Monday, March 5, 2012

Minding Our T's and Clues

The description of the natural man in the Bible is that man is dead because of Adam's transgression. It's not that we are all being held responsible for Adam's sin (i.e. punished), but that his sin happened before we came along and so it's effects (death) were handed down to us. Just as I am American because my distant progenitors decided to leave Ireland and Germany and settle in America and raise a family, so I am a sinner because Adam and Eve sinned and then had children.

The dead beget the dead. It's not like each of us would not have done as Adam did given the chance (he was the prototypical human). We were in his loins, we are as he was. That point is moot, however, because Adam did sin and did so before he had progeny. As a result, all that he could pass on was what he had--death, separation from God, and curse.

It should be noted that after the Fall, Adam's will was still intact and functioning. He was making choices, plotting direction, demonstrating creativity. If anything, those aspects of his personhood may actually have been accentuated. He even had conversations with God. Apparently, the Fall did not turn him into a zombie automaton serving only Satan and sin. I don't see any of the individuals highlighted in the OT demonstrating such a characteristic. Sinners, yes: satanic automatons incapable of hearing and responding to God when he spoke, NO!

Despite that, the Calvinistic concept of depravity (the condition of natural man) is vigorous and all too thorough. According to that reckoning, mankind has been so affected by Adam's sin as to be entirely corrupt and absolutely incapable of any good in regard to God. Man is incapable of searching for God, finding God, responding to God, trusting God, or walking according to his precepts. Man is dead in sin with no residual ability or capacity for anything spiritual.

Under such a reckoning, a divine imposition of grace is necessary for man to even so much as respond to God with faith. Regeneration, for all intents and purposes, must precede faith, and once initiated is irresistible and infallible. It seems to me that this approach has one being saved to believe rather than being saved because one believes.

In Arminianism, the concept of depravity is vigorous and thorough as well. By its reckoning, mankind has been so affected by Adam's sin as to be thoroughly corrupt and absolutely incapable of any untainted good. Man is incapable of searching for God, finding God, or walking according to his precepts. Man is dead in sin, separated from God, corrupt, and therefore incapable of truly having faith in God.

But under such a reckoning, a divine interjection of grace is all that is necessary for mankind is to respond to God with faith. Arminians, generally, see the word of God as containing such an affect. Upon hearing the word of God, the natural man is enabled to respond to God. A response is not infallibly certain, but it is absolutely impossible apart from the grace that enables it.

The chief difference in those two views of man's utter depravity comes into focus when considering the solution either envisions for the problem. Calvinism posits an imposed grace and regeneration (rebirth) as the solution: the sinner is made a saint by divine fiat. Arminianism posits an enabling grace which allows the sinner to respond to God with faith, which in turn is followed by God making the former sinner a new creature (rebirth). In either case, the solution for man's incapacity is divine.

A Summary of Theological Positions Regarding the Spiritual State of Natural Man
Calvinism: God imposes saving faith upon the depraved he chooses to save
Arminianism: God enables the depraved who hear the Gospel to respond with saving faith
Semipelagianism: God savingly helps those who use their ability turn to him in faith
Pelagianism: Man can turn to Christ on his own and appropriate salvation

The Pelagian (semi included) approaches to man's status and ability fly in the face of Jesus words: "no one can come to me unless the Fathers draws them." In maintaining mankind's freewill, they deny the innate inability of natural mankind to initiate a relationship with God through faith (depravity). This, despite the Word clearly teaching that faith comes by hearing the word of God. One does not have to posit intact spiritual abilities in natural man (i.e. little or no affect from the Fall) against what the Word says in order to sustain natural man's freewill.

Where the Calvinistic conception of depravity fails is that the record of scripture shows, readily and repeatedly, that natural man can respond to God when he or his word comes upon them. Sinners are not so "dead" as to be beyond hearing God if he actively approaches near enough, and they are not so quickened in doing so as to be above rejecting him.

2 comments:

  1. As an Arminian, I have not problem with the concept of depravity. Calvinists sometimes overlook that fact. The telling statement,

    "In either case, the solution for man's incapacity is divine."

    Well spoken.

    Grace and peace.

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  2. Pumice,
    I think Calvinists go to such extremity to define man's deadness that they forget they are describing a living creature. The living creature is depraved, without the freedom or impetus to find God on his own or to walk as God would have him to, but not incapable of responding to God when God speaks to him. That is the picture of the OT, which describes such (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, etc.) without resort or reference to regeneration. The more justified inference is that when God "speaks" to a person, his 'speaking" awakens or animates a capacity to respond.

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