Quick response re: Arminian doctrine of total depravity

Quick response re: Arminian doctrine of total depravity September 3, 2010

Contrary to one post here, “total depravity” does not necessarily include being born guilty of Adam’s sin.  Surely Ulrich Zwingli (the real father of the Reformed tradition) did not deny total depravity, but he did deny that children are born guilty of Adam’s sin.  Most Reformed Baptists deny it as well while still holding to total depravity. 

All that is required for belief in total depravity is belief that all persons (except Jesus Christ) since Adam are born with a corruption of nature such that willful sinning and consequent guilt are inevitable and that every aspect of a human person’s nature is corrupted by sin.  Most free church evangelicals and Baptists have always held this view of original sin and total depravity–whether they are Calvinists or Arminians.

If a person is going to declare everyone who does not believe in inherited guilt “not orthodox,” that would include a whole lot of Calvinists including many (I would say most) Reformed Baptists, Calvinist Evangelical Free members, etc.

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  • W B McCarty

    Dr. Olson, on re-examination I see that you were careful to make this distinction in your book _Arminian Theology_ (p. 33). I have inadvertently conflated your ideas with those of Arminian acquaintances. So, the confusion as to the views of classical Arminians on the subject of total depravity is all mine.

    On the other hand, I will stand by my claim that rejection of the original/inherited guilt of mankind is an unbiblical view. I hope to post later today in defense of my claim.

  • Vance

    I believe the best understanding of original sin and its effects on humankind is the view some call “privation of grace.” My understanding of it is as follows: Adam’s guilt was not passed on to his progeny; nor was his basic human nature radically changed and passed on genetically. In fact, there is nothing wrong with the basic components of human nature. Anger, jealousy, fear, sexual desire, love, hate, desire for food and drink, pleasure, companionship–all these things are *good* and are essential attributes of human persons. Sinfulness emerges from the *misuse* of these things.

    But what is it about us that would result in our misusing these basic emotions and drives?

    The problem is not that something was *added* at the Fall, but that something was *lost*. Humans were made to live in fellowship with God. God made us in such a way that, to be complete, we require His abiding presence in our hearts. And this is what was lost at the Fall. Without the indwelling of God–without grace–our ability to control our emotions and basic drives is severely limited, making us susceptible to sin. (We *will* sin, unless we die very young.) For this reason, we may speak of our “sin nature,” which is the basis of total depravity, or total inability. That’s where prevenient grace comes in. It *frees* us to respond positively to God’s call to conversion–hence the importance of this doctrine.

    Also, I think it is possible for a person who has experienced regeneration (i.e., has the indwelling Holy Spirit) to come to the place, in this life, where s/he no longer sins. I don’t think I can agree with those who insist that we all sin, at least in some small way, every day of our lives.

    Is this view within the boundaries of orthodox Arminian theology? Or am I missing something?

    • reg m

      this is my understanding as well.

  • Richard Coords

    A child may be born in the image of Adam, in the fallen nature, even displaying signs of the fallen nature, but does that necessarily mean that God *imputes* sin to the child that perishes in infancy?

    In terms of Total Depravity, the Calvinist says that the solution to man’s depraved nature is divine intervention. Arminians couldn’t agree more! It’s *how* God intervenes, that separates Calvinists from Arminians. Does God’s intervention include full blown regeneration with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Or, does God reserve full blown regeneration for the believer? Based upon Eph. 1:13, I contend for the latter, but I don’t doubt that a Calvinist can provide their own slant on that verse, even as Calvin himself had, by imagining a \two-fold\ application of the Holy Spirit. So if God does not intervene with full blown regeneration, as Arminianism contends, how else could God bring the unregenerate, rebel sinner to a place where they are able to receive His gift of grace? If by God’s power, how exactly would Prevenient Grace work and what would it look like? I like how Paul described it at Acts 26:14.