Common Grace and Saving Grace
The doctrine of common grace is important for the discussion of the relationship between the church and the world. where common grace is ignored, a radical dualism develops between the church and the world. Where the idea of common grace is dispensed with for the sake of accentuating the saving character of grace, there tends to be a failure to do justice to the biblical call to faith. the concept of common grace is a difficult idea which requires to be interpreted sensitively if theology is to avoid moving in the direction of either dualism or universalism. Neither dualism nor universalism does justice to the complex relationship between the church and the world. Dualism fails to appreciate the value of the world as created humanity. Universalism fails to appreciate the distinctiveness of the church as redeemed humanity. While the doctrine of common grace can be misused, its main thrust is commendable in that it seeks to preserve two important emphases - the church has a distinctive identity in the world; the life of the church never ceases to have relevance for the life of the world.
Berkouwer makes some important observations concerning common grace: "grace is at work even in fallen man ... common grace is constantly at work 'to bend partially back in the right direction those human powers and endowments, which were man left to himself would be wholly perverted'" (Man: The Image of God, pp. 153-154, emphasis mine); "common grace ... an imperfect solution ... does centre our attention on the gracious act of God in protecting man's corrupt and apostate nature from total demonization" (Man: The Image of God, p. 169).
With all its difficulties, the doctrine of common grace has a distinctive emphasis, which is most relevant to the discussion of the relation between the church and the world. It directs our attention to the grace of God and the constancy of his working in the world. Where the emphasis is placed on the constant working of his grace, the relation between the church and the world may be seen in terms of openness.
When we speak about saving grace and common grace, we should draw attention to the word "grace" rather than simply saying, "That's common grace. It's not saving grace" or "We're talking about saving grace. It's more than common grace." When we emphasize the word "grace", we emphasize that the God is constantly at work in our world is always ready to bring us beyond our everyday experience of His "common grace" and into the wonderful enjoyment of His "saving grace."