Are We REALLY Totally Depraved?
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:
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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Posted on January 14, 2015, in Christianity, Theology and tagged ancestral sin, Arminianism, Calvinism, christianity, depraved, early church history, Eastern Orthodox, El cristianismo, faith, family, Gospel, human nature, inspiration, John Piper, Life, Monergism, Not For itching Ears, Original sin, Orthodox Study Bible, Psalm 14:3, Reformed Theology, sinful nature, spirituality, Total Depravity, total inability, totally. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.