Eye on Total Depravity
A poster named Eye has made some very astute comments on my "Rightly Dividing The Word of Truth" blog post that I think bear repeating.
Here are Eye's comments:
Thanks for the opportunity to post a comment. I’ve read your posts and I thank God for your stand for the Truth of His Word. I too have looked into this ‘raging’ debate around the systematic theologic construct commonly called ‘Calvinism’. Yes, the debating is centuries old and it will most likely continue until the LORD returns. However, one of the articles I read recently on this topic by a man who is now a former Calvinist struck a chord in me that continues to resonate. He said that if you can cast doubt on the Calvinist’s definition of ‘total depravity’ – that is, man is incapable of searching the things of God, much less exercising his free will to follow God or choose the things of God, then you can topple the rest of the construct. Let me hasten to add that God’s Holy Spirit will lead us into His Truth if we submit ourselves to Him. With that, if I may, I’ll offer acouple of passages and a few comments around them. The first is from the beginning of God’s creation shortly after the fall of Adam and Eve and the second is right after Pentecost. If you will, at the very beginning of the two Testaments!
And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now [art] thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand; When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.
Did you see it? God actually singled out a ‘totally depraved’ man – Cain – and confronted him over his offering and his attitude. God also lovingly ‘challenges’ Cain (and I humbly submit that one can easily see God provides Cain with a choice). The choice is to ‘doest well’ as the KJB says and if Cain does the right thing regarding his offering to the LORD, the LORD promises him that he will be accepted by God. Amazing, a ‘totally depraved’ man is faced with a ‘choice’ to seek and obey God or not to seek Him and as a result he disobeys Him. We know the rest of the story – Cain made the wrong choice. Cain had a body and a soul and his spirit was dead as a result of the fall of Adam and Eve. Truly he was a sinner in need of a savior. God told Adam and Eve, who in turn had told their children, about God’s plan (Genesis 3:15). I humbly submit that I believe God must have informed them of His desire for a sacrificial system which Abel obviously believed and followed. Abel obeyed and Cain did not – Cain chose to do it his way.
The nuggets I glean from this passage are that even in the beginning of earth’s history, shortly after sin entered into the human race, God was actively persuing His creation. God personally encounters Cain in love and with His holy conviction. God does not force or make Cain do anything. He simply holds him accountable for his actions and He asks him to ‘contemplate’ his sinful state (disobeying the understood proper sacrifice methodology). God’s dealing with Cain is motivated by His desire to see Cain ‘do well’ and follow God. It can’t be any clearer. Cain had a choice, yes even as a ‘totally depraved’ man – a choice to follow God. But yet, the Calvinist rejects the idea that a totally depraved man can do such a thing!
John Piper’s qoute from Monergism.com on Total Depravity, “In summary, total depravity means that our rebellion against God is total, everything we do in this rebellion is sin, our inability to submit to God or reform ourselves is total, and we are therefore totally deserving of eternal punishment.”
I ask a simple question. Did not God ask Cain to reform, or better yet repent of his sin and ‘choose’ to “doest well”? The resounding answer is YES! Then God, who created frail man certainly knows our limitations and capabilities. Why would God ask His creation to do something He knows they can’t possibly do – to follow the Calvinistic argument of total depravity? Absolutely makes no sense does it? Then I humbly submit that God put Cain to a test that He knew the outcome of, but He still gave Cain a choice. We don’t know how long Cain wrestled with this, but we do know he failed. Again, a totally depraved man had a choice to make regarding God!
I also submit an early Church example right after Pentecost at the beginning of the Church and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – Cornelius.
Acts 10: 1-4
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.
Notice once again that a totally depraved man is ‘seeking’ God! That’s not supposed to be happening according to our Calvinist friends. Get this, his prayers and alms were actually recognized by God, so much so, He summonsed an angel to inform Cornelius.
Acts 10: 22
And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee."
Again, a totally depraved man that actually ‘feareth God’!
Acts 10:30 - 35
And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee. Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God. Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
Notice above that a totally depraved man fears God and get this – he is also working righteousness! And, let’s don’t forget he is also accepted by God.
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
Finally, we see that Cornelius heard the Gospel and was saved along with his household. I’m unable to find any reference in these straight forward passages to regeneration prior to placing faith in Jesus! If it’s there, the Calvinist must prove it.
My apologies for the long post, but this has been on my heart for some time! Keep up the good work and fight the good fight.
Eye, I can agree with Piper's definition of total depravity; however, because of the grace of God He doesn't leave us in that depravity. We are totally depraved because of being born with a sin nature, but God has given us all enough grace to stave off the total part of our depravity. It is what we do with His grace that determines how God will deal with us individually, he either hardens us or sheds more light on us. Some he hardens more than others. I think that is because of what they have allowed to cultivate in their hearts, though He does continue to draw. (Please feel free to point out the error in my thinking as I believe discussion helps us to learn from each other.) I do seem to recall a scripture where he does cease to draw, but I can't remember what it is. And it may be something that I've misinterpreted. I find it very odd that the Calvinist agrees that God's grace is prevalent in every way...BUT NOT when it comes to salvation? The most IMPORTANT part of our lives?
Like you pointed out in the account of Cain and Abel, God's grace is extended to us ALL. He shows us that grace throughout the entire bible! He allows things to happen to us, as sinners (and even when we're His children), so that we will cry out to Him and lean on Him. It is absurd to think that because we're spiritually dead that that means we cannot understand that there is hell to pay if we don't choose the path to righteousness, or that we cannot choose to stay out of hell.