Total Depravity?

The Reformed like to quote from Romans 3 in defense of a view of humanity that is not shared by many of their peers. You can look up Romans 3 yourself if you like, because that isn’t terribly relevant here. More important for my purposes here is what the Reformed say about men based upon this passage.

I. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtilty and temptations of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory.

II. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion, with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.

III. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.

IV. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.

V. This corruption of nature, during this life, does remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned, and mortified; yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.

VI. Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, does in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.

[Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. VI]

The main points to be seen here for purposes of this post is that according to the WCF and its proponents, all men — including Christians — sin regularly, and their sins make them worthy of nothing except damnation for all eternity.

This notion contradicts the book of Revelation.

“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. (Rev. 19:6b-8, emphasis added).

If the Reformed were correct in their view of Romans 3, then we should have to say with them, “no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12). But if this is true, then there are no righteous deeds of the saints to be the fine linen of Rev. 19:8. None.

Therefore the Reformed have mistakenly interpreted Romans 3. How may this be? Well, if I had to hazard a guess I would say that they have overlooked the fact that the portions of Romans 3 which they quote in order to prove their view of “total depravity” happen to be drawn from the Psalms. In other words, they are taking poetry and interpreting it literally. But even the Psalms do not pretend that literally no one does any good whatsoever: “I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt. Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight” (Ps. 18:23-24). Furthermore, God said of Abraham: “Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Gen. 26:5).

So the Bride of Christ—His Church—will indeed be clothed in fine linen, and that fine linen is “the righteous deeds of the saints.” The Reformed have erred in their notion of total depravity.

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Posted in Apologetics, Protestantism
2 comments on “Total Depravity?
  1. The Reformed language of total depravity doesn’t fit well with biblical language about righteousness does it? I think you hit the nail on the head with your hazard guess. But it’s not just this verse. There are many passages in the Christian Bible, which, if taken alone apart from the other one’s, can lead to an extreme view that fails to reckon with the other passages about the “righteousness” of the saints.

  2. aquinasetc says:

    Hi Theo,

    I agree with everything you’ve said :-) Thanks for commenting!


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