"Christians do not suffer from total inability... They can please God and thus should not be considered totally depraved."

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Aaron Blumer's picture

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Tchividjian doubled down on his original error in a post titled “Sin Remains: My Response to Rick Phillips.” Amazingly, Tchividjian thinks he is right to refer to Christians as being totally depraved and says Phillips should get over his hang-up about using the phrase in reference to Christians since numerous Reformed creeds and confessions, which Tchividjian quotes, agree with him in stating that Christians are in fact totally depraved. But, in truth, the creeds and confessions cited by Tchividjian do not speak of Christians as being “totally depraved.”

Related: Tullian keeps digging

Also... don't miss Snoeberger's The Problem with Gospel Centered Sanctification

I keep adding links, but this is also really helpful:

"When I read how Scripture is being manhandled, how it is being forced into a system of theology, I think we are dishonoring the God of Scripture.  Manhandled? Yes!  Strive does not mean strive, “add to” does not mean “add to”, labor is really rest, put to death is really faith?"   from More Gospel-centered than thou

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

handerson's picture

is that the idea of total depravity remaining after conversion undercuts one of the primary motivations for the gospel--you can be changed! Thanks to Christ's grace, you are no longer trapped by sin--you are free to live the abundant life that Christ promised. I understand the danger of legalism, but this approach seems to mistake the fact that we were indeed created for holy, loving living and that anything less is not what God desires for us. Through His love, Christ is progressively freeing us from our sin and restoring us to be what He originally created us to be. 
 

This is the glory of grace--it doesn't let us remain broken but forces us to pursue what we always should have been pursuing in the first place.

dmyers's picture

Phillips and Combs both agree that there are two meanings of the phrase total depravity:  (1) depravity that affects every aspect of a person's being and (2) depravity that means total inability/total unwillingness to please God.  Tchividjian's original post explicitly makes the point that Christians are still depraved in the first sense AND explicitly says that Christians are not still depraved in the second sense.  Phillips critiques Tchividjian for affirming that Christians are depraved in both senses -- a position Tchividjian explicitly disavowed.  So Tchividjian responds to Phillips, correctly complains that his original post is being mischaracterized, and reiterates that he is affirming the depravity of Christians ONLY in the first sense.  Now Combs, in a disrespectful tone, describes Tchividjian as having "doubled down" on the teaching that Christians are depraved in the second sense -- after Tchividjian has explicitly disavowed that teaching in both of his posts.

Aaron apparently approves of Phillips's and Combs's critiques, despite the fact that they are critiquing a non-existent position.

What is going on here?  Are Phillips and Combs so opposed to Tchividjian's other writings on sanctification that they can't see straight even when Tchividjian says something they would actually agree with if someone else said it?  Aaron, are you experiencing the same problem?  Adding multiple links to other blog posts criticizing other aspects of Tchividjian's theology of sanctification -- posts that don't discuss this total depravity issue -- makes it seem so.

Tchividjian's detractors lose credibility when they attack him for saying something he clearly did not say and then do their own doubling down on their attacks after he points out that he didn't say it in the first place.

C'mon, folks.  I'm sure there are enough actual disagreements with Tchividjian that you don't need to spend this much time on a non-existent disagreement.

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

Christians are branches and Jesus is the vine, and they are totally unable able to do anything apart from total dependency upon Christ.  Much of the current emphasis on sanctification has to do with the failures of dependency on man's lists of rules that are supposed to bring about growth instead of obedience to the Word through dependency on Christ. 

Alex Guggenheim's picture

TT is wrong even even if he only refers to the first class of depravity. All of the Christian's being is not depraved. Part of the being of the Christian is "the new man". That is not depraved. And if TT meant only the depraved part of man was depraved he stated the obvious poorly at best but still such a principle is categorically incorrect.

But to depravity. Unregenerate people can please God and to use that formula without qualification errs. No they cannot merit salvation but pleasing God is not limited to justification.

Charlie's picture

dmyers wrote:

Phillips and Combs both agree that there are two meanings of the phrase total depravity:  (1) depravity that affects every aspect of a person's being and (2) depravity that means total inability/total unwillingness to please God.  Tchividjian's original post explicitly makes the point that Christians are still depraved in the first sense AND explicitly says that Christians are not still depraved in the second sense.  Phillips critiques Tchividjian for affirming that Christians are depraved in both senses -- a position Tchividjian explicitly disavowed.  So Tchividjian responds to Phillips, correctly complains that his original post is being mischaracterized, and reiterates that he is affirming the depravity of Christians ONLY in the first sense.  Now Combs, in a disrespectful tone, describes Tchividjian as having "doubled down" on the teaching that Christians are depraved in the second sense -- after Tchividjian has explicitly disavowed that teaching in both of his posts.

Here's the problem. Total depravity does not mean EITHER of these things, it refers to BOTH of them at the same time. You can't take part of the definition as the whole. Even ignoring the definition of total depravity, there are real differences between them. They may not be monumental, but they do matter. TT tends to subsume sanctification under justification.

This isn't just him. For the last 15 years or so (maybe a bit longer), there has been a minor but noticeable disagreement among Reformed theologians about the relationship of justification to sanctification and about how best to articulate the process of being sanctified. Others who have articulated a similar position are Bryan Chapell (Holiness by Grace), Michael Horton, and various people affiliated with Sonship theology. 

On the other side, detractors tend to say that their theology has Lutheranized. 

 

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

wcombs's picture

dmyers says:

"This is a manufactured dispute"

No it is not.

"Phillips and Combs both agree that there are two meanings of the phrase total depravity:  (1) depravity that affects every aspect of a person's being and (2) depravity that means total inability/total unwillingness to please God."

I do not agree there are two legitimate meanings of the phrase total depravity in Reformed theology, which Tullian claims to represent. Total depravity includes both ideas (1) and (2). To say that a Christian is totally depraved is at the very least confusing. A person who is totally depraved is "totally" depraved, which means they are not sanctified in any sense. Depravity is the converse of sanctification. A person who is totally depraved (an unbeliever) is not sanctified in the least sense--that is what total depravity means. A person who is not sanctified at all, no measure of sanctification, is not a Christian. I did not invent this--I am not that smart. I got it from reading Reformed theologians like B. B. Warfield and John Murray.

Bill Combs

Steve Davis's picture

Tchividjian could’ve avoided some of the controversy if he had not used “total depravity.” Total depravity does not rightly describe believers without a thousand clarifications. All his explanations will be in vain, especially to those who are reading in their disagreements with his overall position and doing a fare share of overreaching.
 

However there is no denial that pervasive corruption remains with us as believers. Even the reality of being a new creation or new man does not completely remove the corruption in any part of us. Our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies retain the capacity to commit sin, yea, grievous sin. We who were once not able not to sin are now able to sin or (en)able(d) not to sin and awaiting that day when we will be not able to sin.
 

Happily we are accepted by the Father because of union with the one with whom he was well pleased.  And we are enabled to obey because God has given us new life. Our enjoyment and experience of God’s love may be deficient but we do not earn or deserve more love through our obedience. And our strivings are futile apart from his Spirit.
 

Jesus told us that if we love him we will keep his commandments. He also said that without him we can do nothing. Sanctification is love-based, gratitude-motivated, and furthered by the Spirit and Word.  Jesus prayed that the Father would sanctify us through his truth and we have the assurance that God will sanctify us wholly, if slowly.
 

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

Titus 2:10-15 teaches that the same grace that brings salvation is the grace that works in the sanctification process.  So why would weoppose Gospel-based sanctification?  Maybe there are some people who misapply the term, but according to the Word, it is Gospel-based sanctification.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

The grammatical construct of the passage would not result in a Gospel-centered sanctification but a Grace-centered sanctification. Paul says the same grace which brings salvation also works to bring sanctification. It is grace (divine of course) that brings salvation and sanctification. The word here, grace, is used with reference to God's person and policy which is graced base (non-meritorious) and not as a synonym for the gospel, though the gospel as already pointed out is a grace expression of God.

Aaron Blumer's picture

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It does look to me like there there is some misunderstanding of the terms and intent.

Thing is, though TT rightly points (Response) out that there is danger in underestimating the continuing corruption of sing, there is equal danger in overestimating it.

But I wonder if it's accurate even to apply "total depravity" to believers in the more limited "every part of our being" sense--not that I'm interested in denying continuing corruption, but we are new creations. Unless what God made new He made new and corrupt, it's reasonable to suppose that whatever is new is not depraved.

So maybe the "two natures or one new one" question I dismissed as not relevant (in another thread on this general topic) has more relevance than I was seeing at the time. Or maybe not. At any rate, what exactly does the Reformed view hold to be new in the believer? If it is a new part, that would have to be a non-depraved part. If it is a suffused newness mixed with the remaining oldness (which sounds an awful lot like "two natures" to me), doesn't that dispersed newness still have to be nondepraved newness?

Whatever God makes new He makes right.

I suggest that believers are not in any sense totally depraved.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Charlie's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

But I wonder if it's accurate even to apply "total depravity" to believers in the more limited "every part of our being" sense--not that I'm interested in denying continuing corruption, but we are new creations. Unless what God made new He made new and corrupt, it's reasonable to suppose that whatever is new is not depraved.

So maybe the "two natures or one new one" question I dismissed as not relevant (in another thread on this general topic) has more relevance than I was seeing at the time. Or maybe not. At any rate, what exactly does the Reformed view hold to be new in the believer? If it is a new part, that would have to be a non-depraved part. If it is a suffused newness mixed with the remaining oldness (which sounds an awful lot like "two natures" to me), doesn't that dispersed newness still have to be nondepraved newness?

Whatever God makes new He makes right.

I suggest that believers are not in any sense totally depraved.

The total in total depravity suggests a reaction against late medieval Catholic teaching on man. Very simply, Catholics distinguished between several faculties in man (reason, will, appetite, etc.) and suggested that some of them (particularly reason) were not directly affected by original sin. Or, we are affected by original sin, but not in all of our faculties. 

So, the converse Reformed position is that however one divides up the faculties of man, all of them are in some way tainted by original sin.  As Herman Bavinck puts it, "Sin holds sway over the whole person, over mind and will, heart and conscience, soul and body, over all one’s capacities and powers."

Likewise, regeneration extends to all those faculties. Now, what is new in the believer? The presence of the Holy Spirit, who ministers the twofold grace of Christ, by which we are both accepted and renewed. The result of this is a progressively changing orientation toward God. If you imagine a compass that is broken, so that it always points 180* in the wrong direction, regeneration is the beginning of a calibration process that is slowly bringing the needle back into line with true (ok, magnetic) North. It's not a new piece being added to the compass. 

By the way, most mainstream theologians have been vary careful not to speak of parts of the soul, it being a commonly held philosophical principle that immaterial objects cannot be divided into parts. That's why most prefer to speak of faculties, which refer to different functions of the soul rather than to different parts or places. So, really, reason and will are not two different things; they are two different activities performed by one thing, the soul.

Here is the WCF:

CHAPTER 13
OF SANCTIFICATION

1. They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

2. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.

3. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Helpful post on the "total" terminology. I understand the concerns about "parts" as well. As a dichotomist, I don't divide up the inner man either. 

All the same, a faculty or function is a "part" in a non-material or non-substantial sense (sort of like the tenor is a part of choir's performance). 

But seeing the problem doesn't depend on the use of any particular (no pun intended) term.

Charlie wrote:
Now, what is new in the believer? The presence of the Holy Spirit, who ministers the twofold grace of Christ, by which we are both accepted and renewed. The result of this is a progressively changing orientation toward God.

More than this has to be new.  One in Christ is a new creation. This is more than having a new Occupant. And doesn't the idea of repentance indicate that the "orientation toward God" has already changed at conversion?

So I'm back to this idea: whatever is new in the believer is not depraved. I suppose if we take the view that no faculty or function is entirely new but all of them are slightly new, the idea of TD (in the first sense a couple posts up) could still apply.

But having qualified it that much, there's no longer any way to reason from this view of TD that believers should let go and let God. (And it still seems difficult to get "all our faculties are slightly new" out of "is a new creation.")

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.