Thursday, June 29, 2006

Total Depravity - Micah & Mark's Final Post

Mark and I endeavored to defend the doctrine of Total Depravity from Scripture rather than by creeds or confessions. Yet our opponents sought to redirect this discussion away from Scriptural truth about man’s inability to save himself, instead focusing on what they believe to be our inconsistency regarding Reformed confessions. They attempted to redefine the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity but did so in opposition to the very creeds they quoted. Presenting our position as different from that which we actually hold, they painted a picture of what they thought the doctrine meant using partial quotes from the LBCF and dictionary definitions.

Murphy stated, “Micah repudiates the London Confession.” Yet he only quoted part of the confession, ignoring the portion on topic of this debate. We agree with this confession, as it explains:

    "Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith, nor are done in a right manner according to the word, nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, nor make a man meet to receive grace from God, and yet their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing to God." LBCF, 16.7

Total Depravity means:

    “When Calvinists speak of man as being totally depraved, they mean that man’s nature is corrupt, perverse and sinful throughout. The adjective “total” does not mean that each sinner is as totally or completely corrupt in his actions and thoughts as it is possible for him to be.” The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended and Documented, David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1963

Had they actually investigated what we believed, much futile discussion could have been avoided. I post these statements only to reveal our opponents attempt to color our position. By resorting to arguments over words, they show no interest in dealing with what Calvinists actually believe (and thus what Scripture states).

Original Sin & the Effects of the Fall

Our opponents disregarded the text of Scripture during this debate and instead appealed to emotional analogies of drunken drivers. In response to Psalm 58:3, they responded:

    “Psalm 58:3 teaches people were old enough to speak lies. ‘They have gone astray’ is not synonymous with born astray.”

Note that they quoted only the second half of Psalm 58:3, spinning it in such a way as to contradict the first half. Here again is the verse in question for the reader:

    Psalms 58:3 (KJV) - The wicked are estranged from the womb: They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.

Murphy acknowledged that “all men sin,” yet refuses to properly apply this passage to that belief. Since all men sin, all men are therefore wicked, thus all men are estranged from God from the womb. The result is that they go astray “as soon as they are born”.

Our opponents write:

    ”We are spiritually dead in sin not because we are born that way, but because we choose to live in sin. Psalm 58:3 teaches people were old enough to speak lies. ‘They have gone astray’ is not synonymous with born astray.”

Why do we choose to live in sin? From Scripture it can be understood that because of our fallen nature we are estranged from God from the womb. This results in our wickedness from birth. In their final rebuttal, our opponents again quoted Psalm 58:3 partially apparently realizing that to quote it fully would mean the repudiation of their position. They claimed that “we are sinners because we succumb to temptation and sin”, but what temptation has a fetus encountered? What temptation have those who speak lies been tempted with from birth?

Of Psalm 51:5, Murphy writes:

    But what about Psalms 51:5? Calvinists fail to differentiate between the thing born and the conditions surrounding the birth. David doesn’t say: I was born in sin.

Consider the events surrounding David’s writing of the 51st Psalm. Scripture states: A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” Psalm 51 is a psalm of David’s repentance and he does not speak of other’s sin rather his own.

    Psa 51:5 (KJV) Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

David wrote both Psalm 51 and 58. In both Psalms, he is speaking not of the conditions surrounding the individual’s conception and birth, but the individual’s condition. Murphy gives not a single reason why we should accept his view of this verse. Where is the verse that shows David’s mother as sinning by bringing him to term? Where is the verse proving that she sinned during his conception? No, Psalm 51 is the cry of a repentant sinner agonizing over his depravity and turning to God.

Our opponents have been quick to point out Scriptures explaining how children do not inherit guilt for their father’s sins, and twice likened the consequences of Adam’s sin on the rest of us as like the death of a child by the negligence of a drunken driver. One wonders who exactly the drunken driver in their analogy is, given the fact that it was God who justly cursed Adam for His sin.

Since by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation”, then by the offense of Adam the judgment of God and condemnation unto death came to all men. Murphy acknowledges that it is God who judges and condemns, yet fails to draw the necessary conclusion from Romans 5:18. Instead, the drunk driver analogy was repeated. Do they believe it is the drunk driver who judges mankind for the one offense of Adam? One is left to wonder how, if they are not guilty for Adam’s sin, they can be judged thereby and condemned by a just God? Or is God a drunken driver, accidentally hitting you instead of Adam? Consider the inconsistency in their words:

    “Adam’s sin brought physical death on all mankind…”

    “According to God (who judges and condemns), we cannot inherit our father's sin, nor his guilt, nor his punishment (Ezk 18:20)….”

    “I am not guilty of Adam's sin although I suffer the consequence of his sin.”

    “It is only because Adam is the father of the race that "the many" (all) die as a consequence of Adam's sin.”

What are the consequences of Adam’s sin that they have nothing to do with the punishment for his sin? The Scriptures, on the other hand, state it differently:by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation…”, what men receive as a result Adam’s offense is judgment unto condemnation by God. Our opponents’ appeal to verses such as Ezekiel 18:20, which do in fact state that children will not be punished for their father’s sin. Yet this only shows that they do not understand that it is because we are born in Adam that we are born sinners and not because of the sin of our parents.

    “In truth the effects of Adam's sin did not rob man of his free will in matters of salvation.”

What relevance ‘free-will’ has in this discussion is questionable. Jesus states that “everyone who sins is a slave of sin”. While the Pharisees claimed not to be “slaves of anyone,” Jesus places them all under the same condemnation explaining that only if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Since all sin, no man is free, instead we are all slaves to sin and require a Savior to free him from that state. Paul writes:

    2 Timothy 2:24-26

    The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

Dead in Sin

As I stated in the opening round, Romans 8:7-9 adequately addresses the nature of man apart from the Spirit of God as being “set on the flesh” and “hostile toward God”. These do not and cannot subject themselves to the Law of God, and cannot please God. The question posed to our opponents was: “given… the difference between 'natural man' and 'spiritual man' is the indwelling Spirit of God (Rom 8:9), how is it that you believe unbelievers are able to do the opposite?” Their response was:

    “Micah and Mark teach "the mind set on the flesh" is also absolute. They see "the hostility," the "cannot subject" and "cannot please God" as absolute….

    Having said that, the natural man still has free will, so the syndrome is not necessarily permanent or irreversible…”

This is no answer, their response seems only to be ‘cannot cannot mean cannot’! Yet, nothing in the text of Romans 8 supports this condition as being “not necessarily permanent.” Romans 8:7-8 instead declares that the person with the mind set on the flesh cannot obey God and are unable to please Him. The difference between the person with the mind set on the flesh and the person with the mind set on the Spirit is the indwelling Spirit of God. Romans 8 thus proves what we are saying, that apart from the indwelling Spirit of God men cannot obey God nor please Him. Our opponents’ conclusion therefore is without substantiation.

“Some natural men can be mildly interested in the spiritual or even attend church regularly,” Murphy writes. Calvinism in no way states otherwise, but that natural man cannot obey God and is unable to please Him. Although natural man may seek solace in churches and monasteries, he does so out of sinful motives. As in Christ’s day, the Pharisees were leaders in the church yet Christ called them children of… the devil.’

    John 8:47
    “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”

Note the inability implied: “…you cannot hear my word…” and “He who is of God hears the words of God”. This is similar to John 10 wherein Jesus explains that the Pharisees do not believe because they are not His sheep, rather than the other way around.

That natural man can do that which appears to be good in no way diminishes the fact that he is unable to please God or perfectly obey His Law. As we stated, God commanding something does not imply ability to fulfill the command. God commanded Israel to obey the Law fully, and yet no one except Christ was able to do that. Therefore, it is only by faith in Christ that the perfect obedience to God’s Law is imputed to the believer.

Augustine fought Pelagius over these very issues. The end result of that debate was the excommunication of Pelagius, and the naming of the particular heresy after him. That debate took place well over 1600 years ago, but the heresy then condemned continues. Our opponents are but recent followers of the same line of thinking and are likewise condemned. This debate has clearly exposed the anthropocentric nature of their belief system. Denying original sin, they affirm that infants are not“estranged from the womb” and do not “come forth speaking lies” but are all born perfectly sinless. If what they believe is true, infants do not need a Savior, especially not a Savior who bore in His own flesh the sin of His people! By denying Total Depravity they claim unregenerate man can cooperate with God. They thus add works to grace, cheapening that work of Christ and denying the imputation of righteousness claiming that all men have that which Satan tempted Eve with… the ability to what only God can do.

Soli Deo Gloria

Micah Burke


  1. Hey Micah,

    Glad to see that you have posted almost all of the debate.


  2. Papasmurph! "Almost all"? What am I missing? :)

  3. Micah,

    I couldn't find our last post. The link that you had lead to a cul de sac.

    I would be interested in another orderly written debate on the sovereignty of God. Of course we both claim to believe this but there are some major differences. If your interested let me know.

    Oh, just for your information Steve and I are not elders/pastors in the congregations where we preach. One day, perhaps, but not at the moment. We're just preachers.

    Take care.

  4. Never mind, Micah. I found it. It is all posted. I missed a link! :) I look forward to hearing from you again.

  5. Thanks for the clarification, papasmurph. The I'm not well versed in the CoC church structure. A sovereignty of God debate/discussion might be an interesting one.