Thursday, July 26, 2012

Recommending Reading on Totay Depravity

The Augustinian/Reformed/Calvinist (ARC) doctrine of total depravity, which is expressed in various degrees by each ARC sect and person, has an increasingly unorthodox definition within Calvinist circles but specifically within Neo-Calvinist circles. Personally, I prefer the designation, "human depravity" since the the label "total" carries with it an an absolute property which can misguide the student of God's Word in understanding human depravity (which is the result of the fall, i.e. man's sin and his subsequent and immediate spiritual death and eventual physical death). That is, total does not always fit with certain aspects of the effects of man's fall. For example, one might claim a man who is unregenerate is totally incapable of pleasing God in any fashion. Dr. C. Matthew McMahon states precisely this as posted at A Puritan's Mind:
This would mean that man cannot fundamentally do anything to please God. Isaiah 64:6, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
The problem is the lack of discrimination employed by many Calvinists, such as McMahon, in citing Isaiah while stating that the unregenerate man cannot "fundamentally do anything to please God". What Isaiah has in view is divine approbation with respect to earning righteous favor for salvation, not that we cannot ever please God as an unsaved person. And there is a difference between the two contexts.

Ex: An unsaved mother tends to the needs of her child. This is pleasing to God. In respect to earning righteous favor it is rags, but in respect to the moral fulfillment of God's will as a parent, it is pleasing to God.

Ex: A governmental leader, unregenerate, executes justices. God is pleased while his righteousness with respect to divine approbation for salvation remains as dirty rags.

Hence, the approach toward human depravity or sinful depravity and its various colors and dimensions within the Bible are denied, much by way of this faulty term but more so through rationalism and poor hermeneutics. To their credit there are some Calvinists who use the term "total inability" which helps, somewhat, but still, even with some of them their definitions extend beyond what is presented in Scripture and veer into philosophically based arguments. And this is not to say that much of what can be found written on the topic by Calvinists as well as Lutherans (for whom I have much affinity due to the carefulness of their expressions on the matter) is not true, it is, but we are dealing with its excesses or overreaching. Which brings me to my next point and recommendation.

Paul Dohse, Sr., author of The Truth About New Calvinism, has an extremely thoughtful and thought-provoking post on the matter of total depravity. I urge those who are interested in the history behind Calvinism's development and basic structure (a rationalistic foundation as opposed to an exegetical one-that is to say, the rationalism and propositions generally preceded its exegesis, its exegesis came afterward to support the propositions which is precisely backwards. It should be exegesis first, propositions second) to take time to read the article. It can be found here.

*Post Script: Paul Dohse, Sr., uses the expression, Philosopher King in his article to describe many ARC Teachers.. I find it an effective and often precise description of the method and attitude of many Neo-Calvinist and some traditional Calvinist Teachers. R.C. Sproul, sadly, is sometimes easily found within this loop though not as consistently as John Piper.


Alex Guggenheim said...

Argh! Posting in a hurry is a sure way to have editing lapses! I will get this corrected back at the office.

Kevl said...

Hi, thank you for the link to my blog. I very much appreciate it!

In Christ,

Alex Guggenheim said...


You bet and I finally got back to make the corrections here. :)

Lydia said...

Oh that more would study the foundations of Calvinism and it's neo Platonic implications. The few enlightened ones must lead the ignorant masses. This maps exactly to total depravity which they also define as total inability.