Friday, February 22, 2013

Calvinism and Total Depravity

“Whether we call ourselves Calvinists hardly matters; what matters is that we should understand the gospel biblically. But that, we think, does in fact mean understanding it as historic Calvinism does….”-J.I. Packer

What follows is a shallow look at the first of the main five points of Calvinism, or Reformed theology, as spelled out in the acrostic TULIP. As this is an extensive topic there are some caveats that need to be addressed. Most Reformed theologians agree with R.C. Sproul that, “it would be a serious mistake to understand the essence of Reformed theology simply in light of these five doctrines—the Reformed faith involves many other elements of theological and ecclesiastical confession. However, these are the five controversial points of Reformed theology, and they are the ones that are popularly seen as distinctive to this particular confession.” Each topic demands serious thought and investigation so I will link to a number of sites for additional information. Finally it is important to note that some godly men disagree with the basic tenets of Reformed theology. I stand with Packer in believing that if we understand the gospel we understand it as historic Calvinism does.

I just finished a twenty minute discussion with my wife whom (so far) disagrees with me on this subject. She has a good head on her shoulders and thinks well through theology (which is one reason I married her). This is a difficult subject to understand. It is as difficult a subject for me to lay out in a short blog post. The reason I do so is not to create complete understanding but to raise the issue so that readers are challenged to wrestle with the theology.

The T in the acrostic stands for “Total Depravity.” Sproul defines it this way,
“So the idea of total in total depravity doesn’t mean that all human beings are as wicked as they can possibly be. It means that the fall was so serious that it affects the whole person. The fallenness that captures and grips our human nature affects our bodies; that’s why we become ill and die. It affects our minds and our thinking; we still have the capacity to think, but the Bible says the mind has become darkened and weakened. The will of man is no longer in its pristine state of moral power. The will, according to the New Testament, is now in bondage. We are enslaved to the evil impulses and desires of our hearts. The body, the mind, the will, the spirit—indeed, the whole person—have been infected by the power of sin.”
I best understand this in light of Romans 3:10 and following: “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; “Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and misery are in their paths.”

That’s God taking about me. That’s God talking about all mankind. Horne writes, “The unrenewed man cannot even begin to discern the truth of divine things. It is not simply that he will not; he cannot. When we inquire as to why he cannot, we discover that it is not because of a faulty functioning of the powers of logical reasoning as such but rather because of a failure to reckon with all pertinent data---data made available only by the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Being Totally depraved I could not make any decision for God or towards God in my own goodness. I was all evil, totally depraved, wholly fallen. Only God acting on me and drawing me could cause me to move toward Him. That is the basis for Unconditional Election which I will discuss in Sunday’s post.

Verses to consider: Ephesians 1:4,5: “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will…”

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