What doth Calvin have to do with Oprah? Well, not much, but I think Oprah can provide a helpful pallate by which to apply Calvin's principles regarding Christianity and culture. In what may turn out to be a "best hits" series of publican chest posts, here's an old post where I tried to make some applications of Calvin's distinctions between common and redemptive grace. Here goes:
In 2.2.12-16 of Calvin's Institutes I believe one finds a most instructive treatise on the relationship between Christianity and culture. Calvin posits that at the fall, man (and he means the entire human race) lost all his ability to be discerning regarding spiritual matters. A fallen man is one who cannot understand correctly the things of the kingdom of God. As Calvin writes, "[man] is so banished from the Kingdom of God that all qualities belonging to the blessed life of the soul have been extinguished from him, until he recovers them through the grace of regeneration." However, Calvin also affirms that vestiges of the image of God remain in all people. This includes what Calvin calls the natural gifts, or the light of reason. This was not entirely lost at the fall, although it was polluted. As only Calvin can put it, he says, "in man's perverted and degenerate nature some sparks still gleam. These show him to be a rational being, differing from brute beasts, because he is endowed with understanding. Yet, secondly, they show this light choked with dense ignorance, so that it cannot come forth effectively."
Thus, Calvin asserted that the distinction must be made between two kinds of understanding. The distinction is this: there is one kind of understanding of earthly things; another of heavenly things. Calvin writes: "I call 'earthly things' those which do not pertain to God or his Kingdom, to true justice, or to the blessedness of the future life; but which have their significance and relationship with regard to the present life and are, in a sense, confined within its bounds. I call 'heavenly things' the pure knowledge of God, the nature of true righteousness, and the mysteries of the Heavenly Kingdom. The first class includes government, household management, all mechanical skills, and the liberal arts. In the second are the knowledge of God and of his will, and the rule by which we conform our lives to it" (italics are mine).
At the end of the day, Calvin is saying that both Christians and non-Christians live in the world together and both live under the common curse, but both also live under common grace. Non-believers can be gifted greatly and manifest extraordinary skill in cultural endeavors that benefit all mankind, believer and non-believer alike. This is a gift of God's common grace. I praise God that a non-believing surgeon was able to spare my life and take my appendix out. He was gifted by God in common grace and he uses his skill for the common good and the noble cultural enterprise of medicine.
Yet for all this common good, Calvin is quick to note that when it comes to spiritual matters, the unregenerate are "blind as moles!" Yet we must not let this fact cause us to ignore their earthly knowledge. Calvin waxes about these spiritually blind moles saying, "let that admirable light of truth shining in them teach us that the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God's excellent gifts. If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God" (italics mine). I believe that a proper understanding of common grace should be very liberating for Christians. It is ok to learn from and genuinely desire to gain insight into earthly matters from non-Christians. I just had this experience while back in Nebraska over the Christmas break.
I had certain questions about living expenses in Omaha. Some of the most helpful, instructive information was garnered from two non-Christian friends of mine about the housing market, energy bills, groceries, etc. Their current unbelief in Christ doesn't mean they are not wise in other matters. I heartily amen Calvin when he states, "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 [to us] in these arts, we ought suffer just punishment for our sloths."
Which brings me to Oprah. As some of you may know (or those willing to admit they watch Oprah may know), Oprah is having her "best life" series all this week on her television program. Yesterday, she had on Dr. Laura Berman to talk about the issue of sex. The topic was how to have a revived and/or healthier sex life.
I believe Dr. Berman, under common grace, had some wise advice. No she didn't mention the bible once. And no, she didn't discuss any of the biblical principles regarding sex. And no she wasn't concerned about glorifying God in sex. But was her presentation entirely void of truth? I don't think so. In so far as much as sexual issues apply to all people, she had wisdom. After all, it’s not just Christians that have sex. So although Christians may have a different end in mind with their sex life (the glory of God) and though we may have a different starting point regarding our view on sex, when it comes to the means, I think there can be commonality here. Unbelievers, at some level, want to have healthy sex lives even though they may not have the same end in mind as we do. But when it comes to some of the nuts and bolts of our sexuality, unbelievers take their socks off just like believers do. In keeping with Calvin's principles mentioned above, I think Christians then may be free to garner wisdom about something like sex from a doctor on Oprah, in so far as much as they remain in accordance with biblical principles.
So was everything she said helpful? No. I think she did present some stuff that would not be wise for a Christian to do in their sex life. Was it all bad. Well, no. I think she offered some helpful tips regarding making sex a priority, how to communicate better about sex in your marriage, and yes, even how to keep it interesting. Again, I am not saying one should throw out Christian principles. I think the light of supernatural revelation as contained in the 66 canonical scriptures should always be used to evaluate human wisdom's. Yet, insofar as human wisdom is not in contradiction with scriptural principles, as Calvin says, we would be dishonoring to God if we did not seek to gleen what we can from those teachings in the world. Although we didn't get to see the whole series, I am sure there were helpful tips on finances, eating habits, etc.
One other observation is that it was helpful to see this stuff on Oprah and not being preached from Joel Osteen's best life pulpit. As I affirm with Calvin when it comes to spiritual matters, the ungodly are completely blind. When it comes to things of God and salvation, Oprah is a moron. There is no wisdom there. All is veiled to the stone heart regarding heavenly things. This is knowledge only revealed by God through his special grace shown to those who believe in him. This is knowledge that the church speaks on and must boldly proclaim.
Oh how I need to hear gospel sermon's. I need to know how a wretched worm like myself is justified before a holy God. I need to know about the law and the gospel. I need my faith to increase by the due use of means, the sacraments. And you can be darn sure, I won't tune into Oprah to find about that.