So, generally speaking, I am on board with Turnau’s approach to popular culture. However, I do have some questions and concerns. I also want to raise one point that some readers may struggle with, but with which I personally don’t.
Let me begin with that. It has to do with common grace. It was Abraham Kuyper who first popularized this concept, if you can call writing a three-volume theological tour-de-force popularizing. Kuyper introduced common grace to the Reformed world in his writings, and especially in his three-volume Gemeene Gratie (Common Grace). Kuyper’s formulation of this doctrine came under intense scrutiny from later Reformed theologians such as Herman Hoeksema and Klaas Schilder. For those who share the heritage of Hoeksema or Schilder, common grace is at best regarded with suspicion, and at worst with outright rejection.
The doctrine of common grace was assimilated by Cornelius Van Til into his Reformed apologetics. Van Til argued that, through what has been termed “common grace,” unbelievers are enabled by God to do things that are true, good, and beautiful. They can do these things despite themselves and their covenant-breaking rebellion. So, in practical terms, this means that an unbeliever can produce a piece of beautiful music in some genre or other. When a Christian hears that piece of music, he can praise God for it. However, Van Til also emphasized another teaching of Kuyper: the antithesis. There is a fundamental divide between believers and unbelievers in this world. There are covenant-breakers and covenant-keepers and there is no neutral ground between them. The antithesis is a “limiting concept” on common grace. In principle, unbelievers are at war with God and unable to do anything good, true, or beautiful. We expect unbelievers to produce fruits consistent with their unbelief. But, in practice, unbelievers often surprise us. Sometimes unbelievers make better art, music, and movies than Christians do. How do we explain that? It must somehow be a result of God’s work in this world.
One of the critiques sometimes levelled at the concept of common grace has to do with the terminology. There is some merit to this criticism. The point has been raised that the Bible does not speak of God’s grace in ways that do not reference salvation. This is a point well-taken. While recognizing that God “shines in all that is good,” it would indeed be better to speak of God’s kindness or perhaps his restraining the evil in this world for the sake of the elect.
I raise this point because, since VanTil’s method is premised on an acceptance of common grace, Ted Turnau’s method in Popologetics is too. But, like Van Til, Turnau also honours the antithesis and uses it as a “limiting concept.” This is evident, for example, in the questions he proposes to ask as part of his worldview apologetics. Question 3 reflects common grace: “What is good and true and beautiful in this world?” Question 4 works with the antithesis: “What is false and ugly and perverse in this world (and how can I subvert it)?” A balanced approach is also evident when he critiques those who hear God’s voice everywhere in popular culture. We have seen the fruit of a common grace doctrine unrestrained by the antithesis in the Christian Reformed Church, where, like some of the figures mentioned in Turnau’s critique, new revelation beyond the Bible is claimed to be coming from such unlikely places as The Simpsons or U2. Turnau does not want to go in that direction and I do not think he does in Popologetics.