Monday, August 19, 2013

T is for the way you Tongue-lash Me

Okay, a quick note, each of the titles of these posts are a tongue-in-cheek play on Nat King Cole's L.O.V.E. and Calvinism's TULIP. And now in the words of Wayne's World, "Game on!"

Tenet: Total Depravity

What I Remember it Meaning: There is nothing good inside of man.

What it Actually Means: The inability to save oneself from sin.

Engaging Total Depravity

So, apparently my Calvinist education greatly failed me here...or my personal Calvinists missed the point themselves. Until going in and looking at what was meant, I have always believed that total depravity had to do with there being nothing good inside of us. I'll admit I was wrong. Not a problem. And so, I can say, that in terms of the debate, I am probably at least a 1-point Calvinist if you are keeping track. (And many friends are scratching their head that I ever agreed to total depravity.)

So, at this point, let's do two things: first, look at what some people say about total depravity, and maybe explore why some of us believe Calvinists are communicating something else.

First, John Piper. If you are curious what am I citing by Piper here you go. Piper has four ideas that are basically an extended argument:
1. Our rebellion against God is total. Apart from the grace of God there is no delight in the holiness of God, and there is no glad submission to the sovereign authority of God.
2. In his total rebellion everything man does is sin.
3. Man's inability to submit to God and do good is total.
4. Our rebellion is totally deserving of eternal punishment.

Now on to some John Wesley (and thanks for the assist found here!) [Christianity] declares that all men are conceived in sin,” and “shapen in wickedness;” — that hence there is in every man a “carnal mind, which is enmity against God, which is not, cannot be, subject to” his “law;” and which so infects the whole soul, that “there dwelleth in” him, “in his flesh,” in his natural state, “no good thing;” but “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is evil,” only evil, and that “continually.”

But as soon as God opens the eyes of their understanding, they see the state they were in before; they are then deeply convinced, that “every man living,” themselves especially, are, by nature, “altogether vanity;” that is, folly and ignorance, sin and wickedness.

There are really way too many Scripture verses to list where total depravity came from. And the truth is that were it not for the willing sacrifice of Jesus on the cross we would not find it within ourselves to wholly seek after God. And really where Calvinists and Arminians split ways in terms of depravity relates to a theology called Christian perfection. Basically, Wesley, leaning on Polycarp, argues that 1. The Christian's deliverance from sin was from "all sin" (1 John 1:7); 2. Love and sin are mutually exclusive; and 3. "That holy love produces a life that honors God." This is why some Calvinists argue that Wesley didn't really adhere to total depravity.

So, basically Calvinists and Arminians line-up here. So do Catholics. So, case closed? Not quite yet. See, Protestants and Catholics aren't the only Christians at the table. You have to remember our Orthodox brothers and sisters. They hold to a belief referred to as semi-Pelagian or simply "fallen nature." Basically, we were damaged by the fall, but not completely. It was first espoused by John Cassian.

Illustration time: the drowning man. God throws a rope to a dude who is drowning. The Orthodox Church says, "Reaching out for that rope is an act of free will, so we are at least partly involved in this salvific process." Or in other words man has to take the first steps to reach to God. He can't find salvation without God, but he has to decide that rope is worth grabbing. And as is prone to happen with Calvinism...this is spilling into other parts of the theology. So, let's draw to a close.

Cassian's beard is amazing.
I can get down with Wesley and Piper here. There is no salvation except through the work of Jesus. However, as Cassian argues there is a willingness on my part to come to that place. Part of this argument will take place in the post on irresistible grace. But for now, I will say my initial thoughts are about 75 percent, maybe 80 toward total depravity, because Cassian makes a lot of sense.

Before I let that go, I will say that Cassian's view has always intrigued me. Because it implies that at birth we are limping, not paralyzed if that makes sense. It implies that even from an early age we are struggling internally, not complete selfish jerkfaces. There is a part of us that recognizes we need to do good, and not just in terms of ourselves. And we see this in places such as atheists and social justice. Denial of God, let alone the Christian God, yet a desire for good and justice. That would be the view of fallen nature as I understand it. Sure, at the end of time, there is no salvation, but there is still something going on inside of you that seems contradictory. And below I go into that a little more.

What I have always struggled with is those who argue that there is nothing good in man. My standard argument has always been imago dei. What does that mean? Simply that we are made in the image of God. As such there is something inherently good within us. No other part of creation is said to be formed in the image of God. Sure, the rebellion of Auntie Eve and Uncle Adam messed some things up, but being an image bearer, from the moment we are born (or before...not opposed to that), means something. To bear the image of God, even in our fallen, sinful nature has to be accounted for... does our theology of Jesus. If we call Jesus sinless that means we have to look at total depravity. Or we have to clarify what that sinless word means. If Jesus was sinless from birth, it meant that he had the ability to choose God from the get go. It meant that something was in place within Him to choose God from an early age. I guess the Father could have been beckoning him early and often and Jesus just responded, but I don't see that. So, yeah. Total depravity. I guess I am still wrestling through it. And I think that is fine. And there are those who argue that an Orthodox view does not have to include total depravity. It does have to reconcile fallenness, that much is true. So, I don't know...toss up here on whether I hold to total depravity. We'll give me .5 stars.

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