TULIP or BEERS: Total Depravity

Total Depravity

When man fell, sin permeated his entire being. This fall was so complete that man had no desire for God and righteousness. Man is so totally enslaved by sin that he can only choose evil; he cannot choose good. He is incapable of choosing God and His salvation. Man is totally blind and deaf to the gospel.  Apart from a supernatural intervention from God, the gospel message absolutely has no effect on a person.    (according to biblehelp.org)

Broken Eikons

Man was created in the image and likeness of God for the purpose of love and relationship. We were to be His image-bearers on the earth. In our broken condition, the reflection of God’s image in us is distorted. Even more tragically, sin resulted in the image of the Father being distorted in our hearts and minds. We not only fail to reflect His image, but we fail to know and see properly the image of our Creator. Determined that we would not remain in our brokenness, God did what was necessary for our reconciliation to Him and our restoration to wholeness.


This is brief, and there is plenty we could talk about.  What are the differences?  What are the essential truths?  What is the nature of man and our relationship with God?

Basically each paragraph paints a different picture, not really about points of doctrine, but about the story we believe and the story that we tell others.


17 thoughts on “TULIP or BEERS: Total Depravity

  1. “Basically each paragraph paints a different picture, not really about points of doctrine, but about the story we believe and the story that we tell others.”

    Right on point … I couldn’t agree more. We are to be communicating a message of love, hope, and restoration to those living without hope as opposed to a message that creates more philosophical questions. Perhaps that’s what Jesus meant when He said we must become as little children. Little children simply respond to relational love, they do not develop systems of theories questioning the systems of faults and responsibilities for their predicament.

    The good news is where our story fits into God’s story. If it doesn’t generate hope, it’s not good news.

  2. Do you really think the two are so different? They seem to speak of the same subject from two different points of view. One from God’s Absolute Truth, the other from the relational aspect through Christ. Which… I think are really the same thing.

    That we still breath means that some spark of the life from God reflects itself in us, but its not a spiritual one. Physical life is only dust: God’s Spirit eternal. [“In our broken condition, the reflection of God’s image in us is distorted.”] Though some spark of brilliance and light it is, it isn’t an eternal one – however, even this far removed from The Source, we all too often mistake it for ultimate beauty, everlasting joy and real life. A sad and painful mistake it is indeed. We make gods in our own images and worship the creature instead of the Creator. We do this because we have dethroned God and taken the crown for ourselves, a crown too big, too heavy. It covers our eyes, blinding us and crushes us (and those around us) under its weight. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

    So, spiritually, aren’t we totally depraved? Aren’t we dead in our sin? Aren’t we to be beggars? Because if we think that we have anything of our own worth, we aren’t beggars, we’re just arrogant posers. That crown gets heavy enough to kill us, and kill us it does.

    [“Even more tragically, sin resulted in the image of the Father being distorted in our hearts and minds.”] Even if we choose to seek “god” it is our own idea of what God is, not His.That’s why our sin is that we do not have Jesus – God’s idea of Himself in Mankind. The Son of Man. The “real God.” [“We not only fail to reflect His image, but we fail to know and see properly the image of our Creator.”] God wants us to know Him as He Is not as we envision Him.

    But once, through God’s will, we call out to be saved* (“the fear of God?”) He comes to seek us. He is the finder of lost sheep, no? Once found, as He heals us, mends our brokenness, cleans the mirror, so to speak, then we may reflect more perfectly His image and do His will on earth as it is in heaven.

    * I don’t think we can understand this perfectly… but if I could understand all of God, I wouldn’t think him too much of a god. I would know the precepts to be man-made. His thoughts are higher than ours. Ken is very right in pointing out the little children. It’s not good let doctrines or beliefs divide, but to accept and love one another, yes, even our enemies, just as He loved us. His will done on earth as it is in heaven indeed.

  3. The first difference that stands out to me is that Total Depravity seems to have an inherent “it’s not our fault if someone doesn’t respond to the gospel message” attitude, whereas the Broken Eikons focuses on restoring a lost relationship – the purpose of humanity being to be in relationship with the Father who created us.

    I also don’t agree with “the fall was so complete that man had no desire for God and righteousness.” What about Noah, Enoch, Elijah and so many others who lived before Jesus’ work on the cross created the solution to the fallen nature? I’m certain these men (and women) were imperfect, but “no desire for God”? Doesn’t seem true to me, but I’m no theology expert, either.

  4. There is indeed a lot of theology that backs this up, yes. But it can get confusing to go through and I don’t suggest it. Did Enoch, Noah, Elijah, etc seek God on their own or through a calling? A calling, and that answer really is shorter than the long answer – but think of it along the same lines as “grace.”
    Jesus says that no one knows the Father except through Him and many Christians go on to quote Romans 3:12, “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one,” but here Paul is actually quoting Psalms 14:3 and 53:3 (they say the same thing and, of course, were written before Christ came)

    The point is, the conditional depravity of Man* (or woman) does not change whether Christ had come in the flesh or not. There is no timeline outside of Time, God stands apart from His creation (except of course, in the case of Y’eshua). Man’s fallen nature hasn’t changed from the beginning – the plan for Christ to die for us was decided before the world ever began. These men and women that lived before Christ came still longed to see Him. They trusted He would come. “Before Abraham was, I am.”

    Thank God!

    *I don’t use “Man” in a gender specific way at all; I use it as the generic pronoun of its source, human, which come from HUMUS (the same word for the stuff we eat on pita) which means soil, dirt. That from which we come. Interestingly, the same source for the words, humility and humble (to bow low to the dirt)

  5. Sin does affect us all. However, I do not believe it changes the fact that we are created in God’s image or removes the DNA of divine impartation from us or cancels the essential goodness and value of what God has created.

    I would not agree with the statement that because of sin, man is by nature essentially evil. I also do not believe that sin removes our inner desire to seek and know God.

    Sin distorts our ability to know God, and in our unbelief and alienation, we act out of selfish, impure, even sometimes evil motives.

    Sin leaves us in the midst of a creation that is also broken, where we are sometimes subjected to the random pain and suffering of broken creation and sometimes subjected to pain and suffering at the hands of other broken eikons.

    While I agree that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, I don’t agree with the idea of total inability to receive the gospel. In fact, we are created to know and respond to our Creator. Yes, we have blindness and deafness that must be overcome, but I believe that the Spirit of God relentlessly pursues and reveals God to us.

    1. Thinking about your first and last paragraphs especially…

      Yes, we are created with the Divine image stamped upon our being, and that is essentially good and reflects God’s love toward us. Though all humans originate (ultimately) in God, I would not equate image with identity. Though all people are humans, there is only a small set of humans with which I would identify as family. I became a member of my family by birth and some people become family members by adoption.

      Preston Gillham wrote…

      Salvation is a matter of God’s determination to hang onto you, not vice versa (which is a good summary of “P”…Tom). This sounds trite, but the reason people stay up at night worrying over their standing with God is doubt over whether they are hanging on tightly enough to God. Never mind the fact that none of us are strong enough or ingenious enough to get to God. This is why He came to get us rather than vice versa.

      The reason we need salvation to begin with is because our spiritual identity is rooted in the lineage and heritage of Adam, the first man, who rebelled against God and sought independence as a god (ref. Rm. 5:11 ff). Certainly we need forgiveness of our sins, but far more problematic is the fact of our identity in Adam. Thus, Jesus’ statements to Nicodemus (Jn. 3) about salvation being a rebirth from above (lit., being “born again”).

      Once Jesus introduces the subject of rebirth, the motif is continued throughout Scripture with verses that talk about our home being heaven, our lineage being traced from Christ, God being our Father, Christ our brother, being a member of the family of God, etc. In other words, when you get saved and become a follower of Jesus you are transferred from Adam into the spiritual lineage of Christ, the Last Adam, and are transformed into a new person (2 Cor. 5:20).

      You become a Believer by being removed from the lineage of Adam through identification-from God’s vantage point-with the death of Christ on the cross. The old, rebellious person, rooted in the heritage of Adam, is buried with Christ (ref. Romans 6:4 ff) and is no more. Then, through the grace of God and your identification in Jesus Christ, you are resurrected a completely new person and are placed into the lineage of Christ (ref. Gal. 2:20, et al).

      Therefore, in order to lose what God did to you in Christ, i.e. your salvation, you would have to be taken out of the lineage of Christ and placed back into the heritage of Adam. In order to get saved again, you would have to be crucified again in Christ, which means Christ would have to be crucified again, and that can’t occur (ref. Rm. 6:9 ff and Heb. 10).

      The Scripture teaches that only God has the ability to breathe life into a person (Jn. 14:6, et al). Satan does not have the ability to get you back into Adam, and neither do you for that matter. Now that you are a child of God through the actions of Christ’s work at Calvary and your confidence (i.e. faith) in Him and His work, you can no more cease to be saved-lose your salvation-than I can cease to be a “Gillham.”

      So what of poor performance? Or, what affect does it have on my standing with God when I sin?

      Carrying the family identity illustration forward: I can act contrary to the Gillham family, but I am a Gillham right down to my DNA, and you are a child of God right down to your spiritual DNA.

      You cannot get born again backwards. Satan does not have the power of life. Christ said He was the only way and the only life. You can sin and behave poorly, but you can’t change who God says you are: His child.

      So, it takes a determined effort/action on God’s part to “adopt” (Rom. 8:15ff) (“transfer” or “translate” as in Col. 1:13) us into His family.

      When you say;

      “…but I believe that the Spirit of God relentlessly pursues and reveals God to us.”

      You are combining Perseverance of (God with) the Saints and Irrestible Grace. Perhaps the real issue becomes; Are our wills stronger than God’s will to save us? If our will trumps God’s will, then that truly is a depraved situation.


  6. I have heard that we should not build theological positions from Jesus’ parables, but they ceretainly are pregnant with kingdom principles. Thus, when I read the story of the prodigal, I tend to see some characteristics of the heart of the Father, and of the state of the heart of those who are far from Him. In the parable the father’s heart yearns for his selfish, self-centered (spiritually) dead son who never valued his place in the family. When the son finally came to a realization that he was bankrupt, he screwed up the courage to seek out his father. His motivation was not out of conviction of his self-centeredness, in fact it was purely self-centered and his plan was based on his own understanding of the situation. He had no concept of his father’s love or of the overwhelming power of his father’s grace. Yet, even if for self-centered reasons, and on his own terms, he sought out his father. It was in that quest that he discovered the true heart of his father.

    Why are there so many religions in the world? Aren’t they based upon humanity seeking out a way back to God – even if it be for selfish reasons and on their own terms? Why is it that is God willing that none perish, but that all come to repentance (finally turning back to Him as the prodigal did his father?). Why did Jesus tell this parable? What principles did He want us to draw from it? Is God’s passion only for “the elect”?

    People far from God are seeking hope – even from a selfish standpoint, and even on their own terms. Does it stand to reason that the primary task of the church is to demonstrate the heart of the Father by being His witness in this sin-fractured world? Could it be that if the Spirit-empowered church dedicates itself to loving God and loving her far-from-God neighbor that she would be revealing the true heart of God who is constantly at work in the process of restoration?

    I guess it goes back to Grace’s final point – What kind of ‘story’ are those who are far from God hearing from and experiencing through the church? The point of view that we take from our theology greatly determines that story. Jesus seemed to connect much better with His parables than did the Teachers of the Law with their theological positions.

  7. I am becoming more and more anti-TULIP as time goes on….

    The problem I have here is that Total Depravity conflicts with John 3:16-17 (and others) around my view of God’s love.

    If we have a God that loved the world so much that he sent his Son so that ANYONE who believes can have eternal life, that means God should then be working against that “Total Depravity” in everyone’s life.

    It also conflicts with my view of “free will”.

    Then again… I am still trying to figure out the road map for the journey I am on….

    1. The irony (?) I’ve been experiencing/enjoying is that I’m seeing the “road map” much better in retrospect. My first 40 years of Spiritual awareness could be typified as very much opposed to TULIP.

      The “journey” is more about the “going” than the “figuring it out.” Maps are fine, but maps aren’t “the journey” (duh!) and it’s often the case that the reliability of the map can only be verified after the journey.


  8. Ken’s right, “theology” doesn’t do a thing to win anyone to Christ (not usually anyway). I think its just there to help us work through the parts we already believe or question.

    Doesn’t saying someone is totally depraved because of sin follows Biblical teaching of “the wages of sin is death?” However, God has this all planned out, see? God’s power of life is so strong in the world that we don’t die the second we sin (and aren’t struck by lightning each time we’re selfish or tell a lie) that’s why we aren’t completely removed from His grace as long as we still have breath in our lungs. God wishes no one to perish.

    Hearing the Gospel at all though, should be proof that God is calling to us. If you hear the Word, then God is calling you. It is by hearing that we believe. But that may be a plumber in Kansas hearing “Jesus saves” or a shepherd in Nepal, in seeing the vastness of the stars above, realize that random chance didn’t create life on the third rock from the sun. God calls in different ways and no man (or woman) is without excuse. That is perhaps one reason why they call the saved, the “elect.” So, what does that mean?

    The “theology” of God’s elect is patently NOT like that on “biblehelp.org”; but such that mankind has basically plugged their own ears or filled their own head with so much junk (sin) that they simply cannot hear God when He knocks. And, yes, according to John, He knocks on everyone’s door. It’s just that some are too preoccupied to notice or too busy or arrogant to answer. The “elect” is a term that goes too often misunderstood, but links specifically with the teaching of Abraham being chosen – it should not be a message in pre-destination. There is too much in that for any blog though.

    As for the prodigal son, yes, it certainly can be read that way, and it is a good and right reading, surely. But it seems that we often read back into the parable what we, from a Gentile perspective almost 2000 years removed, know it as and forget the original audience. Jesus was speaking to Jews, particularly to leaders. Few would be thinking of the prodigal as Gentile. The story would likely have been taken, from a first century Judean, second-Temple era perspective, as a story of the return from exile. The returning son, did in fact know his father before he left. He sinned and realized He needed help. Was it selfish? Sure. But he did know which way to turn, who to go to and of his father’s generosity, “even my father’s servants have enough to eat” whereas the pagan nations did not (do not) know – that is why we are to be the light upon the hill – certainly a reference to Jerusalem, God’s “chosen” people.

    Without God’s guidance, we make up the “home,” “father” or “heaven” in our own image – that is why all those other religions don’t lead to heaven and Jesus says that no one comes to the Father except through Him. I think the parable would have been a slap in the face of the religious high order because they would have known Jesus was saying the Return is happening now, right under your nose and because you don’t like it or don’t recognize it, (or were too arrogant to want your brother’s return) you cannot join in.

    Ken’s right (as usual). The prodigal son isn’t a parable about Gentiles though, but about sinners in general. And we are all sinners. But like the lost son, we are all welcomed back. The father ran to meet the boy when he was yet a far way off. The father was watching for his return, waiting, hoping.

    Are we all called? Yes, but I pray we aren’t too busy when the knock comes. We must be attentive.

    Listen! there it is now!

  9. Grace, I will say that Total Depravity largely ignores our role in our own redemption, leaving it to the exclusive work of God in our lives. This seems to me to ignore the call to so much participation with God: repentance, the cross, etc.

  10. James,

    Great commentary. I would like to add, however, that according to Kenneth Bailey’s extensive study of Rabbinic materials and the mid-Eastern cultures from Jesus’ time to today, he contends that because of the behavior of the prodigal according to the mid-Eastern cultural setting, the community in which he lived (including his own family), literally considered him DEAD. He was no more, and he had absolutely no family connections or rights. (‘Finding the Lost’, Concordia Publishing House). This is why the father said “This brother of yours was dead and is alive again”. It wasn’t just a figure of speech, it was a cultural reality. I can’t think that a disenfranchised dead Jew had any more rights than a living Gentile.

    1. That’s a good point. Dead, as in the wages of sin. Interestingly, it seems it wasn’t the wasting of his fortune that pronounced him dead, it was the separation, the rift, of leaving his fathers house that landed him in that fix.
      Either way, he was dead.

  11. Good discussion here.

    I think there are two dangers with total depravity. I agree with Jonathan Brink, that it diminishes our role in actively pursuing God.

    It also can create an unhealthy view of God… a God who would punish those who don’t love Him, but had no ability to love Him… the ones He didn’t choose.

    1. I have enjoyed reading the comments on this discussion. I agree with your two concerns about “total” depravity and would add another: it has the danger of letting humans off the hook for their own rejection of God’s salvation and the Truth He has made known to us. When the Jewish temple leaders rejected Jesus’ claims about Himself and what He was revealing to them about God, He allowed them to carry the full consequences of that rejection. They are going to be judged, as we all are, on how they responded to God’s Word and His revelation to them in Christ. To say that b/c of their depravity it was completely impossible for them to comprehend the Truth, would be to negate a need for judgement…how can they be held accountable for something they couldn’t do? But Jesus does hold them accountable.

      Obvioulsy, there is a mystery here in the exact workings of how people come to new life in Christ, but we must know that in any case, God’s sovreignty and human responsibility are both upheld in scripture, and therefore we must uphold them as well. Total Depravity, as taught by Calvin, erases human responsibility, and therefore goes against what scripture clearly teaches.

      Also, to respond to one of the other earlier posters about how our lineage changes from Adam’s to Christ’s – yes, it does. However, Paul discusses in Romans how God removed the dead branches of unbelieving Israel from the Olive tree and grafted in the wild branches of the believing Gentiles, and tells them that God can remove them as well, so they shouldn’t become prideful or smug. A branch can only remain alive if it is in the vine – we must remain in Christ or our faith will dry up as a dead branch. Humans can’t hold God hostage by confessing one thing with their mouth, while their hearts remain far from Him. Read the warnings to the churches in Revelation. God can, will and does remove the lamp of His Grace and salvation from those who neglect and abuse it…the warnings in Scripture are real and meaningful.

  12. I think the major difference I see betwee TD and BI is that BI begins with God’s original intent of creation, whereas the TD summary posted (which I don’t think is a very good summary) begins with The Fall.

    I’ve found Wikipedia to actually have more even information in this area. Here’s how TD is expressed there;

    Total depravity is the fallen state of man as a result of original sin. The doctrine of total depravity asserts that people are by nature not inclined to love God wholly with heart, mind, and strength, but rather all are inclined to serve their own interests over those of their neighbor and to reject the rule of God. Even religion and philanthropy are destructive to the extent that these originate from a human imagination, passions, and will. Therefore, in Reformed Theology, God must predestine individuals into salvation since man is incapable of choosing God.[5]

    Total depravity does not mean, however, that people are as evil as possible. Rather, it means that even the good which a person may intend is faulty in its premise, false in its motive, and weak in its implementation; and there is no mere refinement of natural capacities that can correct this condition. Thus, even acts of generosity and altruism are in fact egoist acts in disguise.[6]

    Nonetheless, the doctrine teaches optimism concerning God’s love for what he has made and God’s ability to accomplish the ultimate good that he intends for his creation. In particular, in the process of salvation, God overcomes man’s inability with his divine grace and enables men and women to choose to follow him, though the precise means of this overcoming varies between the theological systems. The differences between the solutions to the problem of total depravity revolve around the relation between divine grace and human free will – namely, whether it is efficacious grace that human free will cannot resist, as in Augustinism, or sufficient or prevenient grace enabling the human will to choose to follow God, as in Molinism and Arminianism.

    Except for the starting point I see very little difference. In our natural stated we’re busted.


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