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Lecture Outline on Total Depravity



Grandeur: we are the only creature made in the imago Dei, the only creature to whom God speaks.
Misery: as fallen, we “fall short” of that glory (of God) for which we were created, “fall away” from our true nature (i.e., our nature is now perverted), “fall down” into futility and self-contradiction and “fall into” the bondage of sin, from which bondage we cannot extricate ourselves.

Fallen humankind none the less remains human (neither animal nor demonic.)
Still loved by God, we now live under God’s wrath and judgement.
Fallen humankind’s will is enslaved and can will only its perversity (Luther: in se curvatus.)
”               affect is misaligned and now loves/abhors the wrong object.
”                reasoning subserves sin (even as reason’s structure remains intact.)
Fallen humankind can do nothing to save itself, nothing to ascend to God.

“Tot. Dep.” never means we are as (morally) bad as possible.
(Bl.) Tot. Dep.: [1] the “control centre” of our being (our heart) is corrupted
[2] every part of our being is affected
[3] we are totally unable to please God or to come to him
[4] all people are equally depraved, even though some appear relatively more virtuous/vicious

(Shep.) [1] the scope of the fall is total: there is no human undertaking that isn’t fallen, sin-riddled and frustrated.
[2] the penetration of the fall is comprehensive: no one part of us can rescue any other part (contra rationalists, “bootstrappers” and romantics.)
[3] neither the individual nor the society can save the other (contra rugged individualists and social collectivists.)

Note, however, that cultural excellence remains (possible.)  While fallen humankind is capable of much good (government, science, engineering, etc.) it is not capable of the good: right-relatedness to God.

Bl. introduces “common grace.”  This notion is found in the Ref’d Trad. but not in Calvin himself.

(Bl.) in scrip. sin isn’t merely privatio boni (privation of the good) but utter rebellion.
(Shep.) this rebellion isn’t an instance of curiosity but is a denial of the goodness of God’s command and therefore a denial of the goodness of God himself.
To forfeit God’s blessing is to live under his curse.  (NB. the meaning of “knowledge of good and evil” and its consequences.)

“The essence of sin is unbelief.” Note the nature of unbelief.  (It isn’t merely a cerebral lack.)
(Shep.) Sin: sins :: unbelief: consequences.
Sins don’t provoke God’s wrath: Sin provokes it, and God then gives us up to (hands us over to) the consequences of our unbelief. (Rom. 1:24 ,26,28) — i.e., sins are that to which God assigns us in his anger at our Sin (unbelief; disdain, disobedience, defiance)
Note: while God “gives us up to” he doesn’t “give up on us.”

Sin’s essence appears as [1] idolatry, [2] hardness of heart.
To be avoided: any (neo)Platonic notion that our “lower” nature corrupts the “higher” or spiritual.
In scrip. [1] “spirit” isn’t a part of us but rather the entire person oriented to God; i.e., spirit is relatedness not substance or “something.”
[2] our spiritual corruption corrupts everything about us.

Sin includes privatio boni, but is this derivatively: essentially sin is (Shep.) [1] ingratitude (for God’s good creation and his provision of all we need to live under his blessing),
[2] rebellion (against his legitimate and benevolent authority),
[3] denial (of the goodness of his command = his longing to bless us).  1+2+3=unbelief.
This unbelief is utterly un-understandable.  Any suggestion that sin can be understood undercuts it as sin.  To the extent that sin could be understood it could be excused.  The utter irrationality of sin is part of its hideousness, incomprehensibility, and inexcusability.

Bl. speaks of the distinction between classical RC and Ref’n understandings as to the “location” of sin.
RC: our “upper storey” is devastated (original right’s’s and the gift of supernatural communion with God), while the “lower storey” remains intact (residual freedom to turn to God, plus “some sense of his moral law” — i.e., as salvifically significant.)
Ref’n: both “storeys” are devastated.  Fallen humans aren’t sick but dead (coram Deo.)  We do retain some sense of the moral law, but this is salvifically worthless.  Our morality (or religion) isn’t the vestibule to the kingdom or its anticipation but rather a monument to our self-right’s’s and the barricade behind which we fend off God.  We sin as much in our morality as in our immorality.

Bl. (94) speaks of Matthias Flaccius versus Philip Melanchthon.  MF was wrong: if sin has become the essence of humankind, then [1] we can’t be held responsible, for then we are merely reflecting our essence, as surely as any other created entity, [2] redemption would render us non-human rather than “fullfilledly” human.  (Sin never becomes the essence of humankind but is rather the distortion of the essence.)

(Shep.) (96) In the discussion of Niebuhr and Schleiermacher I maintain that Jesus was genuinely tempted, or else [1] the temptation stories in scrip. mean nothing (in fact are lies), [2] if Jesus wasn’t tempted then he can’t help us who are, [3] he remained sinless or else his death has no atoning significance (what good is a blemished sacrifice?), [4] he remained sinless for otherwise he isn’t the “new being”, the true human, the destiny to which God has appointed his people.

Does sin remain in Christians? (96)  It resides but does not rule.  (Note the different answers different Christian traditions have given: Ref’d, Anabaptist, Wesleyan, etc.)

JC reveals sin. (96)  I.e., there’s no natural knowledge of sin (since sin is defined with respect to God, and there’s no natural knowledge of God.)

“Legal versus evangelical repentance.” (97)  This is a distinction found in Puritan thought.  Legal repentance alarm quickened through one’s awareness of imminent judgement for one’s having broken God’s law; it anticipates faith.  Ev’l rep’ce is heartbreak quickened through one’s awareness of having broken God’s heart; it occurs within faith.

Bl. speaks of pride and sensuality.  (97) (Here he follows the tradition.)  Then Bl. mentions lovelessness, etc.  These Paul calls “works of the flesh.”  Note the precise understanding of “flesh.”  Then Bl. speaks of “fear and cowardice.”  Cowardice, certainly, but fear only insofar fear is allowed to distract us from our obedience.  (Jesus was unquestionably afraid in Gethsemane .)
Bl. speaks of religiosity. (97)  Cf. K. Barth, Church Dogmatics, I, 1, sec. 17: “Revelation as the abolition of religion.”  Note, however, that religiosity is ineradicable, and therefore has to be converted.
Note how much of scrip., for instance, is directed against religion [1] of Baal devotees, etc., [2] of Israel in its self-serving religious perversion.  (Plainly the principal sphere of the sin of Christian religiosity is the church.)
Note that blindness to sin is a major concomitant of sin. (98)  Apart from grace sinners cannot be aware of their predicament.  Blind as we are to our sin, our sin can only lead to more sin.  We are held captive by sin to  sin.

Note the peculiar nature of Christian freedom. (99) Freedom is freedom from sin’s captivity and freedom for obedience alone.

posse non peccare: able not to sin (Edenic human)
         non posse non peccare: not able not to sin (fallen human)
         non posse peccare: not able to sin (glorified human)

As fallen we cannot will faith in ourselves. (101)  As dead (coram Deo) we don’t even have the capacity for faith. Bl. is correct here, but needs to balance his statement with another: [1] we must always recognize mystery in anyone’s coming to faith, [2] since faith is a human event/occurrence, there must always be recognized the place for and need of a genuinely human act/affirmation in faith. (See last class on Council of Trent.)

Bl. is correct to suspect Niebuhr’s greater reliance on uneasy conscience than on the HS to convict.
[1] This presupposes that, thanks to our uneasy conscience, we can precipitate ourselves towards faith.
[2] This suggests we ought to magnify the uneasy conscience.  (Theologically wrong and pastorally/psychologically disastrous.)

The Enlightenment was an era of human optimism, belief in inevitable human (as opposed to technological) progress, confidence in the power of reason to effect social improvement.
Kant, an Enlightenment figure, affirmed radical evil (i.e., a surd element in a world of reason), but not sin. (110)

[1] Bl.’s insistence that the pastoral psychology movement has turned guilt as state into guilt as feeling. (112)
[2] modern evangelicalism has a weak understanding of the fall (113)
[3] the Reformers’ may have one-sidedly spoken of the continuing sinfulness of Christians so as to undervalue “the triumph of grace in the life of the Christians.” (113)  Wesley’s point here is germane: “God can do something with sin beyond forgiving it.” (deliverance)