Wednesday, September 30, 2009

TULIP - Total Depravity

A few months ago I posted the following article over at the North East Michigan Reformation Society blog. I never got around to finishing the series (on each of the 5 doctrines), so expect more in the coming days.


Sometime ago I was invited to speak at a college-age Christian retreat. My discussion had nothing to do with Calvinism, but during one the breaks several college students invited me to participate in a ‘round-table’ discussion. They had several theological/biblical questions they wanted to discuss. As I sat down, a young lady jumped right to the point, “I hear you’re a Calvinist. How can you believe that sinners can’t choose God?” I smiled and gently said, “Where did you hear that? Calvinists do believe people choose God.” Quite intelligently, she replied, “But you don’t believe people choose God by their own ability”. “That’s right”, I said, “because without God’s intervention how can something that is evil ever choose a good God?” I continued to ask her questions: “Do you believe all people are born sinners?” Yes. “Do you believe sin makes us an enemy of God?” Yes. “Do you believe sin affects our hearts, souls, bodies, and minds? Yes. “Do you believe sin makes us unable to save ourselves? Yes. “Do you believe it makes us unwilling to be saved?” Well, not always. I think many people recognize their sinfulness and turn to God. I replied, “Therein lies your problem, you rightly recognize the reality of depravity, but not its totality.”

The spectre of Pelagius still haunts the majority of Christendom. Radical Pelagianism denies the inherent evil of mankind. It claims whatever effects sin may have had, many exist for who salvation is not necessary. Even if someone has fallen into sin, they are both able and (many times) willing to save themselves.

While orthodoxy has rightly claimed such a teaching heretical, Roman Catholicism and much of contemporary Evangelicalism has never fully moved away from this idea. All Christian groups today teach the reality of depravity—that doctrine which states that mankind is born into sin and separation from God. Our hearts are inclined to evil and at enmity with the Lord. They strongly disagree with Pelagius’ assertion that human beings are able to save themselves, but they agree with him that many are willing to be saved.

If sin has truly distorted every dimension of the human person, it must have also affected our wills (what we want) and our minds (what & how we think). In other words, we do not desire God, we do not want God, and we will not allow our minds to turn us toward God. There is no such thing as the ‘noble pagan’ who, of his own power, recognizes his sinfulness and cries out to God for assistance.
Certainly pagans do cry out to God, but it is by God’s power alone that this is possible.

Both Arminians and Calvinists recognize the reality of depravity, but only Calvinists recognize its totality.

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  1. I would say perhaps that we both recognize the theory of depravity but only Calvinists recognize the reality of it, in terms of how it impacts the unregenerate sinner.

  2. This is why Paul says, "10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. 12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” 13 “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 Destruction and misery are in their ways; 17 And the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
    The New King James Version. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Rom. 3:10-18.

    thanks for your post.

  3. Well Larry, I think I see your problem---your using an overly literalistic bible version. If you would look at the new CCV (Crystal Cathedral Version) you would clearly see that that passage says:

    "there is none who recognizes their own inherent worth, there is none who understands the necessity of self-esteem. There is none who seeks after self-confidence. All have developed a low self-image and become unprofitable. There is none who understands they are good, no not one. With their tongues they have practiced self-criticism, the pattern of negative self-talk is on their lips..."

  4. Josh
    I just posted a comment and I am not sure if it went through as the site did not respond as it normally does. If it did I guess ignore this; if not this is what I essentially posted.

    I would agree that arminians recognize the reality of depravity but would disagree with you that we do not recognize the totality of depravity. I believe the difference lies in our view of what it means to be dead. I completely agree that no man comes to the Father except he be drawn by the Spirit. I believe this happens throught the hearing of the Gospel. I do not believe that a person must first be regenerated in order to respond since I hold that regeneration happens at the moment of salvation. I agree that our will is corrupt but that once the light has been shed up our darkness that our will and/or reason can respond to this new conviction of the Holy Spirit. That now the have be confronted by God with regard to our sinfulness with respect to him that we can respond to this. The basis for this line of thought comes from Romans 6. If the christian is dead to sin and has been freed from its mastery and dominion over him how is it the he can still respond to it? Romans 6 seems to be teach that though we are dead to sin we can in fact still respond to it. In likemanner, why cannot a spiritually dead person respond to promptings of the Holy Spirit when confronting him with the reality of his sinfulnes and separation from Him?

  5. I wonder if the editors at Christianity Today also edited out the Gospel from his interview last year when he was asked similar questions.

    Maybe Zondervan edited out the clear Gospel in his books too.

    At some point Rob is going to have to take responsibility for failing to communicate the Gospel.

  6. Josh I think you meant to post your last comments in your post about the Rob Bell interview