Now and then a commenter asks why I post music videos that are not devoted to God.  Most inquiries are courteous.  A few are not.  In any case, here is my answer.

I  believe in common grace.  John Calvin taught me that it is God who lavishes giftedness on his human race.  We may therefore enjoy it wherever we encounter it, with gratitude to God (Institutes 2.2.15).

That gives me three categories of music — since music is what we’re talking about here.  First, music devoted to God.  Hopefully, this is great music everyone will fall in love with.  Second, music opposing God.  Hopefully, this will be rotten music people cannot stand.  Third, music neither devoted to God nor opposing God.  If it happens to be good music, by God’s common grace, I for one will enjoy it.  Good music does not have to be devoted to God for me to be okay with it — though if it were devoted to God I’d be thrilled.

One thing I love about the gospel is its promises about heaven.  In eternity, God will not delete all the culture-creating we’ve done throughout human history; he will redeem it.  The Bible says that, in the New Jerusalem above, “the kings of the earth will bring their glory into [the holy city]. . . . They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.  But nothing unclean will ever enter it” (Revelation 21:24-27).

The glory and honor of human cultures — the music, the clothing, the literature, the dance, the languages, the customs, the humor, the traditions, and so forth — it will be cleansed and brought in.  So Eric Clapton’s blues guitar, for example, is a preview of coming attractions.  The blues will be brought into heaven.  But there it will be even better.  It will be perfect.  I only hope and pray Eric himself will be there too.

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28 thoughts on “Do you believe in common grace?”

  1. Rick White says:

    Thanks, Ray! Timely thoughts for my reflections on eternity or “things above”.

  2. MarkO says:

    amen and aaaaaaaaaahmen!

  3. Mickey says:

    Great article, man!

    I’d hate to see the comment section devolve into a discussion about the status of one man’s soul, but last I heard, Eric Clapton had made a confession of faith. I’ve never met him, I don’t know where he stands, I cannot make a judgment based on the very few statements he’s made concerning Christ.

    But I do pray for him from time to time (is it a selfish prayer that I’d like to have the greatest six-stringer of the species help to pitch a wang-dang-doodle in eternity?)

    1. Ryan M says:

      I love you Mickey! :)

  4. Chris L. says:

    Thanks Ray.
    The part on God will bring our culture in and redeem it I believe to be truth, but never thought of it that way.

    Time to plug in some country music. (Real country, Kenny Rogers, Strait)

    Thou I personally do not care if I do not hear the twang in the new earth with my Lord, what matters most is that I can worship my Lord.

    In the meantime I enjoy God’s grace to the culture and embrace it as a gift for today.

  5. Thanks for this wisdom, Ray. This also applies to any form of creativity that reflects God’s beauties and/or truths, even if the creator (sub-creator, really) doesn’t know it: novels, movies, paintings, buildings, family structure, organizations, governments.

    I might add a friendly quick quibble to one word in this ‘graph, though I’m so grateful that you’re repeating these promises!

    “One thing I love about the gospel is its promises about heaven. In eternity, God will not delete all the culture-creating we’ve done throughout human history; he will redeem it. The Bible says that, in the New Jerusalem above […]”

    My quick quibble is with the word “above.” After all, earlier in Rev. 21, versus 2 through 3, the New Jerusalem has just *descended*, to the redeemed and physical New Earth! On that New Earth, now combined with the New Heavens, people will live for eternity, and kings and others will find their culture redeemed forever, for the glory of the one true King.

  6. Bill says:

    I recently used the phrase “common grace” in a Facebook comment and was nearly hanged by other commenters. Somehow they thought I was talking about universalism or something. To be fair, I was challenging something in the post that might make very conservative theologians wonder what I meant, but I was using the term the way they, and I, and anyone who has spent years in the reformed tradition would – God makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. Right?

    1. Bill, I’m still curious about why the truth of common grace is not specifically acknowledged in “Reformed” circles. Any discussion of media discernment, or holiness, or unregenerate man, must still include the equally Biblical truth that even unsaved man reflects God’s image and can have good parenting (Matt. 7:11) and good government (Romans 13). Yet even when the doctrine is acknowledged on paper, folks aren’t consistent with it — they revert to “the world is entirely, intrinsically evil” modes of cultural engagement.

      1. Bill says:

        I haven’t followed the debate enough to understand – frankly, the discussion on Facebook surprised me because I learned common grace as part of my reformed theology training – BUT I might guess that the phrase is avoided now because of recent discussions about universalism – ala, Rob Bell, etc.

      2. Mark B. Hanson says:

        Not quite sure what Reformed circles you travel in, but I hear much about both common grace and common wrath in my PCA church.

        Just as the unbelieving folks share in the grace that God sheds abroad in this world (sun and rain, beauty, love, etc.), so the church to some degree shares in the wrath that is due for the sins of the unbelieving world (floods, disease, etc.)

        Too many Christians who want to recognize common grace as a way to communicate with those who don’t believe end up flattening the difference between belief and unbelief (hence the tendency toward universalism). And at the same time they de-emphasize the coming (i.e. present and growing) wrath against sin that God promises, leaving our message “good news” without the backdrop of bad news that Jesus is so clear about.

        By the way, the blues are often an expression of the writer’s response to common wrath. That’s why they can resonate with both believers and unbelievers alike.

  7. scott price says:

    Interesting speculation about the Blues being played in heaven. Just wondered who will actually be interested in the “Blues” when no one will have any. If it’s all “just” psalms, hymns and spiritual songs will that upset anyone?

    1. Mickey says:

      The Blues aren’t about feeling bad. They’re about not feeling bad anymore. They’re a shout of triumph and victory! Many psalms and hymns chronicle the exact same process.

    2. Niles says:

      A penatonic scale is a mathmatic equation on some level. So, it’ll be there, thankfully! The content might change a little, see blues standard, Five Long Years. But those five notes, yeah, they’ll be around. :)

  8. Dean P says:

    E. Stephen I think the reason for why so many Reformed people are still unfamiliar with common grace is because of the vast hold and influence that Arminian pre-milinial dispensational duelistic fundamentalism still has on most of evangelicalism today. I go to a good Neo-Calvanist Church and I went to a Kuyperian based seminary, so I sometimes forget how entrenched in these theological tendencies most evangelicals are. My hope is that it is changing.

  9. Paul W says:

    I do like some common grace-infused music, especially the blues, but I find that in the end, it lacks, well, soul (the regenerated kind). I find that it distracts me from God, rather than drawing me into worship and thoughts of God. Not that it’s necessarily bad, just not particularly helpful. Thanks for the refresher on common grace.

  10. Brandon E says:

    Not that I have anything against blues music, but does common grace really mean that “redeemed and perfected” blues music will be a “coming attraction” in the new heavens and new earth? What about golf, video games, abstract impressionism, the tango, computers and iPods, Ken Burns-style documentaries, capitalism, Gothic-style architecture, book clubs, or food cultures that depend upon meat? Should we be disappointed if it turns out that they aren’t?

    Or, if marriage is good and yet the Lord Jesus taught it won’t be part of the new creation after the resurrection (Matt. 22:23-30; Mark. 12:18-25), why is blues music or any other human invention or institution a hope or probability?

  11. Dean P says:


    You have some interesting points. I think one of the things I get from what pastor Ortland’s post as well as the examples that you sighted is the idea that the physical creation is still good at it’s core even though at the same time it is touched by the fall. The same goes for why what a poster above posted about how our eternity is going to be here on earth but a renewed and recreated physical place. Common grace from my angle is just a reminder of the goodness of physical creation and I think blues music and Ken Burns documentaries are just concepts that help us remember that physical creation is still ultimately at it’s core good.

  12. Lori says:

    I never get tired of hearing how God will redeem everything for his glory for eternity! It is a message of anticipation, hope and it should fuel our desire to be a part of culture making as opposed to separating from “bad” culture and holding on with eyes shut tight, clenched hands and white knuckles.

    “The glory and honor of human cultures — the music, the clothing, the literature, the dance, the languages, the customs, the humor, the traditions, and so forth — it will be cleansed and brought in.”
    So exciting to think about! Thanks for the reminder!

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Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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