Friday, November 18, 2011

J.P. Holding's Total Depravity: A Calvinist Responds (I of III)

Holding's definition:
What is the exact meaning of "total depravity"? Here are the points it generally offers, which one will find repeated in various forms throughout works in favor of TULIP:

• Sin corrupts the whole person -- emotions, will, and intellect.
• Although this is so, we are not as bad as we could be; we could be worse. We are, as Palmer puts it, not as intensively evil as possible; but we are as extensively evil as possible. [Palm.5P, 9] For example, while we as individuals may lie and cheat, this does not mean that we will go as far as murder.
• We are incapable of a truly good act of our own selves. Any good deeds we do (outside of Christ) is merely a "relative" good deed. A truly good deed is done for the glory of God; unbelievers are incapable of this.
• The supreme point following from these three: We are unable of ourselves to turn to Christ to be saved.
It is my opinion that Holding would have been better served to simply have referred to a proponent of Calvinism to define what is meant by total depravity. It is my view that this is precisely where unnecessary confusion enters the confab. That being said, I turn to Herman Bavinck to offer some help.

• The teaching of Scripture, after all, is not that every human lives at all times in all possible actual sins and is in fact guilty of violating all God’s commandments.
• Sin, however, is not a substance. It does indeed inhabit and infect all of us, but it is not and cannot be the essence of our humanity.
• When we are taught that as a result of sin humans are incapable of any good and this inability is called “natural,” this does not refer to physical necessity or fatalistic coercion. What humans have lost is the free inclination of the will toward the good. They are now no longer want to do good; they now voluntarily, by a natural inclination, do evil.
• Finally, one must bear in mind that Scripture and the church, in teaching the total depravity of humanity, apply the highest standard, namely, the law of God. The doctrine of the incapacity for good is a religious confession. [Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics. Vol. 3, 119-123]

Dabney states, “The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists of the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.” Dabney, Systematic Theology. 321]

The Westminster Confession states:

They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; (Gen. 1:27–28, Gen. 2:16–17, Acts 17:26, Rom. 5:12, 15–19, 1 Cor. 15:21–22, 45, 49) and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. (Ps. 51:5, Gen. 5:3, Job 14:4, Job 15:14)

From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, (Rom. 5:6, Rom. 8:7, Rom. 7:18, Col. 1:21) and wholly inclined to all evil, (Gen. 6:5, Gen. 8:21, Rom. 3:10–12) do proceed all actual transgressions. (James 1:14–15, Eph. 2:2–3, Matt. 15:19)

Holding’s last bullet does not quite meet the definition for total depravity. Man is not only incapable of himself to turn to Christ, even with help he is so utterly depraved that he cannot turn to Christ. This is like saying that a dead man can drink water if only he has some help. Not exactly! Dead men can’t drink water. They are dead. What they need is to be resurrected first!

I have now concluded that all 4 of these points are true according to Scripture -- and therefore, I affirm that the T in TULIP is valid. However, I must qualify by saying that while it is valid, it is not supported by as many Scriptures as some are wont to think. Originally this essay was to explore the doctrine as expressed in the epistalory literature, but since it seems that "T" is clearly affirmed (in the first verse to be examined below) I see no need, at present, to proceed further.
It is remarkably unclear what Holding means by this comment. The use of the word valid causes some concern. An argument can be valid but still untrue. All that is required is that the conclusion proceeds from the premises in order for the argument to be valid. However, in order for an argument to be both valid and true, the premises must be true and carry through to the conclusion. The qualification Holding mentions, namely, that total depravity is not supported by as much Scripture as some are “wont to think” makes absolutely no sense whatever. If you agree that Scripture teaches total depravity, then why bother with such a qualification? Perhaps there is more to Holding’s qualification than meets the eye. This is an indication that Holding is up to something more than just affirming his belief in total depravity (something which I doubted from the start of this paper).
Holding on the use of Certain Passages
John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

I will begin, therefore, with the verse that clearly does teach total depravity. Palmer [Palm.5P, 16] tells us, "Here is total depravity: man cannot choose Jesus. He cannot even take the first step to go to Jesus, unless the Father draws him." This is indeed total depravity, but there is a factor involved that looks to shift the matter back to individual choice. Jesus goes on to say in John 12:32, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." The Greek word behind "draw" in the two verses is the same. Note the connotation that this word can have:

Acts 16:19 And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers...

James 2:6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?

This word has the connotation of being brought somewhere by force if needed, and against the wishes of the "draw-ee." This verse does indeed teach the doctrine clearly.

But once John 12:32 is thrown into the mix, something is indicated which may throw the matter back into human hands -- at God's sovereign directive and because of His actions. How are men drawn onto Christ? We know and all agree that the Holy Spirit is the "drawer" on men. But Jesus says that all men will be drawn unto him. So what does this lead to?

A logical syllogism: All men are drawn to Christ. The Holy Spirit works this function in all men. But clearly not all become Christians, and these verses only say that one cannot make the choice without the drawing first.

Even Yarborough, writing in favor of Calvinism in Still Sovereign, admits that this can refer to a "more general attraction that, say, renders persons accountable but not yet regenerate in other" and tries to make "all men" mean "all elect men" [as below] with no justification other than a pre-conceived application of Calvinism.

Therefore, practically speaking, while we absolutely must have God's prodding to come to Him, we are all getting that prodding -- just like you can't decide on a path without information on the path first. Geisler [Geis.CBF, 6], citing Sproul, observes that the question now is whether God gives the ability to come to Him to all men, and we discuss that more here.

I should note one response to this verse, which says that "all men" means "men from all nations" rather than literally "all men." This seems an all too obvious contrivance to save the doctrine of irresistible grace; in the previous verse Jesus speaks of judgment of the kosmos and the prince of the kosmos. It is the burden of the Calvinist to prove that "all men" [in fact, only "all" is actually in the text; "men" is implied] means "men from all nations" or "elect men".

And there you have it. Before we can even get started, Holding reveals that he in fact, does not adopt the “T” in TULIP. The definition he immediately places on total depravity fails to meet the reformed doctrine in any way whatever. We can do without this kind of intellectual dishonesty in the Christian community. Holding is not the only one guilty of such dishonesty. I know a good many men, men that I respect who do the very same thing. I find it quite troubling to hear men say they believe in certain points of Calvinism or that they are even Calvinists when they are not. I do not know why these men cannot simply state plainly their disagreement with the doctrine and get on with it. In response to Holding’s overly wooden literal interpretation of John 12:32, many, many men have offered adequate rebuttal. Holding misses the entire context of John 12:32. White, in response to Dr. Geisler’s Chosen But Free points this out in his book, The Potter’s Freedom. The context is that some Greeks had come seeking Christ in v. 20. Jesus is about to end His public ministry and he utters these remarkable words. The gospel will go out to all men, not just the Jewish nation. No longer is God going to extend covenant blessings and benefits only to the Jews predominantly. He is going to include Gentiles from all people groups. Holding contends that the Calvinist is wrong to say that “all” here means “all kinds." However, he gives no reason for why such an interpretation should be rejected other than calling it bias. He assumes he is right and quickly moves on, in typical Arminian fashion. The truth is that Holding interprets this verse exactly the same way that Universalists interpret it. Scripture must interpret Scripture. If we interpret this Scripture literally, we have a world of explaining to do. The only two possibilities are all men quite literally, or all kinds of men. If Christ meant all men without exception rather than all men without distinction, then we are left to wonder how. Even Holding admits this drawing is from the Holy Spirit. And this must also involve the preaching of Christ! And the timing of this drawing begins when Christ is lifted up at Calvary. However, most men died for centuries without ever having heard of Christ. Christ died on Friday. He was resurrected on Sunday. Does Holding actually contend that on Monday, all men everywhere were drawn to Christ? It is even true today that there are numerous people groups who have never heard the name Jesus! It seems obvious to anyone without an axe to grind that this text simply means that the gospel is going out to all men without distinction.

John said that Jesus enlightens all men who come into the world in John 1:9. Ananias prophesied that Paul would be a witness to all men about the things he had heard and seen in Acts 22:15. Paul said that we should respect what is right in the sight of all men in Rom. 12:17. Is anything right in the sight of every single man? Paul said that the Corinthian church was like an epistle, known and read by all men in II Cor. 3:2. It is clear that Holding is wrong to force an overly wooden interpretation on John 12:32. It is obvious that Scripture uses the word "all" with a variety nuances. Holding certainly acknowledges this elsewhere in his writings, but for some reason conveniently abandons this approach here. While Holding accuses Calvinists of overlaying a theological grid onto this text, it is impossible to miss that Holding himself places his own on it. Moreover, the problem for Holding is that the Calvinist can easily demonstrate that "all men" is used repeatedly in the NT without the necessary wooden interpretation he demands must be placed on it in John 12:32. If anyone is being inconsistent in their hermeneutic, it seems rather obvious it is Holding. If anyone is allowing extreme theological bias to dictate their hermeneutic, it seems clear that it is Holding. However, I am not one to say that theological hermenuetics is improper. There is a sense in which you cannot separate the hermeneutical process from theological presuppositions. In fact, theological presuppositions are necessary for good hermeneutics. More than that, theological presuppositions are, in fact unavoidably necessary. It is true that there is no neutrality, even in biblical interpretation. But that is a discussion for another post.

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