Arminianism and Calvinism: Total Depravity vs. Free Will





calvinism-arminianismI am going to try to go through the entire five points of Arminianism and Calvinism over the next few weeks.

The Arminian points came first as a response by the followers of Jacob Arminius after his death to the current teaching of all known Protestant faiths at the time.  Their “Remonstrance of 1610″ challenged Church teaching about salvation and free will up to that time and the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619) was called to address the issue.  Church leaders from all over Europe were called together to consider the five points of Arminian followers in the Remonstrance.  The teachings of the Church in the known world at the time had their roots in the Scriptures as well as in the fight against Pelagianism and other heresies by early Church fathers including Augustine and others.  Five points came out of the Synod in response to the five that were outlined in the Remonstrance.  The Synod made it very clear that the doctrines of salvation should not and could not be defined by five points but they felt that the Remonstrance needed a point-by-point rebuttal.  The term “Calvinism” was adopted over time, not because John Calvin was anything extraordinary, but because he taught extensively on the subject throughout his ministry.

The first of the Arminian points that runs counter to the Calvinist position of total depravity (the “T” in the famous TULIP acronym) is “universal prevenient grace” or “free will.”   An overly elementary summary of the first point by Arminians is that humans, although seriously affected by the Fall, have not been left spiritually helpless but are left a remnant of spiritual light capable of understanding the Gospel and choosing to embrace it of one’s own Free Will.

The Synod of Dordt reaffirmed the belief that we are totally depraved.

My favorite book on the subject, The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, defines total depravity this way:

“Because of the Fall, man is unable of himself to savingly believe the gospel. The sinner is dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free; it is in bondage to his evil nature. Therefore, he will not – indeed he cannot – choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. Consequently, it takes much more than the Spirit’s assistance to bring a sinner to Christ. It takes regeneration, by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation, but is itself a part of God’s gift of salvation. It is God’s gift to the sinner, not the sinner’s gift to God.”

Frankly, when I took off the spiritual lenses I inherited as a normal American evangelical and started to read the Scriptures with purpose in my heart to be as objective as possible and let the Scriptures speak for itself, I could see where I got off track with Arminian Doctrine. Depravity and Election is so clear in Ephesians 1, throughout Romans, in the Gospels…

One hang-up some have with “total”depravity is that they don’t believe that people are incapable of doing any good. I don’t disagree. Evil and lost people do ‘good’ things. But the “total” in Total Depravity is more of a holistic totality. The totality of the individual is lost and incapable of choosing salvation. We are not, under the Curse, given the power to reach out to God in any way that affects our eternal disposition without Him choosing us first.

I also believe that man was not created depraved initially but it is solely a consequence of sin through Adam. And who are we to arrogantly tell God that the punishment for sin (depravity) is too great?

We are spiritually dead from the beginning:
Psalm 51:5 – “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
Psalm 58:3 – “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.”

We have dark minds and corrupt/depraved hearts:
Genesis 8:21 – “The intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”
Romans 8:7-8 – “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Job 15:14-16 – “What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous? Behold, God puts no trust in his holy ones, and the heavens are not pure in his sight; how much less one who is abominable and corrupt, a man who drinks injustice like water!”

We cannot change by ourselves:
Job 14:4 – “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one.”
John 6:65 – “And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’”
1 Corinthians 4:7 – “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”
2 Corinthians 3:5 – “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.”

Note the myriad Scriptures that make it clear that God Himself gives faith, grants repentance, and creates new hearts.

Spiritual life, theology, and doctrine reside on a spectrum.  On one end is the lie that Satan himself wants us to believe (that we are unworthy or that His Word doesn’t mean what It says) and on the other end of the spectrum is human pride that leads to works-related doctrine.

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