Calvinism Is So Yesterday, Part 1: Total Depravity

Millions of people devoted to reading and understanding the scripture have come to a very disturbing conclusion about the nature of God and His means of salvation.  The tenets of this view were first offered (conceptually) by Augustine and were systematically formalized by John Calvin thereafter.  The conclusions of what is presently called, Reformed Theologian, are based on a rigid and limited interpretation of scripture.  This particular blogpost is an attempt to bring scriptural light, reason, and contextualized insights to this unfortunate system of religion in hopes of proving it not only damaging but dangerous to eternal truths and the souls of Man.  Understand out the gate that Reformed Theology is a man-made system of beliefs garnered from the collective minds of men but I would never suggest that it has the power to interfere with or trump Gods victory over sin and death for the world.  That said, I am of the opinion that it is an inferior, myopic and utterly unfortunate summary of the written scripture and of the living God’s overall plan to save the world and its inhabitants.

Borrowing from past-critics of Calvinism, allow a short recitation of what have become its five main points.

  1. Total Depravity
  2. Unconditional Election
  3. Limited Atonement
  4. Irresistible Grace
  5. Persistence of the Saints

Let’s use this blog to summarize each point then we will return and address how each of them is a grand misinterpretation or misapplication to the Christian world of faith today.  We will begin with the idea of total depravity.

Total depravity is a phrase used to describe the spiritual state of all human beings born into the world after the Fall.  Total Depravity to a Reformed theologian is therefore a title that still applies to all people even out to the present.  Some confusion has come up relative to the words, “total” and “depravity” and so more modern audiences have retitled the first T to be, “total inability,” “moral inability,” or “righteous incapability.”

Citing Got Questions on the topic, we read:

“While often misunderstood, the doctrine of total depravity is an acknowledgement that the Bible teaches that as a result of the fall of man (Genesis 3:6) every part of man—his mind, will, emotions and flesh—have been corrupted by sin. In other words, sin affects all areas of our being including who we are and what we do. It penetrates to the very core of our being so that everything is tainted by sin and “…all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6). It acknowledges that the Bible teaches that we sin because we are sinners by nature. Or, as Jesus says, “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” (Matthew 7:17-18).
Other biblical passages that speak to the notion of total depravity are see scattered throughout the Bible and include,

– Man’s heart is “deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9

– Man is born dead in transgression and sin (Psalm 51:5Psalm 58:3Ephesians 2:1-5).

– Man is naturally, “dead in transgressions” (Ephesians 2:5)

– Man is held captive by a love for sin (John 3:19John 8:34)

– Man will not seek God on his own (Romans 3:10-11)

– Man loves the darkness (John 3:19)

– Man does not understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14

– Man suppresses the truth of God in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18

– Natural thinking seems right to Man (Proverbs 14:12)

– Man reject the gospel of Christ as foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18)

– Man’s natural mind is “hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is unable to do so.” (Romans 8:7)

There are misconceptions about the title, total depravity. Reformed thinkers claim that it does not mean that Man is as wicked or sinful as he “could be,” nor does it mean that Man is without a conscience or any sense of right or wrong. Total Depravity does not mean that Man cannot do good (in the world).  All total depravity means, in the most classic sense, is that the stain of sin taints everything that Man touches. (Romans 14:23Hebrews 11:6) because Man, without any reference to God, acts from a broken, inferior, even spiritually dead position.  Nothing that Man does on His own will ever be counted as righteousness because Man himself is unrighteous.

The scripture then confirms that all such “offerings” are filthy rags.  

Properly understood then, the doctrine of total depravity is meant to destroy the hopes of people who place their faith in any type of works-based system of salvation.  It will move a person closer to the acknowledgment that without God involved and operating in their lives, they cannot accomplish anything acceptable to Him.  Sure, people can create civilizations, vast empires and design all manner of good and valuable things that can benefit the world, but the doctrine of Total Depravity speaks to humankinds spiritual inabilities in the absence of God and His influences.

Of all the five points of the T.U.L.I.P., I tend to see total depravity as bearing the most weight.  But this admittance only applies to the former age of material religion before the finished and final work of Yeshua for the world.  But there are subtle and vital insights that must be included in this admission.

Yes, by and through the acts of the first couple, the world civilization certainly fell into sin.  And I would have to admit that unless the living God reached out and into the world’s spiritual economy we would have been domed to spiritual darkness forevermore.  But this is not what God did, is it?  Instead of leaving the world in a state of dark obscurity, unable to desire or comprehend the things of God, He stepped in numerous places along the way as a means to bring spiritual understanding to the world.

Until this state of spiritual understanding was permanently thriving in the world, a state made possible by the final and finished work of Yeshua the Anointed,  the scripture, describing the people of ancient biblical history, were born in sin and were therefore, by nature, spiritually dead, and, as Yeshua Himself said, “unless they are born from above they could not even see the Kingdom of God.”

This was true then.  Perhaps it is true now.  But the question of total depravity must be revisited in this age where God has, through His Son, overcome all things, the world has been reconciled to Him, (2nd Corinthians 5) and all know Him. (Jeremiah 31:31-34).  So where I personally have no issue with human beings living in a fallen world lacking in their own strength to choose or seek God on their own, we can see that God has reached out in numerous ways and means and has invited all to see and perceive Him thereby.

Unfortunately, most people overlook the victory of Christ, and all that it brought into the world, and read the ancient text and its contents as still having direct and complete application to them today.  Let’s consider some of these passages used as proof-texts to support total depravity.  They include,

Genesis 6:5 “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

This may have described the human race in that day, but we must remember that all of these words spoke to a time right after the fall, before the Law, before the incarnation and before the death, resurrection, ascension and return of the promised Messiah to His people.  It speaks of a time before the Holy Spirit fell!  So while the gift of the Spirit certainly serves to call rebellious, dark souls to abandon their ways and to receive God by faith in Christ, we must begin to read the text relative to the time/age given.

Genesis 8:21 “And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.”

(See the above comment on Genesis 6:5)  Again, where there may be a dearth of an ability in Man (especially man coming out from the Fall) to seek or know God on His own, the proof that the Living God has never left us alone ought to make the point less important than what the Calvinist makes it out to be.

Ecclesiastes 9:3 “This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.”

Solomon was a humanist and at times spoke only to the plight of Man but while his observances here in Ecclesiastes seem inspired they cannot be read  in a vacuum.  Read his words above and consider people like Noah, Abram, Isaac, Jacob and Job, a man whom God himself calls “righteous.”  Passages cannot be used to create theological superstructures.  For almost every principle in scripture there is a passage to challenge it.  We need to break from creating systems that result in strict didactic demands of doctrine and start to see all that God has done as have some basis and merit, while failing in other ways. 

Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?”

But how was King David, who did some very bad things, “a man after God’s own heart?”  We cannot disavow the evil nature men possess.  Our hearts are desperately wicked.  But does this mean, especially in the age where God has accomplished everything for the world through His Son, that we all continue to fundamentally lack any semblance of the Spirit or will of God?  Is it not reasonable to believe that once Yeshua has paid for the sins of the world, that God brought the world and all of its inhabitants into an age where we do have the ability to discern and choose according to some modicum of the spirit guiding?  This does not necessarily refute the idea of total depravity, but it does, while giving God the credit, suggest that all human beings have returned to the Edenic state and can, will and do choose to pursue and look to spiritual ideals?

Ezekiel 36:26 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

I trust this passage as true; I see it as supporting our loving God equipping us despite our spiritual blindness.  This is an admission for which I am so abundantly grateful.  But I do believe these words to be true and active and they help erase the nothing of world-wide total depravity present on earth in the days before the Messiah.

Mark 7:21-23 “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

Yes, Mankind is capable of all manner of evil – which is a straight up indictment on our needing Satan around to tempt us.  But this in no way supports the Calvinist notion of total depravity. 

John 1:12, 13 “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

While the Spirit is what calls all people to receive Him, the fact of the matter was and remains, people have the capacity, especially in this day and age, to receive Him in the first place.  

John 3:5-7 “Jesus answered, Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again.”

In that day and age, all people had to be born from above, a work of the Spirit of YAHAVAH, to even see the Kingdom of God.  But we are not in that day nor age.  The Law, the Prophets have been fulfilled.  The Spirit fell at Pentecost and Christ has paid the debt for all sin once and for all.  These facts suggest that the world was reconciled to the Father, the sin-debt paid, and God is now all in all.  Because of the second Adam, therefore, the world has been returned to the Garden (of Eden state) and all people, in the least, have the same mindset to choose good and evil.

John 3:19, 20 “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”

This speaks to those alive in that day and age.  And while the principles may still apply today, all human-beings have been exposed in some degree or another to the light, and have been freed from the chains of dark obscurity.  Certainly, all glory goes to the Father, but the ignorance of the former ages is over and God reigns victoriously over all things.

John 6:44, 63-65 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”

These passages were directly to that audience, alive in that day, and are true – God did draw all (literally kicking and screaming) and Yeshua would raise that elect crew as His own.   That would be His Bride, pure, holy and without blemish.  But again, this has nothing to do with people and believers today.

Romans 3:10-19 “As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all gone out of the way; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit; The poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

All of this is pointed at that people (in that day) in general to whom Yeshua came.  Certainly people today can embrace these ways but it does not mean that they do so ignorantly.  We maintain that all people know better, by the spark of life in them, and they choose to ignore the light given all by the victory of Christ.

Romans 8:7, 8 “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

I readily admit that when it comes to pleasing God the only way to accomplish such is by and through faith and agape love.  A person cannot please Him without a heart for faith.  But this is not the question.  The question is, “Are people today, post the death, resurrection, ascension and return of Christ, still Totally Depraved?  The rational is ludicrous in the face of Yeshua’s finished victorious work.

1st Corinthians 2:14 “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

No debate here.  This remains true.  The question remains however, is the natural man utterly incapable today of any sort of spiritual inclination?  We suggest that because of the finished work of Christ there is, in all souls, at least a spark of the divine in everyone, bringing all souls into accountability before their Maker.

II Corinthians 4:3, 4 “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”

Without question, the Living God elected (chose) certain people to be members of the Church/Bride in that day.  This cannot be ignored anyone than He chose elected the Nation of Israel out of all other nations.  But this does not mean He continues to elect individuals to be His children.  God did His electing in that day as a means to establish a Kingdom of choice (like what was in Eden) of all men and woman thereafter

Ephesians 4:17-19 “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to licentiousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.”

Not a proof-text for total depravity in my estimation.

Ephesians 2:4, 5 “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”

(see, note to 11 Corinthians 4:3-4 above)

Ephesians 5:8 “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”

True of those people then.

Titus 1:15, 16 “To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.”

True but not a proof text for total depravity.

1st Peter 4:6 “For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” 

Because of the Fall, men were dead to spiritual things in general but because of the finished work of Christ for the world, all have been returned to Eden and are facing the decision to either choose light and life, and self and death.   The notion of total depravity, while once applicable in this world, has lost power in the victorious work of Christ and all people today are equipped with enough spiritual insight to choose this day whom they will serve – themselves or Him.

God is light.  He is love.  He calls to all, all the time, always, and so we are all without excuse.  He calls to all the inhabitants of the world to see and receive and to live in His light through a number of means, including

  • Human conscience
  • Human emotions
  • The Cosmos (heavens and stars)
  • Nature itself (all His creations)
  • Difficulty and woe created by absence of His light
  • His Son
  • The Holy Spirit
  • His written Word
  • The witness and testimony of others who know Him

God calls to all, that He knows who will hear, receive and respond to these things and who will harden their hearts to them and reject receiving Him.  But all have been spiritually returned to the state of freewill choice, enabled by God having the ultimate victory over sin, Satan, death and the grave.  We might suggest that God’s light is beaming down and out to everyone and has over the ages.  But God, being good and light and love allows us to seek and hear and see or He allows us to love the dark (the absence of God) more than the light.  

Shawn McCraney
Shawn McCraney
Articles: 108

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