Total depravity, the T in the infamous mnemonic, T-U-L-I-P, the so-called Five Points of Calvinism, is not one of those doctrines that congers up Hallmark Card images of cats, cute babies, and spring flowers. In fact, H. L. Mencken quipped that Calvinism occupied a place in his cabinet but “little removed from Cannibalism.” His reason for repulsion no doubt stemmed from the Calvinists’ admission that human beings and sinners all the way down and can do nothing to merit God’s favor.
Father Dwight Longenecker raises the stakes for Calvinism’s depraved understanding of human nature by calling Total Depravity a heresy:
I’m thinking specifically of that heresy called “Total Depravity.” Yes, I know it sounds like one of those bad Arnold Schwarzenegger films, but “Total Depravity” is the idea that we are completely dead in our sin, that there is nothing good in us and that there is nothing we can do to approach God.
The Reformers taught this in reaction to what they perceived as Catholics trying to earn their salvation through works, but let this be a caution–any doctrine formed in reaction or as a correction to another doctrine is bound to be an equal and opposite heresy.Yes, the idea that you can be good enough to get into heaven is a heresy, but it is also a heresy that you are so bad that you can never get to heaven.
So, Father Dwight thinks Calvinists teach that no one gets into heaven. Well, who would believe that?
He misses the point of Total Depravity. Because of human sinfulness, the only way to heaven is through the perfect righteousness of Christ, received by faith alone. His alternative that people are good and have the capacity to know and follow the truth, but are wounded by sin, makes no sense why anyone goes to Purgatory. If human beings have those kinds of insights, why don’t they choose God? Because only the bad ones don’t, but the good ones do? Then, maybe the good ones don’t need Jesus or Mary.