The Major Problem in Theological Discussions

I am convinced the landscape of theological discussion has been dominated by the wrong foundation. The major problem that I am seeing with theological discussions is Total Depravity. If all discussions begin there, then it is almost as if Calvinism IS the most logical conclusion. In most conversations regarding regeneration, when one understands man’s plight in a total depravity framework, he cannot view man in any other light but dead and in need of regeneration in order to be able to believe. This concept is I believe really better defined in the following way.

The correct way to understand man’s plight for me is as follows… Man is depraved. What does that mean? To say he is dead is not really correct because while it is true that dead mean cannot respond to God, it must also be true that they cannot sin, which is a common retort from non-Calvinists. The Calvinist knows that is not true so he bends dead to be “spiritually dead” but most cannot really explain what that means… they just throw it out there and use it and ignore any attempts to force them to define it. I would define being spiritually dead by saying, “the unregenerate man can only sin. He cannot do anything pleasing to God and Romans 3:23 defines sin as “falling sort of the glory of God.” So, since man can only sin and he cannot not sin on his own, his heart has to be transformed in order to not sin.” I actually am working through the implications of this statement and working it into my statement that man is totally lost as opposed to totally depraved.

Now the question becomes, HOW DOES GOD CHANGE MAN’S SINFUL DISPOSITION FROM ONE OF NOT BEING ABLE TO NOT SIN TO BEING ABLE TO BE BORN AGAIN? I maintain that revelation or the Irrefutable Gospel which is the message that God so loved the world, (UNCONDITIONAL LOVE) that the whosoever will’s may come is what opens the door of man’s hearts brought about by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit which allows faith to exercised. This is basically what the Calvinist and Arminian are arguing is what takes place in their posits of irresistible grace (Calvinist) and Prevenient Grace (Arminian) . I do not believe a man can just wake up on his own and become a Christian, which is what Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians maintain. Man left to himself cannot please God on his own apart from the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and the reconciliatory work of God in a person’s heart. Again, the difference between what I believe takes place and what the Calvinist and Arminian posit, is really rooted in the tenets of Total Depravity more so than anywhere else. In order to break the argument, total depravity must be the focal point, not what happens later; it is like arguing Dallas is west. If you are in Memphis that is correct. However, if you are in Los Angeles that is not correct and that is a good way to illustrate the problem as I see it. Actually there does seem to be a lot more commonality in what is being debated than most think. The difference in most discussion seems to me to be rooted in the dynamics of total depravity and how that is understood and the ramifications of how that actually plays out.

So the challenge is to lay out the problem of sin in a differnt manner than what total depravity does. I am really seeing this in its most basic sense, as a struggle between pride and obedience. God has created us in His image which to me means we have the ability to be in control of our own destinies. God gave us the choice to choose; we had no choice in that. We also had no choice in choosing the consequences of our choices. God did that. He created us with certain needs and desires. His intention is to meet those needs and desires.

2He does that in what I am calling, His perpetual presence. Where God’s presence is, there is His power and His provisions are. That is what gives us life. When we choose any other path, pride becomes the antithesis of God’s will and way and that is sin and sin separates us from God, which is death. God makes provisions available to us that give us life and ironically they are ALL associated with His perpetual presence. That is really the basis of covenant in both the Old and New Testaments; God saying, I want to be your God and I want you to be My people. This is the basis I believe for the incarnation itself. God’s perpetual presence is now with us in the person of Christ Jesus. I also believe this has a lot to do with a bodily resurrection: Spirit and flesh united forever. Notice what defines “new birth”; it is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the new born believer. God’s perpetual presence is now with us, forever.

If we are successful in establishing some common ground away from the notion of total depravity then I believe there maybe hope that new ground can be laid that will lessen the divide in this whole argument. If that cannot be done, then the divide will only grow deeper. I pray for the former.

Grateful to be in His Grip!

><>”

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16 responses to this post.

  1. “Pshaw!” As my ordaining pastor, Dr. Ernest Campbell use to say. Bob, you will be in the flame of sovereign grace and preaching it before very long. You are about where I was in my first year of pastoring. I had gone to my church in May ’62 and by the Summer or Fall of ’63, I had come to the conclusion, that man was unable, disable, suffering from inability, as in dead, helpless, impotent, and lacking all desire to change (why should an Ehiopian want to change his skin?)., so it would take something sovereign, supernatural, and stupendous, marvelous and miraculous, to enable, empower, and endow man with the wherewithal to be able to come, to want to come, etc. My ordaining pastor pastored in Florida in the 60s and into the 70s, beginning with FBC of Hialeah, then Boynton Beach, Apopka, and, finally, Archer, Fla. He would found the American Race Track Chaplaincy while at Hialeah (cf. Who’s Who in Religion.2nd. edn. Chicago: Marquis, 1977). It took me some more years to get it all ironed out. I fought every thing every step of the way, but the Lord has His way anyway and one has to laugh at how He does it. Like my friend Gene Spurgeon. In any case, the Lord gets it done, sooner or later. And all of it with a view to a Third Great Awakening to win the whole earth, hopefully, beginning with this generation and continuing for a 1000 generations (anywhere from 20,000-100,000 years, depending on how much longer humans will be able to live due to improvided conditions) and perhaps millions and millions of worlds and every last soul in all of that time and space and place..just so God can playfully and humorously remark to the comfort of his discouraged children about the number of the redeemed being so great a number no one will be able to number them (Rev.7:9).

    Reply

    • Dr. Willingham,

      That is an interesting take on my comments for sure! My earnest desire is to go where He would have me go and preach His message for sure. I know mine does not work.

      Let me assure you, I am not fighting any steps… and I have no delusion of me ever getting it all getting it all ironed out. I am just enjoying the journey and the benefits of His perpetual presence.

      ><>”

      Reply

  2. Posted by wingedfooted1 on January 17, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Bob,

    This notion of “total depravity” is a concept that is uniquely Augustinian. Both Calvinists and Arminians are Augustinians when it comes to TD. I have even been recently informed that when it comes to TD, Arminius was just as calvinistic as the modern day Calvinist; which taken to its logical conclusion means today’s Arminians are just as calvinistic as today’s Calvinists when it comes to TD.

    What we have to remember is that Arminians are in reality nothing more than 1 (or possibly 2) point Calvinists. What separates the two is the cure. The 5 point Calvinist believes the sinner must first be regenerated (not biblical). The 1 (or 2) point Calvinist believes the sinner must be released from the bondage of sin before he can exercise his newly recovered “free will” (equally unbiblical).

    When “calvinists” and “arminians” argue over the cure of TD, its an “in house” argument. Its not a fight of country versus country. Its a Civil War. Its Calvinists (4 or 5 pointers) fighting against other Calvinists (1 or 2 pointers).

    From what I see in scripture, I believe it is in error to blur spiritual death with depravity. Spiritual death occurs when we sin against our Creator, as did Adam. Depravity is something that occurs over a period of time as man continually rejects the God of the bible who reveals Himself thru His word, and even creation itself.

    God bless.

    wingedfooted1

    Reply

  3. Wingedfoot1

    I am sure your position of Arminians being 1 or 2 point Calvinists will draw some attention. You are correct in your assertion that both see TD in much the same light, as I understand it.

    You wrote, “I believe it is in error to blur spiritual death with depravity. Spiritual death occurs when we sin against our Creator, as did Adam. Depravity is something that occurs over a period of time as man continually rejects the God of the bible who reveals Himself thru His word, and even creation itself.”

    Can you explain to me how “spiritual death” affects the lost person in your system and how does the lost individual come to be found?

    ><>”

    Reply

    • Posted by wingedfooted1 on January 17, 2012 at 4:57 pm

      Bob,

      In regards to your first comment (Arminians being 1 or 2 point Calvinists), the math is simple.

      1 pointer…..Calvinist
      4 pointer…..Amyraldist
      2 pointer…..Arminian
      1 pointer…..Arminian

      No matter the differentiation or degree, all fall under the heading of Calvinism (or Augustinianism).

      Next, you asked….. “Can you explain to me how ‘spiritual death’ affects the lost person in your system and how does the lost individual come to be found?”

      Bob, I do not have a system. Systems are the creation of man that causes division, build barriers, inflates egos, and hardness of heart. However, to answer your question, spiritual death separates us from the Holiness of God and puts man in the position of having to be redeemed. Without this redemption, man is hopelessly lost and destined for eternal damnation. As we read in the parable of the Lost Son, both “dead” and “lost” are interchangeable, as is “alive” and “found” (Luke 15:24 NIV). Still, even when man is in a lost state, he is still able to “come to his senses” (Luke 15:17 NIV).

      Adam died spiritually before God when he sinned. However, when he was evicted from the garden, he took two things with him; the covering, representing the coming of Christ, and the knowledge of both good and evil, which was given to him by God. God even confirmed what the serpent said when He said in Genesis 3:22 “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” Calvinism would have us believe that verse should read “the man has now become like one of us, totally depraved and incapable of understanding any spiritual truth.” After his eviction, Adam continued to have a relationship with the Lord. Even both Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord for a time.

      God bless.

      wingedfooted1

      Reply

      • Posted by wingedfooted1 on January 17, 2012 at 5:24 pm

        So much for math being simple 🙂

        5 pointer…..Calvinist
        4 pointer…..Amyraldist
        2 pointer….. Arminian
        1 pointer….. Arminian

  4. We are all slow learners, I fear, when it comes to spiritual truths. My friend, Gene Spurgeon, took many years to learn, but it was all in God’s good plan and providence. It is strange and even funny to think that what I first could not see or understand and accept, I now wonder why I could not and see so much more. I think that one of the key breakthroughs for me was the statement by Dr. Eusden in his itnroduction to his translation of William Ames’ Marrow of Divinity (the first text book of theology used at Harvard), namely, that “Predestination is an invitation to begin one’s spiritual pilgrimage,…” Later, I would look at all the doctrines of grace in the light of the idea that they were invitations to God Himself. Put it like this: The doctrine for the most souls is limited atonement or particular redemption. The woman of Canaan, when she heard Jesus say, “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, ” and she was not a Jew, was simply to come and worship Him. In other words, she treated it as an invitation to worship. Therapeutic paradoxes or paradoxical interventions are difficult precepts to apprehend and comprehend, if they can even be so understood, but they are fruitful of many a blessing and blessed insight to the heart that sees them as reasons for embracing their Divine Originator.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Ron F. Hale on January 17, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    Dr. Bob,

    I have enjoyed reading your article and the comments.

    I think you are on to something and would like to encourage you to continue exploring the depths of the Word.

    I liked what wingedfoot1 wrote here:

    “Adam died spiritually before God when he sinned. However, when he was evicted from the garden, he took two things with him; the covering, representing the coming of Christ, and the knowledge of both good and evil, which was given to him by God. God even confirmed what the serpent said when He said in Genesis 3:22 “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” Calvinism would have us believe that verse should read “the man has now become like one of us, totally depraved and incapable of understanding any spiritual truth.” After his eviction, Adam continued to have a relationship with the Lord. Even both Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord for a time.”

    I’m going to chew on this a while.

    Dr. Willingham … Bob would not make a good Reformer, he’s too sweet and nice. 🙂

    Ron

    Reply

    • Ron…

      It is always great to hear from you. Sorry we did not get to hook up last week. I will plan on seeing you in mid-March when I get back to Jackson… maybe we can eat some of that famous bar-b-que at Bad Bob’s, LOL.

      I like wingfoot1’s statement as well… at least the first part, where Adam left with God’s covering. Love that. As for the knowledge of good and evil, I am not so sure that was “given to him by God.” If you think about that, Adam already knew the good… all they gained in eating the fruit was the evil. i am seeing that as the beginning of pride… which may well represent the evil. Being like God, we know the difference between good and evil but unlike God, we fail to understand the significance of them and their impact on our lives and there in lies the problem.

      There is a profound problem with the whole issue of total depravity in the OT and particularly in the Genesis story. God continues to speak to men and there is no reference whatsoever to any regenerative process that would give anyone the ability to respond to God. The calvinist retort would obviously be, the fact that it is not mentioned does not mean it did not happen, aka… Trinity not being a scriptural term.

      I suppose one could make that argument but God continues to speak to Adam, Cain and Abel, and so on and so forth; and remember this: they all KNEW the story first hand of what happened in the garden! Adam and Eve no doubt taught their offspring about God and how He created them and everything in the world.

      I see no evidence of TD in the OT and not even in the NT but the issue of being separated from God is there from the beginning and I believe that is the key to understanding God’s redemptive work in the world.

      ><>”

      Reply

  6. Posted by wingedfooted1 on January 18, 2012 at 12:57 am

    Bob,

    God labeled it “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9; Genesis 2:17). It wasn’t just the tree of the knowledge of evil, but both good and evil. I say God provided that knowledge because God put it there. Now what this knowledge consisted of I am not certain. Perhaps it was a moral compass; a sense of right and wrong; an ability to discern. My point is that God didn’t evict the man from the garden in a state of ignorance. This knowledge was provided to Adam for a reason.

    Also, I don’t see a time when Adam was depraved (calvinistically speaking). Yes, he died spiritually before his Creator as the Lord said he would and became desperately in need of redemption. I just don’t see a time when Adam was ever a God hater.

    Romans 1 outlines the steps of depravity…

    Romans 1:21 NKJV….
    because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened

    Romans 1:22 NKJV…
    Professing to be wise, they became fools

    Romans 1:25 NKJV….
    who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator

    Romans 1:28 NKJV….
    And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge

    Notice in every case, man wasn’t born this way, but became this way. And not a single one of these applied to Adam. After the fall, Adam continued to glorify God and brought him offerings (as did Cain and Abel). There is no record of Adam suffering from any of these ailments. Now consider the following…

    Matthew 18:3 NKJV…..
    and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

    Matthew 19:14 NKJV…..
    But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

    Luke 18:16 NKJV…..
    But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.”

    If man is born totally depraved (God haters who want nothing to do with Him or the salvation He offers) what good would it do to become as little children again? What purpose would it serve? Becoming “as little children” would change nothing because the issue is one of total depravity, which according to calvinism, we are all born with.

    In Him,

    wingedfooted1

    Reply

  7. Posted by wingedfooted1 on January 18, 2012 at 1:22 am

    Bob,

    You said “I see no evidence of TD in the OT and not even in the NT….”

    Respectfully, I disagree.

    Consider Romans 1:23…
    and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

    If that doesn’t describe the OT Egyptians, I don’t know what does.

    Romans 1:26-27…..
    Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

    If that doesn’t describe Sodom and Gomorrah, I give up.

    Also consider Ezekiel 16:47 (NIV) and Ezekiel 23:11 (NIV)…

    “You not only walked in their ways and copied their detestable practices, but in all your ways you soon became more depraved than they.”

    “Her sister Oholibah saw this, yet in her lust and prostitution she was more depraved than her sister.”

    However, notice again, depravity is something that occurred over time, even the level of it. And one could become even more depraved. Total is defined as “entire – complete – whole – utter – absolute – full”. If man is born totally depraved, which would be 100%, then how does someone become even more depraved?

    You finished by saying “….but the issue of being separated from God is there from the beginning and I believe that is the key to understanding God’s redemptive work in the world.”

    And that I agree with you completely.

    God bless,

    wingedfooted1

    Reply

  8. Posted by wingedfooted1 on January 18, 2012 at 1:32 am

    Bob,

    Let me apologize for clarification.

    I see evidence of depravity in the OT and the NT. However, I agree with you, the notion of total depravity can’t be found in scripture.

    Sorry for the confusion. My mistake.

    wingedfooted1

    Reply

  9. Bob

    I got your feed. Thanks for making it easier to find.

    As for your OP, I encourage you to continue in your theological formation in the way you look at soteriological discussions.

    Concerning your opening you write:

    “If all discussions begin there, then it is almost as if Calvinism IS the most logical conclusion. In most conversations regarding regeneration, when one understands man’s plight in a total depravity framework, he cannot view man in any other light but dead and in need of regeneration in order to be able to believe

    And then go on to say,

    Man is depraved. What does that mean? To say he is dead is not really correct because while it is true that dead mean cannot respond to God, it must also be true that they cannot sin, which is a common retort from non-Calvinists. The Calvinist knows that is not true so he bends dead to be “spiritually dead” but most cannot really explain what that means

    I am a little confused. First, why is it correct to suggest “it is almost as if Calvinism IS the most logical conclusion” if one begins with total depravity? As rightly pointed out later, both Calvinism and Arminianism have similar if not identical views on total depravity. And, contra one commenter who appears to think there’s no more than a dime’s worth of difference between Calvinism and Arminianism (while there could be some truth to it if applied specifically to Jacob Harmensz (a.k.a. James Arminus) himself or the early Remonstrants, it cannot be too easily applied to the developed systems). And, since both systems regard the human condition as “dead in trespasses and sins,” the applied remedy for both is a dose of human ability. Calvinists (not all but perhaps most) routinely suggest the remedy is the new birth (John 3:3), unilaterally bestowed upon the elect alone with the subsequent bestowal of a gracious, efficacious gift of saving faith. Arminians also embrace a form of prevenient grace which enables all “dead in trespasses and sin” to believe and be saved. In both Calvinism and Arminianism the Spirit’s work on the human condition is non-negotiably necessary in order to believe. There are some significant differences. One would be the two dimensional scope of the Spirit’s work. On the one hand, to whom has the Spirit obligated Himself to do His initial work? Calvinists say He will only do His initial efficacious work on the elect–those whom the Father gave to the Son. Arminians say the Spirit obligates Himself to initially work on all those for whom Christ died–the world. Hence, Arminians believe the Spirit’s work is universal albeit within Arminianism there is a sub-debate on how prevenient grace is a[[lied. Some say since universal prevenient grace was purchased for all at Calvary, it is applied to all presently. Others suggest prevenient grace comes only as the gospel is preached.

    On the other hand, how extensive the Spirit’s initial prevenient grace work is remains a significant difference between Calvinism and Arminianism. For Calvinists (again not all but perhaps most), the Spirit’s work constitutes a full rebirth, or as they often like to imagine it, a spiritual resurrection from the dead–“dead men don’t do anything” recall. For Arminians, while they do not routinely speak of it in “born-again” terms, for them the initial operation of the Spirit’s work in applied redemption is just as necessary as the Calvinists’ understanding. That is, the fallen human condition cannot, by itself, savingly believe. It is unable to savingly believe. So at this juncture, both Calvinism and Arminianism embrace total depravity in its most extreme sense– total inability. We can say, as our commenting brother indicated earlier, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two–at least at this single point.

    The theological harmony is short-lived, however. For here the two split never to be joined again until eternity. What Calvinists add to the total inability Arminians flat reject--irresistibility. For Calvinists, it is not enough to be born again before faith. It is not enough to be raised from the dead. Hence, unlike Arminians who believe God fixed the inability factor in the fallen human condition which decidedly hinders all saving belief and did so definitively through their understanding of prevenient grace, for Calvinists it is really not about ability or inability to believe. Rather it is about irresistible grace–the irresistible factor, if you will. I think this separates the two “systems,” in so far as applied redemption is concerned, more than any other single theological maxim.

    I had a “secondly” but I’ve gone on much too long, Bob. Thanks for your patience. And, great post.

    With that, I am…
    Peter

    Reply

  10. Wingedfoot1

    I knew you had misread my statement; to fail to understand that man is indeed depraved is ludicrous indeed! However, to conclude individuals as TD and incapable of responding to God is almost as bad as I see it. One of the arguments that Calvinists make in contrast to Arminianism is their concept of God is one who Makes salvation sure while the God of the Arminian only makes salvation possible. I see the issue of TD as saying God is incapable of revelation and reconciliation unless He first changes the individual to be able to receive that revelation and respond to the reconciliation; however, the God I know is fully capable of making Himself known to His creation! Does that mean I believe more in the sovereignty of God than my Calvinist brothers??

    Peter,

    My point of TD setting up to favor a Calvinist position was more of an observation with respect to all that is going on today… it “seems to set the stage to embrace the Calvinist position as opposed to the Arminian”

    The major point that I am working on is a matter of perspective that sees the primary problem that man has is his separation from God and not specifically his sin. Obviously sin is what separates man from God. Total Depravity focuses on the sin where I believe God’s focus is on the separation. I believe God’s purpose in creation was to establish His perpetual presence with man and sin has come between man and God. It seems to me that God has provided a remedy to correct the separation which deals with sin BUT God’s focus is on the separation not so much the sin. TD focuses on the sin and that is why I used the illustration of going west to get to Dallas. Our reference points are important and if the foundations we use in our discussions are focused in the wrong place then our discussions are likely to be on the wrong things.

    I am simply suggesting we change our reference point to begin our discussions and see where that takes us!

    ><>”

    Reply

  11. Posted by wingedfooted1 on January 18, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Bob,

    Thanks.

    Yeah, after doing all that work I re-read your comment and noticed the issue was total depravity (TD) and not simple depravity. The depravity of man is definitely found in both the OT and NT. My understanding of depravity though differs from the Calvinist (both the 5 pointers and the 1 pointers). While man is born with a sin nature and, given time, will sin against his Creator, man is not born depraved, much less totally depraved. From what I see in scripture, depravity is something that occurs over time. I believe Romans 1:18- 32 shows that.

    Also, your observation is correct. In Calvin-land, the depravity of man is so great, the Almighty can’t get thru to him unless he changes that individual. Thus TD is greater than God. For the 5 pointer (the staunch Calvinist) the cure is regeneration. For the 1 pointer (the Arminian) the cure is being released from the bondage of sin. The problem with either of these, is that both “spiritual life” and “freedom” are only found “in Christ” and both are reserved only for the believer; never the unbeliever.

    In regards to your other comment, yes, Calvinists (again, both 5 pointers and 1 pointers) have to get you to accept their premise of TD. They know that once they can convince you of the problem (TD) then you are in bondage to their cure (regeneration or freedom). And of course if you reject TD, then the Calvinist (again, both 5 pointers and 1 pointers) are prepared to label you as a semi-pelagian or something even worse (sticks and stones….) Even that is only a ploy to try to shame you back in line with their way of thinking.

    Grace

    wingedfooted1

    Reply

  12. There are kinds of people inside and outside of the Christian camp, some Sovereign Grace believers are arrogant. But if they are true believers, that arrogance must pass away or they will, I have no doubt that Judas was a believer in the Sovereignty of God, but he still perished. Humility is one of the true marks of grace, especially Sovereign Grace and the hymn, Amazing Grace, magnifies that fact. Grace does not make any one superior to another; it makes us all brothers and sisters and, therefore, all equals. Complementarianism is merely a function of appoint and is subject to divinely appointed checks and balances.

    Reply

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