Thursday, April 12, 2007

On Total Depravity: Clarifications of the Arminian Position in Response to a Calvinist

Recently, I've been debating the issue of "Total Depravity" with a number of Calvinists on A charge often made by Calvinists against Arminians is that we (Arminians in general) "invent" ways to take credit for our own salvation. It's a spurious charge that is borne out of either ignorance or malice. I've edited several of these posts to attempt to counter a number of the myths and fallacies perpetuated by Calvinists against the Scriptural integrity of the Arminian view of Total Depravity. What's interesting is that this is one area in which Reformed Arminians and Reformed Calvinists are in agreement!...


I am what has come to be called a "Reformed" (or Reformation) Arminian. Some refer to it as "classical Arminian." Titles aren't important, what we affirm about TD is.

Reformed Arminians have NO disagreement with Reformed Calvinists in saying that man is "Totally Depraved." No area of a human's life is not affected by -- corrupted by -- sin. Man is fallen, and completely and wholly unable to affect, evoke or otherwise contribute to his/her own salvation.

Thus, God indeed MUST intervene. HOW God intervenes then becomes the main issue on this point. Calvinists believe God intervenes via predestination, causing regeneration which produces faith. Thus, man does not freely choose, but is chosen by God already, and is irreversably "elect." This state of being chosen and elect is "irresistible."

Reformed Arminians believe that God intervenes via "Prevenient Grace" -- that grace by which He enables man to believe -- but does not force man to do so. Thus, man is graciously enabled to accept the salvation of God by faith (also a gift of God inherent within humans), though he may chose NOT to accept God's gift of salvation. In this case, the "Elect" are those whom God foreknows will believe.

There is NO difference between Reformed Believers -- Arminian OR Calvinist -- with regard to TD (Genesis 6:5; John 3:16-18; Romans 3:10-18, 23).


The concept of "Total Depravity" does not necessitate that man is totally uninfluenced by God, nor that man does not in some way do "good" things. Cyprian, a Bishop in the Early Church, made the statement that "all man's abilities to do good are derived from God."

There are two elements that render this possible -- (1) ALL humans, though fallen, STILL bear the Image of God within them. Certainly it is marred, scarred and distorted, but it still may, in some circumstances, reflect the nature of God in some small way, much like a broken mirror may still reflect a true visage of one who looks into it. (2) Common Grace is still abundant to the world, and may still in some sense draw those who don't know Christ to "do good" or "glorify God" in their works.

This by no means suggests they are saved, but it DOES demonstrate God's sovereignty and grace to the WHOLE of the world -- not merely to the "elect."


I don't disagree that it is the "faith of Christ" that saves -- if we understand that God has given us (humans) that faith and made us the custodians of that faith.

To conclude that it is the "faith of Christ" that saves in the sense that Jesus believes FOR US, that our "belief means nothing," would then imply several problematic conclusions:

(1) Universalism. Scripture clearly teaches that "whosoever believeth in Him," (John 3:16), and that "God is not willing that any should perish..." (II Peter 3:9). If Jesus believes FOR US, then He believes FOR ALL. Of cours, this gets into the pet doctrine of Calvinists regarding limited atonement...

(2) No need for repentance. Everywhere, Scripture tells us that coming to Christ begins with repentance. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. That's why Jesus and John began their messages in the Gospels at the very beginning of their ministries with, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Hevaen is at hand!" That's why the writer of Hebrews (Paul, BTW :-D ) tells us that among the "elementary principles of the Gospel" are "repentance from dead works, and faith toward God (Hebrews 6:1).

(3) No personal responsibility. If Christ believes for us, then we have no responsibility to live as Christ desires. If following this train of thought to a logical conclusion, Jesus believes for us, so it's up to Him to produce a holy life in us -- but, what if we don't WANT to live a holy life? What if we WANT to sin? What if we RESIST His will? Or, is this where "irresistible grace" kicks in?

To insist on this tortured interpretation of so many Scriptures renders them meaningless -- unless you are one of the "elect" god has chosen and you are thereby smarter than the rest of the pathetic losers God has predestined for hell. To me, this denies logic, defies Scripture and de-emphasizes God's love for ALL mankind, whom He desires to save -- IF they believe -- which He has graciously given them the abiltiy to do.

And in advance, forgive the hyperbole -- I am making a point, not being hostile in ANY way! :-)

* * * * * * * * * * *

If we speak of faith coming from God, or from Christ, then in that sense we have all been given the ability to believe -- in the salvific sense, we are enabled by God to exercise faith unto salvation, or to resist and perish. As I said before, though faith is a "gift of God," He has in His Sovereignty made us custodians of that gift, and charged us to do so responsibly. Then, via prevenient grace He enables us to do so.

If we speak of "the faith of Christ" as something Jesus has to do in order for us to be saved, that becomes more problematic. Jesus' work was done on the cross -- "It is finished." In that sense, then, the role Jesus (or should I say the Person of the Holy Spirit) plays is granting us the ability to respond positively to our conviction of sin and His drawing through the work of the Holy Spirit.

In no way does the idea of "the faith of Christ" mean that somehow He must do something more for us to be saved -- for He has already DONE it.

Incidentally, I hear something similar to this coming from the Charismatic segments of Christianity quite often. Kenneth Copeland talks about "the faith of Christ" as though it is somehow separate from the "gift of faith" which God grants to all men. Something to consider...


Salvation is ALL of God. That does not absolve US from the responsibility of being obedient and doing as He instructed us in order to gain salvation and entrance into His Kingdom!

Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent (John 6:28, 29).


(To a particular Calvinist) You've certainly made your case forcefully. As with most Calvinists, you seem to have taken the position that, since salvation is "all of God," that axiomatically removes any role of man in any shape, form, or fashion from the equation.

Man is "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1) you say. And I agree. "Christ, by His right acts makes men free and gives them life" (Romans 5:18) you say. And I, again, agree.

I suppose that which is most problematic in this discussion is the Calvinist tendency (fallacy?) to deny the necessity of faith for salvation.

Oh, I know Calvinists believe faith is there -- AFTER regeneration. But, of course, that presupposes that God neither desires nor requires the assent -- whether intellectual agreement or spiritual surrender -- of a human in order to experience salvation. They are either "predestined" to be saved, and are thereby irresistibly "elect," or God created them with the sole purpose of sending them to the eternal damnation of hell-fire.

Calvinists may certainly "interpret" scripture in this manner. I think, however, that other passages have relevance to this issue. Other scriptures -- many already mentioned here -- but all too often dismissed, explained away or just ignored by Calvinists.

I could remind you that "God so loved the world" (John 3:16) or that "God is not willing that any should perish" (II Peter 3:9), or maybe even that "it is through faith that you are all sons of God in union with Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26) and "faith in Jesus Christ is the ground on which the promised blessing is given to those who believe" (Galatians 3:22).

There are many others... Maybe though, this simple phrase might clarify my understanding of Scripture -- and the very heart of God.

"Whosoever will."

In the final chapter of revealed scripture, John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes, "Whosoever will let him take of the water of life freely" (Revelation 22:17). This is a -- THE -- Divine invitation. This invitation echoes across the entire expanse of Holy Writ. Consider for example:

"Whosoever believeth on Him..." (John 3:16); "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13). These and countless other passages obviate an invitation -- an invitation which is offered to someone who can accept, or reject it. An invitation that cannot be rejected is not an invitation, but a command, (a "decree" in Calvinist terms). A "command" or "decree" can neither be accepted "freely" nor can it produce "freedom" in that life.

This invitation is offered to "whosoever will," which applies potentially to every human being and indicates the engagement of the will -- the HUMAN WILL. Thus, a choice.

This is a choice we cannot make if left to ourselves. Our fallen nature precludes human ability to choose the right and the good. That is why the Holy Spirit came -- to "convict the world of sin" (John 16:8), and that is why Jesus was "lifted up," to "draw all men" to Himself (John 12:32).

In that conviction, in that drawing, the Holy SPirit works on the heart of everyone to enable them to believe (prevenient grace) -- but not the ensure or guarantee that they will or must believe.

God's offer of salvation to every human is real, and He does everything to enable humans to receive it -- except force them.

If God's offer to "whosoever" does not mean "whosover," and if He does not require the engagement of human "will," what a cruel, cosmic joke to pull on the very creatures God has created.

As certainly as God is sovereign, He is loving. To abandon all but an "elect" few and leave them without hope or opportunity defies God's revealed nature, and the very witness of Scripture itself.


(originally posted on "Total Depravity" thread,

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