Are We REALLY Totally Depraved?

total-depravity2Grab the kindling wood and bring your lighters! If you continue reading this post, you may feel the urge to use them!

At least that is what I anticipate with this post on Total Depravity.

Before you light the fire, you should know up front that this post is simply me letting you in on the discussions that take place inside my head!  I’m asking you to consider some of the questions I ask myself while I think out loud about what Total Depravity means.

To start off, let’s define terms:

The Western Protestant church views T.D. this way:   Total depravity is the fallen state of human beings as a result of Adam original sin. The doctrine of total depravity asserts that people are, as a result of the fall, not inclined or even able to love God wholly with heart, mind, and strength, but rather are inclined by nature to serve their own will and desires and to reject the rule of God.

“The immediate concomitant of the first sin was the total depravity of human nature. The contagion of his sin at once spread through the entire man, leaving no part of his nature untouched, but vitiating every power and faculty of body and soul.” Louis Berkhof

This means that the fundamental nature of mankind was changed on that day. Whatever Adam’s human nature was before his sin, it became something different after the fall.  As a result, nobody can choose to follow God or do anything that pleases him in any way. We are incapable of that, unless and until we are born again.   Calvininst / Reformed theology teaches this means that unless God pours out His irresistible and regenerative grace on a person, they cannot respond to God. Armenians believe similarly, except they say this grace can be resisted and does not regenerate a person automatically.

Now the Eastern Church, countering that these views are both wrong, says our nature was only marred, not completely changed.  They make a good argument for this and if you want to interact with their actual wording, check out our post called Could the Doctrine of Total Depravity Be Totally Depraved?

The Orthodox Church teaches that no one is guilty for the actual sin that Adam and Eve committed but rather everyone inherits the consequences of this act; the foremost of this is physical death in this world. This is the reason why the original fathers of the Church over the centuries have preferred the term ancestral sin. The consequences and penalties of this ancestral act are transferred by means of natural heredity to the entire human race. Since every human is a descendant of Adam then ‘no one is free from the implications of this sin’ (which is human death).

Here’s my challenge to the Western view:  If we are indeed guilty of Adams sin and as a result our natures became totally depraved, why don’t we forfeit this regenerated nature after we accept Christ and sin again?  If another persons sin corrupted the human nature of the entire human race, then why wouldn’t my own sin corrupt my own nature totally again?

Let’s look at it another way:  I can’t come to Christ until God calls me and regenerates me because I am spiritually dead.  I am born spiritually dead because of Adams sin, not my own, though I am unquestionably a sinner.  Christ renews my nature at the new birth.  Now, I am no longer totally depraved.  Why does my nature not become totally depraved again when I, like Adam, sin?  Logic dictates that it should.

The Western view doesn’t seem to have an answer for this most basic question and  Calvin’s theological system falls apart without total depravity being true.

The Eastern view, however, does answer it nicely.  They don’t now, nor have they ever believed, that the result of The Fall was that humanity became totally depraved.  Here is their view in their own words:

  1. This Fall of Adam caused mankind to become subject to mortality. While this is often seen mainly as a punishment, or penalty, the emphasis concerning God’s judgements on Adam and Eve at the Fall is best understood in terms of His mercy. So, for example, concerning man’s mortality (Gn 3:19), St. Gregory the Theologian states, “Yet here too He provides a benefit – namely death, which cuts off sin, so that evil may not be everlasting. Thus His punishment is changed into a mercy.”

  2. We who are of Adam’s race are not guilty because of Adam’s sin, but because of our own sin. However, because all of mankind fell away from the grace of God through Adam’s disobedience, man now has a propensity, a disposition, an inclination towards sin, because just as death entered the world through sin, now sin enters through fear of death.

  3. Mankind’s strong propensity to commit sin reveals that in the Fall, the image of God in man (Gn 1:26,27) is also fallen. However, the ancient Fathers emphasize that the divine image in man has not been totally corrupted or obliterated. Human nature remains inherently good after the Fall; mankind is not totally depraved. People are still capable of doing good, although bondage to death and the influences of the devil can dull their perception of what is good and lead them into all kinds of evil.

  4. Adam’s Fall not only brought mortality and sin into the world, but also sweat, toil, hunger, thirst, weariness, sorrow, pain, suffering, sickness, tribulations, tragedy and tears.

  5. Even after the Fall, the intellectual, desiring and incensive (forceful and driving) aspects of the soul are natural and therefore neutral. They can be used in a good way, or in a bad, harmful way. For instance, desire is very good when one directs it towards God. But when desire is out of control, one may use it in very inappropriate ways, such as becoming gluttonous or desiring another person’s spouse. The classic analogy is that these powers of the soul are like iron, which can be made into a plow to help grow food, or into a sword to be used to kill someone.    From The Orthodox Study Bible, p.7

The Eastern view seems to square with reality as we know it, and it lines up very well with scripture (when you don’t hold your theological frame work to be THE frame work).

Now, I readily admit that  I don’t know the answer to the question posed in this post.  I also restate that I am simply thinking out loud about this.  I am quite sure that you have your own thoughts on this and I would love to hear them!

If you found this post interesting, you may also like our post titled: The Total Inability of Calvin To Explain Man’s Ability to Respond to God?


About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on January 14, 2015, in Christianity, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. LOL, that was fun to read. We really are depraved. That is simply observable reality about the nature of human beings. What really quite miraculous however, is that we aren’t more depraved than we are. I’m not surprised people are depraved at all, I’m more surprised that we ever manage to do good things. So why do we do good things? Because God calls to us. We have this innate pull of morality that is not based on culture or our own goodness, it is a recognition of our Creator, of being made in His image, an image we usually fall way short of. We all desire to be more like Him, even when we deny His very existence.


  2. Restless Pilgrim

    I think there’s some in-between room here. You can being marred can mean that you’ve been changed.

    I typically seen the real dividing line as to whether one views the Fall as a wounding of human nature or something more…

    Liked by 1 person

    • “I typically seen the real dividing line as to whether one views the Fall as a wounding of human nature or something more…”

      I agree with this as well.


  3. Evidently We are Depraved enough to all be Spiritually 100% separated from God and in need of a savior. If we have good in us it doesn’t count as far as God is concerned. To the conversation part of Depravity here, I am not sure at all I would have found Christ unless The light of the Holy Spirit in other believers lives was bright enough to attract me. I shudder should I have been only left to look at the stars and be drawn to God (I have heard stories of this happening). The heavens may declare God but my eyesight and hearing are quite attention deficit. Yet I would be fully accountable to God when I stand before him. Maybe some can claim less depravity than me?? I prefer the prayer “Lord save the elect and then elect some more”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Gary,

      Thanks for jumping in here!

      I don’t think any one questions mankind’s sinful nature! What is being questioned here is the idea of total depravity. The theological idea that mankind is so impacted by Adams sin that he can not respond to God’s gracious call to salvation UNLESS and UNTIL he is already born again.

      If that was the impact of Adams sin, how come it doesn’t happen all over again when a newly regenerated person sins?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for this post that raises so many interesting points. I recall vividly my experience in Seminary when Calvin’s theology was not only taught, but was the ONLY acceptable view. It caused me no end of trouble! My biggest problem with it came from the fact that before I ever set foot in a Seminary, I had been trained in rhetoric, and I made a career of analyzing, constructing and deconstructing argumentation. The key to this is to quickly identify the premises upon which an argument is built, and make no mistake, a systematic theology is an argument (in the positive sense of the word)

    Calvin has built his systematic theology on a foundation of false premises and the result is problematic in the extreme. “Let these little ones come to me, for truly I say to you, unless you become like these little ones, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”

    So we must become like little children who are totally depraved and born to fry in hell?

    Obviously Jesus hadn’t read Calvin!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Don!

      “Obviously Jesus hadn’t read Calvin!” That’s funny.

      Calvin was an extremely smart guy and he has my respect. I have flirted with his theological paradigm for years and twice almost proposed. In the end, I just couldn’t agree with his conclusions. I try not to argue with people about it any longer, but I do like to post things every once in a while that challenge it in a non-typical way.

      Liked by 1 person

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