Friday, August 2, 2013

Total Depravity

The Expulsion from Eden

We continue our discussion of the "Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation":
Article Two: The Sinfulness of Man
We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a sin nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person's sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, and condemnation to an eternity in hell.
We deny that Adam's sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person's free will or rendered any person guilty before he personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit's drawing through the Gospel.


    Article Two of the Statement begin with an affirmation of belief in the Fall, our sin nature, and the dire consequences that follow from our sin. There is little here that is especially remarkable.
    They proceed, however, to deny two doctrines associated with Calvinist theology: total depravity and the imputation of Adam's guilt to his posterity. The latter doctrine is admittedly difficult. It is based on a questionable interpretation of a single verse of Scripture, Rom. 5:12, which reads, in part, ". . . thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (NKJV), and not even all Reformed theologians are agreed as to what this means. What most concerns us here, however, is the authors' statement that "We deny that Adam's sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person's free will . . . "
    What the Synod of Dort said on this particular point is this: as a result of the Fall man "became involved in blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity, and perverseness of judgment, became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections" (Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine, Article 1). Or, as the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, men "became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body" (Chapter VI, ¶II). This is what is known as "total depravity," the "T" in "TULIP."
    It is notoriously difficult to define the term "free will." We are dealing here with human psychology, a field that is riddled with intangibles. What exactly is the "will"? A "faculty of the soul," to use the language of the Confession? Is it capable of operating independently of the other "faculties," such as the intellect and affections?
    At one place the Southern Baptist Statement defines the term "free will" as "the ability to choose between two options." But in exactly what does this ability consist? The mental ability to distinguish between two courses of action, and to make a conscious choice of one over the other? In that sense every human being obviously has a "free will." But does the unregenerate sinner really have the ability to choose what is right? That is another matter altogether.
    The problem here is that there are psychological barriers at work that prevent the sinner from making the right choices. He feels an inward tug pulling him in the opposite direction. Ironically, the Southern Baptist Statement itself says as much: "every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin" and "every person who is capable of moral action will sin." Why will he sin, if he has a free will? Because of his sinful "nature." It turns out that the will is not so free after all.
    The Bible describes the condition of the "natural man" this way: we were "dead in trespasses and sins" and "conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath" (Eph. 2:1-3; NKJV). The Gentiles, Paul says, walk "in the futility of their mind" – their thought processes routinely led to the wrong conclusions. Why? ". . . having their understanding darkened." Why? ". . . being alienated from the life of God." Why? ". . . because of the blindness [lit., "hardness" – NASV] of their heart; who being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness" (Eph. 4:17-19). In other words, because of a certain perverse rebelliousness of heart, they don't see spiritual truth because they don't want to see it. They have a vested interest in not seeing it. Thus Paul could summarize the challenge facing him as an evangelist this way: "But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them" (II Cor. 4:3,4).
    It is hard to see how anyone in this condition of spiritual blindness can be said to have a "free will."



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