Total Inability (Depravity) vs. Human Ability (Free will)

Dear hijas,

Calvin's TULIP

The T in TULIP (the five points of Calvinism) stands for Total Depravity or Total Inability. It is probably the most misunderstood tenet in Calvinism. When Calvinists speak of total depravity they are saying that the Fall of Adam affected man in the totality of his being (his will, his emotions, his intellect). Every component of man and his personality was affected, and nothing was unaffected. They are not saying that man is intensely sinful, or as totally depraved as he could be (on the bad end of a sliding scale for instance), but that sin has extended to his entire being, affecting the entirety of who he is as man. It stems from the recognition that man is born ‘dead’ in trespass and sin (Eph. 2:1, Ps. 51:5), that none are righteous not even one (Rom.3:10), and loves darkness rather than light because his deeds are evil (Jn. 3:19), and because of the hardness of his heart (Eph. 4:18), not accepting the things of the Spirit (1 Cor.2:14), having no fear of God before his eyes (Rom. 3:18).

Total Depravity stresses the fact that the unregenerate man is dead, blind and deaf to the message of the gospel; that he has lost the ability, outside the influence of God’s grace, to choose the perfect good in relation to the spiritual realm. It recognizes that man’s fallen will is ultimately grounded in self; a self-directed will that is corrupt and cannot please God. Total depravity/total inability stresses that in the end, man is free to choose, but can only choose of necessity from among the things his fallen nature of its own accord will consider. It recognizes that “no one can (ability) come to Jesus, unless the Father who sent Jesus draws him” (John 6:44).

In contrast, J.I. Packer in his book, ‘Knowing God’, says the Arminians put this point forth thusly (a Partial Depravity or Wounded Man theory):

Man is never so completely corrupted by sin that he cannot savingly believe the gospel when it is put before him.

From the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics,, on its discussion of Calvinism and Armianism and the two systems contrasted from Dr. Loraine Boettner’s (1901-1990) work ‘The Reformed Faith‘, we find this about the Arminian view on this point:

1. Free-Will or Human Ability

Although human nature was seriously affected by the fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but He does not interfere with man’s freedom. Each sinner posses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it. Man’s freedom consists of his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters; his will is not enslaved to his sinful nature. The sinner has the power to either cooperate with God’s Spirit and be regenerated or resist God’s grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit’s assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man’s act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner’s gift to God; it is man’s contribution to salvation.

Can you see the differences here, mis hijas? Total Depravity or Partial Depravity? A ‘dead’ man or a ‘wounded’ man? Can you see what each side is saying in regards to ‘free will’, and the ‘ability to choose’?

Vaya con Dios mis hijas,

Dear ol’ Dad


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