In our previous installment of this book review, in connection with the question, “Does Christian technology exist?,” we reviewed Abraham Kuyper’s discussion of the phrase “Christian family,” and concluded with a promise of more.
Here’s the more, this time coming from volume 2 of Kuyper’s De Gemeene Gratie (forthcoming in English translation as Common Grace, vol. 2).
Near the end of this volume, Kuyper is discussing the effect or influence of (to use his terms) “particular grace” upon “common grace.” In this context, he embeds in chapter 89, entitled “Christian Civilization,” an explanation of the two senses in which the adjective Christian can be applied beyond the institutional, confessional, means-of-grace-administering church. The first sense is what Kuyper calls the non-confessional sense, and the second is the confessional sense.
Without apology for these lengthy quotations (important ideas require careful exposition!), here is Kuyper himself:
If this [foregoing discussion] establishes the fact that the Christian religion, i.e., particular grace, has been the means for bringing common grace to its most powerful manifestation, then the question arises how we must understand this effect of particular grace on common grace. It is customary to call the result of this effect “Christian,” and then to speak of a Christian civilization, Christian society, Christian government, and so forth. But we sense immediately that, as we have briefly indicated, the word Christian has an entirely different meaning in these phrases than, e.g., in the expressions Christian church, Christian literature, Christian school, Christian press, Christian theology, Christian singers, and so forth. This is because in the two series of expressions, the word Christian is used in terms of a different contrast. When we speak of Christian nations, a Christian society, etc., then this marks a contrast with pagan nations, pagan society, Mohammedan states or Mohammedan society. But when, by contrast, we speak of a Christian press, Christian school, Christian singers, etc., then we are thereby indicating a contrast with the liberal press, the neutral school, unbelieving singers, etc. In the first instance, we are emphasizing the unique character of the European states and nations in contrast to those of Asia and Africa. In the second, we are not thinking of Africa or Asia, but are thinking of the Netherlands and distinguishing in our own country between the groups of those who defend their confession of Christ and those others who live out of what people call humanism. The first contrast, therefore, is not confessional, but only the second one is. Or we could say that when we speak of a Christian state, a Christian society, a Christian civilization, etc., we have only common grace in view as it has been permeated by the gospel, but when, on the other hand, we speak of a Christian school, a Christian press, Christian singers, and so forth, we are referring to particular grace as it chooses to use the things of ordinary life (667-68).
We sense that this is correct when we ask ourselves, Can someone be a citizen of a Christian state, live in a Christian society, be part of a Christian civilization, without personally confessing Christ? The answer is definitely in the affirmative. The facts show and prove it. Many people who are averse to any confession of Christ are even prominent leaders in such a Christian society. But if we ask whether someone can be a Christian singer, Christian teacher, etc., without personally confessing Christ, then everyone will sense the impossibility of this. It is therefore clear that Christianized common grace does not depend on personally belonging to Christ; by contrast, fully developed particular grace always remains inseparable from it (668).
Yet until now, these two distinct meanings of the word Christian have been mistakenly confused. The thesis has even been promoted that the “Christian” school was the “best run” school [or: is the school offering the best education, having teachers who are Christian, promoting good morals; ndk]. And it is from this confusion of the two notions of Christian that the endless confusion between the life of common grace and the life of particular grace has sprung, under which we still suffer. On the one hand, people tried to tie down everything confessionally—state, society, popular culture; on the other hand, people tried to abolish the Christian church and to separate it from its confession, so that as national church it chased what was fermenting among the people. Thus on the one hand, we have the attempt to put the label “Christian” in its specific meaning as a stamp on common grace, and on the other hand, we have the attempt to deprive the word“Christian” of its specific sense even in the realm of the church (668).
We therefore direct our readers’ attention especially to the fact that they can never come to a clear insight into the correct relationship between church and world, between the communion of saints and society, and thus also between church and state, unless they take the trouble to clearly think about and think through the enormous difference between these two meanings of the word “Christian.” The term Christian as it is applied to the entire nation, the whole of society, the entire state, etc., stands in contrast to what is pagan or Mohammedan. The term Christian applied to a narrower group within the population, within society, or within the state, stands over against neutral, unbelieving, non-confessing entities (669).
In the present context, all that remains to be discussed is how we must envision this influence of particular grace on common grace.
Let us then pay attention to the following.
In the first place, those who confess Christ constitute a group in the midst of a nation, from whom a serious call to duty sounds forth unceasingly to the nation. That call to duty issuing from the people of the Lord works on the conscience. And in this way, the activity of the conscience that Paul describes in Romans 2:13 is stimulated and sharpened by this exhortation, this call to duty from those who confess [Christ]. In the second place, believers elevate domestic and societal life to a higher level through their example, and God grants to this example his effectiveness and his influence. In the third place, as believers in Christ also work in the public arena in order to proclaim, on the basis of the greater light they have received, firmer and clearer ideas take hold of the national consciousness. And thanks to this threefold influence, there emerges in the midst of the nation and of societal life a force for combating unrighteousness and for restraining sin, which, although it allows sin to continue in our personal life, and to stir and rage in secret, does not allow it to hold its ground in the national conscience, in public opinion, in the dominant ethos. Thus common grace is given a tremendous support precisely at the center of national life. This is the moral influence that proceeds from particular grace to the life of the nation as a whole, an influence before which unbelievers and scoffers must ultimately yield as well. And when the government, supported and pressed by this, finally expresses and codifies this higher moral life in its laws, then this influence ascends from public opinion directly to the life of the state and puts a Christian stamp on the state as such, whether it be a Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, or Reformed stamp. In a metaphorical sense, we may also call this a “Christianizing” or a “baptizing” of the nation as a whole, but always keeping in mind that this has nothing to do with the personal conversion of individual citizens and the personal application of the sacrament of baptism.
To this moral influence a second thing is added, namely, the blessing of the Lord. God loves his people as the apple of his eye, and he therefore extends his blessed influences in exceptional measure to those nations in which the church of his Son has come into existence. To those nations he gives the healthiest climate, the best-situated land, the greatest dominion over nature. He makes them belong to the best race. He endows them with the richest talents, the most noble gifts. He enriches them with the most wealthy families, with the most far-reaching inventions, and he thereby enhances the best opportunities for these nations to enjoy a comprehensive, undisturbed, and continually progressing development.
In summary, we may express it in this way: common grace intends a twofold restraining, the restraining of sin and the restraining of the curse. Particular grace helps to raise the activity of common grace to the highest level in terms of both: in connection with the arresting of sin, we see the moral influence of particular grace, and in connection with the arresting of the curse, we see the providential influence of particular grace (669-70).
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We’ll conclude this installment with (1) a reminder from our last post in this review, and (2) a preliminary answer to the question, “Does Christian technology exist?”
(1) Reminder: By analogy to the Christian family, if technology belongs to the creational, and if grace aims to heal creation’s institutions and processes from their lapsarian maladies and misdirection, then, yes, there’s a good chance that Christian technology exists.
(2) A preliminary answer: Yes, Christian technology exists—depending on one’s definition of technology, to which we turn next.