Nature/Grace Dualism

Dr. Lane G. Tipton, Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, addresses the Roman Catholic teaching of nature/grace dualism and a variety of its uses. Nature/grace dualism undergirds much of how the Catholic church thinks through issues of anthropology, epistemology, and even cultural engagement. Listen to this insightful interview that touches upon theological methodology, apologetics, and even generic two-kingdom theology.

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Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

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Camden Bucey

7 years ago

Film is not our typical subject matter, but I was interested to see Terrence Malick explore the dimensions of nature and grace in his recent film The Tree of Life. It’s worth watching again in light of Dr. Tipton’s comments.

Jim Cassidy

7 years ago

How about the nature/grace dualism in Cardinal Nolan’s benediction at the RNC!!!???

Jeff Waddington

7 years ago


I think you mean Timothy Cardinal Dolan. But as much as I enjoyed the RNC, and I did, I was tremendously frustrated with the prayers. Lots of references to the Holy Spirit decoupled from Jesus Christ. About the only thing going for Cardinal Dolan was he did at least reference Jesus somewhere in the middle of the prayer.

The prayers were calculated to cover a multitude of sins, such as Mormonism.

Bryan Cross

7 years ago


I wrote a reply from a Catholic perspective, to the first 30 minutes or so of this podcast. It is in comment #83 at the following link:

In the peace of Christ,

– Bryan

Cedric Parsels

7 years ago

I don’t think we should be too harsh on Roman Catholicism for its account of the Fall. We Reformed have our own problems with the Fall. Schleiermacher makes this clear in his Glaubenslehre. Specifically, why would Adam decide to sin (which itself would be sin, implying that the Fall took place before the eating of the fruit) when he was created good? Was his memory so bad or his will so weak that he couldn’t remember or obey God’s will? If his memory was good and his will was created strong, why did he sin? If his memory was not good and his will was not created strong, what does that imply? It seems we are back at theodicy. Or am I missing something?

Mark G

7 years ago

These statements seem to imply that since God created man righteous but not in a final ultimate state without possibility of sin he must somehow be implicated in evil. However, we know that God is not the author of sin and Adam’s sin was uncoerced by God. Instead Adam’s rebellion was all his own. The comments seem like something Adam fully appreciated. God, it was the woman YOU gave me. We often talk about how Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent but the fundamental claim is that it is the creator’s fault for making the creature in the first place. Can the pot say, why did you make me thus?

Mark G

7 years ago

Thanks. This addressed some things I was unclear about. I’ve seen it claimed that Kline was 2K or that those following Vos should be more open to 2K. I haven’t read the 2K literature thoroughly but I didn’t see 2K in Kline (e.g., Kingdom Prologue) myself. Now I know why; it’s not there. Kline’s common grace “world that now is is” not a kingdom in the same sense as in much (most?) of 2K.

The whole discussion was useful but I especially appreciated the last half.


7 years ago

I was a bit confused by the 2K discussion. It seemed that Tipton was arguing against a Lutheran 2K perspective rather than the R2K perspective espoused by Darryl Hart and David Van Drunen, which appears to be in line with the Kline perspective. I’m sure there are 2K’ers in the Reformed camp who hold to a Lutheran view, but is this really all there is to R2K? I got the feeling that Tipton was arguing against a strawman rather than the specific R2K position I’ve seen articulated by Hart and Van Drunen. It would’ve been helpful to associate the position against which he was arguing with specific people, and perhaps then they could be invited on to the show to respond.


7 years ago

I am a bit confused by some of what Lane said during the show.
1. When Lane says that “in traditional Reformed theology” special revelation is “necessary for a proper understanding of the world” even before the fall, that “humanity from the outset is designed by God to function in subordination to his special revelation” and that it is a “pre-fall norm,” it is not clear what the actual modal status of the view is. The view could be taken very strongly, as a necessary feature of any world God could create. For instance: Does it that mean that, in any possible world, for any statement X, in order for humans (or cognitive beings in general) to have knowledge of X, understanding of X, justified belief in X, and so on for any positive epistemic state, humans must posses special revelation (or presuppose SR? or be subordinate to SR? the actual role of SR in the view is not clear, either)? Or to put it more simply…is Lane saying God can’t create any beings with cognitive states that can function (in any way) without (in some way) SR? It would help, at least, if the view was clarified more.

2. Lane’s discussion of the Reformed view on arguments for God’s existence, contrasted with arguments in nature-grace dualist views, is also unclear at times. Yes, Van Tillian’s reject the “blockhouse” method, autonomous reason, etc. However, when Lane says that the Reformed reject (or have to reject) the possibility of having knowledge of God’s existence “based on arguments independent of SR,” he could mean a few different things. Presumably there are valid arguments for God’s existence and Lane is not denying that. If you know what validity is, that’s easy: If 1+1=2 then God exists. 1+1=2. God exists. MP is valid. And presumably, this argument is sound (at least, any theist might think as much)—the premises are also true. Lane at one point adds in that in any argument for God’s existence, SR is necessary for the argument to result in knowledge. I’m wondering, though, what “knowledge” means here. A Reformed apologist might think that some natural theistic arguments—such as versions of the cosmological argument—confer justified belief in the existence of God (or, a being with some properties the biblical God possesses), yet that for the JB to rise to knowledge requires SR. That would be consistent with Lane’s comments, yet would also entail that some arguments for the existence of a being possessing some of God’s properties (or, perhaps, simply the existence of some of those properties—one need not build a being or person, “God,” into the argument, but rest content with certain properties which one, with SR, knows are God’s properties—and given simplicity, God himself) are “strong,” in the sense that they confer some positive epistemic status to belief in God (or some properties, which happen to be possessed by God). Is Lane saying that is impossible? (Sorry for all the parentheses.)

David Morgan

7 years ago

I agree with the comment above that it would be good to have an R2K proponent on the show to respond to some of the comments made – or perhaps doing a debate between Dr Tipton and an R2K proponent (like you previously did on justification/union with Christ).

Other than that, I really enjoyed the show, as usual!

One thing that confused me was that the Roman Catholic position was presented as man being able to know that there is one God/Creator by unaided reason, and this was contrasted with special revelation (both with regards to Adam before the fall, and with regards to what RC apologists try to achieve). But isn’t general revelation different to both of these – i.e. it’s revelation given to all, but it’s not the same as unaided reason based on nature. Maybe I’ve completely missed/misunderstood something, but it seems to me that this opens the door to 2K theology, in a way that doesn’t involve any kind of nature/grace dualism. Does that make sense, or am I way off on this?


7 years ago

Thanks for this. It was very helpful.

Regarding the Roman Catholic nature/grace dualism – with respect to the Hebrew word “adam” in Hosea 6:7, I have argued that to take it as “man” would necessarily involve something like Rome’s nature/grace dualism because covenant breaking would be of the essence of human nature (including prelapsarian human nature). What do you Forumers think?

I also appreciate the careful way in which Dr. Tipton distinguished between Dr. VanDrunen’s two kingdom methodology and Kline’s common/redemptive methodology. The first time I was asked to comment on Dr. VanDrunen’s thesis, my intial reaction was that I was not sure that it was necessarily compatible with Kline (but I must admit that I am sympathetic to it in so far as it opposes theonomy and wants to protect my conscience from well-meaning Republicans and Christian-schoolers).

I am loathe to take issue with Dr. Tipton, but I am not sure that Kline would say that the kingdom of common grace is governed by special revelation. I think he would be very comfortable with something that Dr. Tipton said years ago (while working on his PhD?) – that whether Adam looked within or without, he (Adam) was confronted with the revelation of the Triune God of Scripture. But I think of his argument about covenant and canon in The Structure of Biblical Authority, that the NT canon is the document that regulates the new covenant (and people who are only members of the covenant of common grace, while called by the NT canon to leave the kingdom of darkness and enter the kingdom of God by faith in Christ, are not regulated by the NT in the same way Christians are). I also think of his response to student questions who were concerned about common grace being autonomous. Dr. Kline did not respond the same way Dr. Tipton did. Some of these questions and answers can still be heard on the WSC Pentateuch recordings that are available online.

David R.

7 years ago

Thanks very much for this, I found it to be helpful and thought-provoking, as is always the case with Dr. Tipton. I agree with above commenters that a great follow-up would be a dialogue between Dr. Tipton and Dr. VanDrunen (akin to the dialogue with Horton), dealing specifically with VanDrunen’s approach to Christian engagement in the public square.

Chris Cullnane

7 years ago

Are Dr. Strimple’s lectures on Modern Roman Catholicism still available? I believe they were $65 at the Westminster Bookstore.



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