Friday, April 11, 2008

Limited Depravity Leads to an Earned Eternity

There is a very dangerous and deadly error that creeps into theology when natural man is not seen as utterly, completely, and totally sinful in both nature and desire. Not all natural men manifest the same degree of evil as others do; some are morally and socially good, even very good, but all men in their own natural state are utterly and completely sinful in both their desires and their actions.

This doctrinal understanding is commonly known as total depravity, total inability, or something along those lines. It is my contention that the Bible unquestionably teaches this truth in detail starting in the time of the Great Deluge (Genesis 6:5; 8:21) throughout the narrative of the nation through the psalms and prophets of the Old Testament (Isaiah 64:6), and from the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 19:17) through the New Testament letters (Romans 1-3). I also believe that great harm is done to the gospel and the cohesive nature of the Scriptures when the Bible is contorted and over-contextualized so as to say that if the specific audience of a prophetic writing or psalm was a certain group of people, then nothing, not even the inspired writers of the New Testament, can clearly articulate a fuller meaning that was missed by the original audience for centuries.

This ugly error has two sides that disturb me in different ways. The first problem with the rejection of total depravity is the thought and staunchly held belief that man is not completely bad; that he has not been utterly ruined by sin. The second error, which is the true nature of this objection, is that man is truly good or righteous in some way and to some degree.

I was listening to the respective debaters’ own radio shows the day after the debate between James White and Steve Gregg when I heard a most astounding thing come out of the lips of Mr. Gregg. A caller named David, who seemed to be fairly ambivalent and didn’t hold to a Calvinist position or Mr. Gregg’s position (I would suggest that this type of person, by default, would usually be in Mr. Gregg’s camp), asked Mr. Gregg about the doctrine of total depravity. David made the statement that no one, not even Godly men in the Old Testament, were righteous apart from the imputed righteousness of Christ and that, if they were truly saved, they too were saved by faith. Mr. Gregg then responds by saying,

“But there are men in the Old Testament who are described as righteous; people like Job.”1

In the exchange that followed, the caller goes on to make a point that men can seem good or righteous in comparison to the world system if they are “graded on a curve”, but this is not equivalent to the righteousness of God.2 And in a further attempt to defend his doctrine of limited depravity, Mr. Gregg said the following,
“[Paul] is not making absolute statements about all people. Although the language sounds absolute, they are coming from poetic passages that are full of hyperbole; exaggerations. The same Psalm that says there are none who seek after God, the psalmist says these bad people; they eat up my people like bread. Well, that’s a poetic non-literal statement. Even later on in one of these quotes he says the poison of asps is under their tongues. These people don’t have snake venom in their mouth, its hyperbole and also it says in this passage “their feet run to shed blood”. Well, I don’t have very many non-Christian friends whose feet are running to shed innocent blood. Its true that some people do, but this is not describing every person.”3

David, the caller, then asked a very important and clarifying question. He said that if, in fact, Job really was righteous, would he then have had the need to be saved through faith? It was Mr. Gregg’s response to this part of the question that literally took my breath away,
“Well nobody is totally righteous, and if the psalm is simply saying that nobody is as righteous as they should be and nobody seeks God as much as they should, nobody does it all the time, then of course that would be true of all people.”4

In essence, what Mr. Gregg is saying here is that no one is totally righteous, but everyone has the possibility of being somewhat righteous apart from God. I don’t know how else to interpret the context of his entire answer to this line of questioning. His first few comments about Job and his being called righteous slid right on by me the first time I heard them. I didn’t really like some of the way that he phrased his thoughts, but they weren’t overly alarming in and of themselves. But, when taken in the same context as his statement that “nobody is totally righteous” implying that there is a degree of righteousness that some people do have on their own, this is a clear affirmation of human ability which he would call libertarian free will.

The problem with the type of mindset that goes along with libertarian free will is this: in this system, the individual sinner then cooperates with God, with the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and with Christ in His atoning work to end up being saved. So that the result will be that this same individual will then be able to look across the chasm that separates heaven and hell and legitimately say,
“I am so thankful to me that I was not as foolish and stubborn as those fools. I was wise enough to see the light. I was open enough to the gospel. I chose to make Christ my Lord. I did this because I was smart enough to understand the issues, weigh the evidence, and make a choice. They were not. Those fools had just as much of a chance as I did, but they were to stubborn, they were too foolish, and they were too lazy to really apply themselves. I am now in the inheritance that I deserve because of my own aptitude for understanding God and His plan.”

Whether or not Mr. Gregg would ever say this, and I don’t believe that he would, in fact I think that he would be appalled at the very thought of saying this, I still submit that this fact remains the same; a view of man’s sin that is one of limited depravity logically leads to the view that the same person earns their own eternity with God in heaven.

May it never be.


1 Steve Gregg, The Narrow Path Radio Program (TNP) 4/10/08 30 (or so) min in

2 “Graded on a curve” was an inserted comment by Steve Gregg during his caller’s comments. TNP 4/10/08 30 (or so) min in.

3 Steve Gregg, TNP 4/10/08 30 (or so) min in

4 Steve Gregg, TNP 4/10/08 32 min in


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