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Against total depravity


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#1 Benjamin Amis

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Posted 05 July 2010 - 11:34 PM

During the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin is known as the prime advocate of the doctrine of Total Depravity: that the Imago Dei of man was completely destroyed in the Fall, and that humanity is utterly depraved and unable to perform any good on its own whatsoever. This led to his other chief doctrines, such as unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. Total depravity is accepted by other Protestant theologians and traditions with varying conclusions, such as: Martin Luther (Lutheranism), John Knox (Presbyterianism) and Jacobus Arminius (surviving mostly in the Methodist/Wesylan tradition churches). This doctrine is out-of-line with Sacred Tradition and was condemned at the Synod of Jerusalem in the 1600s.

I came into Orthodoxy through the Presbyterian church, and I held to the classical Calvinistic perspectives. I've since eschewed those beliefs, of course, but I still have yet to totally work out my response to the Calvinists I meet. As expected, appeals to Tradition and the Church Fathers often fall on deaf ears in Protestant circles, and I'm working on searching the Scriptures themselves to provide a biblical argument against Calvinism that will resound with Calvinists.

In short: I'm looking for this board's insights into Calvinism, particularly total depravity, and how you would answer a Calvinist solely with the Scriptures. I recognize that the Church does not make arguments solely on Scripture, but within all of Tradition, and I would never forsake Tradition, even in a discussion with someone who does not accept it. However, I would like to hear what others on this board have to say about answering to this particular Protestant heresy.

Thank you all for your wisdom! :-)

#2 Owen

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Posted 06 July 2010 - 04:25 AM

To argue against Total Depravity, you have to go back to St. Augustine's doctrine of the Fall and argue against the errors there. That will entail a correct understnading of the Greek text of Rom. 5:12, and a full understanding of what Man lost in the fall, according to Orthodoxy.

#3 Michael Stickles

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Posted 07 July 2010 - 02:31 AM

I'll second Dr. Owen's comments. The proper understanding of the Fall, what we lost and suffered in it, and by extension what we are being saved from and restored to, must be established in order to have a starting place for answering Total Depravity (as well as many other false doctrines).

The only other place one could start (in my opinion) is with replacing the "judicial" view of salvation - that is, the view that sin is a "crime" against God for which I am due a "penalty" of death, and salvation is getting that penalty paid - with the "medical" view of salvation, that it is healing the damage done to our nature in the Fall. But here you still have to come to grips with the Fall eventually.

Total Depravity is, in my view, an attempt to explain why no one can be saved apart from Christ. To oversimplify, the starting point is that condemnation is due because one is guilty of sin (the "judicial" view). If one rejects that the guilt itself is inherited from Adam, then logically everyone must be guilty on their own account, so it must be impossible for anyone to live their whole life without sinning. So, logically, the Fall must have resulted in a depraved condition which renders me incapable of avoiding sin (I know the full doctrine goes further than that; this is the bare basics).

The Orthodox view of the Fall, however, renders that argument moot. Even those who believe that the Theotokos never committed a single willful sin in her life, do not thereby believe that she had no need of her Son's death. She was not capable of healing the damage done to human nature by the Fall, and was dependent on her Son for that. Total Depravity is not needed to explain why no one can be saved apart from Christ.

So, if the proper view of the Fall and of what we are being saved from is established, I think Total Depravity will pretty much naturally drop out of the picture.

In Christ,
Michael

#4 Benjamin Amis

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 09:10 PM

Thank you both for your comments, I agree with them. Very helpful.

However, I can go 'round-and-'round with some of these Calvinists all day long, but in the end of the day, they want Scripture. Of course, they're sola scriptura, and to convince them otherwise is definitely an option, but a lengthy and involved one that may very well derail the discussion. And so, I'm working on making a biblical argument against total depravity. I'm hunting down passages that speak of humanity's still-good nature (such as Romans 2:14-15) and other scripture that is similar.

These arguments, in my experience, end up with Calvinists throwing out all of their traditional Scriptures (Romans 9, Ephesians 2, etc.) and daring those who disagree to prove those Scriptures wrong, at least in their minds. The way, I see, to counter that argument is to take other Scripture that is seemingly contrary (i.e., contrary to their Calvinistic paradigm) and properly interpret their passages in light of these other passages. This is the same as their "Scripture-interprets-Scripture" methodology, and is usually pretty effective in a debate with any semi-traditional Protestant, not just Calvinists.

#5 Kyrill Bolton

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 10:32 PM

May I suggest The Ancestral Sin by John S. Romanides This book fully develops the Orthodox view of the fall and its results as a benefit a good portion of the book is devoted to examining and exposing errors in the more common alternative views. The book was originally written as a doctoral dissertation so the style is, at times, a little turgid. http://www.amazon.co...78714416&sr=8-1

#6 Sacha

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 11:26 PM

Benjamin,

I second the recommendation to read The Ancestral Sin by Fr John S Romanides. It is an excellent read and deep, so it will take you at least 2 readings to fully grasp and appreciate the depth and weight of his insights. It contains likely the best orthodox reasoning against the juridical view of salvation that I know of, mainly because it is a detailed meta-analysis. One gem in the book is a quote from St Gregory Palamas, where Romanides points out that if God's wrath needed to be satisfied before He could forgive, how then was it possible for Jesus to forgive sins before his crucifixtion? That is something that no penal substitute advocate has an answer for. Furthermore, Romanides reminds us that Jesus came to save the lost and not the righteous, and then points out that Augustinians will tell you that He didn't really mean 'righteous', which is true. So really what Romanides is doing is saying, look it is obvious that Jesus meant righteous by righteous, using St Simeon, described in the gospel of Luke as an example of a righteous man who longed to see the day of the Lord and not only saw it, but also held the Lord in his arms.

I am poor and slow of understanding, and do not claim to have any answers. With that said, I can share what has helped me on the question of total depravity. I believe we have a clear refutation of the idea in the person of the centurion Cornelius, whose story we find in the book of Acts chapters 10 and 11. Note carefully that Cornelius was described as a devout and God-fearing man before He experienced initial salvation and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Peter's preaching unto him and and his household. It was before all that happened that he gave alms to the poor and prayed, which rose up to God the Father and pleased him.

Cornelius is an example of how God graces the humble. He humbled himself before God, even in his fallen condition, and sacrificed his time to pray and help the poor. That is the way of the cross is it not? Did this 'earn' him the 'right' to be brought the gospel? It did not. It is God who graced him with the vision in a dream and the angel's instructions to call for Peter. Without God's grace, Cornelius would have been without hope. But God has decreed in Scripture many times over that He graces the humble and resists the proud.

If man was totally depraved, it would have been impossible for man to do good to his neighbor or even pray. What I find ironic is that when you ask a calvinist what should a non believer do to be saved, he will say: there is nothing you can do, you are dead in your sins. But then he will add, just pray and ask that God would open your mind and have mercy. A contradiction in the same breath. If man is totally depraved, there is absolutely nothing man can do to be saved, and all hope is lost. And not only is all hope lost, but that would also make God the author of evil. This is where a refutation of Augustine's confusion of the Divine essence and energies, as explained by Romanides, will help you in understanding why Augustine was mistaken and why he has led literally hundreds of millions into grave error through his legacy and that of his followers, most notably, John Calvin.

#7 Owen Jones

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Posted 11 July 2010 - 03:21 PM

Actually, Marxism is a direct outgrowth of Calvinism. You can trace it historically, intellectually, and geographically. That should give some Calvinists pause.

#8 Angelos

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 12:13 PM

First, see 1 Timothy 2:4 "God our Savior,who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" All men, not just a small part.

Then see Matthew 23:37 ""O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." Here Jesus affirms man's free-will to reject Him and affirms to desire to save many people that eventually reject him- and indirectly debunks predestination.

Also, Ezekiel 18 goes to great lengths to debunk the very idea that God would condemn anyone to hell for the actions of their father, or his father or his father's father, on and on. It goes all the way back to Adam and the sons of Adam. see for example Ezekiel 18:20" The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him."


Also, in order to buy the Calvinist ideas we need to, among other things, convince ourselves that Jesus was a liar when he was giving general commandments that implied a cause and effect (call and acceptance of that call) in salvation.

For example when in Mt. 6:14-15 Jesus says "If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions" right there Jesus shows a cause and effect that implies free will. All the Gospels are full of sayings like that.

Another example of cause and effect that is absurd without assuming that humans have free will "Stop judging, that you may not be judged (Μὴ κρίνετε, ἵνα μὴ κριθῆτε·). 2 For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you"

and another...."Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, 10 but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

and another "on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. 37 By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

Also look at the parables of the "sower" and the "wedding banquet" God invites many, but only few decide to accept the invite. Both these parables go against the idea of predestination

and finally..."Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother." Jesus did not say whoever was predestined is my brother, and sister, and mother...He says very clearly "whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother" Without free will Jesus is lying to us

salvation is CONDITIONAL on faith AND works, through Grace given unconditionally to all.

First, IF you obey my commands, (then) you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you... Jesus sets a CONDITION for salvation based on their free will.

A God that creates people that He knows in advance will go to Hell and does nothing to help them works for Satan. He becomes Satan's helper. Can you see that?? calvinists believe in a cruel and evil God who creates people that He knows they will 100% become Satan's playthings.

Edited by Angelos, 14 July 2010 - 12:49 PM.


#9 Augustine C.

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Posted 19 August 2010 - 10:57 PM

Actually, Marxism is a direct outgrowth of Calvinism. You can trace it historically, intellectually, and geographically. That should give some Calvinists pause.


I don't mean to sound like I disagree with you, but I thought (or at least remember hearing) that Calvinism gave rise to Capitalism. Coming from a Calvinistic background, I was wondering if you could shed some more light on your comment.

Again, I'm not disagreeing with you, I just want some more explanation, that way I can use it when I talk to Calvinists.

Thanks.

#10 Owen

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Posted 19 August 2010 - 11:56 PM

Both Calvinism and Marxism are deterministic.

The Massachussetts Bay Colony, founded by Pilgrim Congregationalists of Calvinistic theology, experimented early on with what can only be described as a precursor of Soviet society.

Fr. Thomas Merton and others are quite right in saying that communism works only in the environment of a monastery, for reasons not having to do with its intrisic worth as an economic or social system, but because of the spiritual values espoused by monastics and not by Marx, Lenin, or Mao.

#11 Augustine C.

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Posted 20 August 2010 - 06:15 AM

Awesome, thanks for your response Dr. Owen.

#12 David Lindblom

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Posted 24 August 2010 - 04:02 AM

Hi Benjamin, good to see you home at last! I can give some of the vs. I've used. Calvinist folks like to use Eph. 2:1 to show that we are dead in our sins. Corpses. What is true for a corpse is true for us in regards to movement towards God yet when the same author uses the same words concerning the same thing, ie sin, when it relates to a Christian in Rom. 6 they quickly back down and say that in that passage dead doesn't really mean corpse. Otherwise Christians would be incapable of sinning according to their usage in Eph. I try and show them that it is the Romans passage that fleshes out the dead condition and shows it not to be equivalent to how we view a corpse. That's taking Paul's usage here too far as the Romans passage makes clear.

In Acts 17:22-27 Paul says that God is not far from any of us and He has placed us where we're at in the hopes we will seek Him out. This is an open ended statement...no limiting qualifiers.

Matt. 11:20-24 It is clear in this passage that both common sense and Jesus Himself expected there to be repentance from these cities yet there was none thereby, as one would expect from people who coulda, shoulda but didn't, bringing on themselves greater condemnation. This passage makes no sense if these people were ordained to not repent. Vs. 25-30 has Jesus further extending an invitation to these unrepentant people.

I've also always used Deut. 30 where every single person present and not present, Israel and foreigner is being addressed:

11. For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.
12. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?'
13. Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?'
14. But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

Paul pulls this forward in Rom. 10:6-9 where he now equates this scenerio to NT faith based salvation. He ends it by, once again, throwing the doors open to all people when he says:

11. For the Scriptures says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame."
12. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.
13. For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

You might try going to this site: http://evangelicalarminians.org/ for more on the biblical side. They are Wesleyan Arminians and a lot of their theology is very close to Orthodoxy. Also I have found the most intelligent Orthodox blog to be Energetic Procession. They just did a two part write up on the Heresy of Calvinism...I think there's more to come on that topic.

Hope this helps some.

#13 Ilaria

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Posted 24 August 2010 - 07:23 AM

the Imago Dei of man was completely destroyed in the Fall, and that humanity is utterly depraved and unable to perform any good on its own whatsoever.


ok. so what would be their Scriptural basis for this assessment ?

#14 David Lindblom

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Posted 24 August 2010 - 03:16 PM

ok. so what would be their Scriptural basis for this assessment ?


One vs. they would use is the one I pointed out...Eph. 2:1:

And you were dead in trespasses and sins.

They transpose all the characteristics of what it is to be dead to the non-Christian. Like can't respond etc.

They would also make use of Eph. 2:5:

even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ
..

This gives you an idea.

#15 Perry Robinson

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Posted 24 August 2010 - 09:59 PM

Benjamin, I was also Reformed for a number of years so I can understand where you are coming from. But a few things first.

Saint Augustine didn't hold to total depravity in either of its forms (Lutheran or Reformed). And he didn't do so against the Pelagians or Manicheans because he thought that grace was added to nature at the creation of humanity, rather than a constituent of the imago dei that was lost at the Fall due to human choice. The Reformed side, ironically, with the Pelagians in thinking that nature was naturally graced or that righteousness was a constituent of the imago dei. A fall from grace was a fall from nature. In this way, the Reformed are anti-Augustinian. I think Augustine's position is mistaken here, but it is FAR better than the frankly Manichean anthrpology of the Reformed.

Biblically, an Crthodox critique of Calvinism should focus its attention on Christology and Triadology. What Christ do the Reformed confess? Often the Reformed claim adherence to the Christological dogma of Chalcedon, but this is not so. And serious work by ardent Calvinist academics has shown it to be so. (They take their position is superior to the Chalcedon.) See Richard Muller's Christ and the Decree: Predestination and Christology in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins. It should become clear that Calvin's Christology is that the person of the mediator is a product of the union-Christ is "out of" two natures qua hypostasis, rather than being the divine person who assumes human nature into his divine person. This is why the WCF says Christ is a human and divine **person**, which is mistaken.

Ultimately, predestination is a Christological doctrine and not an anthropological one. The real question biblically then is how does the divine will in Christ relate to the human will in Christ? That is, is Christ predestined or no? Since Christ is consubstantial with all men, if predestination is not applicable there, then it is not applicable in anthrpology and soteriology. So passages like Eph 1, which is a favorite Reformed proof text for predestination should be read Christologically. This is not a stretch as far as the text goes since it grounds predestination of all creation in Christ (vv.10-11). Predestination is to immortality and so at the level of nature, which is why even the wicked are rendered immortal and annihilationalism is false. Christ predestines all to ever being, but to enjoy the full benefit, ever well being or blessedness depends in part in how we use our natural power of choice. Practically eveyr place in the NT where predestination is discussed (such as Romans 8-9) it is in the context of predestination of everything in Christ. predestination is corporate and at the level of nature, rather than personal and individualistic.

#16 David Lindblom

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Posted 24 August 2010 - 11:57 PM

Benjamin, the web site I mentioned..Energetic Procession..is owned by Mr. Perry Robinson. Just thought I'd drop that little tidbit of info.

#17 Benjamin Amis

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Posted 31 August 2010 - 12:50 PM

David,

Glad to be coming home!

I appreciate all of these replies, from everyone. The logic and references given here are thought-provoking! I'm especially enjoying Mr. Robinson's blog. I attended a Wesleyan college, and found Calvinism there! Suffice it to say, I've had much trouble accepting Arminianism, but it is refeshing to hear an Orthodox perspective on Protestant theology! The two are horses of a very different color! I've experienced the misunderstanding of Orthodoxy from the Protestant side, and so now I am enjoying the insights of Orthodoxy concerning the heresies of Protestantism. I love the experiental theology of the Church, which is so much more enabling than the merely cerebral (or sometimes merely emotional) theology of the Protestants. I used to love Western "systematic theology" and now saying it even leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

I haven't had much time recently, moving to a new home and starting a new job (and will probably be doing it again before year's end!) and so I apologize for my inactivity! I will most likely be replying here again once I have had the time to look over what has been said and referenced more thoroughly. Again, thank you all!

#18 David Lindblom

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Posted 01 September 2010 - 03:34 PM

[quote name='Benjamin Amis']David,
[QUOTE]
I'm especially enjoying Mr. Robinson's blog.[/QUOTE]As I stated before, his blog has been extremely helpful for me. You might also try this podcast. Fr. Damick is the priest of one of the Energetic Procession guys...Cyril I think.

[QUOTE]I used to love Western "systematic theology" and now saying it even leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.[/QUOTE]Yeah, as a Prot. because of all the bickering I was involved in and how none of the systematics could stand up to the Bible I grew to despise all systematic theologies. Orthodoxy was refreshing to in the extreme.

#19 Benjamin Amis

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Posted 02 September 2010 - 11:58 AM

[quote name='David Lindblom'][quote name='Benjamin Amis']David,
As I stated before, his blog has been extremely helpful for me. You might also try this podcast. Fr. Damick is the priest of one of the Energetic Procession guys...Cyril I think.

Yeah, as a Prot. because of all the bickering I was involved in and how none of the systematics could stand up to the Bible I grew to despise all systematic theologies. Orthodoxy was refreshing to in the extreme.[/QUOTE]


I've been listening to Fr. Damick, found him a couple weeks ago...wonderful insights! :-D

For me, systematic theology was ignorant bliss. All the other systematic theologies were just stupid, in my mind. It actually took my walking into an Orthodox parish and experiencing worship for me to go, "Wow...THIS is worship! What have I been missing?"

It took time to accept the teaching and authority of the Church (and is a life-long endeavor to keep accepting it and walking in it), but I never really looked back. It wasn't long before I knew Protestantism would always be empty to me, and I could never be satisfied by it again. I didn't even know there had been scales over my eyes, but now that they had fallen, I couldn't live with anything less.




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