Monday, April 23, 2012

It's Human Nature -- Part I

An undertanding of the nature of humanity requires an understanding of what happened as a result of Adam's sin. There are a number of views on this. Some understand correctly that Adam's first offense resulted in the total depravity of the human race, a doctrinal term alternately understood as the total inability or total helplessness, spiritually, of unredeemed humans. Another way to view it is that the unregenerate are spritually dead (Ephesians 2: 1). They are unable to respond to the gospel message and to receive God's grace and forgiveness unless God's grace acts upon them to enable their response.

At the other extreme is the view that Adam's sin had no effect in the essential nature of his progeny. Those who hold this view believe each human is born without a sin nature and is capable of perfect obedience to God, but that while it is hypothetically possible for someone to live a sinless life, no one does because of the bad example set by Adam and other human ancestors, and because of the environment of sin established by the population. Adherents of this view believe that even after a person has fallen into sin they are capable of repentance without God's assistance and are able, in their own fortititude, to begin to obey God's commands and set themselves right. A variation of this view holds that a few people, though not many, have actually lived a perfectly sinless life.

A third general category sort of splits the difference. They believe humans have a sin nature, but the idea of total depravity bothers them, as does the idea that mortals cannot respond to the gospel message unless God first does a gracious work in their heart to facilitate the response. These view Adam's descendants as damaged goods, but not spiritually helpless. They hold that humankind retains a spark of goodness sufficient at some level to allow one to understand spiritual truth and respond to God. In this view humans are, like the hero in Princess Bride, "mostly dead", but not "all dead" (spiritually).

Interestingly, the adherents of the second and third viewpoints have a similar logic concerning why they hold that individuals have the ability to repent and believe without irresistible or prevenient grace. Since people are commanded to repent and believe, the rationale is that therefore folks must have the ability to do so. Those who see mortals as a "scratch and dent" model rather than totally depraved understand the Bible says we are all sinners, but still want to leave enough wiggle room to insist it is entirely up to a person, apart from God's work in their heart, to respond to God's call to repentance and faith.

But they put themselves in a tough spot, logically, with their logic. Because once they admit that Adam's sin has impaired the moral nature of his descendants, even before those descendants are born, then they have already accepted a consequence of Adam's sin that was out of the control of those born later (except One), which caused them to be at a disadvantage in spiritual ability. Whether humans are severely hampered or completely helpless, either way a negative result has been assigned to them because of what Adam did before they were born. So objecting to the total depravity of Federal Headship or of Natural Headship with a  doctrinal anthropology of Partial Depravity in an  attempt to make salvation dependent on the will of man
doesn't seem any more defensible than accepting the imputation of Adam's guilt, yet they have a problem with the imputation of Adam's guilt.

But those who accept the doctrine of Total Depravity can explain that salvation is dependent on a holy and gracious God, not on sinful man.

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