Russ on Total Depravity

WARNING: I’m told that most bloggers will not read more than 1,000 words without beginning to skim the article. If you are one of these people, you need to skip to the section below that states ONLY A THOUSAND MORE WORDS TO GO. If, on the other hand, you are someone who doesn’t like long introductions, and just need to skip to the “meat” of the article, you?ll want to scroll to the section that starts THE POINT WHERE THE ARTICLE ACTUALLY BEGINS.

Great! Now that I’ve redirected those people, I can spend some time setting up the article with just a few personal comments.

First, many thanks to Rey for giving me the opportunity to guest contribute on this blog. I consider it a privilege to be asked and hope that I can at least fulfill some expectations.

Speaking of expectations, most people believe that they can expect to pigeon hole just about any Protestant into one of two categories: Calvinist or Arminian. I am not a Calvinist. And before my Arminian friends get too excited, I am not an Arminian. To place me into either camp is to say that I believe things that I don’t. For better or worse, I try to avoid defining myself by a theology since I find it to coral what God may be trying to reveal through Scripture. So I promise not to try and label you something that you’re not and hopefully that will be reciprocal and keep us from assigning guilt by association.

And while we are on the topic of Scripture ? please use it as the basis of your statements. I have read parts or all of the major works of Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon, Sproul, Piper, White and MacArthur. I respect these men, their scholarship and their passion for believing what they do. I don?t expect to see them in heaven since they will be busy at work closer to the throne of God than I could ever in my wildest dreams hope to be. That having been said, none of them are either above or equal to Scripture. I am guessing that most of the people who will be responding are intelligent enough to digest what these men have said and rearticulate it in your own words. So, if you are going to respond to these postings, please do so without long drawn out quotes from some wonderful leader of the church to support the claims you make.

By the way, I come from a school of thought that links the sinfulness that I am all to well aware of with my finiteness and comes up with a theological hermeneutic that states that there must be parts of my theology that are wrong. I am very open to hearing where you think I am wrong. However, because I am not looking for the writings from past or present church leaders, I will have to ask that when you are showing me that I am wrong, that you do so with Scripture which both contextually and explicitly states what you are saying. At any point that Scripture is not clear, I would rather say “I don’t know” than to try to interject my faulty theology to patch a “hole” that God has left. If this manner of taking Scripture as far as Scripture will allow is not something you are comfortable with, then you?ll probably not like what I am going to write.

And just so everyone is clear of my own material, let it be known that I pilfer and pirate just about everything I think from others far greater than I. For most of the material that you will find on these postings, I am indebted to C. Gordon Olson’s book “BeyondCalvinism and Arminianism” If you have even the vaguest interest in what I?ve written (whether you agree or disagree), I would highly recommend his extremely detailed yet very readable book. In spite of my respect for him, I do not agree with everything that Dr. Olson writes (and I am completely convinced that he disagrees with me on some points as well). So, if you have some prior beef with Dr. Olson that you feel is just waiting to burst forth, bring it to him, not me.

Furthermore, in sharing these thoughts in both classroom and blog settings I have already been anathematized, condemned, and sent to hell. If you feel the need to give your own personal support of these past decisions, please take into consideration my lovely wife and four beautiful children who look forward with great anticipation to spending eternity with me (preferably in the heavenly realms). So, since I know of no Protestant theology that guarantees a person is headed to eternal damnation prior to physical death, please hold out hope that someday I might be saved from whatever heresies you see in my writing and respond in kind.

Oh  and if we’re going to be dialoging together, let’s keep it fun. Feel free to liberally use emoticons and anything else that will help us understand that along with our Father in heaven, you have a sense of humor (or at the very least, a sense of sarcasm ? Job 38:5, 19-21). Though the topics we discuss are serious, please let?s not take ourselves so seriously that we forget that we are simply finite, infants discussing the mind of God.

There, I’ve gotten that off my chest :). Now I can actually begin because you have reached


How do I begin an article on a topic that is hotly debated and has been written about by nearly every major theologian in the past 400 years–Well, let’s start with some history.

I was born into a Reformed family which for me means I was eating TULIPS before I was nibbling on solid food. I went to a Reformed church and was educated in a Reformed school K-12. So, needless to say, I have some familiarity with Calvin and his teachings. I did not leave the Reformed church I grew up in for doctrinal reasons. I left because (though I didn?t know it at the time) God was preparing me for ministry at another body of believers. Though in this article you are going to hear about disagreements I have with Calvinism, please do not think that I am stating that it is a defunct theology. I think the best way I’d describe what I am trying to do in these articles is to help redefine the parts of TULIP that I have difficulty aligning with Scripture.

For a brief history of how TULIP developed, go to this link. I am actually going to be looking at TULIPS?I think the addition of the S is essential since it underlies all the other thinking in Calvinism and is a topic that must be included to understand the normal model of TULIP. The acronym stands for a generally chronological understanding of salvation (soteriology). Each letter stands for the following:

T = Total Depravity
U = Unconditional Election
L = Limited Atonement
I = Irresistible Grace
P = Perseverance (or Preservation) of the Saints
S = Sovereignty of God

The “S” is not normally on most TULIP models, but I think by the end of our series, you’ll see why it needs to be added. What I’ll do in this article is give a brief support of Total Depravity from a Calvinist perspective. Then I’ll show reasons why I don’t believe portions of it align with Scripture.

Total Depravity from a Calvinist Perspective

Mankind sins. I think that part we all agree on. Calvinist theology states that all mankind apart from salvation through Christ is totally depraved. By this, they mean that each and every person is utterly unable to do enough good things to warrant their salvation (Romans 3:21-28). In fact, because mankind is so stained with sin, even the things that look good from a human perspective have been tainted by our sin and so amount to nothing before God (in fact, God calls all our good works menstrual rags ? Isaiah 64:6). Calvinism also means that mankind is so enamored with their sinfulness that they will never, of their own will, ever seek God or even care to think about anything that is remotely close to Him (Romans 3:9-20). Though we may not do every sin conceivable, sin stains every area of our lives (Psalm 51:7, Isaiah 1:18). We are in our sin, we are happy to be in our sin, we want to stay in our sin. We are rebels. We are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-7).

This last statement is the summarizing statement of Total Depravity : we are dead in our sins. Many Calvinists will also use the metaphor of Ezekiel 26:22-32 that our hearts are hearts of stone — “stone cold dead” as I’ve heard many Calvinists put it. Because of this deadness, we are completely unable to do anything to please God. Thus, we are even unable to place our faith in God. God, in His grace and through the Holy Spirit, regenerates certain hearts (which hearts are regenerated will be discussed in the next posting) giving them the spiritual life that they need to have in order to be in relationship to God. Once a person has been regenerated, God can give them the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), which is the means by which they are able to trust in God and thus be placed in Christ and saved (Ephesians 1:13).


Where I Think Calvinists Lack Scriptural Support

Actually, I believe in most of what Total Depravity states. I agree with everything in the first paragraph of the previous section. Mankind is sinful, he is content with his sinfulness, and will not pursue God ever.

I think Calvinists lack Biblical support in three areas. The first area of disagreement is that regeneration precedes faith. I have asked many Calvinists to give me one verse that explicitly states that regeneration occurs prior to faith. None, to this day, have been given to me (1 John 5:1, the most common one given, is insufficient because it does not rule out that faith could have occurred prior to the regeneration that is stated in that verse). I understand that if you accept all that Calvinism teaches about death and faith, that regeneration is a logical deduction from those definitions. However, I can produce many verses that explicitly place faith prior to salvation (Luke 8:12, John 1:12, 3:16, 4:14, 6:35, 6:40, 6:58, 20:31, Acts 2:37-38, 8:12-16, 13:39, over 18 verses in Romans where our justification is by faith, all of Galatians 3, Ephesians 1:13, Hebrews 4:2-3, 1 Peter 1:23, and many more less explicit verses ). Some Calvinists will argue that these verses implicitly state that we are regenerated, given faith and then saved — but that means that there is a time where we have the life of God but no salvation? Moreover, there are verses listed above that state we have faith prior to life (John 20:31 is the best of these) ? are we to say that we have life, faith and then life again? In addition, Jesus in Mark 6:1-6 is amazed at people’s lack of faith which makes no sense unless He expected faith to be in the unregenerate. Not only that, but Jesus explicitly states that the dead will hear Jesus? voice and will live (John 5:25). I would be most indebted to any Calvinist that can give me any verse in Scripture that explicitly states that regeneration occurs prior to faith. Apart from that evidence and given the way that Scripture presents faith prior to regeneration, I think it?s important to redefine our meanings of death and faith to accommodate Scripture, not our theology.

So how are we to understand death as it is presented in Scripture? We think of death as in-animation or the inability to act. Dead people can’t do anything. Calvinists apply this idea to Scripture’s statement that we are dead in sin and thus state a person is incapable of exercising faith because they can’t do anything spiritual. Is this, though, a Biblical understanding of death?

I think that a clearer Biblical picture of death is separation from God rather than a sense of inability. Adam and Eve in the day that they sinned died — part of that death was not only spiritual but the physical separation from the presence of God. The eternal punishment which is called the second death often contains images of separation (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30, Luke 16:26, Revelation 20:10-15). When describing the life of eternity, Revelation 21 and 22 seem to focus strongly on the presence of God. From these verses, we can state that a person who is dead in their sins is separated from God (for now, simply spiritually– ultimately, in our whole being). When they exercise their faith in God, they receive life and I believe we can Scripturally state that life is precipitated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit — they have life because they spiritually are in the presence of God through the Holy Spirit. They will have the culmination of eternal life when they live body and spirit in the presence of God forever.

Finally, I think the Calvinists lack Biblical support in their contention that those dead in sin cannot exercise faith. Calvinists support this for two reasons. First is that dead people can’t do anything spiritually. But if we accept what was stated above, then this reason is already dealt with. A second Calvinist argument is that if a person dead in sin exercised faith, there would be a righteous act that had been done on the part of the sinner that gained them salvation.

To this last point we must turn to Paul. In all of Paul’s writings where he is speaking of faith and meritorious works (works that supposedly gain us salvation-favor in the eyes of God), he always places faith and works opposite each other (Romans 4 and Galatians 3 as examples). Thus, faith cannot be a meritorious work. Jesus speaks of faith being a work (John 6:29), but I know of no theologian that thinks Jesus and Paul are speaking of the same kind of works. James sees works as meritorious but clearly James is speaking of works that are produced by the life of a person of faith (i.e. the physical representation of the presence of faith in the believer?s life ? James 2:24) and thus one who is already saved. So Scripture would not seem to support the contention that faith can be a meritorious work. Instead, it is exactly because it cannot be a meritorious work that it is the means of our receiving our salvation.

So How Do We Understand Total Depravity Based on Scripture

Mankind in sinfulness is incapable of desiring or pursuing God. However, because of God?s love for mankind, God is able to pursue them (this seems to be one of the main themes throughout Scripture). I believe He does this through the conviction of the Holy Spirit who makes every person aware of their position before God in their sin (John 6:7-11). At this point, a person may or may not exercise faith in God. If they do, they are regenerated by the life of the Holy Spirit which indwells them and places them in Christ, whose perfect life and sacrifice covers our own life. If a person does not exercise faith, they continue in their sinfulness. I believe this takes into consideration all Scriptural passages that pertain to man?s sinfulness and his/her exercising faith in Jesus.

-Pastor Russ-

A message from Rey: Now brothers and sisters, Brother Russ surely welcomes commentary. I merely ask that you offer the same grace and patience that the brother has extended in posting this article. Like I said in Sunday’s announcement, this is posted for discussion with a focus on the topic at hand: Total Depravity. Be gracious and reflect Christ in You as speak to my guest. Also, in the future I want to have a blogger of the Reformed perspective offer his view on TULIP(S?) I will not invite just any blogger to do this. If you post with the grace and focus on Scripture as the brother has done here, I will likely ask you (to which you can than say “no way, heretic!?” :) )

  • T – Total Depravity
  • U – Unconditional Election
  • (F) – Faith
  • L – Limited Atonement
  • I – Irresistible Grace
  • P -Perseverance
  • S – Sovereignty
<li><a href=””>T</a> – Total Depravity</li>
<li><a href=””>U</a> – Unconditional Election</li>
<li>(<a href=””>F</a>) – Faith</li>
<li><a href=””>L</a> – Limited Atonement</li>
<li><a href=””>I</a> – Irresistible Grace</li>
<li><a href=””>P</a> -Perseverance</li>
<li><a href=””>S</a> – Sovereignty</li>
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