Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"T" - Total Depravity - Summary and Thoughts

I'm currently reading through the books For Calvinism by Michael Horton and Against Calvinism by Roger E. Olson.  This post is one of a series of posts where I discuss the thoughts, impressions, and questions that surface during this study.  Click here for the first post in this series.

Chapter 3 of Against Calvinism discusses the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) one "letter" at a time.  Olson defines the first, Total Depravity like this:

[Total depravity] means that every part of every human person... is infected and so affected by sin that he or she is utterly helpless to please God before being regenerated... by the Spirit of God. (pp.42)

Olson's description of total depravity is the shortest of all the letters of TULIP, because (I assume) it is one of the points that he agrees with, and is generally agreed to by most Christians.  I've written about total depravity before, and I don't have much to add to that post.  I did, however, find his description of sin very interesting:

Everything that flows from the dead person is putrid and filthy even if it seems to be virtuous.  The reason is that true virtue is define by the motive, and the sinner's heart, blackened by sin, has a constant disposition toward self rather than toward God or neighbor. ... Sin lies in the motives, and they are entirely wrong until the Holy Spirit regenerates the person. (pp. 43)

This description of sin caught me a little by surprise.  I'm not sure if this is because I've been consistently taught differently, or that Olson simply described sin on the basis of motives in a more direct way that I've seen in the past.  In either case, I'm reminded of several specific conversations where someone who is doing something good questions their own motives.  (i.e. someone asks "I'm not sure if I'm doing this for the right reasons") The common response I hear is something like: 

"Maybe your motives are pure, maybe they're not.  Can we ever be free from lingering selfish motives?  What's more important is that you're obeying God."

Is that the right response? If not, what's the correct response to someone who struggles with doing good for the wrong reasons?  Or is Olson's definition of sin inaccurate?

What do you think?


Vengiletti said...

While reading this post, two things came to mind. First, I kept thinking of Oswald Chambers so I grabbed MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST to see and found under "His Nature and Our Motives" ideas that apply.

He writes that the only thing "that exceeds right-doing is right-being," and that no one can "make himself pure by obeying."

Chambers goes on to conclude of salvation: "[Christ] changes our heredity. He does not change human nature--He changes its source, and thereby its motives as well."

So speaking to Olson, I have to say, true virtue is only defined by belonging to Christ, not by obedience or motives.

The second thing that came to mind is how Christ repeatedly is very concerned with the state of one's thought, and thought for me, precedes motive. And the state of one's heart precedes thought.

wisdomknowledge said...

Hi Joe,

After reading your post I took a little time and tracked down the Doctrine of Sin (it is more than a definition) that I had been taught. I agree with what Olson wrote but I also think that such a short definition doesn't give a full sense of what sin is.

Here is another very short definition of what sin is:

The Bible uses the word "sin" to refer to any activity or pattern of thinking that is independent of God's standards or of His provisions for human life.

Doctrine of Sin at Grace Notes

Of course there is a lot more at the link if you are interested.


David Bartosik said...

The challenge that I always run into when discussing total depravity is comparing the love of the mother who isn't a christian and the love of the mother who is. The first one-those both are rooted in total depravity- the second mother has been redeemed and the work of the spirit lives in her and her motives have changed.

I think its a hard pill for many to swallow that the first mothers love isn't love but rooted in sin. Anything apart from faith is sin (roman 14:23). I think the argument about determining motives is good but when you think you can tell what those motives are its dangerous. You can encourage all christians to have true motives and pray that through the spirit they will continue to be sanctified to have pure motives. My belief is never 100% while on this earth even in the best possible situation, but is the mother that isn't a christian unable to do anything good? Curious what you have to say...