Why Calvin’s Total Depravity is Wrong

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Calvin’s total depravity as follows:

Definition of total depravity: a state of corruption due to original sin held in Calvinism to infect every part of man’s nature and to make the natural man unable to know or obey God.

In one sense this definition is correct.  Total depravity comes from original sin. However, in the Garden, man became sinful; our DNA was effectively infected with sin, but we did not become depraved.  Sin is what we are and what we do. Depravity is something one moves into or becomes. It is a state beyond sin. Yes, Calvin is correct: total depravity is the result of corruption.  But we are not naturally depraved, or the Bible would have told us so.

What Scripture tells us is that certain actions or practices are depraved.  Here are several examples:

Leviticus 18:17 – “You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, and you shall not take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter to uncover her nakedness; they are relatives; it is depravity.

Leviticus 19:29 – “Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity.”

Leviticus 20:14 – “If a man takes a woman and her mother also, it is depravity; he and they shall be burned with fire, that there may be no depravity among you.”

1 Timothy 6:5 – “and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”

Note that depravity arises from things people do or believe.  It might be specifically prohibited fornication, or prostitution, or sex beyond marriage with one person.  Depravity comes from people deprived of the truth.

The original source of depravity came from the fallen sons of God, divine spiritual beings who rebelled against Him.  We see this first in Genesis 6:1-4:

And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.  And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.  There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.

Look at what Jude 6-7 says about this:

And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.  Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

Prohibited sexual activity by God’s disobedient spiritual sons led mankind into this depraved condition.  To eliminate the depravity, God brought the flood after seeing the result of this wickedness: Genesis 6:5 shows us:

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Depravity has been with us since those days.  Because of the fallen spiritual entities succeeding those that God punished, depravity continued its spread among mankind.  Paul wrote to describe what happens to those who give into sin: it evolves. For those who like evolution, this is a good example.  Creatures of one kind don’t evolve into another kind, but sin evolves into depravity with the right spiritual darkness behind it. Here is what Paul says in Romans 1:18-32:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

So, a depraved mind comes through a two-part process.  Effectively, it’s an if-then proposition. If people turn from God and embrace the worst of their sinful inclinations, they become filled with futile anti-God thinking; then, as a result, God allows, or gives them over, to the condition of a debased, reprobate, or depraved mind.  This opens them to every evil manner of behavior imaginable. Although Paul doesn’t state this, I think it’s unavoidable that this willingness to live in rebellion against God, also enables every kind of demonic intrusion that’s out there.  After all, as we know, one is either a child of God or a child of their father, the devil. Being God’s children—in Christ—we mirror the heart of God. In this deprived condition, people are simply mirroring the heart of Satan.

The other thing that’s apparent in the evolving fall into depravity is that sexual sin is prominent.  Presumably, there may be instances where someone becomes depraved in their thinking without having engaged in various sexual activities noted in Genesis, by Jude, or by Paul; but one who lusts after strange flesh—whatever the manner—is a likely candidate for this condition.  Whether it’s God’s rebellious sons from His heavenly family or those disobedient sons and daughters in His earthly family, fornication can have deadly consequences. To satisfy that inordinate, forbidden lust, people do more and worse unnatural acts. It results in a lifestyle wholly devoted to destruction of self and everyone around the person.  In this state, it’s highly unlikely that someone can be redeemed. Certainly, there was no chance of that for the fallen angels. They earned everlasting chains in perpetual darkness. Odds are that humans following this path will join them for eternity.

The bottom line is that sin has consequences.  If sin is left unchecked, a person turns from God.  In that anti-God condition, the person’s heart becomes darkened.  A depraved mind results. The person embraces evil and that’s his final state.  He takes that black heart and the consequences of all his wickedness into eternal damnation.

Calvin was wrong.  We’re not totally depraved in our initial sinful condition.  We have the opportunity to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and choose life in Him.  We’re not completely helpless, because God gave us free will.  Through His grace and how He made us in His image, everyone has the possibility of an eternity in His presence until they reach the point of totally rejecting God.

Thank you, Lord, that You have such mercy for all whom You love.

2 Responses to “Why Calvin’s Total Depravity is Wrong”

  1. Reply heather

    Very well thought-out and written. I had never considered Calvinism’s total depravity this way before. Calvinism would say that “total depravity” means we are so fallen that all we can do is choose to sin, that we can’t even want God or think about God or believe in God unless He causes us to do it (and He will only do this for the elect, but everyone else is out of luck). But biblically, it’s as you say, “depravity arises from things people do or believe.” If Calvinism is true that fallen man is “totally depraved,” why would God need to clarify that certain behaviors are “depraved”? Wouldn’t ALL behaviors/beliefs of “totally depraved” people be “depraved”? Why single out only some? If Calvinism is true, there is no need for those verses you referred to because those sinful behaviors would be no more or less depraved than any other sin, because “totally depraved” is “TOTALLY depraved”. There aren’t levels to it, and you can’t get more depraved than “totally.” Thank you for giving me another rational, biblical argument against Calvinism. I am going to link to this post on my blog. God bless!

  2. Reply heather

    A verse I found today which fits right in: Romans 6:12: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires.” Paul is warning people to not let sin reign in their bodies, that doing so would cause them to have/obey sinful desires. But Calvinists would have you believe that our God-given, “totally depraved” sin-nature forces us to have only sinful desires which forces us to ONLY and ALWAYS sin all the time, that we have NO INFLUENCE over whether we have/obey sinful desires or not.

    But this verse shows us that the tendency to obey sinful desires comes as a result of our choice to let sin reign in our bodies (that our thoughts/choices lead to our desires), NOT that having a totally-depraved nature forces us to inevitably obey sinful desires (that Calvi-god-given, unchangeable, sinful desires control our thoughts and choices). Calvinists have it backwards.

    Plus, Paul is talking to believers here (vs 13: “… as those who are alive from the dead…”). Calvinists would say that the “elect” have new natures given to them by God and they are no longer totally depraved and cannot be ruled by sin. If this is true, then why this warning for believers about something that is only possible for the non-elect, according to Calvinism? And why make it sound like our choices affect our desires and whether or not we obey those desires? Why warn us about something we have no control over, if God makes all our decisions and controls all our actions for us? It doesn’t make sense on any level when looked at through the lens of Calvinism.

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