Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Total Depravity - Implicitly Denied

With Augustine I think we must maintain that all the “good” unregenerate man does is merely the result of one lust restraining another. Man’s so-called good, not wrought in regeneration, suits him for depraved and sinful reasons. The miserly man does not spend his money on licentious living, but the reason for such respectable refrain is a sinful lust for money if not also an insatiable desire for self-respect and the respect of others. (Maybe splendid pagans aren’t so really splendid after all.)

God’s common goodness restrains fallen man through the providential employment of man’s sinful passions in conjunction with man being created in God’s likeness. Accordingly, I for one will not say that Hitler’s judgement won’t be less severe than splendid popes or sacrificial nuns. How could I possibly know? {This might serve as a fair reminder for Christians to consider the impetus for their own works of charity, without getting into a morbid introspection, of course. But prayerful introspection here and there, which although has fallen out of fashion along with the Puritans among the self-appointed keepers of the Reformed confessions, is always under good regulation.}

When we say that man “can always do worse” or that “Hitler didn’t kill his mother,” we must also maintain, over-and-above the sinful reasons for sinners not wanting to do worse, that man is unable to do other than what God has decreed. So, in another sense man actually is as bad as he can be - both in a metaphysical and decreetive sense. But, how often is that qualification made when discussing total depravity? How often is it taught that the unregenerate man is not worse than he might be only because he desires these sins more than those sins? Where's the accent, on "common grace" and how wonderful it is that the "unchurched" do such wonderful things? Or is it on the evil intentions of the ungodly neighbor who poses as good? The end result is that grace is not so amazing anymore. I think in some respect grace was more amazing 150 years ago among Arminians than it is in many Reformed churches today..

In sum, what I tend to read in the majority of discourses on total depravity is not what the doctrine actually means but what it does not mean. This is most unfortunate. I can't even say that an apology is being made for the truth of man's corruption through the fall - for an apology would first presuppose an acknowledgment of the true doctrine. This accommodation is no less than a semi-Pelagian understanding of the fall, if not worse, which would be much worse - Pelagian-humanism 

The profound truth of this doctrine is the very backdrop for the glory of God's saving grace in Christ; yet it is scarcely taught by those who profess the Reformed faith. What is too often missed is that this is no mild antithesis that exists between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. It is a deep seated enmity inflicted by no other than God Himself.

Because we're more concerned these days with the cash value of things than the principle of the matter, let me close by saying with the hope of enticing some that total depravity has far reaching implications in pastoral ministry and evangelism, but that's for another day I suppose.




17 comments:

Joshua Butcher said...

I recognize the first picture, but I don't recognize the second. Who is it?

Reformed Apologist said...

Herman Hoeksema, not Sméagol! :)

He was a great Calvinist who taught God's sovereignty without shying away from the tough stuff.

Reformed Apologist said...

Also, he denied that we can deduce from Scripture that Adam could have merited anything from God, let alone confirmation unto a glorified state.

BTW, I'm working my way through Beale's biblical theology and I think he gives the best case for a probation period that held out glory as feasible, but it's still an unnecessary inference though more compelling than what I've read by any other.

Joshua Butcher said...

I had an interesting discussion with some eighth graders about Adam's ability to obey and renewed man's ability to obey a few weeks ago.

They were able to conclude that the power of the Holy Spirit and union with Christ would be just as necessary for Adam to remain obedient to God as it is for the regenerated man.

Reformed Apologist said...

That's not a sound conclusion for them to have drawn. Adam certainly obeyed for a while apart from regeneratoin, so had God so deemed he could have obeyed pereptually without falling. What was needed is God's sustaining grace, which God determined to withhold. So yes, the Holy Spirit needed to be operative in sustaining Adam, but union with Christ and regeneration, both of which I'd say were not present, was not necessary. All Adam needed was that which God had granted prior to the fall. Yes?

Joshua Butcher said...

They did not include regeneration in the deduction, but they did conclude union with Christ, although we did not discuss how that would have to be different from union with Christ for the regenerated man.

I think it would be a confusing way of putting it to say, "union with Christ," but at the same time, I wonder whether some element of fellowship with Christ was part of "that which God granted prior to the fall." If each person of the Trinity were active in Creation (which seems evident in Genesis 1 and other corroborating passages of Scripture), and if the Holy Spirit was sustaining Adam in the duration of his obedience (by definition of how God's grace operates), and if the Father was the one with whom Adam spoke (an assumption I take from the text of Gen. 1 and 2), whence the Son's activity? Or, was the Son inactive toward Adam? And if the Son was active, in what way?

Reformed Apologist said...

I only think of union with Christ as a post incarnation phenomenon -union with the Second Adam, which presupposes His humanity. Moreover, the CoG was made with the incarnate Christ to come, not the Second Person apart from the human nature. Q&A 31 WLC confirms this understanding, but I base it on Galatians three's fulfillment of Genesis 17.

Surely though, the Trinity works in harmony and is active in all activities, though we obviously maintain that the Son died, the Spirit was sent etc. etc. etc.

What I like is that they saw that Adam needed more than he was given. There are many "theologians' that think that Adam could have (in a metaphysical sense) obeyed according to his free will, which reduces to an affirmation of LFW, a monstrosity indeed yet something your 8th graders appreciate more than many teachers! Keep up the good work. :)

Joshua Butcher said...

Slow and steady, slow and steady. Hopefully error free as well!

rfwhite said...

Ron: thanks for this post. In the intramural resistance to describing depravity as "utter" (as distinct from "total" aka "thorough") I am lefting wondering if the Westminster Divines had it wrong in their Confession of Faith, 7.4., when they confessed: "From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions."

Reformed Apologist said...

Thanks for stopping by.

I don't know; that seems pretty "total" to me. :) FWIW, I’m real good with the Divines on their phraseology.

My concern, if I wasn't clear enough, is not so much the difference in terms that guys like Sproul use, e.g. "radical corruption" as opposed to "total depravity," but rather what's the impetus for the change in terminology? Don’t get me wrong though; I don’t like Sproul’s terms at all. Aside from semantics, their doctrine is at best misleading and I know this because they explain themselves so I don't need to speculate.

These guys want to communicate that man is affected in all his faculties and affections but not "totally,” which then gives way to their explaining that man is in some way good, which accommodates a non-revelational assessmet of how men really is in God’s eyes. Whereas “total depravity" affords occasion for one to inquire how man can be appear "good” if he’s in fact totally depraved. The appearance is a sinful masquerade that’s how he can appear good. Sproul’s approach affirms man’s goodness not as a masquerade and then explains how corruption has touched every part of man’s being but not totally. The Sproul way misses – no, it undermines(!) the point that man’s good is wicked in God’s sight, through and through, not just as in touching every part of man’s being. Look at it this way. Do we really need to be told that man does external good? No, but the natural man does need to hear that the so-called good he does is truly wicked through and through.

Thoughts?

rfwhite said...

Ron,

You pretty much took the words out of my mouth. As I said to someone else, though I was taught (as many have been) that “total depravity” doesn’t mean that “we are as depraved as we could be,” I now think this is misleading. I think that description, once elaborated, shifts categories in midstream, from our state (or condition) to our acts in that state. It is hard not to see the view that "we are not as depraved as we could be" as linked with a certain apologetic position and its implications for the noetic effects of sin.

WCF 6.4 (not 7.4 as I erroneously mentioned above) strikes me as quite clear: for WCF, total depravity is utter depravity, precisely because the term applies to my state of corruption, not to the frequency or severity of the transgressions that proceed from my state of corruption.

That said, united to Christ and renewed by His Spirit, don't we have to say that we are no longer “utterly disinclined, disabled, and antagonistic to all that is good,” and no longer “wholly inclined to all that is evil”? To say otherwise seems to deny regeneration and renewal.

Reformed Apologist said...

Agreed.

In particular I resonate withthis: "That said, united to Christ and renewed by His Spirit, don't we have to say that we are no longer “utterly disinclined, disabled, and antagonistic to all that is good,” and no longer “wholly inclined to all that is evil”? To say otherwise seems to deny regeneration and renewal."

That's why I cringe at some corporate confessions of sin that churches recite, as I point out here:

http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com/2012/06/corporate-confession.html

Joshua Butcher said...

Ron, how would you relate the Holy Spirit's restraint upon sin and the restraint caused by the lusts of men? Is the Spirit's work of restraint predominantly or entirely manifested in the providential employment of man's sinful passions, or do you include other aspects?

Reformed Apologist said...

Yes,I'd say the employment of passions in conjunction with God's ordering of circumstances that appear before the souls of men. So, I'd say God preinterprets and defines how a particular providence will effect a passion which is then acted upon. This doctrine of concurrence, which is essentially the doctrine of providence as it relates to the will, is a delicious matter altogether. It was something that grabbed me before knowing any Calvinists other than those I met in books, most of whom were dead. When I read Pink for the first time (Sovereignty of God) he was saying in words everything I had been thinking while in the Baptist, Arminian church.

ANNOYED PINOY said...

Ron,I understand if you don't approve this post because it's off topic. But I wanted to ask you or other presuppositionalists readers of this blog to possibly one day address the arguments an atheist friend of mine made against presuppositionalism. Specifically to his youtube video titled Presuppositionalism & Properly Basic Beliefs.

After setting up the foundations for his argument against presuppositionalism in the first 28 minutes of the video (which is essential to his argument), he transitions into his argument against presuppositionalism for the last 6 min of the video HERE.

I've been dialoguing with him for over a decade and he's very sharp (IMO). At least compared to me (but that's saying very little). He studied philosophy as a undergraduate and was knowledgeable enough that he was allowed to teach other undergraduates. His background is in epistemology. That was his the area of research when he eventually decided to stop pursuing his doctorate. He said that the closer he got to getting his doctorate, the less appealing it became to him.

I don't recommend anyone respond to his arguments without viewing the entire video. He's a really nice guy, but honest enough to call someone on their BSing (like he has done to me on multiple occasions). If anyone does respond, I'll call his attention to any responses.

I posted a similar request at Triablogue HERE.

ANNOYED PINOY said...

Ron said "...the natural man does need to hear that the so-called good he does is truly wicked through and through. "

I always thought that the reason why some Calvinists prefer to use the word "total" rather than "utter" was for the following reasons:

1. to affirm that the unregenerate can perform some of the external requirements of the law

2. that whatever an unregenerate person does is always tainted with sin and sinful motives

3. no matter how close an unregenerate person fulfills an external requirement of the law (cf. #1 above) or how good a motivation was (cf. #2 above), they always fail to be pleasing and acceptable to God since they're never perfectly done or done in faith to the glory of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

That was my understanding of Total Depravity. I guess I'll have to do more study.

Ron said, "...in another sense man actually is as bad as he can be - both in a metaphysical and decreetive sense. "

I agree that man is metaphysically as bad as he can be since God is sovereign over creation. But, decreetively? I suspect God could have decreed even Hitler to be worse than he was. Though, I understand that some Calvinists believe that God's decree couldn't have been other than it is.

Quoting Gordon Clark:

It is not true that the Father could choose to create or choose not to create. God did not have, from eternity, a blank mind, undecided as to whether to create or not. God’s mind is, or better, includes the idea of this particular cosmos, with Abraham, David, and Jesus at particular points.

This is not the “best of all possible worlds,” Leibniz claimed: It is the only possible world, As Spinoza claimed. Since God’s mind is immutable, since his decree is eternal, it follows that no other world than this is possible or imaginable.
- The Trinity, 111,118-119.

I got that quote from a blog of Steve Hays where he disagrees with Clark.

Reformed Apologist said...

Indeed, your 1 and 2 are true. Yet, also, I see no semantic difference between utter and total. Whereas “radical,” both tacitly and implicitly I think, suggests something less that the Reformed doctrine of depravity.

no matter how close an unregenerate person fulfills an external requirement of the law (cf. #1 above) or how good a motivation was (cf. #2 above), they always fail to be pleasing and acceptable to God since they're never perfectly done or done in faith to the glory of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

If you will, the works of the unregenerate are not merely never “perfectly” done but rather they are never wrought in any sense in faith, for God’s glory or in the power of the Spirit. In comparison I’m fine saying that the works of the converted are never “perfectly” done in faith, to God’s glory, etc.

I agree that man is metaphysically as bad as he can be since God is sovereign over creation. But, decreetively? I suspect God could have decreed even Hitler to be worse than he was. Though, I understand that some Calvinists believe that God's decree couldn't have been other than it is.

Aside from your fine distinction regarding the necessity of the decree (in your last sentence) that’s not what I have in view regarding man being as bad as he can be in a decretive sense. I’m simply coming at the metaphysical point from another perspective. If it’s metaphysically impossible for man to do worse, then it’s only because the decree ensured the necessity of the choice. I’m not saying any more than that.

Also, if Hitler killed his mother he might be better off before God than had he not; it would depend upon the motive for not relative to the motive for doing so (allowing for counterfactuals). Those are things that God determines. We must keep in mind that sins are restrained by other sorts of sins. Yet God weighs all things in the balance.

Finally, the reason I think this is the best world is because God does what is best. Rather than asking whether this world would be better than one with one less atrocity, why not simply ask whether a world that didn’t need redemption would have been better than this world that does need redemption. The former way of framing the question proceeds on a premise that one less sin must be better whereas the latter way, being a more extreme comparison of two worlds, seems to tease out that it’s God’s wisdom that determines “best” as opposed to the amount of sins, which seems to appeal to our sense of best while abstracting particulars from God’s overall plan that has a divine motive behind it.