Friday, August 3, 2012

Daffy Duck and Total Depravity

While responding in a recent comment stream to an article in SBC Today, one commenter ("T.R.") suggested that a blog written by Chris Roberts regarding total depravity was so convincing ( that there was no argument available in response.  The very first point of the blog in question was that Genesis 6:5 and the story of Noah shows that men’s hearts are totally depraved.  Roberts used Hebrews 11:7 to show that Noah was one of the elect and he further used Ephesians 2:8-9 to show how Noah could only have been elect by God’s gift of faith.

Genesis 6:5 (ESV)
5  The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 
Hebrews 11:7 (ESV)
7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. 
Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

In what follows, I reproduce my response (with a few edits for clarity as a stand-alone piece) to the challenge to respond to Roberts' blog post linked above:

T.R.  I did read Chris’ post.  It’s well-written and a clear articulation of the Calvinist view.  It’s biblical and thoughtful.  And for me, it is uncompelling.  There’s far too much in his post to respond to in a single blog comment.  But just to assure other readers who may still be forming their views that there are answers to each point, I will respond to the first regarding Noah.  I say this because I do not expect to change your view T.R. or Chris’ view, and I do not expect you to change mine.  I didn’t form my beliefs overnight, and I suspect you didn’t either. 
The righteousness of Noah completely destroys the argument Chris is making.  Hebrews 11:7, which he quotes, clearly says that Noah was considered righteous, because he believed God.  There is not one hint here about particular election or monergistic regeneration.   Chris jumps to Ephesians 2:8-9 to prove his point, but certainly he knows that his interpretation will be hotly contested and rejected as a proof text for his order of salvation.  As that great theologian Daffy Duck said ( ), what we have here is ”Pronoun Trouble”.   I’m no Greek scholar, but those who are tell me the Greek of Ephesians 2:8-9 does not demand that faith is the gift of God (rather than salvation).  I don’t believe there are many people who arrive at the Calvinist interpretation (that faith is the gift rather than salvation) without being influenced beforehand to see it.  At best for the Calvinist view, Ephesians 2:8-9 is neutral on the order of salvation.
Note a following verse regarding  Noah, Genesis 7:1, where God says that he has “found” or “seen” (from the Hebrew ra‘ah – to see)  Noah to be righteous.  Why didn’t he say he made Noah righteous?  Am I saying that Noah was righteous because of his actions?  No.  As the verse Chris referenced (Hebrews 11:7) clearly points out, he was righteous because he believed God.  Ultimately, it is the same for us.  We believe what God tells us about ourselves, that we are sinners.  That we can’t live up to God’s standards.  That we can’t save ourselves.  That only Jesus can.  We turn from our sin, believe in Christ, and God counts us righteous.
Chris’ strongest proof for Total Depravity in this section is Genesis 6:5 – that every intention and inclination of the heart was evil, yet that verse still leaves us lacking.  For the sake of argument, let’s grant that this expression was intended to be literal and not a figurative statement about the general state of man.  Let’s further grant that if every thought is wrong, every action is wrong as well.  Where does it follow that because man’s heart has become totally depraved it must necessarily be this way?  Is not the whole point of the passage to show that though God started man out in perfection, not only did man sin, but he sinned more and more to the point that he was totally consumed by sin.  Every child who reads Genesis gets this.  Even the Calvinist friendly ESV titles this section of Chapter 6 as “Increasing Corruption on Earth”.  That’s quite a statement from a Reformed-leaning translation.  If man increased in sin, then he wasn’t totally depraved from the fall.  You can’t get more depraved if you already totally depraved!
If man sinned more and more, there must have been a state in which he sinned less.  The story of Cain and Abel points that out.  Abel made the right choice.   God accepted his offering.  Cain did not.  God showed him his sin and encouraged him to forsake it.  This is one of those spots where a Calvinist view of depravity requires real hermeneutical gymnastics and interpolation to support its position (also later in Chris’ work), because a plain reading of the text just doesn’t do it. 
No, far from supporting the Calvinistic view of Total Depravity, the Genesis 6 account shows something different.  It shows that there were individuals who, though still sinful, were not totally depraved (in a Calvinistic sense) as shown by the examples of Abel and Noah.  If a Calvinist here rebuts with claims that these individuals were clearly elect as shown by their actions, they have entered into a circular argument for which I have no other response.
Regarding Chris’ other points, I see more of the same.  Chris strings together many verses which do clearly speak to Universal Depravity from which he infers Total Depravity.  It seems to me Calvinism goes farther than Scripture warrants.  This is why I reject much of the teaching of Calvinism.