How much trust can Christians-or anybody else-put in the findings of non-Christian scientists? Some believers say none, particularly on matters of origins.1 At first glance, such skepticism may seem warranted. After all, God’s word says the unregenerate “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Rom. 1:18; see also Eph. 4:17-19). Ephesians 2:1-3 comments that Satan manipulates the minds of unbelievers.
The influence of God’s common grace may help answer this question. Within this historical doctrine resides a biblical warrant for engaging-and celebrating-the discoveries of modern science.
Evangelical theologians define common grace as an expression of God’s beneficence to all humanity. It does not remove the penalty for sin, but it does endow everyone with “innumerable blessings” from God2 and helps to restrain the full expression of evil of which humans are capable. Saving grace, as a distinct category, refers to God’s acceptance of Christ’s death as full payment of sin’s penalty on behalf of the repentant sinner.3 Saving grace gradually transforms that person inwardly, setting the individual free from sin’s grip.
In the words of theologian Louis Berkhof, “[Common grace] curbs the destructive power of sin, maintains in a measure the moral order of the universe, thus making an orderly life possible, distributes in varying degrees gifts and talents among men, promotes the development of science and art, and showers untold blessings upon the children of men.”4 Even though God has pronounced a death sentence upon those who refuse his saving grace (Rom. 3:23), the punishment has been temporarily stayed.5 Meanwhile, unregenerate persons are capable of recognizing the wonders and workings of the natural realm.6
Common grace, with its companion doctrine of general revelation,7 provides the foundation for Christian involvement with culture, including dialogue with modern science.8 Far from asserting that unbelievers perceive the natural world in some way that distorts reality, the Bible presents a number of examples of unbelievers who are able to classify the physical world with satisfactory accuracy. In Matthew 7:9-10 Jesus acknowledged the ability of unbelievers to distinguish between bread and stones, fish and snakes. The Old Testament records that unbelievers built major cities such as Nineveh, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Babylon, accomplishments that required some understanding and application of engineering principles. The pagan King of Tyre sent cedar logs, carpenters, and stonemasons to Israel’s King David to help build his palace (2 Sam. 5:11). Again, this account assumes that nonbelievers are able to classify trees correctly and use both math and engineering. The Bible asserts that all humans, regardless of religious perspective, can access at least some truths about the natural world.
Common grace explains how the ancient Muslims were able to make great strides in mathematics, and the Greeks in astronomy. Likewise, it explains why Hindu and Christian biochemists working alongside each other in the lab make identical analyses of the inner workings of the cell. Christians can freely embrace truth about the natural world wherever and by whomever it is found. Given this magnificent gift of common grace Christians can rejoice in, rather than distrust or disregard, the findings of science research and declare, “All truth is God’s truth.”
- God’s Two-Part Harmony, by Kenneth Samples
- A Reformed Perspective on the “Physics of Sin,” Krista Bontrager
- Without a Doubt, by Kenneth Samples
- See James Jordan, Creation in Six Days (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1999), p. 127.
- Gen. 17:20 (comp. vs. 18); 39:5; Ps. 145:9,15,16; Matt. 5:44,45; Luke 6:35, 36; Acts 14:16, 17; 1 Tim. 4:10.
- Classically, “saving grace” has been called “particular grace.” I am, however, adopting the terminology used by Wayne Grudem because it seems a little more modern in what it conveys. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), p. 657.
- Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979), p. 434, summarizing John Calvin’s position on common grace.
- This analogy is borrowed from Berkhof, 442.
- Luke 6:33; Rom. 2:14, 15.
- Kenneth Samples, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), pp. 42-51.
- For more about this connection, see Michael Scott Horton, Where in the World is the Church? A Christian View of Culture and Your Role in It (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2002).