonstrated the religious way in which evolutionists employ reason to “prove” their a priori assumptions about the nature of the cosmos. Beginning with the belief that God is not necessary and non-existent, evolutionists then “demonstrate” the “truth” of that assumption by performing all manner of scientific experiments which, they insist, show that the universe runs by itself, awaiting only the mind of man to explain it and to turn it cultural uses. Science leads us to discover things that cannot be denied—the physical laws and operations of things, for example—and it exposes as untenable things that cannot resist the evidence clamoring for their denial. The authors write, concerning this process, “Not surprisingly, [evolutionists] find God not to be among those things resisting denial.”

C. S. Lewis understood this conviction of the modern scientific enterprise. He observed that the goal of science is not to get the facts in but to get God out (The Weight of Glory). Bishop and Carr agree.

In other words, start with the assumption (an article of faith) that God does not exist and is not necessary, and all your most sophisticated reasoning and scientific analyses will only reinforce that basic belief. All reasoning is circular, and if your powers of reason are bounded by an anti-supernaturalist conviction about the nature of what is real, you will always reinforce that bias through all your uses of reason.

But what if, Bishop and Carr ask, we begin our examination of the cosmos with the idea that God does exist, and that He is sovereign over all He has made by the operations of common grace? To what then does the cosmos witness? Since everyone knows God, at least to some extent (Rom. 1.18-21), such a starting-point for science and culture might manage to strum a resonant chord heretofore undiscovered in the soul.

The authors explain, “the Christian, who trusts the intuition that such things as beauty, morality, and purpose are real (perhaps even more fundamental than the material phenomena that bear them), quite naturally finds their existence to hinge on God’s, so that modes of inquiry besides the natural sciences are needed to generate fuller accounts of reality.”

Hold fast to the right starting point
Put another way, if we start our examination of the culture from the revelation of God in Scripture, trusting that God’s Word is right and true and reliable in what it tells us about the cosmos, then we will see that the cosmos and all its culture bear witness to God as gracious, almighty, all-wise, all-sufficient, all-and-everywhere present and working—a God of power and grace, common grace.

And this is particularly true of the many and varied forms of culture—such as agriculture—that people make and use to define, sustain, and enhance their lives. The Christian insists that, in some manner and to some extent, all culture, founded on the common grace of God, bears witness to Him as Creator and Lord. This is a vital first principle of any Christian approach to culture.

The world and its cultures are what they most beautifully and wondrously are because of the common grace of God, not because of any inherent material properties or powers. This is the common grace witness of culture.

For reflection
1. To what ultimately does evolutionary theory bear witness? Can people really live with that? Explain.

2. How might a better understanding of common grace enhance your appreciation of culture? Your ability to use culture as a witness to God as Creator and Lord?

3. What could you do to raise your awareness and appreciation of God’s common grace? How might doing so enrich your walk with and work for the Lord?

Next steps—Preparation: How many ways can you identify the workings of common grace in Paul’s witness in Acts 14.17?

T. M. Moore

Two books on culture are available to accompany this series on “A Christian Approach to Culture.” Christians on the Front Lines of the Culture Wars shows how important it is that we consider culture as a way of bringing glory to God. Order your copy by clicking here. Redeeming Pop Culture examines the nature of pop culture and some ways we can make good use of it for God’s glory. Order your copy by clicking here.

Support for ReVision comes from our faithful and generous God, who moves our readers to share financially in our work. If this article was helpful, please give Him thanks and praise.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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