This series will go back and forth between Roger Olson’s Against Calvinism and Michael Horton’s For Calvinism. Today I want to look at Michael Horton’s chp called “Of Regents and Rebels: The Human Condition,” which is a good sketch of Calvinism’s “T,” or total depravity.
Horton importantly begins on a note that might jar many who are suspicious of Calvinism: “no theological system has been more affirming of this world and human nature” and that “Calvinism teaches that humans beings are basically good in their intrinsic nature, endowed with free will, beauty of body and soul, reason, and moral excellence” (35). You might want to tweet that! Most don’t look at Calvinism that way, but Horton makes this clear: by nature, these things are true. In other words, as originally created.
But once the Fall happened, this all changes. As created, humans are good; as fallen, humans are comprehensively affected by sin in all areas of life.
Humans, after the fall, are bound to their sin nature. They are “bent toward unbelief and sin.” Humans have “lost this freedom for righteousness before God.” We are a “race of rebels” — having been designed to be “regents.” All of this is consistent in Calvin, the Canons of the Synod of Dort, the Belgic Confession and the Westminster tradition.
Depravity then is not inherent but something that happens to human nature. And this sinful nature incurs God’s judgment and it imprisons the whole person. Total means extensiveness not intensiveness. Comprehensively, humans are fallen (cracked Eikons). The image of God remains but humans are in a fallen condition. Humans are not deprived of will but soundness of will.
Which leads to a big question: Do Calvinists believe humans can do good of their own free will?
Horton contends for two major ideas: we need to distinguish between our natural and moral ability. We by nature can choose what is good but we have lost the moral ability to choose redemption. We cannot use those natural gifts in a way that pleases God. Humans are bound by sin until grace restores. Sin is a condition of humanity.
And we need to distinguish between freedom in relation to God and freedom in relation to other fallen human beings. His emphasis here that whatever we do is stained by sin so we can never be pleasing to God.
God is not the author of evil; here Horton is milder than some Calvinists (Olson sketched this theme in one of our recent posts).
In true Calvinist fashion (or should I say Augustinian/Calvinist fashion?), Horton sees humans as naturally Pelagian and that Pelagianism is the problem of the gospel and the church. Sin, he wants to re-affirm, is a condition: we are sinners. He thinks the contemporary church is worse than the medieval church. And he wants to re-affirm that humans are bound together into the covenant of works in solidarity with Adam. This is about all of being totally corrupted. And finally he re-affirms the elect are in Christ and therefore not condemned (the covenant of grace).