Tuesday, November 22, 2011

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

Acts 16:14 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.

Palmer tells us of Lydia, "Only after the Lord opened her heart was (Lydia) able to give heed to what was said by Paul. Until then, her understanding was darkened, to use Paul's description of the Ephesian Gentiles (Eph. 4:18)." [Palm.5P, 15]

Granting this -- for no such description is applied to Lydia at all by Luke -- I can see no reason why this cannot be an example of the paradigm I have outlined above whereby the Holy Spirit, drawing upon all men's hearts, now gives them what they need to make the decision of their own accord. If I may hypothesize a moment, it now appears that we will be leading into another petal off the TULIP doctrine -- that of Irresistible Grace -- and we found that to be lacking here.
I do not know which version Holding is using here to give us Acts 16:14. I will provide the NA27 Greek text, my own rough translation, and then the superior NASB translation so that you can see what the text is actually saying.

καί τις γυνὴ ὀνόματι Λυδία, πορφυρόπωλις πόλεως Θυατείρων σεβομένη τὸν θεόν, ἤκουεν, ἧς ὁ κύριος διήνοιξεν τὴν καρδίαν προσέχειν τοῖς λαλουμένοις ὑπὸ τοῦ Παύλου. And a certain woman named Lydia, a merchant in purple cloth, in the city of Thyatira one fearing God, was hearing, whom the Lord opened the heart to respond to the spoken words of Paul.

This is the rough translation of the Greek text. The NASB says, A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. The semantic function of the Greek word prosechein is purpose. The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things being spoken by Paul. Again, at the risk of sounding redundant, the semantic use of the infinitive here clearly is purpose. In this case, it functions as an adverb, modifying dienoizeni. Lydia’s heart was opened to respond. Christ opened Lydia’s heart for the purpose of responding. God’s work on the human heart is the prerequisite to a positive response to the gospel. Holding would contend that God may open the heart, but the response may still be negative. Nowhere is this process ever documented in Scripture. The heart of the unbeliever is everywhere pictured as hardened, blind, ignorant, and bound by the sin nature. This goes back to John 6 where Jesus informs us that the reason people reject the gospel is because God has not granted them the ability to believe and accept it. This is also seen in John 10 where Jesus says that the unbeliever is not his sheep and this explains why they don’t believe. He says you don’t believe because you are not my sheep, not, you are not my sheep because you don’t believe. In other words, it is the status of being or not being God’s sheep that is seen as the cause of belief or faith, not the other way around. Moreover, we are God’s sheep, not because of anything we do or are, but because of His choice and His choice alone.

Holding then refers to Eph. 4:18 which describes the unbeliever’s state of mind as darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God. It is interesting that Holding does not interact with this text. I shall return to this in my summary of Holding’s supposed treatment of Total Depravity.

This word is used in the very same semantic structure in Luke 24:45. This time to present active infinitive is the Greek word sunienai and it means to understand. It is used 26 times in the NT and every time it means to understand or comprehend. In this case, Jesus is said to open the minds of the disciples for the purpose of understanding the Scripture. This theme emerges throughout the NT. It is unfortunate that Holding chose the path he did. He pointed to various texts that, perhaps, he felt could easily be viewed in from a different perspective and seemingly intentionally left the rest untreated. It is quite interesting to see so many texts on the subject of depravity missing from an eight page paper on the subject.

Holding began his paper by stating that he believed that Scripture taught the doctrine of total depravity. This statement begs the question why he found it necessary to spend so much time attempting to deny it for the remainder of his paper.

Holding's Brilliant Conclusion
After all of this criticism of those who favor the doctrine of total depravity, I would remind the reader that I have indeed come to the conclusion that it is Scriptural -- just not found clearly in a majority of verses usually cited in favor of it. Those verses are perhaps persuasion, but only the one in John 6 that we began with, of those we have examined, is clear proof.

Response and Conclusion
First of all, it is difficult to say what this paper is about. One would assume it concerns Holding’s view on Total Depravity. That is the hook Holding uses to reel you in. However, any Calvinist recognizes immediately that Holding’s restatement of total depravity is lacking and filled with gaps that leave the door open for Arminian revisionism. Why Holding thinks it is right to state that he adopts the doctrine when he redefines it to suit his own purpose and then spends most of his paper denying it is puzzling. Granted, Holding could merely be attempting to deal with those Scriptures that he thinks do not teach total depravity in order to correct those poor Calvinists that think they do. Why such a paper is necessary, I do not know. Moreover, I highly doubt any Calvinists are going to read it and be convinced. If that is his goal, he even falls short on that account for he manages to mangle several texts that do teach total depravity as mentioned above.

My conclusion is that J.P Holding has redefined total depravity. His definition of the term is actually not the reformed doctrine of total depravity at all. If he wished to define it and affirm it, he could have easily selected a number of sources to quote from and simply affirm its truthfulness. He did not do this because he really does not accept the doctrine and the number of statements he makes throughout this paper indicating his belief in unregenerate ability prove this is likely the case. It is my opinion that this is the reason he chose the texts in this paper that he did. He did not select texts such as Eph. 2:1-10, 1 Cor. 2:14, Romans 8:6-8, 2 Cor. 4:4, Rom. 1, 3:10-18 or even Eph. 4:18 and a variety of others. These texts are far more difficult for anyone attempting to rebut the doctrine of total depravity. J.P. Holding seems to be one more intellectually dishonest synergist that wants to muddy the waters and confuse the issue of total depravity with his use of a hermeneutic of convenience and Arminian revisionism.

So says the Canons of Dort in III & IV:

Article 1

Man was originally formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator, and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright, all his affections pure, and the whole man was holy. But, revolting from God by the instigation of the devil and by his own free will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and in the place thereof became involved in blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity, and perverseness of judgment; became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections.

Article 4

There remain, however, in man since the fall, the glimmerings of natural understanding, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and shows some regard for virtue and for good outward behavior. But so far is this understanding of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God and to true conversion that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. Nay further, this understanding, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and hinders in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God.

Article 11

But when God accomplishes His good pleasure in the elect, or works in them true conversion, He not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illuminates their minds by His Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit He pervades the inmost recesses of man; He opens the closed and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised; infuses new qualities into the will, which, though heretofore dead, He quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, He renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions.

Article 12

And this is that regeneration so highly extolled in Scripture, that renewal, new creation, resurrection from the dead, making alive, which God works in us without our aid. But this is in no wise effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel, by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation that, after God has performed His part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted or to continue unconverted; but it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture inspired by the Author of this work declares; so that all in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe. Whereupon the will thus renewed is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence becomes itself active. Wherefore also man himself is rightly said to believe and repent by virtue of that grace received.


While I have interacted somewhat with JP Holding’s view of depravity, my main purpose for these posts has been to argue that total depravity has a specific definition given to it by the Reformed churches. This definition is best left to those who actually subscribe to it. Moreover, it is better to travel back in time, to those theological giants that helped frame up the biblical teaching on the subject to begin with. For that reason, I referenced men like Bavinck, Dabney, the Westminster Confession, and even the Canons of Dort. It should be obvious that these sources are superior in their ability to define what is mean by human depravity in the Calvinist system of theology. Abraham Kuyper, another theological giant within reformed theology says, “Setting entirely aside this queer idea (as our fathers would say, “very curious” opinion), we state therefore – once again unequivocally and in the clearest terms possible – that the confessions of the Reformed churches (including the 37th question of the Catechism) actually teach such a deep corruption of the human heart through sin that they unquestionable deny a power in the sinner’s heart to accept the offered Christ.” [Kuyper, Particular Grace. 62]

For this reason, JP Holding’s “supreme point” following from his premises is terribly misguided. According to Holding, Total Depravity, in sum, teaches, “We are unable of ourselves to turn to Christ to be saved.” This understanding of Total Depravity is so vague that even a staunch Universalist could subscribe to it. Holding fails to understand and articulate the reformed doctrine of total depravity. Therefore, any criticism he offers of the doctrine is a straw man. Moreover, his claim to adopt the “T” in TULIP is not adoption at all. If a person desires to know what Reformed churches mean by Total Depravity, it is best to look to the Canons of Dort, the Westminster Confession, and theologians such as Augustine, Calvin, Warfield, Hodge, Kuyper, and Bavinck. From an ethical standpoint, it is only right and fair to ensure that you understand precisely what “total depravity” is before saying that you affirm its truthfulness. What is very draining is the unethical practice in the Christian community of men who say they accept the Calvinist teaching of total depravity when they do not understand it, or worse, when they intentionally revise its meaning and then say they affirm it. Bonk!

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