1. Total Depravity – Calvinism

The Human Condition According to Calvinists
The Calvinist view of the human condition is one of complete and utter depravity. They do not deny that man sometimes does things that are good. However, his fallen condition makes it utterly impossible for him to live righteously. He inevitably gives in to his fallen nature inherited from Adam. Because of this, he is utterly incapable of producing what is necessary for salvation — faith. Man’s apparent free will is guided by his passions, which are corrupt. Yes, he is free to choose. But, he does not have the capacity to choose what is good because the pressure from his fallen nature overpowers his reasoning abilities. Therefore, if man is to be saved, God must do everything necessary, including giving him the faith to believe, regenerating his nature so that he can believe.

Since Calvinists believe man is incapable of responding to God’s offer of salvation, they presume that God enlightens only those who are elect with a supernatural understanding that is withheld from the non-elect. Without this illumination, or infusion of understanding, which God gives or withholds according to His choice, man cannot respond to God. God ultimately decides by His sovereignty whether to provide what is necessary for man to believe the Gospel. He withholds this revelation from all the non-elect, but provides it for the “elect.”

Original Sin

Calvinists also teach the Roman Catholic doctrine of “Original Sin,” which is an essential component of their view of the human condition. Loraine Boettner explains this belief as follows: “But when God created man a moral creature, He proceeded on a different plan than He did with the angelic order. Instead of creating all men at one time and placing them on test individually, He created one man, with a physical body, from whom the entire human race would descend, and who, because of his union with all of those who would come after him, could be appointed as the legal or federal head and representative of the entire human race. If he stood the test, he and all of his descendants, his children, would be confirmed in holiness and established in a state of perpetual creaturely bliss as were the holy angels. But if he fell, as did the other angels, he and all his posterity would be subject to eternal punishment. It was as if God said, “This time, if sin is to enter, let it enter by one man, so that redemption also can be provided by one man.” …

But, tragedy of tragedies, Adam fell. And the entire human race fell representatively in him. The consequences of his sin are all comprehended under the term death, in its widest sense. It was primarily spiritual death, or separation from God, that had been threatened. Adam did not die physically until 930 years after he fell. But he was spiritually estranged from God and died spiritually the very instant that he sinned. And from that instant his life became an unceasing march to the grave.

Man in this life has not gone as far in the ways of sin as have the devil and the demons, for he still receives many blessings through common grace, such as health, wealth, family and friends, the beauties of nature, and he still is surrounded with many restraining influences. But he is on his way. And if not checked, man would eventually become as totally evil as are the demons.” [1]

The Human Condition According to Arminians

Sadly, Calvinists usually misrepresent the real Arminian position regarding the human condition. For example, Rev. William MacLean M.A, writes, “Arminians deny the total depravity of man, in that they hold thatthe will of man is free and has the ability to choose Christ and the salvation that is in Him.”[2] Yet, the third article of the Arminian Remonstrance states “That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the working of his own free-will, inasmuch as in his state of apostasy and sin he can for himself and by himself think nothing that is good — nothing, that is, truly good, such as saving faith is, above all else. But that it is necessary that by God, in Christ and through His Holy Spirit he be born again and renewed in understanding, affections and will and in all his faculties, that he may be able to understand, think, will, and perform what is truly good, according to the Word of God.”

As is obvious, the real issue at stake between Calvinists and true Arminians is not whether man is capable of conjuring up faith, or procuring his own salvation by the power of his free will. Rather, it is whether or not God empowers all who hear the Gospel, or only the elect, to respond in faith when the Holy Spirit draws them to repentance. In other words, true Arminians believe that God’s Spirit gives people the capacity to believe and exercise a truly “free will,” even those who ultimately resist and reject Christ. 

Original Sin

This, however, does not mean true Arminian’s are in full agreement with Calvinists regarding the human condition into which all are born. The issue of “original sin” is an area of some disagreement. We agree that the consequences of Adam’s sin is death for all Adam’s descendants. That is, all are adversely affected because of Adam’s sin. But, Calvinists think it was “spiritual death” that Adam experienced, not physical death. Boettner claimed above that Adam, being the federal head of the human race, sinned for the whole race. That is, since all men were potential in Adam, we are all responsible for Adam’s “original sin,” and are eternally condemned because of Adam’s transgression.

Therefore, every baby, at the moment of birth, is guilty before God, and is condemned. Augustine went so far as to claim that all infants who died without “baptism” to remove the stain of “original sin” were damned and went to hell forever. Infants who were baptized were righteous before God until they were able to understand sin. Roman Catholics continued to teach the Augustinian view of “original sin” with infant baptism being the cure. The Reformed churches also continue to practice infant baptism, despite the complete lack of biblical precedent.

Most Evangelicals do not realize the idea of the guilt of Adam’s “original sin” being common to all was not held by the early Church prior to the fourth century. The earliest church taught that physical death of Adam and all his descendants was the result of Adam’s sin. Augustine, the real father of Calvinism, taught “spiritual death” and the perpetual guilt of Adam’s sin contrary to all the Church Fathers that preceded him since the time of the Apostles. Boettner claimed that the “death” promised to Adam was not physical death, but “spiritual death.” The early Church did not agree. While there were three different views regarding the “death” promised to Adam, all related to his physical death. The three views were as follows:

1. Adam BEGAN to die on that day, the judgment referring specifically to the beginning of the process.[3]

2. “in the day” refers to the particular day of the week. Adam sinned on a Friday, he died on a Friday, and the “second Adam” (Christ) died on a Friday. [4]

3. “Day” is not literal, but refers to the first millennium.[5]

The Scripture used to support the Catholic and Protestant idea of “original sin” is Romans 5:12-21.

Romans 5:12-21

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned
13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.
16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification.
17 For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)
18 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.
19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.
20 Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more,
21 so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The immediate question that must be answered is whether “death” in this passage was the death of the body, as the earliest Christians believed, or “spiritual death” as Augustine claimed. Our position is that this passage speaks exclusively of physical death. The result of Adam’s sin was a curse on creation, which included the death of all flesh. Catholics claim that the phrase “because all sinned” in verse 12 means that all potentially were in Adam, therefore all of us participated in Adam’s sin. [6] They claim it means death spread to all men, because all sinned [being in Adam’s loins]. 

But that interpretation seems to conflict with the next two verses, which appear to give an exception to the previous statement. That is, even though “death” is experienced by all Adam’s descendants, those before the Law was given partook of death as well even though they were not guilty of breaking the Law because they lived before the Law.

The most natural reading of this passage is that the penalty of physical death, through corruption of the flesh, was the penalty for Adam’s sin. It was passed on to his descendants as well because we too, like Adam, all sin. This explains why Paul would make the exception in verses 13-14.

It goes without saying that if Adam’s body was cursed, becoming corruptible, all of his natural descendants would inherit the same defect of their flesh. This raises the question about what effects the fall of Adam had on the soul and spirit of man. The Bible is very vague on this point. But the early Church taught that the soul of man was corrupted by its association with his corrupt body. That is, the flesh of man exerts a strong corrupting influence on his soul. While he was created “good,” he does not always do what is good because of this corruption of the flesh.

Tertullian (2nd century AD), in his Treatise on the Soul, argues that our having a “soul” is what differentiates humans from animals. In chapters xv-xvi, he argued against those who thought that humans are no different than animals. That is, the “soul” is a figment of our imagination. In support of his denial of this, Tertullian called upon Plato and the philosophers. Plato taught that the “soul” of man distinguished him from animals. He thought that the soul had two parts, the “rational” and “irrational.” He had to make this distinction in order to explain the fact that man sometimes acts in a very rational way, but at other times allows his passions and emotions to rule his behavior, contrary to rational thought. Plato thought that man was created this way, with both a “rational” and “irrational” part of his soul.

Tertullian argued that Plato was almost right. That is, the early Christians agreed that man’s soul was partly “rational” and partly “irrational.” But, Tertullian disagreed with Plato’s thinking that this is how man was created. Rather, he claimed that the irrational behavior, when man is ruled by his passions instead of sound reasoning, was the result of the fall of Adam. Tertullian did not argue that man shares in the GUILT of Adam’s sin. Rather, he was explaining that the “irrational” part, being driven by one’s passions or emotions contrary to sound reason, is inherited from Adam because of his sin. This “irrational” part of all of us is most definitely inherited from Adam. It is now a part of our nature.

Verse 19 states that “as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” 

Catholics and Reformed believers think this verse proves that we all share the guilt for Adam’s sin. That is, we are born sinners because we share in Adam’s original sin. But, Paul did not explain HOW Adam’s sin caused all to become sinners. The Catholic doctrine is an assumption, an inference from this text. But it is not a necessary inference. The early Church thought that the physical flesh became corrupt due to the fall, and so this corrupt nature is passed on to all Adam’s descendants by procreation.

This corrupt nature leaves man powerless to overcome his tendency to sin against God. In this way, all are made sinners by one man’s disobedience, while at the same time not holding all men responsible for what Adam Himself did long before we were born. The early Church strongly upheld the idea that each person is responsible before God for his own sins alone. We concur with this view.

“Original Sin” as taught by Catholics and Protestants is not biblical, in our estimation. It also impugns God’s character, condemning people for things they have not done. 

Are All Capable of Receiving the Gospel?

There are many general offers of salvation to all in Scripture. Such offers imply the capacity of people to respond. If all men are capable of responding to the Gospel, God’s offers of grace to “whosoever will” are valid offers. If all men are not capable to respond, then God’s offers are somewhat of a farce. The capacity to respond to the Gospel might be something inherent in all humans, or else God could grant to all who will hear the Gospel the ability to respond at the time they hear.

The offers of salvation to the unsaved include direct appeals to the reasoning powers of unsaved men, their inherent ability to choose, and their ability to seek after God. For example:

Isaiah 1
18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. 

Isaiah 45 
22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. 

Isaiah 55 
Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 

Revelation 22 
17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely

These kinds of general offers to all the unsaved strongly imply that all who choose to come can be saved. If not, the offers cannot be genuine and sincere. In today’s climate, if Calvinism is true, God could be sued for false advertising.

Mankind is not physically dead. Nor, is his mental capacity to reason dead. Paul used “death” as a metaphor for a helpless condition. The above verses, and many others, assume that man has the capacity to respond to God by his own choice, to exercise his own free will, at least when God is calling Him to repentance. The effect of that decision is also clearly stated in the above verses. God will save him. Therefore, it is obvious that being “dead in sins” does NOT imply the inability to accept God’s offer of grace and mercy when it is presented in truth and being drawn by the Spirit. It merely implies that one cannot save himself. And that his being rescued from this condition depends entirely on God’s power to save.

Are Men Born Reprobates?

Paul described people who are “reprobates” whom God has given over to a “reprobate mind” because of their constant refusal to acknowledge Him, after repeatedly being enlightened and drawn by Him. “Reprobates” perfectly fit the Calvinist’s idea of “total depravity.” But, Paul made it abundantly clear in Romans one that a person is not born a “reprobate,” but becomes one after continually resisting God’s offers of grace and mercy.

This is NOT the condition of mankind in general. In other words, he is not born in a state of “total depravity” as defined by Calvinists. He BECOMES totally depraved through resisting God’s grace. His condition at birth is innocence. He becomes a sinner when he rebels against God in accord with his fallen nature. He is as described by Paul, being lost and incapable of changing his situation without God’s direct intervention.

Romans 1:16-28

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
17 For therein [in the Gospel] is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse
21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but BECAME vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

In this passage Paul indicated that unsaved man has the knowledge of God. Verse 19 says “that which may be known of God is manifest in them.” The word “known” here means “well known.” And this knowledge is “manifest IN THEM.” The verse continues by saying that “God hath shown it unto them.” Here we have God’s interacting with fallen man, making the effort to reach them by revealing Himself to them. Verse 20 says even God’s “eternal power and Godhead” are revealed to them through the creation. Verse 21 says that they “knew God” yet turned away to wallow in their sin. The word for “knew” is “ginosko,” the same word that is the basis of “foreknowledge” in Romans 8:29. Notice they “BECAME vain” and their hearts “WERE darkened.” This describes a process of hardening, not a fixed state that existed since their birth. Verse 26 says for this cause he gave them up…” 

Clearly, God abandoned the reprobates BECAUSE of their actions in rejecting Him in favor of their lusts, even after God attempted to reach out to them, giving them at least limited knowledge of Himself. Verse 28 says “And even as they did not like to RETAIN God in their KNOWLEDGE, God gave them over…” The word for knowledge in this verse is “epignosis” which means to have “full discernment.” Notice the word “retain.” This means while having such knowledge of God they did not wish to CONTINUE knowing God. Notice that the reason God gave them over to a reprobate mind is clearly stated by Paul. It was because of their choice. They did not like to retain God in their minds, but chose their sin instead.

To summarize the main points in this passage we could say that;

  • God draws and interacts with the unsaved, revealing Himself to them, knowing that most will reject Him.
  • Man, of his own free will, turns away from God.
  • Because of man’s choice, God turns away from such individuals and eventually gives up on them.
  • Fallen man is not “reprobate” initially, but becomes reprobate after God abandons him.
  • One’s fallen condition is not so totally depraved that he cannot respond to God’s call. Being a “reprobate” is much more “depraved” than one’s condition prior to becoming a reprobate. 

While the concept of “total depravity” is biblical, it does not apply to all mankind, only to those who have become reprobates or apostates through their free choice to reject God in favor of their own lusts despite God’s drawing them. That is, “totally depraved” is the result of willful and repeated rejection of God’s grace and mercy. Babies are born innocent. As Paul states in Romans 7, “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.” (Romans 7:9-11)

We can easily see from Romans 1 that there are more than one state of fallen man. It is a matter of a downward spiral, from innocent, to sinner, to reprobate. Some have constantly and so fully rejected God over a period of time, God has given up on them, giving them over to a “reprobate mind,” totally incapable of responding to the gospel. For these there is no hope of salvation. However, this demands that at some point they were NOT totally depraved, albeit being in a state of “dead in sins.”

Does God Draw the Non-Elect?

Calvinism’s “Total Depravity” claim lays the logical foundation for the idea that God only enlightens and draws a few “elect” individuals. But, as is plain from Romans 1, the whole premise of “total depravity” is flawed at its very foundation. God draws ALL MEN to repentance, as we will prove as we proceed.

John 1:8-12

8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

John 12:32
32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

Titus 2:11

11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,(KJV) 

Christ enlightens “EVERY MAN THAT COMETH INTO THE WORLD!” He draws “ALL MEN” unto Himself. Surely He drew those Paul described in Romans 1.

We agree with Calvinists that being “dead in sins” means that one cannot save himself, and without such enlightenment, one cannot choose God. However, we do not agree that God only gives such light to the “elect.” It is perfectly clear that God draws and enlightens ALL MEN, by revealing Himself through creation and through the gospel, even those who will become reprobates and go straight to hell. 

By Tim Warner Copyright © 2003

Next Part 2. Unconditional Election

1. Loraine Boettner, Man’s Totally Helpless Condition, http://www.reformed.org/calvinism/
2. Rev. William MacLean, M.A, Another Gospel, http://www.the-highway.com/errors_MacLean.html#TOTAL%20DEPRAVITY
3. Irenaeus, Against Heresies V,  23, Irenaeus, Frag. xiv
4. Irenaeus, Against Heresies V, 23
5. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, 23, Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 81
6. The Catholic Enclopedia, Original Sin, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11312a.htm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s