Friday, February 27, 2015

Totally Depraved

From the December 2011 E-Blokck.


We now begin a series in which we will be answering from certain unnamed quarters varied critiques of our material on TULIP. The source of these objections shall remain unnamed as a rhetorical device, and because they deserve not the credence of being named, but interested readers may query for further information.

One thing we shall say is that this source is of the type that defiantly rejects any scholarship that interferes with their perceived notions of how Christianity is to be defined and ordered. Hence we will see that they often dismiss credible observations by serious scholars as invalid. As well, this personality retains a rather vengeful, childlike mentality which compels them to discover problems where none exist. However, we deemed it well to have an answer ready for any who inquired.

For this entry, we will look at critiques of our material on total depravity. As a reminder, I agreed that this notion is to be found in the Bible, though not in as many passages as some believe. Hereafter, my quotes are in italics; the criticisms follow, paraphrased at times, in bold.

What is the exact meaning of "total depravity"? Here are the points it generally offers, which one will find repeated in various forms throughout works in favor of TULIP:
  • Sin corrupts the whole person -- emotions, will, and intellect.
  • Although this is so, we are not as bad as we could be; we could be worse. We are, as Palmer puts it, not as intensively evil as possible; but we are as extensively evil as possible. [Palm.5P, 9] For example, while we as individuals may lie and cheat, this does not mean that we will go as far as murder.
  • We are incapable of a truly good act of our own selves. Any good deeds we do (outside of Christ) is merely a "relative" good deed. A truly good deed is done for the glory of God; unbelievers are incapable of this.
  • The supreme point following from these three: We are unable of ourselves to turn to Christ to be saved.
Why didn't you just refer to a proponent of Calvinism to define what is meant by total depravity?

I did. This is an example of what I mean by finding problems where none exist. The above is a summation of what, in practical terms, total depravity means, and is derived from a collation of numerous Calvinist authors (Palmer, White, etc.) In reply to this, our critic quotes from a couple of obscure Calvinist authors some highly technical points (e.g., "Sin, however, is not a substance.") many of which are not uniquely Calvinist (do Arminians think sin is a substance?) and none of which have any bearing on my intended reader -- the Christian who wants to know, in practical terms, what total depravity means in terms of their salvation. Other points offered merely repeat what I said above, in more complex terms (saying in 100 words what could have been said in 10).
The critic from this finds it necessary to deem my summary point, "We are unable of ourselves to turn to Christ to be saved," inadequate, for no other reason than that I do not add enough emphasis to suit his piety: E.g., it is not enough for me to say, "we are unable"; to be in accord with the truth, I must rather say, "we are utterly depraved"! Why "unable" is not sufficient to describe this phenomenon is hard to fathom; one can only guess that it does not suit this Calvinist's felt need for dramatic exposition intended to impose guilty feelings on the poor sinner.

have now concluded that all 4 of these points are true according to Scripture -- and therefore, I affirm that the T in TULIP is valid. However, I must qualify by saying that while it is valid, it is not supported by as many Scriptures as some are wont to think. Originally this essay was to explore the doctrine as expressed in the epistalory literature, but since it seems that "T" is clearly affirmed (in the first verse to be examined below) I see no need, at present, to proceed further.

It isn't clear what you mean by this. Why'd you use the word "valid"? 

An argument can be valid but still untrue.
The critic continues in this vein for some time, making much of the use of the word "valid," but they would have saved themselves some trouble by simply consulting a dictionary, and noting a primary meaning of valid, as "sound; just; well-founded." The definition they are assuming I use involves a highly technical and relatively arcane definition of "valid" that reflects the use of the word in formal logic.

It doesn't make sense to say that total depravity is not supported by as much Scripture as some are “wont to think”. If you agree that Scripture teaches total depravity, then why bother with such a qualification?

One must wonder at the blunt insensitivity of a critic who asks such a question. If we appeal to 5 passages for support of doctrine X, but only 3 actually support the doctrine, then there are multiple reasons to shed the other 2 -- not the least of which is the responsible use of Scripture and exegesis; but also because continuing to use the other two contextually invalidated texts leaves open a valid charge of dishonesty. This is, again, the critic creating a problem where none exists.

The next quote from me is extensive:

John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

I will begin, therefore, with the verse that clearly does teach total depravity. Palmer [Palm.5P, 16] tells us, "Here is total depravity: man cannot choose Jesus. He cannot even take the first step to go to Jesus, unless the Father draws him." This is indeed total depravity, but there is a factor involved that looks to shift the matter back to individual choice. Jesus goes on to say in John 12:32, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." The Greek word behind "draw" in the two verses is the same. Note the connotation that this word can have:

Acts 16:19 And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers...

James 2:6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?

This word has the connotation of being brought somewhere by force if needed, and against the wishes of the "draw-ee." This verse does indeed teach the doctrine clearly.

But once John 12:32 is thrown into the mix, something is indicated which may throw the matter back into human hands -- at God's sovereign directive and because of His actions. How are men drawn onto Christ? We know and all agree that the Holy Spirit is the "drawer" on men. But Jesus says that all men will be drawn unto him. So what does this lead to?

A logical syllogism: All men are drawn to Christ. The Holy Spirit works this function in all men. But clearly not all become Christians, and these verses only say that one cannot make the choice without the drawing first.

Even Yarborough, writing in favor of Calvinism in Still Sovereign, admits that this can refer to a "more general attraction that, say, renders persons accountable but not yet regenerate in other" and tries to make "all men" mean "all elect men" [as below] with no justification other than a pre-conceived application of Calvinism.

Therefore, practically speaking, while we absolutely must have God's prodding to come to Him, we are all getting that prodding -- just like you can't decide on a path without information on the path first. Geisler [Geis.CBF, 6], citing Sproul, observes that the question now is whether God gives the ability to come to Him to all men, and we discuss that more here.

I should note one response to this verse, which says that "all men" means "men from all nations" rather than literally "all men." This seems an all too obvious contrivance to save the doctrine of irresistible grace; in the previous verse Jesus speaks of judgment of the kosmos and the prince of the kosmos. It is the burden of the Calvinist to prove that "all men" [in fact, only "all" is actually in the text; "men" is implied] means "men from all nations" or "elect men".

After by some unfathomable means left unexplained getting from the above that I do not accept the approved definition of total depravity, and rambling on about intellectual dishonesty for a few lines, we get to actual objections:

You miss the context of John 12:32. Some Greeks had come seeking Christ. God is about to extend covenant blessings to Gentiles too. You give no reason to think that "all men" should not mean "all kinds" other than bias by Calvinists. That's not a reason.

Yes, actually, is it. The fact that Greeks had come doesn't in any way affect the context such that "all men" becomes "all kinds of men." The Greeks who came would be representative of either of those categories, so this "context" has no bearing whatsoever on the issue. Only presupposed Calvinism lies behind the need to insert "kinds of" between "all" and "men". Those words are not in the Greek. Nor does the "context" warrant their inclusion.

You interpret John 12:32 the way universalists do!

How interesting. And Calvinists and Mormons interpret certain verses the same way, too. This proves what? However "universalists" interpret this verse, or others, it remains that merely being universalists doesn't make their every interpretation of Scripture erroneous. And I do not advocate universalism, which can be wrong while my reading of this verse remains right. In the end, the critic is merely attempting to childishly influence readers by using a scare-word ("universalists").

But if Christ meant all men without exception, how does that work? You admit the Holy Spirit does this, but that requires preaching!

It requires, actually, information that points the way to salvation -- not "preaching" per se. As I have noted in other contexts, I believe every person is given more than adequate information to make a decision for salvation (aside from eg, infants, the mentally disabled, etc). How they get that information is their own business and God's. Perhaps they are given special revelation. Perhaps they go through certain logical steps. Perhaps they are sent a missionary. It doesn't matter, and it isn't our business. Thus the appeal to those who have never heard of Christ is misguided, to say nothing of being obnoxiously presumptive and imperialistic.

At the same time, the critic makes the rather idiotic assumption that my view requires that all men be drawn to Christ at all times. I don't see Jesus saying anything about the "drawing" being 24/7 and have never said that it says such a thing.

In the end, the begged question which allows the critic to turn this into "all kinds of men" is but a vain attempt to resolve other problems of their own making. That said, the critic from here tries to argue that my reading of John 12:32 is too literal (!) based on other passages:

John said that Jesus enlightens all men who come into the world in John 1:9.

Yes, and what of it? This is simply the same message as John 12:32. Jesus gives light to all men -- even though not all may accept it.

Ananias prophesied that Paul would be a witness to all men about the things he had heard and seen in Acts 22:15.

Unfortunately, this is one of those cases where the critic "proves" more than he wants to. Whether we take this as "all men" universally, or "all kinds of men" as he wants it to be, Anaias' prophecy would still be wrong. Paul of course did not witness to all men; and he didn't even witness to a fraction of the extant people groups in the world, such that one could hardly say he witnessed to "all kinds of men" either. He didn't witness to any Cherokee Indians, or any Ainu from the Japans, or any aborigines from New Zealand.

So what does that leave us? It leaves us with Acts 22:15 as a sort of legal witness, indicating that Paul's testimony is out there in the public square, so to speak -- and indeed, that is the sort of sense the word "witness" here can carry. In that respect, it is like the modern phrase that the President addresses the whole nation -- even those that are watching Hee Haw instead.

Paul said that we should respect what is right in the sight of all men in Rom. 12:17. Is anything right in the sight of every single man?

No, but all men have a sense of what is right, and this is what Paul commends us to respect -- the critic is naively finding in Paul's words some sense of universal morals. At the same time, if their reading is right, it is no more possible to do what is right in the sight of "all kinds of men," either.

Paul said the Corinthian church was like an epistle, known and read by all men (2 Cor. 3:2).

And as above, the critic has the same problem, since the Corinthians church wasn't seen by any Cherokee or Ainu. However, this is resolved easily as a legal witness, as it is in Acts.

Thus, the critic's attempt to blunt the force of "all men" in John 12:32 fails. His other examples fail, either because they make no more sense read as "all kinds of men," and/or because "all men" makes just as much sense read literally there as in John 12:32.

John 6:65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.

I would also note as well that John 6:65, which I previously included in the above, does not say that God enables people to believe -- I think that that is a Calvinist reading of the verse. Indeed the connection between belief and the Father's permission is not specified -- it's just as well to say that the Father has to act as an access-granter because people can and will join the movement under false pretenses that no man can discern, which would make much better sense under the client-patron relationship understanding.

The critic here offers an extended rant exclaiming that patronage has nothing to do with any of this, which is an example, as I noted above, of his disdain for credible scholarship. We are told that Jesus "did not adopt the mindset" of his culture, but amazingly, the result is that Jesus manifested a mindset that happens to match the 21st century, a convenience that speaks for itself.
In any event, my main point -- that no mechanism is specified whereby the Father gives the ability to believe -- is simply ignored with a tautology: It is pointed out that some men do not believe because it is not given to them by the Father. Since this is granted as true by my very explanation, it is hard to see what the point is. There is still no mechanism specified whereby the Father does or does not enable belief and faith (which the critic also assumes an incorrect definition of).

I can honestly interpret Genesis 6:5 under no different principles. This is undoubtedly exaggeration for effect, for of course one cannot literally have thoughts of the heart that are continually evil (for we must all sleep sometime); certainly the hearts of these antediluvians were wicked and depraved, but whether this means that they were depraved to the extent that total depravity requires simply cannot be determined from this verse -- much less can it be said that this automatically applies to all men throughout history, although it offers persuasive evidence that it is so. Nor does this verse say anything either way about whether men were unable to behave otherwise.

You're being inconsistent because you allow for hyperbole here but not in John 12:32.

Unfortunately, the critic is oblivious to a basic literary point concerning the identification of hyperbole: That is, some sort of literal or practical impossibility in what is expressed. What is expressed in Gen. 6:5 is, indeed, literally impossible, for reasons specified. In contrast, God has all the ability and power needed to make John 12:32 a literal and practical reality, which means one needs a good reason to designate it as hyperbolic, or to in some way qualify it. Thus far, no Calvinist, nor this critic, has provided any such reason.

Psalms 51:5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

This verse offers a standard Ancient Near Eastern exaggeration for the purpose of expressing a point: That we're sinners and we express it from even the youngest age; in this case, David expressing the utter depth of his own sin, in light of events with Bathsheba. While I in no way mean to imply that our sin is not serious or extensive, it is no more legitimate for the Calvinist to use this verse as they do than it is for the Skeptics (who make the same arguments using it), and the verse in no way says that we can't make a right choice.

The critic here begins by wondering if I am denying original sin; the answer of course is no (see here), and there is no reason to think so other than wishing to arbitrarily cause problems that do not exist. Beyond this the critic merely reaffirms the Calvinist reading of the passage, though failing to explain how a newborn infant can be a "sinner". (Perhaps this can be understood, under the usual view of original sin; but under ours, it is exposed as a contrivance designed to explain away logical and practical inconsistencies in the doctrines of original sin and total depravity.)

The critic further says that our choices "always contain an element of idolatry and self-worship in one way or another." Really? So our choice of bacon or waffles for breakfast has an element of one of these in it? We are choosing between the gods of Eggo and Hamm? This merely exposes the absurdity and inherent contradiction of this extremist view of depravity -- for by the same token, the critic's own words here, his own exposition of total depravity, itself reflects choices he has made, which by his own reckoning contain an element of idolatry and self-worship. And so, why heed his sin-tainted exposition?

The same sort of response is offered for Jeremiah 17:9; again, it escapes the critic that if indeed the heart is that deceitful, his own exposition is badly tainted. The critic also makes the rather peculiar comment that Jer. 17:9 cannot be proverbial because it is "in the middle of a prophetic utterance." By what rule these two categories became mutually exclusive is not explained.

John 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Palmer [Palm.5P, 17] points to this verse and argues:

A baby never desires or decides to be born. He never contributes an iota to his own birth. In the whole process from conception through birth, he is completely passive and totally unable to control his birth. In a similar fashion, the unbeliever cannot take one step toward his rebirth.

Though this relates to the "U" aspect of TULIP as well as "T", let's consider it now. I asked here at one point whether Palmer is getting his biological facts straight; I have never understood that a baby is a totally passive bystander in the birth process, but rather, does a little struggling of its own instinctually, which would rather reduce the impact of Palmer's analogy, since no one thinks instincts have anything to do with conversion.

As it turns out, a science-minded reader has told me that, indeed, Palmer is wrong: A baby even determines when it will be born, for it secretes a hormone that induces labor.

But I rather think the analogy Palmer draws is stretched anyway. The metaphor of new birth is appropriate; how else would the idea of a new creation be better expressed? In order for this argument to work, Palmer has to show that there was no better analogy available which would have illustrated both a new creation and a active choice behind the matter. Otherwise, he is simply stretching the analogy for his own purposes -- and we may next ask questions like, "What is conception analogous to?"

Our critic first makes rather a fool of himself mocking the point about a baby and hormones, asking first whether this secretion is an "act of the will." Where I said that it was is far from clear. The point rather was that Palmer's own reckoning of the matter was incomplete; note too that I said determines, not decides, a word which carries among its meanings a causal rather than a determinative sense (though it has that sense as well in other contexts). I did not think it necessary to insult reader intelligence by explaining which sense would be intended of an unborn baby, but I underestimated some such as our critic.

The critic also supposes that our scientific consult is just someone who is "curious about science." I was not at liberty to reveal this at the time, but I may now say, in this context -- much to the embarrassment of the critic --that the reader in question was one of the credentialed scientists at Creation Ministries International (at the time, though, part of Answers in Genesis). I would rate this person well above any local gynecologist our critic uses as a source.

In any event, the critic rails on in this vein a bit longer, having assumed I was arguing that this was an act of will by the baby, which was never said.

Acts 16:14 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.

Palmer tells us of Lydia, "Only after the Lord opened her heart was (Lydia) able to give heed to what was said by Paul. Until then, her understanding was darkened, to use Paul's description of the Ephesian Gentiles (Eph. 4:18)." [Palm.5P, 15]

Granting this -- for no such description is applied to Lydia at all by Luke -- I can see no reason why this cannot be an example of the paradigm I have outlined above whereby the Holy Spirit, drawing upon all men's hearts, now gives them what they need to make the decision of their own accord. If I may hypothesize a moment, it now appears that we will be leading into another petal off the TULIP doctrine -- that of Irresistible Grace -- and we found that to be lacking here.

Scripture nowhere says that a heart opened for response may offer a negative response.

That's a rather bogus argument, since Scripture nowhere says every heart opened to respond will respond positively, either, which means neither side can simply yell, "Scripture says..." Apart from this, the critic again refers to his prior responses on John 6, and further Calvinist interpretations (which are not found in Scripture, but rather, read into it as the mechanism of faith) of John 10: Jesus says, yes, people do not believe because they are not his sheep, but this hardly establishes to any degree the Calvinist cause-effect mechanism.

After much aimless nattering and braggartry, the critic returns with a complaint that I did not deal with certain Pauline texts. I made it quite clear that since I concluded from what texts I did consider total depravity Biblical, there as no need to address any further texts, whether they supported the doctrine or not. Some may, but some do not clearly do so: 1 Cor. 2:14 for example describes a phenomenon of spiritual insensitivity, but does not specify the cause of this insensitivity as total depravity (though it probably is). Beyond that, since I was not trying to rebut the doctrine of total depravity, it is dishonest for the critic to observe that these Pauline texts are difficult to refute and suggest that this is why I did not deal with them.

The critic concludes with a charge that I have not understood total depravity. This is curious since, as noted, all my definitions came from Calvinist authors. One may rightly ask whether it is rather not the case that Calvinists have not produced a uniformly agreeable definition either -- perhaps because in the end, the mechanics of the doctrine are indeed not in the text, which forces critics like this one to add to the text to make their case.

We will return in the next issue for the critic's treatment of the U petal and our response.


  1. JP i have some questions. I ran across this statement made by someone in the comments section of a christian article:

    " Do you know that Adam and Eve are not really in Genesis? In the original language of the text (Hebrew), the main characters of the poem are not Adam and Eve, are not even humans, but "soil" and "life source." One character is "adamah," that is soil, dust, humus or clay (also indicating the color red), Over the years, as the text went from one language to another (and new meanings), "adamah" morphed into Adam. The other character in the poem is "chavah" meaning life-essence. The name "Eve" appears nowhere. Soil and Life creatures""

    Is this true? You probably already have an article countering these objections somewhere but will you (please) tell me where it is? My second question (i hope i'm not asking too much) is about the trinity, where are the passages in the bible that give support to the doctrine of the trinity? the commenter i quoted said there are none. Finally he says:

    "Do you know that neither Genesis nor the rest of the Bible (of any version) was not written as news, or history, or science, or a guide to right living, or guide even to right theology"

    not as science possibly, not a guide to right theology maybe (the bible leaves room for us to speculate on the exact nature of god), not as news perhaps, But not as history or a guide to right living!? Will you address these statements (or tell me where you address them).? I am asking because they are common amongst liberal "christians" who are more beholden to cultural marxism than christianity.

    1. 1) That's typical bad logic. It doesn't occur to them that those words became what they were because of who they were named after. I haven't written on those specific instances before but it's of the same genre as other arguments by the likes of Randel Helms.

      2) On the Trinity see http://www/ Your commenter certainly is ignorant.

      3) The Bible is a mix of genres. Some was meant as history, some as a guide for living, etc. I'm not sure what more I can say since he's not presenting an argument, he's just blathering.