Reviewed by Fred G. Zaspel
With the increasing attention it is receiving the doctrine of common grace seems to be coming of age in our day. It’s a delightful doctrine, reminding us that despite human sin God’s purpose to bless his creation has not been repealed. It points us to the many displays of his kindness to all humanity, even unbelievers – indeed, even through and by means of unbelievers. It calls us to see that God provides generously both for the just and the unjust. It reminds us that unbelievers also are God’s image-bearers, that however that image may be defaced it is not erased, and that we should not be surprised to see unbelievers carrying out the creation mandate in marvelous ways to the good of humanity generally. And once we’ve said that much it very quickly becomes evident that the doctrine deserves exploration and the effort to trace God’s “common” goodness in places we may not yet have noticed. This is the purpose of this little volume.
The book is a team effort, each contributor addressing some aspect of common grace. The opening chapters give the book its strength, providing the theological framework for what follows. Steve Lawson surveys the impressive array of means by which God, according to Scripture, restrains sin in humanity. And Sean Michael Lucas takes the positive side of the doctrine, surveying God’s bestowal of good and his continued care for all of humanity, including unbelievers – indeed, even through unbelievers. These two chapters are worth the price of the book.
The following chapters apply the doctrine of common grace with reference to worship (D. Marion Clark), gospel witness (John Leonard), loving our neighbors (Ruth Floyd), living in the world (David Skeel), learning from the world (Gene Edward Veith), and even taking pleasure in the world (Paul Tripp). Clark concludes with some reflections on the question of “good” people perishing in hell.
A recurring theme is the reminder that we should not hesitate to embrace and appreciate the goodness displayed and provided by God through unbelievers. Whatever their motivations and even though their hearts may not be given to the service and glory of God, there is goodness to be appreciated nonetheless – goodness from God in common grace. Unbelievers are not as evil as they could possibly be, and despite their heart of unbelief they often excel in activities that promote human flourishing. Observing all this ought to occasion praise – God’s grace is more extensive than we generally take time to notice.
Given the title – The Problem of Good – we might expect some tracking of the implications of “goodness” for apologetics. As Ryken hints in his excellent Foreword, the so-called problem of evil so often brought against Christianity is matched by the problem of good. Where does all this “good” come from? On what ground can we account for the category? What naturalistic assumptions can account for the soul and its enjoyment of spiritual pleasures? And we also might have expected a chapter addressing Christians who are sometimes puzzled by the bad things that happen to good people, and providing some re-directing of our minds to consider much bigger question of why so many good things happen to bad people. Despite the title, the book does not track these lines of thought. It does, however, as the subtitle anticipates – When the World Seems Fine Without God – direct us to see God at work in ways we might otherwise have overlooked.
We would all do well to notice the pervasive goodness and kindness of God throughout his creation, and The Problem of Good is an enjoyable guide in that pursuit. A helpful introduction to the doctrine of common grace.
You can check out our Summary of this book here.
Fred G. Zaspel
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The Problem Of Good: When The World Seems Fine Without God