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(This is a very rough draft of the second half of my essay on common grace and its relationship to counseling. [ The first half is in the Journal of Biblical Counseling — when the article is published, I post the link here.] I may change any [or even all] of this essay before publishing. I have not even proofread the document. However, if any one has a comment or critique, I would be happy to hear from you. I acknowledge the limitations on this essay; those which proceed from space limitations and those which result from the author.)


(Hieronymus Bosch, Hell and The Flood)

Common grace is an inference based upon the paradox created by the tension between the doctrine of total depravity and the experience of human flourishing:

So we are placed on the horns of a dilemma, a paradox that, as Murray said, poses “very insistent questions,” a riddle that, as Kuyper said, seems “in itself insoluble.” We cannot deny what the Bible teaches about man’s total depravity and need for the Spirit’s regenerating power in order to submit to God’s truth. Therefore, we cannot deny that a radical spiritual antithesis places Christian thought and non-Christian thought in diametrical opposition to each other. Yet we cannot dismiss the testimony, not only of our experience but also of Scripture itself, that people dead in sin in fact do good, love others, and know truth.[1]

There is a second stage of conflict between the judgment of Genesis 2:17 & 3:14-19 and the continued existence of human beings, and even a degree of human flourishing.

We stop here to acknowledge that all human sorrow and suffering flows directly from sin, its productions and its punishments. First, we suffer from our own sin. Second, we suffer from the sins of others. Third, we suffer due to the effects of sin more generally: the futility of the creation, death, disease, et cetera. In short we are broken, rebellious people living in a creation under a curse. In such circumstances it is no surprise that we suffer what is now commonly called “mental illness” (which includes both that which is and that which is not physiological illness).[2]

Broken (an irrational heart lodged in a dying body) people in sinful rebellion against God (and thus at war with one-another) trying to scrape by a cursed planet should not long last –especially when God has decreed death in no uncertain terms. But when we look about us, we human have continued to exist. We have stood on the moon and looked at the ocean’s floor. We have built astounding buildings, written beautiful plays, and organized our efforts across generations. We have not disappeared; far from it from. How then can we balance God’s judgment and our existence?

There are a few ways in which one can resolve this paradox. First, we can bracket the effects of the Fall. Rather than understand the Scripture to teach a radical derangement of the human heart, we can bracket the effects of the Fall to some sort of “spiritual” category. While we may not be able to rightly enjoy God (and will be eventually damned), the intellectual capacity of humanity remained essentially the same before and after the Fall. Thus, human advancement presents little challenge.[3] Second, one could deny human ability. Finally, one could posit the full judgment of God coupled to a limited reprieve: this is the solution of common grace.


The Limitation and Purpose of Common Grace


Since human ability and human depravity coexist on this side of the Fall, orthodox protestant theologians — at least since Calvin has argued for God’s goodness to an unbelieving world exhibited in the form of “common grace”.[4] This “common grace” is of tremendous importance for the history of humanity, “The effects produced by common grace, or this influence of the Spirit common to all men, are most important to the individual and to the world.”[5]

Having pronounced judgment in Genesis 3, God delays the full execution of the judgment; but a reprieve is not a pardon. Life still persists on the planet; human beings have not exterminated the race; eternal death is not upon all humanity; the final judgment has not come — but it will.

The writer of Hebrews tells us, “[I]t is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Heb. 9:27. He continues, for those who persist in rebellion, there is “a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury that will consume the adversaries”. Heb. 10:27 Paul begins his explanation of the Gospel in Romans 1 with the proposition that judgment is coming, “[T]he wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness”. Rom. 1:18.

The delay in God’s final decree does not mean that judgment is not coming; rather, it means that God in his mercy and goodness is giving space for repentance:

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

Romans 2:4–5.  Peter explains, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9. That patient goodness and mercy of God lies at the heart of common grace.   Gerald Bray gets to the heart of what is taking place here:


God’s willingness to preserve the fallen spiritual creatures in spite of their rebellion is matched by his desire to keep the human race in being. This is a mystery that can only be explained only by his deep love for his creatures. Looked at in a purely rational light, it would not have been surprising if God had decided to wipe us out and start again.[6]


Abraham Kuyper explains that common grace was given primarily to give the church a place to be, but also for broader purposes of God:


In the fourth place, the blessing of the new situation was intended not only for God’s church, but for everything that is human, indeed for the animal kingdom. It was not that the church was saved in order to abandon everything outside the church to general ruin. But the grace shown here extends to the entirety of human life. Most surely the purpose was so that the God’s church could find a place to set its foot, and also so that the church of the new covenant would gather together believers from all peoples and nations. But its purpose was also so that in a proper sense God the Lord would continue his work in that broad sphere of human life, not unto the saving of souls but no less unto the praise and glory of his great name.[7]


So as we consider the doctrine of common grace, we need to understand the basis of the claim: God brought judgment upon human beings, and thus upon all creation. Rom. 8:20. Yet, in his goodness and mercy, God spared the full immediate implementation of that judgment upon human beings: (1) to permit time for repentance; (2) to give space for the existence of the church; (3) generally for his glory and praise.

Thus, when we consider common grace, we must be careful how we understand its extent. Since the extent of common grace entails an inference as well as exegesis (as we will see when we look at Calvin’s initial statement of the doctrine), we must be careful not to over-claim, or to claim such things as would be inimical to God’s glory for common grace.


Common Grace is an Operation of the Holy Spirit


Since all the world lies under the judgment of God, only God himself can withstand and withhold the scope and effect of that judgment, accordingly, it has been the position of orthodox protestant theologians that common grace is an operation of the Holy Spirit (as will be demonstrated herein, and is apparent from the inference that it is a temporary mitigation of God’s judgment). Charles Hodge asks what would be the case if the Holy Spirit were not the agent working upon all mankind:


The effects produced by common grace, or this influence of the Spirit common to all men, are most important to the individual and to the world. What the external world would be if left to the blind operation of physical causes, without the restraining and guiding influence of God’s providential efficiency, that would the world of mind be, in all its moral and religious manifestations, without the restraints and guidance of the Holy Spirit.[8]


Of particular importance for our consideration is his observation that the Spirit effects all that is good in humanity, ” All the decorum, order, refinement, and virtue existing among men”[9] is the result of the Spirit’s work. If we refuse this proposition, we are left with a bare deism or rationalism. As Hodge notes, if we do not make the Spirit the proprietor of common grace, then we are left with deism, ” According to the mechanical theory, adopted by Deists, Rationalists, or (as they are often called in distinction from Supernaturalists) Naturalists, there is no exercise of the power of God on the minds of men. As He leaves the external world to the control of the laws of nature, so He leaves the world of mind to the control of its own laws.”[10]

Just as I fear that many Christians have effectively a Pelagian view of the Fall, in their effort to preservation secular theories of the human mind; I fear that many Christians have a Deist’s view of science and history so as to “plunder the Egyptians”. As I will make clear below, I do not presume for a moment to that unbelievers do not make correct and true observations about human beings. However, we must realize at all points, that such ability is a good gift of God; not a bare operation of some laws invested in the creation and operating by their own continued strength.[11]


Common Grace Permits the Orderly Functioning of Nature

In Genesis 3:18-19, God pronounces a judgment upon the ground and upon human bodies. In Romans 8:20, we learn that this futility extends to the creation. Eccl. 1:2. And yet, the world is not dissolved and destroyed.

Jesus tells us that the rain and sun comes to all, the “just and the unjust”. Matt. 6:45. There is an order to nature which does good to all humanity and all nature. Gen. 9:9-10; Jer. 33:20 (God’s covenant with day and night). This orderly functioning of nature is an affirmative act of God’s goodness. Vern Poythress explains that the “laws” of nature are affirmative acts of God in space and time:


In addition, let us remember that we are speaking of real laws, not merely our human guesses and approximations. The real laws are in fact the word of God, specifying how the world of creatures is to function. So-called “law” is simply God speaking, God acting, God manifesting himself in time and space. The real mistake here is not a matter of divinizing nature, but of refusing to recognize that the law is the law of God, nothing less than God speaking. We are confronting God.[12]


When we come to nature and make observations of regularity, we are seeing what God is doing. The fact that there is continued goodness in the creation tells us that God is good being to us.  God has subjected the creation to futility; the ground will produce thorns; human bodies will grow will, be subjected to decay, and will die. But God does not permit the creation to exhibit the full extent of his wrath. One day the world will be “burned up and dissolved” (2 Pet. 3:10), but that day is not yet come.

This is a critical element of God’s common grace as it pertains to the field of “psychology”. Were it not for the regularity and comprehensibility of the creation, no one would ever be able to observe the firing of neurons nor study how many chunks one can hold in short term memory.

God causes the world to persist and to be livable and comprehensible. The underlying structure and functioning of the world is God’s doing. Heb. 1:3.


Common Grace Restrains Sin

Genesis 3:16 hints at conflict between human beings. Genesis 3:12, already exhibits blameshifting, the willingness to press another human being into God’s judgment. Genesis 4:8 brings us to the first murder. Genesis 4:23 brings us to Lamech[13] who threatens evil upon others. Without the restraint of the Spirit, the world became so wicked that, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.”[14] Gen. 6:11. The evil of the world became so great that God found it necessary to “to make an end of all flesh”. Gen. 6:12.

As a result of this flood, only eight human beings remained alive. Yet, even after God had purged humanity, God observes, “the intention of man’s heart is evil rom his youth.” Gen.8:21. Unless God had acted at that time to forcibly restrain sin, humanity would have quickly destroyed itself.[15] However, Scripture records many instances where God intervened to prohibit sin. See, e.g., Gen. 12:17-20, 20:3.

Abraham Kuyper posits that common grace fundamentally changes and is clealry established with the Noahic covenant:


The fixed historical starting point for the doctrine of common grace lies in God’s establishment of a covenant with Noah after the flood. In the past, inadequate attention has been paid to this significant and decisive event.[16]


Kuyper sees that God intervenes in a particular manner to restrain sin:


But through the increase of common grace, sin will be restrained with bridle and rein, so that sin will never again before the end of the world develop into such gruesome, hellish outburst and tyranny. If after the flood the earth had become less hellish than earlier, this is not because the sinner has essentially improved. Before and after the flood the sinner is just as evil in the core of his being. But the difference lies in this, that the restraining power proceeding from common grace against sin, has become increased from God’s side after the flood. The beast within man remains just as evil and wild, but the bars around its cage were fortified, so that it cannot again escape like it used to.[17]


Common Grace Has Permitted Some Understanding of the World

The continued operation of nature and the restraint of sin are uncontroversial in the debate among Christian counselors over the scope and nature of common grace. It is the scope and nature of our understanding of the world — particularly the human heart — which leads to the disagreement.

We can start with objective observations about the physical world. Everyone can only acknowledge that human beings have and do observe and describe the physical world; we can predict future events based upon past observation. Cain tilled fields; Abel cared for sheep. Gen. 4:2. That requires a high degree of sophistication in understanding the operation of the natural world. Jubal learned of musical instruments. Gen. 4:21. Tubal-Cain begins metallurgy. Gen. 4:22. At the very earliest stage of human life outside the Garden, we see human beings able to understand their world. As Solomon writes, “It is the glory of a king to search out a matter.” Prov. 25:2. Solomon studied and understood many things about the physical world, plants and animals. 1 Kings 4:33.

In matters of counseling, we can acknowledge that there are physiological aspects of human life which can be seen and understood. These observations will include much of what falls within the discipline of “psychology”. The physiological functions of the nervous are as open to observation as the accretion of crystal. Likewise, we can observe the functioning of the senses and memory. We can test short term memory. We can study the physiological basis of sensory perception. We can learn that certain optical illusions are the result of training in observation.

This ability — even in unbelievers — is work of the Spirit of God, albeit not a saving work; as John Calvin explains:

  1. Human competence in art and science also derives from the Spirit of God

Meanwhile, we ought not to forget those most excellent benefits of the divine Spirit, which he distributes to whomever he wills, for the common good of mankind. The understanding and knowledge of Bezalel and Oholiab, needed to construct the Tabernacle, had to be instilled in them by the Spirit of God [Ex. 31:2–11; 35:30–35]. It is no wonder, then, that the knowledge of all that is most excellent in human life is said to be communicated to us through the Spirit of God. Nor is there reason for anyone to ask, What have the impious, who are utterly estranged from God, to do with his Spirit? We ought to understand the statement that the Spirit of God dwells only in believers [Rom. 8:9] as referring to the Spirit of sanctification through whom we are consecrated as temples to God [1 Cor. 3:16]. Nonetheless he fills, moves, and quickens all things by the power of the same Spirit, and does so according to the character that he bestowed upon each kind by the law of creation. But if the Lord has willed that we be helped in physics, dialectic, mathematics, and other like disciplines, by the work and ministry of the ungodly, let us use this assistance. For if we neglect God’s gift freely offered in these arts, we ought to suffer just punishment for our sloths. But lest anyone think a man truly blessed when he is credited with possessing great power to comprehend truth under the elements of this world [cf. Col. 2:8], we should at once add that all this capacity to understand, with the understanding that follows upon it, is an unstable and transitory thing in God’s sight, when a solid foundation of truth does not underlie it. For with the greatest truth Augustine teaches that as the free gifts were withdrawn from man after the Fall, so the natural ones remaining were corrupted. On this, the Master of the Sentences and the Schoolmen, as we have said, are compelled to agree with him. Not that the gifts could become defiled by themselves, seeing that they came from God. But to defiled man these gifts were no longer pure, and from them he could derive no praise at all.[18]



Common Grace Permits the Exercise of Wisdom Outside of Salvation

This moves another step closer to the nature of disagreement between Biblical Counseling and other Christian counselors and counseling systems. There is some of this hinted in the description of Solomon, he was wiser than Ethan, Mean, Darda, et cetera. 1 Kings 4:33. If there were no wisdom outside of special revelation, than this comparison would be nonsensical. However, the presence of such wisdom is still a work of the Spirit.

Indeed, it is just at this point that John Calvin’s reference in The Institutes helps define the question:


  1. Uprightness is God’s gift; but man’s nature remains corrupted

bNevertheless the problem has not yet been resolved. For either we must make Camillus equal to Catiline, or we shall have in Camillus an example proving that nature, if carefully cultivated, is not utterly devoid of goodness.5 Indeed, I admit that the endowments resplendent in Camillus were gifts of God and seem rightly commendable if judged in themselves. But how will these serve as proofs of natural goodness in him? Must we not hark back to his mind and reason thus:6 if a natural man excelled in such moral integrity, undoubtedly human nature did not lack the ability to cultivate virtue? Yet what if the mind had been wicked and crooked, and had followed anything but uprightness? And there is no doubt that it was such, if you grant that Camillus was a natural man. What power for good will you attribute to human nature in this respect, if in the loftiest appearance of integrity, it is always found to be impelled toward corruption? Therefore as you will not commend a man for virtue when his vices impress you under the appearance of virtues, so you will not attribute to the human will the capability of seeking after the right so long as the will remains set in its own perversity.


Here, however, is the surest and easiest solution to this question: these are not common gifts of nature, but special graces of God, which he bestows variously and in a certain measure upon men otherwise wicked. For this reason, we are not afraid, in common parlance, to call this man wellborn, that one depraved in nature. Yet we do not hesitate to include both under the universal condition of human depravity; but we point out what special grace7 the Lord has bestowed upon the one, while not deigning to bestow it upon the other. eWhen he wished to put Saul over the kingdom he “formed him as a new man” [1 Sam. 10:6 p.]. This is the reason why Plato, alluding to the Homeric legend, says that kings’ sons are born with some distinguishing mark.8 For God, in providing for the human race, often endows with a heroic nature those destined to command. From this workshop have come forth the qualities of great leaders celebrated in histories. Private individuals are to be judged in the same way. But because, however excellent anyone has been, his own ambition always pushes him on—a blemish with which all virtues are so sullied that before God they lose all favor—anything in profane men that appears praiseworthy must be considered worthless. Besides, where there is no zeal to glorify God, the chief part of uprightness is absent; a zeal of which all those whom he has not regenerated by his Spirit are devoid. There is good reason for the statement in Isaiah, that “the spirit of the fear of God rests” upon Christ [Isa. 11:2 p.]. By this we are taught that all estranged from Christ lack “the fear of God,” which “is the beginning of wisdom” [Ps. 111:10 p.]. As for the virtues that deceive us with their vain show, they shall have their praise in the political assembly and in common renown among men; but before the heavenly judgment seat they shall be of no value to acquire righteousness.[19]

What Calvin says here is that God, for his own good purposes, will engender a better apprehension and behavior in one man than another. While all men are depraved and would be utterly so but for God’s restraint, some men exhibit remarkable characteristics. These of a “nobler” nature are so due to peculiar operation of the Spirit of God.

When we consider this light of the purpose of common grace, we can easily conclude that such men and women are necessary for the perpetuation of human existence — indeed without such people we would have doomed ourselves. We get Charles Manson and Abraham Lincoln; we get Hitler and Churchill. That is Calvin’s point.


Does Common Grace Get Us an Operative Psychology of the Human Heart?



Let us consider this matter carefully. Common grace is given to ameliorate certain effects of the Fall. If you will note, the primary effects of common grace have been to limit the effects pronounced in Genesis 3:14-19. If the ground will be in rebellion, we will learn how to work it. If our bodies will decay, we will learn how to slow that decay. If human beings will be in conflict, there will be restraints upon those conflicts.

But common grace, for all its beauty, never once reverses any effect of the Fall and the subsequent judgment. You will die despite the wonders of medicine. You may be killed by a murderer or in a war, despite the restraint of sin. Droughts may come despite our technological prowess. Wise men act like fools.


The Trouble with Equivocation


Since psychology as a discipline concerns the understanding of the human being as a psycho-somatic being,[20] it necessarily partakes of matters which are properly the subject of human observation (the human body), and those matters which are substantially more problematic, if not impossible: the consciousness of the human being, the subjective mental experience.[21] Moreover, as will be detailed more below, human beings cannot see clearly what is wrong with man nor how to resolve that problem.

Yet, psychology claims to be a science based upon observation[22]: “In an era of evidence-based practice, all mental health professional must be up-to-date on the science behind clinical interventions.”[23] “Yet psychology, as a science, rigorously attempts to rely on observable data in developing and evaluating theories.”[24] “But Christian psychologists will have as a second important goal to investigate human beings empirically in a manner common to contemporary psychology, and to practice such research in conformity with their broader commitments.”[25]

I chose these three quotations because the professing Christians who offered these observations come from fundamentally different schools of psychology. What they each have in common is a commitment to empirical observation as a fundamental tool of caring for the human soul; and then based upon such observation to determine theories and methods for treatment. The observations may be squared or correlated in some manner with the Scripture. But the movement is from the observation is true and the Scripture may provide some framework or touchstone, but is not directly helpful to understanding and addressing the human need.

Such commitments lead to the goals and observations which are very difficult to square with anything which would have been recognizable to Peter, Paul or James:


Addressing Jake’s spiritual needs and perhaps feelings of alienation are important too. Jake may feel distant from his faith tradition and from God for a variety of reasons, including his losses and stresses in life and his conflictual relationships with his parents, or perhaps from feeling like God has not blessed him in the ways that he expected.[26]


Or, “The Christian Psychologist will want to know how one become poor in spirit, a peacemaker and so on. What is the therapy for those who are not?”[27]

The fault here lies in an equivocation: Equivocation is a logical error of mistaking a common reference for a common identity: If I have two friends both named “John”, I cannot impute the birthdate, shoe size or hair color of John 1 to John 2 simply because they have the same name. Likewise, the fact that an observation about effects of sleep on learning ability is an aspect of observational psychology does not mean that Freud’s observations about hysterical women in Vienna should be given equal validity because it is also called “psychology.”

But the problem is even more troublesome. Consider the human under observation: We can observe the environment to some extent; we can observe the human body to some extent; we can observe the behaviors exhibit to some extent; we observe the reports of internal consciousness to some extent (and all the problems and arguments have centered around this issue in the history of psychology).

There will some patterns because human beings learn; because human beings have habits; because sin begets sin and it forces human beings into patterns; and because sanctification itself shows certain movement and progression. 2 Pet. 1:5-7. The patterns and learning which are common to human beings are common due to the operation of the Holy Spirit in restraining sin and permitting a certain level of human cultural functioning to permit the continued existence of human beings.

However, we cannot draw a line from a psychology which observes the body to a psychology which observes the entire human being and equate one-with-the other. There is a categorical difference between the functioning of the body and the functioning of the soul.


What Cannot be Observed

As a practical matter, we simply cannot observe every environmental and physical variable which effects the human being. Even if we discount all spiritual effects, we are left with an impossible number of variables to consider as an input to the human being. Then when we consider the output, the thoughts, affections and behaviors, we are left with an equally impossible number of variables. This, however, is a limitation on psychology as a science which is apparent to even a materialist.

The materialist position is peculiarly problematic when it comes to questions of psychology, because the materialist position cannot adequately address the problem of a mind, “Materialism as a metaphysical perspective fails on countless levels. Nowhere is that failure more clear than in the understanding of the mind and the brain.”[28] And yet, psychology to be a science and to hold to determinism [CITATION], necessary must hold to positions which are directly contrary to reality.

Moreover, if we are going to take the Christian worldview seriously, we must understand that there is a great deal which a materialist cannot see and which no experiment or observation can ever understand.


What Common Grace Cannot Do


Any counseling psychology must address Anthropology, Teleology and Methodology. Common grace does not provide help with any of those problems. Common grace was given to permit the continued existence of the world, and to gain space for special grace to open the eyes of the spiritually blind. But common grace cannot and will never provide a right understanding of man, of man’s chief end, nor who to care for man.

Yes, without question, common grace may provide some alleviation of the pains of this life — but only in part and only for a short time. It cannot provide any remedy to the true cause of our “psychological” ills, because such ill is caused by our rebellion against and separation from God.

There is a general epistemological which results from the Fall, and that issue deserves its own analysis. For purpose of this paper, I am going to bracket that problem and address the question of what a methodological naturalism in psychology necessarily misses.

If we are going to understand human beings correctly, we will need to properly consider human beings as they are in relationship to God — and particularly as human beings exist in rebellion or in covenant with God. I have read any number of books on psychology and counseling which address the question from any number of  integrationists positions.[29] I could cite them here at length, but I think it fair to say that Christians who are working in the area of psychology and counseling acknowledge that our state is profoundly affected by the Fall.

Yet, having said that, I do not believe they understand the implications of truth when it comes to making psychological observations or in providing counsel. They (and I know this is a generalization) will point to some finding of an academic psychologist say here is a fact of common grace, we must bring this fact in and use it for our good.

But let us consider what the research has discovered. First, when we look at human beings who live in rebellion against God, we are examining cursed creatures who are not in their proper “environment” to use Jay Adam’s apt description. To examine a human being in rebellion against God is akin to examining a fish on land: yes you see things, but you will completely misunderstand fish if you think that you examining anything “normal”.

Thus, it is not surprising when Professor Warren Brown of Fuller Seminary writes,


Finding resonance between Christian theology and modern neuroscience is challenging, particularly with respect to views of human nature. It is increasingly difficult to hold a traditional Christian view of persons in a world of modern neurobiology, cognitive science and neuropsychology.[30]


In fact, the problem of man is even more profoundly difficult that we are examining human beings in the wrong environment: we are not merely fish out of water, we are cursed fish in rebellion against the source of life: we are like fish who are out the water and who hate the water.

Yes, all sorts of scientists and psychologists and sociologists see all sorts of things accurately, but they cannot see a human being in relation to God. The necessary methodological naturalism requires pretending that human beings are bare objects without interaction from God (or even any other non-physical being). This methodology means that what they see is wrong, because they cannot see the whole picture.

The blindness of man — even with the benefits of common grace — is so profound that a human being without supernatural aid is unable to see that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God when Jesus was standing right before him. 1 Cor. 2:8; Matt. 16:17. When Jesus healed a man with a withered hand, the Pharisees and the Herodians conspired on how to kill Jesus. Mark 3:6.

Moreover, common grace does not overcome the willful blindness to the barest facts of God. Rom. 1:18-25. Yes, the integration position tries to reincorporate those facts and add that data back into their observations. However, that is fundamentally insufficient to address the problem.

The correlation between some particularly environmental experience (say being adopted at the age of six after three years in foster care) and later behavior is not solely a matter of “psychological” forces and changes in brain function. Such things can be observed, but there is much that can never seen by normal “psychological” investigation.  How can these events even be correctly understood without reference to sin, being sinned against profoundly, suffering the effects of sin generally, and one’s own sin response?       I have looked through the DSM-V and have thus far been unable to find the category of sin.

Moreover, methodological naturalism cannot never see the effects of God. Consider the folly of Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12. One could understand this story in terms of economics, politics, and some sort of personal psychology driving Rehoboam. But all such explanations would miss what really took place:


So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.


1 Kings 12:15; see, e.g., Is. 19:14. God was an actor in this event; but Professor Warren would never be able to see that from the position of any cognitive science. Where in neurobiology can we see God working in me “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Phil. 2:13. I have read volume upon volume of psychology and have yet to read,


Transgression speaks to the wicked

deep in his heart;

there is no fear of God

before his eyes.


Ps. 36:1.


Common Grace Cannot See the Purpose of Man

The chief end of man cannot be known without the special revelation of God. The telos, the end of man can only be known by special revelation of God. When a psychologist without reference to God seeks merely to alleviate some discomfort (and not that alleviating suffering is wrong per se), he may easily have missed the point. Where repentance was need (Ps. 32:3), emotional relief was prescribed (Is. 22:12-13).

And I am not saying that every trouble requires repentance. What I am saying is that any psychology which does not begin with the relationship between God and man, can never understand that the purpose of man is the worship of the true God. Indeed, a psychology which merely seeks to give a psychological peace to a man at war with God is a hateful thing. Amos 4:9.


Common Grace Cannot Provide a Proper Remedy for Man’s Distress

A counseling psychology must have an anthropology, a teleology and a methodology. The method’s will be prescribed by the nature of man and the end which we seek to achieve. The Scripture prescribes a complete manner of life, how we live with family, friends, government; what we are to believe, what we are to hate and love. It creates a comprehensive network of relationships (through the church) to bring about his end. It involves thinking, singing, praying, eating, sleeping, et cetera. It also entails things like medical care (as a benefit of common grace). It also involves the promise of God’s own involvement.

Indeed, it is such a comprehensive and efficacious mechanism for care of a human being, it is bizarre that any Christian would think this an ineffective way to address problems and that somehow we need to ask advice of those who hate God to help.  And yet, Christians write sentences such as “Spiritual issues arise frequently in psychotherapy….Many psychologists have observed that clients do not separate moral from religious issues by tend to intertwine them….In short, one cannot separate psychotherapy from spirituality, either in theory or practice.”[31]

One’s relationship with God is not simply some additional “spiritual issue” which is intertwined with psychotherapy. The Godward relationship is the defining characteristic which determines all other aspects of one’s life.

As stated in the first half of this essay, the cause for psychological ill stems from the breach between God and man. When man, without fundamental reference to God’s special revelation, attempts to remedy the effects of that breach, man has engaged in profound foolishness. Indeed, there is nothing in such a psychology which can escape the pronouncement of God upon their work, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” 1 Cor. 1:20. The psychologist who is trying to remedy the effect of the fall upon the heart of man without making recourse to the God who has cursed man, is in rebellion against God.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. Prov. 1:7 & 9:10. What wisdom is there without the Lord. How can a methodological naturalism provide wisdom to care for the human soul? Ps. 14:1.



Admittedly, this essay is not exhaustive. In fact, it likely raises more questions that it answers. And, if I were to take a contrary position, I could easily raise, “Yes, but” objections. Moreover, I am certain my brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with me on certain points will believe I have given such short shrift to their positions as to distort them. I acknowledge these short comings and ask for your indulgence in perhaps a longer dialogue in the future.

What I wish to affirm is this: Common grace is a great wonder of God. However, common grace does not and cannot address what are commonly called “psychological” problems. Yes, unbelievers can make accurate observations about human beings and may even be able to provide some emotional and physical relief. This is not denied. I am particularly thankful for medical help.

However, common grace was never given to see into the true trouble with human beings: the breach between God and man. Common grace can therefore neither see the truth about man, what we are and why we suffer; nor can it see our end and purpose. Common grace can therefore never help to prescribe a remedy for that fault.

Again, none of this is to deny common grace observations (such as the rough correlations between certain childhood experiences and certain adult behaviors). But such things are akin to noticing the paint job on a racecar and missing the aerodynamics, the horsepower and the driver.


[1] Dennis E. Johnson, “Spiritual Antithesis: Common Grace, and Practical Theology,” Westminster Theological Journal 64, no. 1 (2002): 76.

[2] I dislike the phrase “mental illness” because it confuses disparate problems under a common label: a disease of the brain goes by the same name as a sinful habit. It confuses etiology: the world “mental” refers to the psychological state of a human being in subjective self-awareness, which means one refers psychological states (who one perceives themselves or their environment) as “diseased”: which confuses physiological deterioration with moral and spiritual states. In effect, it has the tendency to reduce every “defective” human state, which physical or sinful, to broken wiring for which no one has moral culpability. This is not to deny the real existence of physical states which lead to confusion or delusion; such things I readily affirm. I merely reject the confusion of sloppy language.

[3] This strategy seems lie to behind much of the conflict between Biblical Counseling and other Christian schools of counseling and psychological understanding.

[4] John Frame questions the use of the phrase “common grace”:

We have seen that although God directs his goodness and love especially to believers, there are also senses in which God’s goodness and love are universal. “The Lord is good to all.” (Ps. 145:9), and he loves even his enemies by sending them rain and sunshine (Matt. 5:44-45). So many have thought that the said made be said of grace, that there are forms of divine grace that God gives to the nonelect.


To my knowledge, Scripture never uses hen or charis to refer to his blessings on creation generally or on nonelect humanity. So it would be perhaps better to speak of God’s common goodness, or common love, rather than his common grace. The word grace in Scripture tends to be more narrowly focused on redemption than goodness and love though the latter terms also have rich redemptive associations.


John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2013), 246.

[5] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 670.

[6] Gerald Lewis Bray, God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012), 473.

[7] Abraham Kuyper, Common Grace: God’s Gifts for a Fallen World, Collected Works in Public Theology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press :, 2016), 107.

[8] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 670.

[9] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 671.

[10] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 658.

[11] In a future article, I plan to respond to the claim of “Creation Grace”, which seems to partake of this Deistic view of Creation.

[12] Poythress, Vern S.. Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach (Kindle Locations 329-332). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[13] As John MacArthur notes, this Lamech has wives “A to Z”. [Citation?]

[14] Just a note here: While I am not a pacifist (as much as I long for such a world), I do see that many Christians are far too sanguine about violence. I remember a review of a movie from nearly 30 years ago, where the reviewer said that while he liked the movie, he had to wonder about a culture that found the deaths of so many human beings “entertainment”. Another note, “From 2010-2014, an estimated 25% of global pregnancies (including spontaneous miscarriages) ended in abortion.” “Worldwide Abortion Statistics,”

Abort73.com (blog),n.d., http://www.abort73.com/abortion_facts/worldwide_abortion_statistics/ (accessed February 3, 2018). That means that most human beings die by violence inflicted at the insistence of one’s mother.

[15] It takes little knowledge of history to realize how easily such an end could come. Human beings have shown the utmost diligence is learning how to destroy one-another. Were it not for a supernatural grace, how could we still survive? What has kept North Korea, China, the Russians, the United States from not destroying all life?

[16] Abraham Kuyper, Common Grace: God’s Gifts for a Fallen World, Collected Works in Public Theology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press: 2016), 10. This is a practical point for much of the discussion about common grace. Mr. Kuyper is often thrown about with little analysis of the content of this statements nor an understanding of his doctrine. In a later place, Kuyper modifies this explanation and gives room for a more limited form of common grace prior to Flood. [CITATION]

[17] Abraham Kuyper, Common Grace: God’s Gifts for a Fallen World: The Historical Section, ed. Jordan J. Ballor, Melvin Flikkema, and Stephen J. Grabill, trans. Nelson D. Kloosterman and Ed M. van der Maas, vol. 1, Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press; Acton Institute, 2015), 26.

[18] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 275.

 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 293–294. Due to the difficulty of some of Calvin’s references, I have retained Battles’ footnotes:

[19] b edition of 1539

5 Catiline’s evil nature is described by Sallust, The War with Catiline iii. 5; LCL edition, pp. 8 ff. He was assailed by Cicero, and was held up to reproach, while Camillus, the noble but unrewarded patriot, was celebrated with praise by Horace, Vergil, and Juvenal. Cf. Augustine, City of God II. xvii, xxiii; III. xvii (MPL 41. 61 f., 96 f.; tr. NPNF II. 32, 37, 54).

6 Augustine, Against Julian IV. iii. 16 ff. (MPL 44. 774 ff.; tr. FC 35. 179 f.).

7 On the expressions “speciales Dei gratias” … “specialis gratiae,” cf. II. ii. 17, notes 63, 64; II. iv. 7, note 13; and above, on Camillus, in this sec. 4. Those special endowments that make possible admirable and heroic actions by nonelect persons are by Calvin referred to God’s special grace.

e edition of 1559

  1. paraphrase, designates a Scripture quotation or near-quotation, not conforming fully to any as yet ascertainable source; many of these are in oratio obliqua.

8 Plato, Cratylus 393 f. (LCL Plato VI. 38–45).

  1. paraphrase, designates a Scripture quotation or near-quotation, not conforming fully to any as yet ascertainable source; many of these are in oratio obliqua.
  2. paraphrase, designates a Scripture quotation or near-quotation, not conforming fully to any as yet ascertainable source; many of these are in oratio obliqua.



[20] “Since Scripture presents a person as a unified yet complex self, the designation ‘complex unity’ is preferred. The material (body) and immaterial (soul/spirit” function together in one person, embracing both unity and diversity.” John MacArthur, Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2017), 424.

[21] We cannot simply move from neurological observation to an understanding of the subjective conscious state. Octavio S. Choi, “What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Answer,” Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online 45, no. 3 (September 2017): 278-85. Moreover, there is the fact that as a Christian, I cannot posit that the soul is reducible to the body. Yet, Moes & Tellinghuisen, professing Christians and professors of psychology at Calvin College present evidence of the degree to which human consciousness is affected by the brain, and the need to be careful to not discount the body when understanding the human being. Paul Moes and Donald J. Tellinghuisen, Exploring Psychology and Christian Faith: An Introductory Guide (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2014), 49-61.

[22] Moes and Tellinghuisen explain that Christian psychologists rely upon a “methodological naturalism”: They are not actually deists, but they pretend to be deists when they perform experiments. Paul Moes and Donald J. Tellinghuisen, Exploring Psychology and Christian Faith: An Introductory Guide (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2014), 24.

[23] Thomas Plante, “Levels of Explanation of Approach,” in Counseling and Christianity: Five Approaches, ed. Stephen P. Greggo and Thimothy A. Sisemore (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 69.

[24] David N. Entwistle, Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity: An Introduction to Worldview Issues, Philosophical Foundations, and Models of Integration (Eugene, Or.: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004), 137.

[25] Robert C. Roberts and P.J. Watson, “A Christian Psychology View,” in Psychology and Christianity: Five Views, ed. Eric L. Johnson (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2010), 164.

[26] Thomas Plante, “Levels of Explanation of Approach,” in Counseling and Christianity: Five Approaches, ed. Stephen P. Greggo and Thimothy A. Sisemore (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 73.

[27] Robert C. Roberts and P.J. Watson, “A Christian Psychology View,” in Psychology and Christianity: Five Views, ed. Eric L. Johnson (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2010), 164.

[28] Michael Egnor, “The Representation Problem and the Immateriality of the Mind,” Evolution News (blog), February 5, 2018, accessed March 23, 2018, https://evolutionnews.org/2018/02/the-representation-problem-and-the-immateriality-of-the-mind/.

[29] “In his analysis of current state of integration, Brian Eck identified twenty-seven models of integration.” David N. Entwistle, Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity: An Introduction to Worldview Issues, Philosophical Foundations, and Models of Integration (Eugene, Or.: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004), 163.

[30] Warren Brown, “Resonance: A Model for Relating Science, Psychology, and Faith,” in Integrating Psychology and Theology: Research and Reflections, ed. Winston Gooden (Pasadena: Fuller Seminary Press, 2006), 305. And by the way, I am aware of what Mr. Brown means by the divergence. There is another fundamental flaw in this way of thinking, which I cannot address at length here. But the mistake is akin to the atheist who thinks that proof that temperature difference in two locales leads to air movement disproves God makes the wind blow (Ps. 147:18).

[31] Neil T. Anderson, Terry Zuehlke, and Julianne Zuehlke, Christ-Centered Therapy: The Practical Integration of Theology and Psychology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 2000), 47.