Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Three Points of Common Grace (Plus One More)

Psalm 145:8-9 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
Psalm 145:15-17 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. The LORD is  righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.

The doctrine of Common Grace is an essential, yet often overlooked, facet of Calvinistic theology. Sure, you know the 5 Points of Calvinism, but can you recite (and defend) the three points of Common Grace?

Many Arminians - even informed, studious ones - do not realize that orthodox Reformed thinking includes and incorporates some of their most cherished Biblical convictions. Conversely, some Calvinists mistakenly believe the concept of Common Grace is contradictory to the TULIP and should therefore be opposed. I will now endeavor to demonstrate the falsity of that idea, and then go one step further - showing how Common Grace and the TULIP form essential balancing paradoxes without creating contradictions. Common Grace is the fertile soil in which the TULIP was meant to grow.

Traditionally, the doctrine of Common Grace as been summarized in these 3 points:

1. God loves all people

This means God providentially cares for, patiently forbears, and benevolently extends grace toward each and every living person. He does not merely express His justice by hating the non-elect for their rebellion, but also shows His love for them as His special creation in generously giving them an abundance of undeserved kindnesses.

However, their continued rejection of Him will eventually lead to their separation from His love and a total abandonment to His justice.

Just Condemnation of Sinners   <++++++++++>        Pervasive Love for Sinners

This is the Counterbalance to Total Depravity

2. God desires the salvation of all people

This means God would take pleasure in the salvation of each and every living person, and does not directly oppose it. He does not actively reprobate the non-elect, but allows them to follow their heart's desire to their own destruction.

In His wise counsels He has chosen not to save every person, but to allow the non-elect to follow the path of their own choosing.


Election of Some Sinners    <++++++++++>  Desire to Save All Sinners

This is the Counterbalance to Unconditional Election

3. God freely offers the Gospel to all people

This means God extends mercy to each and every living person by way of the preaching of the Gospel. He does not exclude any sinner from the call to faith.

Yet He allows the non-elect to resist His grace and reject His offer of salvation.


Universal Call of the Gospel   <++++++++++>    Effectual Call of the Gospel

This is the Counterbalance to Irresistible Grace

I would add this fourth point . . .

4. Christ's blood is a sufficient atonement for all the sins of all people

This means the potency of the atonement is infinite, and powerful enough to save each and every living person. God does not limit the sin-bearing nature of Christ's work to the elect alone, but provides limitless expiatory power through an incomprehensibly precious sacrifice.

Still, He applies the redeeming, propitiatory, and reconciling effects of Christ's sacrifice to the elect only.


Sufficient for All             <++++++++++>    Efficient for the Elect

Point Four is the Counterbalance to Particular Redemption (which says the application of the saving effect of the atonement is limited to the elect).

NOTE: Nothing in the 3 Points of Common Grace (or my proposed 4th Point) actually contradicts the 5 Points of Calvinism. Nothing here militates against monergistic regeneration. No mitigation of divine sovereignty is entailed in these tenets. These Four Points are neither antithetical to historic Calvinism, nor are they opposed to Biblical teaching. Rather, they accommodate our minds to the wide range of Biblical teaching. The balancing points are paradoxical because they appear at first to contradict, but they are not inexplicable if we will put ourselves to the task of reasoning with Scripture.

Some Calvinists maintain that the Fourth Point undermines the integrity of the TULIP. They call advocates of the Fourth Point "inconsistent" Calvinists (a more proper term would be "Moderate" Calvinist). But can you see how the 5 Points of Calvinism plus the 3 Points of Common Grace logically lead to the Fourth Point? Far from dismantling the TULIP, the universal sufficiency of the atonement provides a solid basis on which the traditional Three Points of  Common Grace can be integrated with it.

I plan to write more on Particular Redemption and the extent of the atonement in the near future, God willing.


  1. Hey Derek, thanks for this. This is very helpful, and I think aids in alleviating some of the most instinctive (and I would say uniformed) negative reactions to Reformed theology. Gonna bookmark this one :)

  2. Thanks, Blaine. I just keep marveling at how deep Reformed soteriology goes. God is wise!

  3. Thou are almost an Arminian. 4 more points to go:)


  4. Charlie,

    That's funny, some Arminians would say I'm almost a hyper Calvinist.

    From all I've seen, my soteriology is best described as historic moderate Calvinist, striving for the Biblical balance.

    Thanks for at least considering my proposal. :)


    BTW - if you're ever in the Jacksonville area, look me up. I'd love to have a cup of coffee and some theology.

    THEOparadox at G Mail

  5. sad to say but the three points are not a cheritshed "reformed" position. It is a skewed view from Kuyper and twisted by the Christian Reformed Church in 1924. The majority of truly Reformed folk reject all three points. Please don't make such a broad-swathed statement when it is untrue.

  6. Nancy,

    I agree, that is "sad" if it is true. My earnest hope is that many, many more will recognize the beautiful, Biblical balance of Common Grace.



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