Call Me Totally Depraved, But …

… I think I am unfit to be either a Calvinist or an Arminian.

That’s right; they actually agree on one of their respective five points — total depravity — and as far as i understand it, I disagree with it.

Here’s the way that Wikipedia phrases the first of Calvin’s five points:

Total depravity“: This doctrine, also called “total inability”, asserts that as a consequence of the fall of man into sin, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin. People are not by nature inclined to love God with their whole heart, mind, or strength, but rather all are inclined to serve their own interests over those of their neighbor and to reject the rule of God. Thus, all people by their own faculties are morally unable to choose to follow God and be saved because they are unwilling to do so out of the necessity of their own natures. (The term “total” in this context refers to sin affecting every part of a person, not that every person is as evil as possible.)[10] This doctrine is borrowed from Augustine who was a member of a Manichaean sect in his youth.

And how the third article of the Arminian Remonstrances reads:

That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do anything that is truly good (such as having faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the word of Christ, John xv. 5: “Without me ye can do nothing.”

Now, the fact is, I agree that no one is capable of being saved by his or her own effort, or without the blood of Christ. I agree that faith is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8 ), but I do not find anything in scripture that says this gift is given exclusively to those who have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • Faith may come by hearing (Romans 10:17) — it certainly does for many, many believers — but scripture nowhere says that it comes solely by hearing. You have to add the word “only” to get that meaning.
  • There may indeed be no one who is sinless before God (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Psalm 143:2; Romans 3) … but not one of those passages (or any other) adds, “and therefore they are all automatically damned.”
  • Nor does any of them say that a man is incapable of anything truly good. In fact, a good number of Old Testament heroes are spoken of as righteous or fully devoted to God in spite of their sins (Noah, Genesis 6:9; 7:1 … Abraham, Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3, 9; Galatians 3:6; James 2:21, James 2:23 … Daniel and Job, Ezekiel 14:14, 20 … King David, 1 Kings 15:3). And as far as we can tell, none of them ever heard the gospel of Jesus Christ in this life. People can imagine, think and do good … even if the rest of Noah’s generation thought only evil all the time (Genesis 6:5). Noah did, unless somehow you can explain to me how Noah was righteous even though he was also a person whose heart’s inclinations were only evil all the time.
  • In addition, when God created man, He pronounced man along with all His creation, not just “good,” but “very good.” (Genesis 1:26-31).
  • This is where I disagree with Calvin’s Reformed thought even further; man (through Adam and Eve) chose not to be good one time; God gave them the choice of two trees in the garden, and one was promoted by the serpent to be more attractive though forbidden on pain of death itself. One of God’s greatest gifts to us is choice, and our choices matter to Him, and they have consequences. We have chosen ever since not to be perfect, but that does not mean that we have chosen not to be good. It only takes one time choosing self to bring sin into our lives and render us imperfect. But that does not mean that God sees us as unrighteous and consigns us to the fires of hell upon the commission of the first sin; through Christ’s blood He justifies the ungodly. He judges fairly — and I believe that would have to mean, individually, rather than as part of a class of people (“sinners”) that He can condemn because it will save Him a great deal of time and effort.
  • This is where I diverge from Arminius’s Remonstrances even further because the fourth article reads:

That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of any good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without that prevenient or assisting; awakening, following, and co-operative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements that can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But, as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, inasmuch as it is written concerning many that they have resisted the Holy Ghost,—Acts vii, and elsewhere in many places.

So — if I understand it correctly — this article of doctrine says that only God can sponsor anything good; all good actions come from God as well as all good things and good can only be ascribed to Him. Where does scripture say that? I’ll agree that His grace is not irresistible (one of the points of Calvinism says it is), but where does God’s word tell us that no man is capable of any good at all, of himself? Wouldn’t that be a requirement of free will and choice; the ability to choose within oneself between genuine good and inarguable evil? Don’t we even call it “making a good choice” or “making a bad choice”? Isn’t the purpose of giving people a choice finding out what they will choose?

Let’s face it: all the talk of “total depravity” is just a redefinition of another doctrine of men: Original Sin. It is so tenuously based in scripture that believers in Christ can’t begin to come to a consensus on what it is, what it means, or how it applies to mankind. It seems clear to me in Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22 that the acts of Adam and Eve introduced sin (and therefore death) into the world. Since Augustine, we’ve read the word “eternal” before “condemnation” into the Romans passage, where Paul is talking about the condemnation of a death sentence — where there was none before Adam and Eve! His point is that the first man brought sin into the world; Jesus took it away. Adam is no more responsible for my sins than I am for his or my great-great-uncle’s or my yet-unborn grandchildren’s (if any — Jeremiah 31:29-31) .

I’ll admit I don’t understand everything about Calvinism and Arminianism. To my view, they lead to extremes: one to excluding man entirely from the salvation process; the other, to virtually excluding God’s sovereignty in favor of free will. I don’t understand all of the arguments that are used to explain away all these doctrines’ inconsistencies with scripture. I don’t get all of the points that new Reformed voices make to ameliorate the extremes of their classic position (does that mean they are reformed Reformed?).

I do understand that these doctrines are two systematized approaches to theology (study of God’s nature), soteriology (study of salvation) and probably lots of other religious stuff, and they are systems created by men.

And I believe I understand what Jesus says about nullifying the word of God by human tradition and invalidating worship by teaching human rules (Matthew 15:1-13; Mark 7:1-13). God doesn’t have to fit in our rulebooks, no matter how cleverly we deduce them or how cogently we argue them or how persuasively we phrase them.

Anything I need to understand about the relationship between God and us — what He wants for us; what He has provided for us — I can see pretty clearly in the life and actions and teachings and sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His Son.

He didn’t pronounce anyone totally depraved; completely unreachable by God due to their slightest sin. Instead, He seemed to go out of His way to find good in the people that His countrymen expected the least good from, like a Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13) and a Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28). He challenged people with His own perfection (Matthew 5:20, 5:48; John 5:14; John 8:1-11). He was a perfect (mature, complete) example; I believe that He feels we deserve that as much as God’s perfection required it in order for Jesus to be our sacrifice … and that we deserve a challenge of perfection, even if it’s impossible for us to achieve ourselves. But I don’t ever hear Him saying or implying that it’s impossible for us to be good, or to do good, or to have faith in what’s good which can be counted as righteousness.

I think this point of Calvinist/Arminian agreement — total depravity — is pervasive in Restoration Movement thought, too. It supports our view that God cannot and/or will not save anyone who has not heard the gospel, believed, repented, confessed, been baptized, and kept all of our man-made rules, too.

Some of our man-made rules and interpretations give Old Testament heroes the benefit of the doubt, even though none of them ever heard the gospel of Christ in order to believe in it, repent, confess His Sonship or be baptized into a fellowship where we in churches of Christ could explain [sarcasm alert] the salvific importance of a cappella worship. We also excuse babies and small children and usually folks who are mentally challenged from the requirement to obey, though scripture says no such specific thing about their acceptance or rejection by God. So, we Restoration folks kind of believe in total depravity, too … but we also believe in the exceptions we wish to make in it.

Can we even look at these issues from outside our own doctrinal boxes and see what scripture says and doesn’t say?

Those who are saved eternally, are saved by Jesus’ blood and the Lord’s judgment — which is His choice. Those who have heard the gospel and have chosen to accept it and have been immersed into a Christ-like life are recipients of a promise of salvation (Romans 10:9), which they are free to continue accepting or can walk away from it and from Him forever (Hebrews 6:4-6 — now that’s depravity!). Those who have not heard the gospel cannot possibly be expected to obey its implications (Romans 10:14). But you know there are good people who have lived as if they had — including patriarchs who lived before God made clear in His law what kind of good He wanted for His people! Those who haven’t heard, yet live obedient lives, perceive and believe in the necessity of good over evil, repent of and repudiate acts that gratify self at the expense of others … they are a law for themselves (Romans 2:14). We will all be judged by what we have done (Matthew 25:31-46), because what we do testifies to what we believe (James 2).

That’s what I read scripture saying. Not five points decided upon by a Reformation synod or five minimal acts of obedience deduced by the founders of a Restoration movement.

And I can’t find anywhere that scripture says those who have not received the promise are automatically excluded from the gift of salvation through the grace of God in Christ because of their total depravity, or anything else.

So it would appear that I am not fit for Calvinism; I’m not fit for Arminianism.

I do find a fit for myself (and everyone else, excluding no one on the chance circumstance of having heard the gospel) between God’s sovereignty and our own free will to choose and within a human nature that is touched by sin, struggles with sin, yet — along with a lot of other people (some of whom have heard of God’s grace and some of whom have not) — yearning for what is good and right in the world, fully capable of imagining what that looks like and often willing to help make that happen.

Advertisements

43 thoughts on “Call Me Totally Depraved, But …

  1. “Why do you call me good? There is one that is good.”

    “But Noah found grace in the eyes of God.”

    “Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father…”

    Total depravity doesn’t mean that people are “totally unreachable by God.” It means that they’re ONLY reachable by God – that in order for them to be saved from their sins and enter into eternal life, He must act. My understanding of total depravity goes along with what Paul writes in Eph 2, that before the gospel, his readers were “by nature children of wrath.” He doesn’t say, “You know, some of you folks were alright, but some of you were children of wrath.” He says, “You all (2nd person plural) were by nature children of wrath.”

    I don’t know that I disagree with you – I’m just leaning back a little to try and work out what I actually think. I fit closer into Open Theism than I do any other systematic theology I’ve encountered.

    Anything I need to understand about the relationship between God and us — what He wants for us; what He has provided for us — I can see pretty clearly in the life and actions and teachings and sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His Son.

    Then why all the references to the Hebrew Scriptures?? You seem to refer to them a lot in this post, for someone who says they’re unnecessary to understanding the relationship between God and man.

    And I believe I understand what Jesus says about nullifying the word of God by human tradition and invalidating worship by teaching human rules (Matthew 15:1-13; Mark 7:1-13).

    I believe I have a few good ideas about what Jesus meant. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I understand it.

    I think you choose not to remember that the patriarchs became “the patriarchs” precisely because God told them exactly what he wanted them to do. By grace, He spoke to them and by faith, they responded.

    I wish I knew where you see all these people living self-sacrificial lives all over the place. Because that’s not the world I see – I see a desperately broken world whose only hope is in Jesus Christ. I see total depravity as a description of what IS, not necessarily a prediction of what CAN BE.

  2. Actually, I see Hebrews as a gospel of Jesus Christ, too … just zoomed out from the biography level to the historic level, Nick.

    I don’t deny that all have been touched and tainted by sin; what I argue against is that sin is some kind of monolithic structure that Adam built and under which we are all eternally squished. Sin is a choice; it is an individual choice; we all build our little sin houses and live in them. But some of them are dollhouses that their owners play with while living in a greater world of giving and loving … and some are mansions of self, closing out the world and shooting anyone who gets too close to the gate.

    My point about the patriarchs is that God often chose them because of their righteousness … that they did hear and obey God after He chose them … that they sometimes disobeyed after that … and that God still considered them righteous for acting on their faith. Are we absolutely certain He cannot or does not do that today among people who haven’t heard the gospel? That monolithic sin of Adam and everyone else just crushes them? That they are doomed and never had a chance and God is alright with that and we should be, too?

    Nick, I work at a church now and I see fewer people that are outside of faith in Christ. I used to work at a university, a few newspapers and ad agencies and I encountered many people of good and kind natures — generous to the poor, living and self-sacrificial to others — who often put me to shame as a so-called believer in Christ. A handful were of different faiths entirely than Christianity, and quite a few more had no faith affiliation whatsoever.

    I’m not saying that such people are in the majority — or even in sufficient numbers to help keep the world from going south in a handbasket — but they exist. And I can’t tell you that I believe God’s judgment on them will be a class-action lawsuit against them because of monolithic sin.

    They are like children who never outgrow their innocence, though I don’t know of any perfect children either (save One).

    Don’t give in to cynicism because of some of what you see, would be my advice. If there is virtue or praise, focus on it instead.

    It’s just possible that unchurched good people could be the next generation of Gentiles whose behavior and faith in unpreached good will be used by God to shame those of us who thought we knew and believed it all, and were therefore God’s chosen people whether we lived our faith or not.

    He can work His will through whomever He chooses and who chooses good.

    • I didn’t mean the Epistle to the Hebrews… I meant the Hebrew Scriptures, where we learn of the patriarchs.

      I reject the assertion that sin is just bad choices. That’s not what Moses describes in Genesis (bad choices don’t crouch at the door, desiring to have you)… or what Paul describes in Romans – he speaks of something that can enslave – something that, while definitely subpersonal, is active and powerful.

      No, sin has power, from which humanity needs to be rescued.

      But I don’t believe that God’s ability to have mercy upon whom He will have mercy is limited by the truth that we’re all poisoned by the world we’re born into.Total depravity means – I think – that at judgment, no one will be found Not Guilty. TD doesn’t limit God’s grace.

      Mostly, though – in my experience, TD is about what I see in the mirror. It’s about the person I was before I came to Christ.

      Maybe there are those who only need a bit of touching up. Pre-Christian Cornelius is a much better human being than I ever thought about being before I surrendered. Why was it so important for Cornelius to hear from Peter?

      • When sin is anthropomorphised (real word?) and described as crouching at the door, doesn’t it become God’s euphemism for Satan himself? Genesis isn’t shy about talking about the accuser, but it is shy about naming him.

        Sin does have power… bad choices do; they have an attraction of satisfying self — often at someone else’s expense — and consequences for more than the one who makes and commits them. That doesn’t prove monolithic sin.

        And I’d have to say that it was at least as important for Peter to approach the good Gentile Cornelius with the gospel as it was for Cornelius to hear it and have his faith completed. We don’t have a record of anyone sent to the centurion at the cross who confessed to the limit of his understanding, or to the one whose servant was healed … assuming that no one was sent to them, do we trust God to still judge them righteously, with mercy as well as justice?

        I’ve expressed this before, but I believe that our assumption of total depravity just makes us sound like total jerks to people who haven’t heard the gospel yet have tried to live good lives — especially when we lead with it, rather than the Story of Jesus Christ. I’m not persuaded it is a valid doctrine, or that God burdens us with making that kind of judgment.

        Surely we are in a better disposition to share the gospel when awed by God telling us, “Do not call unclean what I have called clean.”

      • Oh, and my comment about knowing the relationship of God and man goes to the sufficiency of Christ in revealing it, not the completeness at the exclusion of other (Hebrew) scriptures. What I see in His approach to people not generally accepted by His fellow Jews does not seem consistent with condemnation by reason of universal sin.

        He saw and pointed out the best in them; recognized it as a great foundation upon which to build faith. It was to the religious leaders who could not accept the concept of grace that He expressed a low opinion, probably based on a higher expectation.

    • NO ONE is clean by their own goodness, Nick, and I don’t believe either of us has said that.

      The question is whether God limits Himself to granting the grace given through the blood of Christ ONLY to those who have heard if it, know of it, and have accepted it, or whether He has permitted Himself the sovereignty to grant that grace to whom He wills — whether they have heard or not. If He only saves those who hear and accept, is He not imputing some universal curse of sin on all who have sinned irrespective of their faith in what is good and their attempt to live in accord with that faith (though those who have not heard do not know His name)?

      Let’s go with the assumption of monolithic sin for a moment.

      If He has sovereignty to impute a curse of sin, does He not have sovereignty to impute grace where He wills? Which is more consistent with His merciful and just nature?

      More importantly, what does scripture say?

      Yes, everyone has sinned. Yes, everyone is under the curse of sin, which is death. Does scripture say everyone is under the curse of “eternal death” or “damnation in hell” because there is sin in the world and it has doomed everyone?

      If so, then someone would be justified in using Paul’s “human” argument, “Let’s sin more so grace can abound!” Sin is a matter of personal responsibility. People who repudiate wrong repent of it, whether or not they know it is sin, know of Christ’s blood, or know of grace that erases it.

      • The question is whether God limits Himself to granting the grace given through the blood of Christ ONLY to tjose who have heard if it, know of it, and have accepted it, or whether He has permitted Himself the sovereignty to grant that grace to whom He wills — whether they have heard or not.

        I thought the question was whether TD or Original Sin presents a valid description of humanity as it stands in rebellion against God?

        People who repudiate wrong repent of it, whether or not they know it is sin, know of Christ’s blood, or know of grace that erases it.

        The condemnation that opens and closes the book of Judges is the idea that “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” What has changed, from then to now, to make that a good thing rather than an evil one? Are some to be rewarded for it now?

      • I thought the question was whether TD or Original Sin presents a valid description of humanity as it stands in rebellion against God?

        It is indeed the overarching issue of this post, but the question of God’s sovereignty in dispensing forgiveness was the one one you introduced, Nick, by interpreting me as saying that people are clean by their own actions.

        The condemnation that opens and closes the book of Judges is the idea that “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” What has changed, from then to now, to make that a good thing rather than an evil one? Are some to be rewarded for it now?

        Now you’re dragging in another subject entirely (again!); when I’ve spoken of what is right above, I’m still talking about what is right in God’s eyes (as with the patriarchs).

        I’m glad you understand the distinction I’m trying to make in being punished for individual sin or being punished for group sin, which is what I read “total depravity” as describing; a complete inability on the part of any person to imagine or do good, or for God to see any person as goid and righteous. I’m glad you haven’t jumped straight to the conclusion and accusation that I am promoting universalism. (One of my favorite commentors here doubtless would since he has before.)

        Let me just say I still struggle with this, and I appreciate the dialog (though I’m running out of time for it for right now).

        At present — and to the point that I understand them — the two articles of Remonstrance and the point of Reformed thought describing total depravity do not provide an accurate, complete or satisfactory reflection of scriptural doctrine regarding the relationship of God and man … for the reasons cited above. That, along with the extremism to which these otherwise divergent systems of thought lead, cause me to doubt even the need for a systemic lens to focus on scripture’s meaning … there is too much potential for them to block out or distort scripture.

  3. What I see in His approach to people not generally accepted by His fellow Jews does not seem consistent with condemnation by reason of universal sin.

    What was it that made them sick, if not sin?

    You’re also talking about completely different cultures – the people Jesus taught already knew they were sinners – they had been taught that there was no hope for them ever escaping God’s judgment. To them, Jesus came preaching the gospel that all may come to God, and acted out that gospel by fellowship with those whom religious society had labeled as hopeless. Even the Pharisees knew that they were sinners! They arrogantly misunderstood the nature of God’s grace – but they knew that they sinned. Why else would they need to continue praying for forgiveness, participating in the atoning sacrifices and the ritual cleansings, except that they too sinned?

    1st century Jewish culture understood the concept of sin. The culture we’re talking about reaching with the gospel has, by and large, rejected the concept of sin.

    • Finally — some time at the end of the day to address this thought!

      I am all for calling sin “sin,” (Jesus does!) but I come short of saying that it rules the life of everyone unless they have heard of and accepted Christ. We may well be incapable of resisting temptation, but we are capable of imagining and doing good.

      It’s the specifics of the description of “total depravity” and “original sin” that I question.

      After pestering and testing the Canaanite woman with a sick daughter about not being Jewish, Jesus seems to delight in hearing her persistent faith because she has reasoned it out for herself that He is her only hope. She has a well-thought-out response, “Even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”

      When encountering the humble centurion whose servant was sick, Jesus seems delighted again that he has reasoned out for himself that Jesus has the authority from God to heal from wherever He is, even outside the house.

      Can we be so sure — even from just these two examples — that people are incapable of thinking or doing good?

      We know nothing of Melchizedek beyond scripture, yet this priest of Salem (and what religion, if any?) showed hospitality and Abraham honored him. He showed hospitality. He did something that Moses’ law would later require, something very good.

      And we could go on and on.

      I’m not sure, Nick, what to make of your question “What was it that made them sick, if not sin?” People can become sick as a consequence of sinning — STDs and AIDs come to mind — but do not become sick exclusively from sinning. I agree we live in a fallen world as a result of Adam’s sin, and that the curse of illness, many other oppressions and death itself falls upon us.

      But Jesus clearly implies that not all illness, injury and disability results from the sin of the person affected, or of his parents (John 9), but at least in this particular case a man was born blind in order for the works of God to be displayed in him.

      • The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

        I don’t understand why you took my question so hyperliterally, but it is beneath you to accuse me of believing that illness is directly linked to sin.

        Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,

        “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

        If Genesis calls someone other than YHWH “God Most High,” this is the only instance of it.

        Finally, you’re leaving out a key point of each one of your Gospel examples – the very reasoning you describe is prompted, not merely by their ability to imagine goodness, but by their encounter with the Incarnate God. They didn’t figure this stuff out BEFOREHAND or APART from Him. They figured it out as He revealed Himself to them.

        He is the Kingdom – and the poor in spirit will rejoice when the Kingdom of Heaven comes to them.

      • I meant no accusation; I genuinely did not understand the question and and was trying to respond to it to the best of my ability. The citation makes it clear.

        I fully recognize the phrase “priest of God Most High,” but scripture still doesn’t disclose whether any particular kind of religion, if any, is connected with that title. The point is simply that He did good. We don’t know if he encountered God or not.

        If we are incapable of imagining good, why does the Hebrews writer (7:4) ask us to think how great Melchizedek was?

        And while the New Testament examples I cited do indeed chronicle those folks’ encounter with the incarnate God, they don’t document causation of their reasoning. Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, Hebrews 11:19 tells us. It doesn’t say that God revealed it to him; it could have, but doesn’t.

        If it is impossible for us to judge for ourselves what is right, why does Jesus instruct us to do so in conflict situations like those described in Luke 12:57?

        Or Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:15 regarding the purpose of the Lord’s Supper, spoken to “reasonable people”?

        If we cannot conceive of things good, noble, true, lovely, right and praiseworthy, why does he urge us to think about these things? (Philippians 4:8)

        Is communicating a doctrine of total depravity what Christ has in mind in John 15:5? Or an urging for His followers to continue following in order to receive the assistance from His Holy Spirit that He has just promised? Especially after one has just left to betray Him?

        If it is impossible for us to do good, why are we urged to do good? (Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 2:10; 1Timothy 6:18; Hebrews 13:16, etc.)

        If God is thinking and doing it through us and we have little or nothing to do with it, why doesn’t scripture say, “Let God think and do good through you”?

        Why would it say anything at all about us letting Him if it’s all Him anyway?

        If we have nothing to do with conceiving of or choosing good, of what value are we to God beyond tools? What purpose does choice serve for people who don’t know of God if they can’t perceive His nature through what He has created? Romans 1:18-20 says they can, but some choose to suppress the truth.

        If people cannot discern right from wrong apart from God, then how could there be Gentiles who are a law unto themselves?

  4. Sin separates us from God, Is 59. All men sin and fall short of the glory of God, God desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. Knowledge of truth, there is something man must learn and obey. Those who never come to this truth will not be saved. kb, you continue to speculate about those who do good, in who’s eyes, mans? This is nothing more than humanist thought, placing man’s wisdom above God’s. Maybe they can construct a monument with the inscription “to the unknown God”. “without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God”. I’ve said before hell will be full of good moral people, heaven will have ex-murderers, ex-adulterers, etc, why because their faith led them to repent and confess and to submit to have their sins washed away. Thats the power of Christ’s blood. Jesus said, “NO ONE can come to the father except through me.” What restoration snod? We need to know that the Lord’s church was not established in the 1800’s. It was established around 30 A.D. in Jerusalem. The book of Acts records this for us. We also need to understand what the “restoration” was. It was a call to return to first century christianity by denominational men. A noble call indeed. The five acts, you refer to were not works devised by man, they were God ordained and taught very clearly and recorded percisely by the inspired writers. Those talked about in Hebrews 11, the hero’s of faith, were found righteous before God because they believed God and were obedient. The faith system they lived under (the old law) had different requirements than our system, the new covenant. We too must believe and be obedient. You mentioned Cornelius, it is said that he was a devout, religious man, but yet he needed Christ in order to be in a saved condition. I would say the saved are good because they are saved, the good will be lost because they were never saved. I would also say, that those in Hebrews 11, all would have been lost, had Christ not shed His blood for them. Christ’s blood ran backward as well as forward. If all one has to do is be a good, honest, moral person in order to be saved, Christ died in vain, and the new testament scriptures a lie. Jesus said “I am the way”, way for what? the way to eternal life. Man is not TD, he can change if he wants too, just ask Saul/Paul.

  5. Yup, I still continue to speculate about the difference between what scripture says and what man says, Jeff.

    That, quite possibly, is the story of my life.

    And I’m just growing wildly popular and insanely wealthy as a result.

    Thanks for dropping by, Jeff.

  6. I fully recognize the phrase “priest of God Most High,” but scripture still doesn’t disclose whether any particular kind of religion, if any, is connected with that title. The point is simply that He did good. We don’t know if he encountered God or not.

    I’m really flummoxed here. You consistently assert throughout this discussion that we can only hang our hats on what Scripture overtly says – but when Scripture overtly calls Melchizedek a priest of God Most High, you say that really only means that he did good things. The point of the narrative in Genesis is *not* simply that he did good – it is that he conveyed the blessing of YHWH onto Abraham.

    If we are incapable of imagining good, why does the Hebrews writer (7:4) ask us to think how great Melchizedek was?

    Umm… maybe for the exact reason the Hebrew writer SAYS?? Because the greatest of the patriarchs tithed to him? I know it isn’t a big deal to us, but that is the reason the writer gives. And I don’t think Calvinists, Arminians, or open theists would ever suggest that a priest of God Most High was “incapable of imagining good.”

    And while the New Testament examples I cited do indeed chronicle those folks’ encounter with the incarnate God, they don’t document causation of their reasoning. Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, Hebrews 11:19 tells us. It doesn’t say that God revealed it to him; it could have, but doesn’t.

    You’re right. It doesn’t document causation. So my guess is as good as yours.

    If it is impossible for us to judge for ourselves what is right, why does Jesus instruct us to do so in conflict situations like those described in Luke 12:57?

    I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve argued that it is impossible for us to ever get it right. Maybe I have. But I might begin my response by saying that Jesus is speaking to members of the covenant community of Israel, who have the oracles of God. TD was never meant to describe people dwelling in covenant relationship with God.

    Or Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:15 regarding the purpose of the Lord’s Supper, spoken to “reasonable people”? If we cannot conceive of things good, noble, true, lovely, right and praiseworthy, why does he urge us to think about these things? (Philippians 4:8)

    Both passages directed to people whom TD folks would call regenerate believers, not hopeless sinners – members of the covenant community.

    Is communicating a doctrine of total depravity what Christ has in mind in John 15:5? Or an urging for His followers to continue following in order to receive the assistance from His Holy Spirit that He has just promised? Especially after one has just left to betray Him? If it is impossible for us to do good, why are we urged to do good? (Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 2:10; 1Timothy 6:18; Hebrews 13:16, etc.)

    ONCE AGAIN, you are applying the doctrine of total depravity to an audience within the covenant community, when (accurate or not) TD describes those OUTSIDE the covenant community. No, I don’t think Jesus intended to communicate a doctrine of total depravity – he was talking to his disciples, not aliens to the commonwealth of Israel. So He was more-or-less delivering the same grave warning that the Hebrew writer teaches (which, ironically, you described with the phrase, “Now that’s depravity!”).

    If God is thinking and doing it through us and we have little or nothing to do with it, why doesn’t scripture say, “Let God think and do good through you”?
    Why would it say anything at all about us letting Him if it’s all Him anyway?

    Who said we have little or nothing to do with it?? IF TD is correct, and if God is working in and through a person, then by definition He has already intervened to begin offering rescue from TD. TD doesn’t teach that humanity is hopeless, period-end-of-discussion. It teaches that people have no hope EXCEPT for the gracious intervention of the One True God. Our brotherhood is as guilty as can be of limiting the possibility of that grace, but that doesn’t mean TD – the idea that a person can’t reach for God unless God reaches for them first – is false. Inasmuch as TD tries to assert that lost people have no DESIRE for God or goodness – well, I reject that. I agree with NT Wright’s description of our built-in desires for community and justice and beauty and spirituality. But I also agree with Paul, that as soon as a person moves towards those things, the law of sin and death rises up and attacks.

    If we have nothing to do with conceiving of or choosing good, of what value are we to God beyond tools? What purpose does choice serve for people who don’t know of God if they can’t perceive His nature through what He has created? Romans 1:18-20 says they can, but some choose to suppress the truth.

    Of what value?? God loves us. Therein lies our only value. It is because of His love that we have value.

    SOME choose to suppress the truth? Is that what he says? The argument in Romans 1-3 is designed to prove that ALL who have sinned are under the condemnation of sin. “We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.”

    If people cannot discern right from wrong apart from God, then how could there be Gentiles who are a law unto themselves?

    “The requirements of the law are written on their hearts.” What they lack, due to sin, is the power to carry them out effectively. No matter what we start, sin twists into evil.

    James teaches that every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father. Why would I *want to* say that some goodness happens in the world apart from God? If His eye is on every dying sparrow, why wouldn’t He be right in the middle of everything good???

    He doesn’t force anyone to do good, I don’t think – but He’s always nudging, leaning, encouraging as much as people are willing to go along. As people resist Him, He draws back. Philippians 2:12-13 teach us about how God partners with His people to work in the world. I won’t argue against EITHER side of that passage.

    • I appreciate your willingness to help me see the justification of total depravity as a doctrine, Nick; I really do.

      And as I’m sure you realize, not all the questions I’m asking here are in argument specifically with you, but with the way both Calvinism’s five points and the Arminian Remonstrances describe it. The latter quotes John 15:5 as its source for the doctrine.

      In fact, as I’ve blogged before, I believe voluntary partnership with God largely explains the relationship He desires with us.

      But I don’t believe that overwhelms the idea that God created man with the potential to conceive of good and to do good, and that it persists in spite of sin. In that way, God remains the source of all good. But total depravity gives Satan the ability to destroy that persistence through one sin, Adam’s. Really? God set that up; agreed to it as terms of fair competition with evil, or what?

      To me, if there’s a human doctrine or interpretation that has even one possible contradiction with scripture, it is suspect, and we can argue them as long as we want to, but for me, scripture wins.

      That’s why it’s hard for me to play the game of “but that’s what TD adherents would say is already a community infused with God’s goodness,” etc. Well, sure it is. It’s their doctrine, so they define the terms. I do the same thing; we all do.

      Then things start sounding like the argument “Everything that happens is God’s will, except the stuff that isn’t.”

      I’m tired. I’m pretty much brain-dead for today, so I’m just going to leave it at that — for now — and wish anyone reading a good night except for Wendy Cayless, where it’s good morning. 🙂

  7. How does the total depravity position deal with the question, “Have you considered my servant Job?” — God seems to have allowed all good influence stripped from him.

    And if total depravity is the state of things, how does God infuse us with good? Do we need booster injections? Does it happen supernaturally?

    Finally, if the curse of Adam’s sin makes us all genetically predisposed to sin (so to speak) and incapable of conceiving of or peeforming good on our own … why isn’t the source of the fruit just called “the tree of the knowledge of evil”?

    As I recall, it’s called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

  8. To me, if there’s a human doctrine or interpretation that has even one possible contradiction with scripture, it is suspect, and we can argue them as long as we want to, but for me, scripture wins.

    Every human doctrine or interpretation has “even one possible contradiction with Scripture.” I mean, Jeremiah 17 seems to *possibly* contradict your doctrine that humans can do good without God’s involvement.

    Glass houses make tempting targets.

    • Suspect, but not necessarily invalidated! 🙂

      Really, I’m just trying to prove all things — and there just seems to be a lot of structural weakness in the doctrine of total depravity for me.

      All human doctrines are glass houses — even mine — and open to stoning. Then we find out if they’re made of microscope slide glass or plexiglass.

  9. Those who believe in TD, believe that man is so TD that he cannot find salvation, without a direct, literal operation of the Holy Spirit. They believe that man is incapable of finding truth without it. But God’s word has power unto salvation, it is the seed of the kingdom. Remember the parable of soils? When this seed is spread it can find its way to good soil, where it takes root and begins to grow. It grows until belief is produced, then faith, then repentance, confession and a desire to be washed. When this occurs it can be said that the word of Christ and the Holy Spirit dwell richly in that person, Eph 5: 18,19 and Col 3:16. God has given man a choice to make, follow the lust of the flesh or submit to the fathers will. Its really not hard to understand kb, listen to what scripture says, and you will understand what it is not saying.

  10. I think Nicodimus was likely as good a moral man as you could find. Jesus said to him the words “condemned already”.

    Paul describes those outside of Christ as “dead”, “alienated from God”, and “by nature children of wrath”. TD does not mean every sinner is as bad as he can be. It does mean every sinner is as alienated from God as he can be.

    Of those condemned ones God by grace calls some to himself, those he has chosen and given to Jesus. He grants them repentance and cleanses their hearts by faith giving them a new nature and desire to please Jim.

    Edward Fudge has some great teaching about these subjects on his site. He describes this tension like this. One comes to the entrant of heaven and written above the door is “Whosoever will, let him come”. After walking in he looks back and on the inside is written, “Chosen before the foundation of the world”. Both are true and as certain as God has his people it is just as certain there are those who are not his.

    • Royce, I agree that the doctrine of total depravity does not teach that people are as bad as they can be, but it does teach that people are inherently bad, and “can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil” (Arminian wording), and I don’t see scripture saying that.

      I also agree that Nicodemus was a good man, but he was living in the middle of the gospel and the choice he needed to make between accepting/rejecting Jesus as the Son of God, he was well-equipped to make. Someone who has not heard that gospel cannot make that choice. Cannot.

      I read Jesus saying that all people will be judged by what each has said and done. How can someone who has lived a generous, loving, good life be judged fairly if presumed guilty — subject to total depravity — and never even exposed to the concept of God or His Son?

      I think total depravity assumes damnation where scripture has only said guilt; inability to do good where scripture has only said inclination toward evil.

      Probably the best short summation of total depravity is Lex Luthor’s line from the original Superman movie: “People are no damn good.” That’s just not an attitude that Christians should go out into the world with and seek to win others to Christ’s love.

      • How can someone who has lived a generous, loving, good life be judged fairly if presumed guilty — subject to total depravity — and never even exposed to the concept of God or His Son?

        On this, at least, I think you need to decide, Keith: what does Romans 1 say about this? You can’t use Romans 1 when it suits you and ignore it when it doesn’t. Either all humanity has been exposed to the concept of God or they haven’t.

        Also, we’re talking about a gift. Not a reward for being judged worthy. Eternal life is a gift given to those who belong to the Son, and to whomever else God chooses.

        Total depravity assumes guilt, precisely because it does NOT have a predictive element to it. TD is descriptive rather than predictive. Whether its description of one’s status is accurate or not, it describes the current status of a person who does not belong to the covenant community.

        What will happen to someone who is guilty, IF God does not intervene to do something about their guilt?

        What attitude should Christians go into the world with? “I know you’re already really awesome, but if you want to be a little awesomer, try Jesus?”

      • But God did intervene and did something about mans guilt, He offered His son as a sacrifice, those who accept this gift will be saved. Man is called to live a holy life and this can only be done in Christ. Any life outside of Christ is unholy. ALL have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, all would include those who have never heard. God calls ALL men to repentance. Christ didn’t shed His blood for some, He shed it for ALL. Those chosen are those who obey the gospel, they were made heirs, sons, when they obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you never obey you cannot be a heir or son. You remain separated from your God, living an unholy life, regardless of how good a person you may be. Goodness alone will not get you to heaven.

      • Romans 1 is clear that “… since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Creation does not tell us that God has a Son.

        Salvation IS a gift given at God’s discretion. But there is also judgment, through the Son, for all (Matt. 25). If salvation were just a matter of distributing gifts as God chooses, there would be no need for judgment. He doesn’t answer to anyone. But He is, I believe, prosecuting a point about the inherent worth of good over evil — before the accuser and his hordes of principalities. I believe that at judgment, God and the good that He is will be vindicated.

        Let me try to explain this one more time: it isn’t the concept that we are all stained by sin and deserve punishment that I oppose, but the very phrasing of the doctrine that says people are so conquered and suffused with sin that they are incapable of conceiving or doing good of themselves.

        So if i happen (against all tides and floods of generations of Christian thought) to be right that people are capable of both evil and goid of themselves — just go with me for a moment — the attitude a Christian toward someone who hasn’t heard of Jesus IS NOT:

        “There’s someone steeped in sin from the day she was born”

        OR the opposite extreme,

        “There’s someone who’s morally awesome and just needs a little coat of doctrinal touch-up paint”

        BUT RATHER,

        “There’s someone whom God loves, made in His image, who — just like me — has done regrettable things as well as some good things … and needs the salvation bought by Christ’s blood just as surely as I do.”

  11. Interesting that you ONLY insert the “just like me” script into the last attitude description (and emphasized it by repetition) when it would just as appropriately fit into either of the first two.

    TD adherents would say, “There’s someone steeped in sin just like me…”

    Liberal theologians would say, “There’s someone who’s morally okay – just like me – who needs a little touch-up.”

    Also, did you notice that in the Arminian formulation, the phrase isn’t merely “good” but “truly good.” I don’t know if that makes a difference, but maybe it isn’t saying that it is impossible for someone outside the covenant community to think of walking a little old lady across the street – but rather that it is impossible for them to think of doing it without thinking about how that merit badge will look on their sash.

    How many truly good actions are there? It is a tenuous concept, to be sure.

    The problem I admit having with your formulation is that the potential for human perfection outside of Christ is a hard concept for me to accept – why haven’t any more of the billions of humans who have ever lived actually done it, if we are capable of living a truly good life on our own?

  12. One of the foundational ideas for most Christian thought (including mine, clearly, since I can’t turn loose of this string) is that humanity needs to be saved.

    One of the ideas that my mind keeps coming back to is that I’ve been lying to people when I’ve told them that eternal life isn’t something you can get by loading up on goodness. Now you’re saying that people can be good outside of Christ.

    If they can, why can’t they be good enough?

    If the can be good enough, why am I spending so much time and energy talking about crazy things like resurrections and incarnations and partings of the Red Sea???

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to just encourage them to be nicer, and leave out all the incredible stuff?

  13. I don’t know how to parse “truly good” from “good;” and I certainly don’t hold to the wording of the Reformed position, either (“Thus, all people by their own faculties are morally unable to choose to follow God and be saved because they are unwilling to do so out of the necessity of their own natures.”).

    My concern is that the whole concept of total depravity leads to two extremes beyond the other points of Calvinism and Remonstrances of Arminianism.

    We can’t help ourselves or choose good, so it’s all up to God; even the choice for us to be saved (Calvinism) and since God is love, He won’t fail anyone (universalism).

    Or …

    We can’t help ourselves or choose what’s truly good (whatever is meant by that), but God commands it, so after He gives us His Holy Spirit, we must obey anyway or we’re cooked (Arminianism) and we have to obey every command or possible command or hint of command after that or we’re still cooked (legalism).

    So it’s either all up to God or it’s all up to us after a certain point.

    Neither extreme is healthy or fully scriptural.

    Now, as to the question of “like me” … the object of viewing others as equals is a start, but ultimately we just need to drop all the judgment and doctrines that lead to judgment and just go with love as an approach.

    No sniffing each other’s moral doggie-butts. No alpha-male posturing. No guilting or threatening.

    I think about Patrick Mead talking about how Josh Graves and others just took in all the bikers and stoners and skateboarders and just loved them until they had seen what Jesus looked like before they even heard a lot about Him.

    It doesn’t sound to me like you’ve lied to anyone, Nick. I just don’t think any of us needs to labor under the illusion the scripture says we have no innate worth or moral capability because a naked guy and his wife messed up once. God equips and entrusts us with what we need to choose goodness, selflessness, love for others. We just don’t choose that all the time.

    But I’m convinced there are people who can do good without thinking how nice the merit badge will look on their sashes. People who come out of nowhere to lift a car off of a trapped motorcyclist, then disappear again. People who run up staircases of skyscrapers with burning jetliners on the floors above them. People who do the right thing to do just because they sense it’s the right thing to do.

    Maybe they are all believers. Or maybe they are completely unable to imagine that good they’re about to do and incapable of doing it until God infuses them with just enough of His Spirit to get it done.

    But if that’s the way it all works, and it’s important enough for us to know, understand and accept that, then why isn’t it phrased just that simply and plainly in scripture, over and over again? Why does it take until the sixteenth century for two opposing groups to put it into words?

  14. We can’t help ourselves or choose good, so it’s all up to God; even the choice for us to be saved (Calvinism) and since God is love, He won’t fail anyone (universalism).

    I think that’s definitely one valid way to make the argument. Another is that since He is in Himself a Divine Community of self-giving love, He may sovereignly save whomever He chooses – His love of Himself requires that He honor his own character. No viable definition of love requires the giver to give a certain gift no matter what. (The arguments for universalism generally collapse unless they’re targeted specifically against ECT – a position I can no longer hold in good conscience or intellectual integrity).

    We can’t help ourselves or choose what’s truly good (whatever is meant by that), but God commands it, so after He gives us His Holy Spirit, we must obey anyway or we’re cooked (Arminianism) and we have to obey every command or possible command or hint of command after that or we’re still cooked (legalism).

    Your definition of legalism doesn’t follow from your description of Arminianism. No statement should be held responsible for the extremes to which it can be unnecessarily carried by irresponsible thinkers.

    It doesn’t sound to me like you’ve lied to anyone, Nick. I just don’t think any of us needs to labor under the illusion the scripture says we have no innate worth or moral capability because a naked guy and his wife messed up once. God equips and entrusts us with what we need to choose goodness, selflessness, love for others. We just don’t choose that all the time.

    How do Romans 4 (especially the “in Adam” concept, that seems to place more importance on that naked guy) and Romans 7 fit into this way of telling the story?

    But I’m convinced there are people who can do good without thinking how nice the merit badge will look on their sashes. People who come out of nowhere to lift a car off of a trapped motorcyclist, then disappear again. People who run up staircases of skyscrapers with burning jetliners on the floors above them. People who do the right thing to do just because they sense it’s the right thing to do.
    Maybe they are all believers. Or maybe they are completely unable to imagine that good they’re about to do and incapable of doing it until God infuses them with just enough of His Spirit to get it done.

    I think so, too. I don’t think they “just sense” it, though. I think that the good they do, they do in response to what they’ve seen of the kingdom of God bursting forth around them. He doesn’t “infuse” a little bit of His Spirit, and they’re quite able to imagine it – precisely because they’ve seen it. They’ve seen people who act like Jesus, even if they don’t know that they’re acting like Jesus.

    But if that’s the way it all works, and it’s important enough for us to know, understand and accept that, then why isn’t it phrased just that simply and plainly in scripture, over and over again? Why does it take until the sixteenth century for two opposing groups to put it into words?

    Now you sound like Laymond attacking the Trinity. I think there are doctrines in Scripture that are important for us to know, understand, and accept, that aren’t parsed in language and concepts that are crystal-clear to people of every worldview that has existed for the past 2000ish years.

  15. There is no one one who doesn’t need Christ.

    I know we agree on this, but if people can be good without him, why do they need him?

    Not, “why is he good for them?”

    What is the nature of their need? What in them needs to be transformed? Why do they need to die to themselves – to put on the new man, so to speak, if their “old man” just needed some additional skills?

    I’m not trying to be snarky, I promise – I really want to know what it is that people NEED from Jesus that they don’t already have?

  16. That is grace. God can give them the benefit of Christ’s blood, not because of what they did, but because it testifies to faith in a God not only unseen but unheard-of.

    It is unheard-of grace.

    • kb, God has offered His grace, what did He offer, He offered His son as a sacrefice, this grace, this gift, must be accepted, it must be recieved. Those in Acts 2 accepted and recieved this gift by obedience. All men must ask that question, “what must I do” and then do it. That is accepting His grace. Grace is God’s goodness it can be rejected.

  17. Why don’t you guys , use the word that you are referring to, instead of pussyfooting around it. ” HOLY” you can be good without being holy, but you cannot be holy without being good.
    If you are in Christ, you are holy, not simply good, if you are not holy, you are not in Christ, just because you are a member of a congregation, does not mean you are a member of “The Church” The membership of the “True Church” is a lot less that you might think.
    And yes those that are holy, are holy by the grace of God.

  18. Pingback: Pastoral Relations « Christianity 201

  19. Pingback: Grace, Good Things, and Lazarus « Blog In My Own Eye

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s