Image via WikipediaSometime back in September I was notified by Ben at Arminian Perspectives that he had written a post entitled Can A Regenerate Christian Be Totally Depraved? in response to a comment I made concerning Calvin’s actions toward Servtus that lead to Servtus being convicted as a heretic and burned at the stake by the government of Geneva. Basically Ben was strongly suggesting that Calvin was not a Christian because of his role in the death of Servtus. In trying to take a non-confrontational approach I tried to explain that Calvin’s sin (if indeed it was sin in this matter) in no way prevented Calvin from being a Christian as all Christians still have a “Corrupt” sin nature, and that all Christians still sin even after regeneration.
Here is a portion of the discussion that went on concerning this issue:
Greg Alford, on July 29th, 2009 at 9:31 pm Said:
Thanks for being so gracious…
I really don’t think that any of us today are qualified to stand in judgment of Calvin’s conduct in this matter. Does the death of Servetus reflect badly on Calvin? You bet it does! Is Calvin the only Christian to ever have been wrongly influenced by the culture of his day? Not hardly. Does that excuse Calvin? Not at all. But it does remind us that we might not have done any differently had we been in Calvin’s position at the time. We like to think that we would have stood up against the Government and said this is wrong, but I doubt it after all we tolerate abortion in our society. (I know not a good example, but the best I can do)
You ask –
“Would he then be a totally depraved regenerate believer (since his actions regarding Servetus were post-conversion)?”
Very large smile… the answer would be “Yes”.
Just how long of a defense of that answer do you want me to give? You and I could be here for a good long time on this one, so I will spare you the long defense unless you really want to go down that rabbit hole.
Again, thank you for being so gracious… and I owe you a cup of coffee.
Arminian, on July 30th, 2009 at 1:24 am Said:
Doesn’t Calvinism hold that the regenerate are no longer totally depraved? After all, does not the C doctrine hold that total depravity entails inability to believe, but that regeneration enables and causes someone to believe? C’s often criticize the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace as undermining total depravity. So if you would follow that line, then you would have the C doctrine undermining total depravity. So would you mind clarifying? You don’t necessarily have to defend, just explain a little. One more thing: if you believe that a regenberate believer is still totally depraved, do you think that is the standard C position or is your position unusual?
Greg Alford, on July 30th, 2009 at 3:59 am Said:
I suppose one of the greatest hindrances to truly communicating with those who are of a different theological persuasion than your own is that we have a tendency to only read, discuss, and listen to those who agree with us. Therefore we have a tendency to believe that everyone defines the terms like “Total Depravity” and “Regeneration” the same and when we hear others using these terms we assume we are talking about the same thing, when in fact we are not.
So, with the above disclaimer let me attempt to define “Total Depravity” for this discussion. Total Depravity speaks of the extent of Human Corruption caused by the Fall of Man. By extent of Human Corruption I mean that all of mans being; heart, soul, body, mind, and will were all corrupted by the sin of Adam. In short, man in his totality became corrupted by sin.
This is where we often misunderstand one another… No Calvinist that I know would ever say that Regeneration completely frees man of his corruption of sin. Man is only totally free of the corrupting influence of sin when he is glorified, and that will never be on this side of glory. The Apostle Paul spoke well when he said “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”
It is with this understanding that I made the earlier comment concerning mans total depravity after regeneration; that even after man’s will is freed by the regeneration power of the Holy Spirit so that with his freedom he may now love his God, yet he finds that he is not fully made free from sin and while he indeed expresses his love for God, with his conduct he yet proves his corruption.
I hope this helps a little…
Now let me return us to today's post by again defining the terms I am using, before asking the questions I really want to get into.
The result of the fall of Adam on mankind was, and is, “Complete Corruption”… or if you prefer the classical reformed phrase; “Total Depravity”. Theologians use the words “Complete” or “Total” to explain the scope of the effects of the fall of Adam on mankind, and not the depth of these effects. In common English what we are saying is; not that each and every man is as bad or as wicked as he can be, but that universally “ALL” of Man’s being was corrupted by the fall of Adam. Man’s flesh/desires were corrupted… Man’s mind/will was corrupted… Man’s soul/heart was corrupted. No part of man’s being was left unaffected by the fall of Adam. When compared to his original state before the fall of Adam, man now finds himself “Utterly Ruined” in the sight of God.
At this point I want to bring into this discussion a few comments made by the Apostle Paul that highlight man’s ruined condition. In Romans 7:18 Paul says “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing...” and in Romans 7:24 he cries out “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Literally Paul is crying out for deliverance from the dead body he indwells. I think it important to this discussion that we note that this was the Apostle Paul speaking about himself after regeneration (new birth). And this leads into the following questions that are at the heart of this post.
1) What effect, both practical and theological, does regeneration (new birth) have upon the corruption of the fallen, now regenerated, man?
2) Does regeneration completely negate the corruption of the fall in the regenerated man? (yes/no)
3) Does regeneration partly negate the corruption of the fall in the regenerated man? (yes/no)
4) Does regeneration negate none of the corruption of the fall in the regenerated man? (yes/no)
Please Explain Your Answers... use as much space as you need.