I have recently read a few blog posts which argue in favor of total depravity. You can read a couple of those by Aaron Brake and J. Warner Wallace. In this post, I would like to write briefly on false dichotomies and the terms basic vs. essential. In my next post(s), I will address certain Bible verses pertaining to this issue.
Before I begin, it would be important to define total depravity. The great Wikipedia (or whoever wrote that portion of the article) has given us a great definition: total depravity “is a theological doctrine derived from the Augustinian concept of original sin. It is the teaching that, as a consequence of the Fall of Man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin and, apart from the efficacious or prevenient grace of God, is utterly unable to choose to follow God, refrain from evil, or accept the gift of salvation as it is offered.”
Something that I have often found in the theological literature is a lack of finesse in dealing with this issue. Many times I’ll come across false dichotomies and/or improper or lack of necessary distinctions. It is evident that there is room, logically speaking, for alternative views in the Augustinian-Pelagian controversy. And I’m not alone in my observation. Furthermore, I think some of these logical alternatives can stay true to the biblical text (from a conservative approach, too!). For instance, one can believe that the Fall did taint and corrupt human nature (contra Pelagianism) yet still believe that Fall did not affect humans in such a way that they are unable to do anything toward their salvation (contra Augustinianism). But the question remains whether this view fits with the biblical text. I don’t think Augustinians would give me a hard time for disagreeing with Pelagius. Though, they might try and argue that if one doesn’t agree with them, that it entails Pelagianism (which doesn’t follow).
Much like the theological literature I come across, I have found that Brake’s dealing with depravity is wanting. To Wallace’s benefit, he writes more to the falleness of humanity, which is something I would absolutely agree with. Yet, in his citation of Brake’s post, he presents a view of man that I don’t think lines up with the biblical text. Of course, determining if my claims are correct may require much thinking, writing, and research. And I won’t be able to address everything in one post! So, in the following series of posts, I’ll provide some reasons for thinking why Total Depravitists haven’t sufficiently demonstrated that their view is true. Today I’ll make some brief remarks to the idea that man is not “basically” good.
My first problem with Brake’s treatment of this term is his failure to describe what he means by “basically.” In our culture we have given the term “basic” or “basically” a couple of definitions/meanings. I believe that Brake desires to correctly explain not only what the text does say regarding how screwed up we are but that this is evident experientially. However, “basically” doesn’t tell us precisely what is meant, here. For all we know, it might be the case that “basically” means a general view, or gist, of humans; that is, humans are generally bad. If by “basically,” “generally” is meant, then I have no problem. If, however, by “basically,” “essentially” is meant, then I have a problem.
The Scripture teaches us that man is essentially (or intrinsically) good. God created mankind and saw that it was good; God created humans to be a little lower than the angels. God created humans with a purpose, with intellectual ability, creativity, power (dominion over the animals), and with ethical choices. Humans are created with moral, spiritual, mental, relational, and physical aspects, all of which speak to God’s glory. And these things are true even for the most wicked, and these things will remain true when sin exists no more. Lastly, God’s image and likeness are still retained past the Fall. Wayne Grudem affirms this and is also correct in saying that “God’s image is distorted but not lost.” But the question we must ask is, ‘To what extent?’ And this is where I find myself in disagree with statements like the following by John Calvin (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.5.19):
the mind of man is so entirely alienated from the righteousness of God that he cannot conceive, desire, or design anything but what is wicked, distorted, foul, impure, and iniquitous; that his heart is so thoroughly envenomed by sin, that it can breathe out nothing but corruption and rottenness.
But more than citing Bible verses supporting the idea that man is essentially good, it is evident that man is not essentially bad because we understand that one can be a human and be without sin. This means that sin is not what defines a human. The old adage from Alexander Pope, ‘to err is human,’ is wrong. Rather, to sin is to be inhuman. I think it would be more accurate to say that sin can be used as a description of fallen humanity, but sin is not what essentially makes something a human. Sinning is not acting in accordance with proper teleology.
In my next post(s), I’ll interact with theological statements and biblical interpretations made by Total Depravitists to see if they (the statements and interpretations) can withstand scrutiny. Thanks for being interested!
 Augustine Casiday, “Rehabilitating John Cassian: an Evaluation of Prosper of Aquitaine’s Polemic Against the ‘Semipelagians,’” Scottish Journal of Theology 58, no. 3 (August 2005): 270-284. http://dro.dur.ac.uk/2660/1/2660.pdf?DDD32+dth1ac+dth4ap+dul0jk
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 444.