Avoiding Total Depravity

Having just examined the way that Catholics try to create a hedge around the impassability and incorruption of Jesus Christ by trying to pass off the absence of “original sin” and the understanding that Jesus Christ gained from sharing the frailties (if not the corrupt moral nature) of humanity, it is worthwhile to at least ponder the problem that Jesus’ nature presents for Calvinism with its view of total depravity.  It is worth noting, at least at the outset that the Augustinian view of original sin that is held by Catholics and many Protestants (although not Pelagians) is not particularly different from the view held by myself and my co-religionists in the corrupt human nature that leads mankind to sin through internal temptation and through a native corrupt bent.  This internal source of sin was recognized by David in Psalm 51:5-6:  “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.  Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.”  Yet Jesus Christ was not conceived in sin, which presents some major challenges [1] in terms of religious views.

If one is a Calvinist convinced of the total depravity of mankind and equally disdainful of the unbiblical actions that Catholics take in assuming the immaculate conception of Mary (although, it should be noted, this doctrine is of relatively recent vintage), how does one account for the lack of depravity in Jesus Christ.  I have read a fair number of works written by Calvinists, and this is never a point I have seen them explore in writing.  I have read plenty of attempts to justify themselves as behaving with a biblical worldview despite their hostility to the Sabbath, for example, plenty of tortured explanations as to how the eighth day replaces the seventh day, and how the positive side of laws like land Sabbaths and freedom from debts and freedom from slavery are limited to the holy land and not applicable to humanity as a whole everywhere, all of which is bogus, but I have never even seen an attempt on the part of Calvinists to square their belief in total depravity with their obvious dependence on Jesus Christ’s perfection so that mankind could be saved.  I am not sure that such an effort is possible, and certainly not a believer in total depravity, but it is striking that with the voluminous writing from Calvinists that this particular link has never, within my understanding at least, been attempted.

After all, Calvinists believe that mankind is totally helpless to find God because of the efforts of sin.  To be sure, no one is saved without God making the effort to call someone to salvation, and no one can be saved on their own merits or by their own obedience or because they desired to be saved.  Even so, this does not apply to Jesus Christ.  He never fell, never sinned, and was from his conception  at one with God.  Even given the limitations of His human form, He was aware at the age of twelve that He must be about is father’s business, after all, would therefore have known that God was His Father, a truth He repeatedly brought up to the horror of the unbelieving Jews around Him as is recorded in the Gospels.  Clearly, Jesus Christ was not plagued by the depravity that mankind has as a result of our mixture of good and evil and by the way that our natures and our worldviews have been shaped by generations of sin.  The question that must be asked is how this is to be.

While the mechanisms of this are mysterious, the Bible does indicate that our nature can be understood from the womb, before we breathe on our own and make any conscious decisions.  After all, God told Jeremiah that He knew him before he was born, signifying that something about Jeremiah’s nature and calling was set before birth in the womb.  Likewise, God distinguished between Esau and Jacob and knew which one would prevail and which one would serve Him out of the two even when they were unborn children struggling in Rebekah’s womb.  Again, we do not know how this is the case, but we do know that the nature of human beings is something that God can recognize even before birth.  We see the same thing happen in the story of Jesus Christ and John the Baptist, as it is written in Luke 1:39-45:  “Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.  And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.  Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.””  Again, we do not know how these things are, only that they are.

What, then, do Calvinists have to say about this miracle that exempts Jesus Christ from the total depravity that they view mankind as being subject to.  For such an exemption is necessary.  Given that the only aspect of humanity that Jesus was subject to came as a result of being born of Mary before she and Joseph came together in marriage and had at least half a dozen children of their own, how did Jesus escape being subject to human depravity.  There are only a few biblically consistent views that one can have about this.  Catholics belief that Mary herself was not subject to original sin and moral corruption and was thus fit to bear a perfect savior also free from these problems.  This view is mistaken, but at least the problem is acknowledged and at least there is an attempt to solve it.  One may say that Jesus was formed from the Holy Spirit and was given the body and form and physical aspects of humanity without having a morally corrupt human nature, being created with original innocence in the way that Adam was created, as a second Adam.  This too is a consistent view, but I do not know of it being held by Calvinists.  Rather, it would appear as if Calvinists obstinately hold to a belief in the total depravity of mankind and totally ignore the implications of this view when it comes to their Christology.  It would be one thing to have a mistaken solution to this problem, as the Catholics do, but it is worse to ignore the problem altogether and never even attempt to solve it.

[1] See, for example:





About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Avoiding Total Depravity

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