02 December, 2016

Argument: “Common Grace does not deny Total Depravity!”


challenge to the charge that common grace affirms that unregenerated people are somewhat good.


(1) Your objection to common grace is that it “weakens or softens” Total Depravity, so that people are said to be “partially good” in this system. Firstly, how does CG soften TD? Secondly, I know of no adherent to Calvinistic Common Grace who affirms that people are “partially good.” Can you name any theologians or theological works that do teach this?

(2) The doctrine of Total Depravity does not state that people are as monstrously evil as possible, but that our fall has gone so deep that all of our thoughts, feelings, etc. are filled with sin. The unbelieving and unregenerate sinfully parent, but not all cannibalize their children. They are often suspicious of people not like them, but few commit genocide. What keeps us from that, as you affirm, is a restraint of sin performed by God. We don’t deserve for God to restrain our sin, and His doing so is favourable to us, so it falls into the category of unmerited favour, therefore grace.

(3) It is not that, on a scale of -10 (absolute evil) to +10 (absolute good) we are anywhere in the positives with common grace. There is no good in us until regeneration. But, He does keep us away from -10.



First, attributing grace to someone necessarily attributes some goodness to the man as the effect of grace. Grace brings about goodness, in the nature of grace. Grace does not leave the recipient unaffected. Grace does not produce evil. Grace works goodness in some sense or degree. Second, the very purpose of confessing common grace by those who teach it, beginning with Abraham Kuyper, is to explain the seeming goodness in ungodly humanscultural and social goodness.  Third, every proponent of common grace whom I have read, and I have read many, teaches that by virtue of this grace, the ungodly have an ability to do good in things natural and civil, which ability is itself goodness in them. This was the expressed teaching of the CRC in 1924 and since by its theory of common grace (see the “Three Points” of common grace). This was the doctrine of Abraham Kuyper, the father of the doctrine of common grace now prevalent in the evangelical and Reformed church world. For the evidence in Kuyper's own words, see my Christianizing the World: Reformed Calling or Ecclesiastical Suicide?. But no one has even questioned this.  

Not only does common grace ascribe good to the ungodly in the realm of society and culturegood in the sense that it pleases God, even though it is not the highest and best goodbut also the theory of common grace finds in unregenerated sinners the ability to accept salvation when it is, as they say, “offered” to them. There is therefore the remnant of the image of God that enables them to choose for Christ. This is quite a substantial good. The first of the “Three Points” of common grace adopted by the CRC in 1924, and which I quote in my book on Christianizing the World, teaches a favourable attitude of God towards all humans and a desire to save them all, which He expresses in a well-meant offer of salvation to all. This implies that there is in the unregenerated sinner an ability to choose for Christ, that is, a free will. Kuyper himself taught that common grace includes that there is a point of contactobviously some spiritual goodin the sinner for the gospel. As I demonstrate in my book, Kuyper also taught that common grace prevented the race from falling into total depravity, and retained in all humans something still of the image of Godwhich is a good. 

Common grace necessarily is the denial of total depravity.
I grant that total depravity does not teach that all humans are as evil as they can be. But this has nothing to do with our subject. There is development of sin in humans. Adolf Hitler, who perhaps only mistreated animals in his childhood, became the killer of millions of humans in his adulthood, as circumstances of his life gave him the opportunity. But this development of sin is increasing degree of wickedness. It is not the development of total evil from some goodness. What total depravity teaches is that every unsaved human is completely wicked, without any goodness or capability for goodness. This wickedness then develops into various degrees of intensified wickedness in humans. What common grace teaches is that there is a restraint of sin within humans by the Spirit so that they are not completely wicked, but somewhat goodgood so that they can perform truly good deeds in culture and society. Psalm 51 and the Canons of Dordt, chapters 3 and 4, teach that unsaved humans are wholly, that is completely, wicked, without any good at all, or ability for good. This has nothing to do with increase of wickedness intensively.  
The restraint of sin that you mention, if it is orthodox, is God’s government of sin by external circumstances: for example, the police and the threat of punishment, or by controlling the sinner’s mind by His providence. It is not a gracious work making the sinner somewhat good, or keeping him from being entirely wicked. A married man may refrain from adultery because it is in his interest not to risk his marriage and family, or his health. But this is not an evidence of any goodness in him. He may even refrain because he loves his wife, though not for God’s sake or because the seventh commandment is written upon his heart. Goodness is the love of God, and what proceeds from the love of God.
The increase in wickedness of the wicked varies from one to ten. This is development of total depravity.  
But all are entirely wicked, without any goodness or propensity for goodness. See Romans 3:9ff. This is total depravity, the Reformed confession.  
“Almost all are not completely depraved, but are somewhat good.” This is the heresy of common grace.
                                                                                                    Cordially in Christ,
                                                                                                                Prof. Engelsma

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