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Monday, September 27, 2010

The Myth of Free-will? ( Re-thinking the doctrine of 'Total Depravity' )

I was brought up in Calvinist theology, taught to be automatically wary anyone espousing the doctrine of free-will. This is still a subject of concern with me, though I would no longer be comfortable being called a Calvinist. I would probably more correctly fall under the moniker 'Sovereign Grace Preterist'. Some might not see such of a difference between Calvinism and the doctrine of Sovereign Grace, and in the most basic sense, they'd be right, but when you add 'preterism' to the mix, you have a somewhat different story! 'Preterism', or the knowledge that , not only eschatology, but redemption and salvation have been completed and fulfilled should cause us to rethink our doctrine of soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation, among other things. Calvinism teaches that man is totally depraved, something that most Christians have no problem readily acknowledging. The Bible seems to plainly teach this in places like Jeremiah 17:9, where we are told that 'the heart is deceitful above all and desperately wicked; who can know it?', and Paul plainly told his readers that 'in me ( that is, in my flesh ) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but to perform what is good, I do not find.' ( Romans 7:18 ) Solomon, or 'the preacher', as he styles himself in the book of Ecclesiastes, acknowledged that 'truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that go to the dead' ( 9:3 ). There are many other passages that we could look at for 'proof' of the doctrine of 'Total Depravity', but I daresay that, looking at all these passage from a covenantal viewpoint will help us to see that all these writers were speaking in context of those 'laboring' under the restrictions of the 'Old Covenant'. Looking at the moral depravity in the world today, it is not hard to apply passages like these to men today, although it could be argued, and one can even ascertain that men, even the most 'evil' and 'heartless' of them, are, when it comes down to it, basically 'good' at heart. We all have choices to make, and yes, we most often make wrong, selfish, and seemingly heartless choices, but I believe that all men have the propensity to do right, as all men have the built-in propensity to do wrong. God made us in such a way that we do have a choice, when facing any given situation, a choice of whether to react ( usually wrong ) or whether to act in faith, to do as we know is right, even though those around us are not acting according to our ( selfish ) wishes, or 'druthers', or even as we think they should! Man is a selfish creature ( naturally ), and will usually, when given the choice, choose what he thinks best, either for himself alone, or what he believes will best serve the interests of those that he loves and cares about, often notwithstanding what others tell him is right or wrong.

I mentioned the fact that the Scripture passages that we may read in the Bible which seem to point towards a doctrine of 'Total Depravity', were written by, and concerning, those born under the 'Old Covenant: I believe, as some of my readers may have learned, that there is really only one covenant, the eternal everlasting covenant that God made with Himself ( signified by the words 'Let there be Light' ,and 'Let Us make man' ), but for the purpose of choosing, setting apart a 'special' ( I Peter 2:9 ) people for Himself; God 'formed', through Moses, a sort of typical covenant with a certain people as a sort of test case, not so much to see if they would follow His covenant, but to show them that they could not keep His words perfectly. God's plan, from the beginning, whether because He simply knew beforehand, or because of His all-encompassing sovereignty, was that He would send His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to do for man what he could not do for himself, to keep the law perfectly, and to take upon Himself the sin and requisite penalty for that sin, destroying forever the death that the sin had engendered ( Romans 6:23 ). With the penalty for that sin paid through the death and resurrection of Christ, and His 'coming in the clouds' in judgment upon the 'ministry of the death' ( Romans 7:10, II Corinthians 3:7 ), or the purveyors of that 'Old Covenant' ( letter, rather than Spirit ( II Corinthians 3:6, Romans 2:27-29 ) of death, we are now born, once again, as the first Adam, with the capacity to make a choice, but with one comforting difference; we now have the Truth to which the Tree of Life pointed, 'Christ ( God ) in us, the ( realized ) hope of Glory' ( Colossians 1:27 ).With the 'New Covenant' fully implemented, and salvation fully realized, and redemption complete; can we truly say anymore that men are naturally born under 'Total Depravity'? With the Calvinistic ( biblical ) notion that all men are 'born in sin' ( I think that we all grew up under that assumption, to some degree ) based upon an errant eschatological position, the position, whether most will admit it or not, that, since the fall of our first 'parents', recorded in Genesis 3, we are all ( naturally ) born in sin, and that it is only when we are brought to confession and repentance of that sin ( I John 1:9 ) that we come out from under the death of Adam. With the realization, however, of the logical implications of fulfilled eschatology; it should be plain to see, that, in a sense anyway, we are no longer born in sin, subject to the death ( of Adam ), having been born under the New Covenant, which is often called the 'Covenant of Grace' ( although, when you think about it; God's grace has always been prevalent, throughout the different 'covenants' ), and now free, through the Grace of God, to make our choice ( right or wrong ) as best as we can, without the sword of Damocles hanging over or head, with 'the powers that be' telling us that if we make the wrong choice, there will be eternal, and sometimes immediate consequences ( 'in the day you eat, you will die'-Deuteronomy 28 ).

Lest some accuse me of saying that we should go ahead and 'sin more that grace may abound' ( Romans 6:1 ); I wish to remind my readers that though God has applied His grace most bountifully in every area of our lives, and given us the freedom of choice as to how we will live our lives and whom w will serve ( as Bob Dylan said, 'ya gotta serve somebody' ); He has also given us the personal responsibility, a directive, really, to love Him, and 'our neighbor as ourself', not selfishly seeking and serving our own selfish interest and desires, particularly over those of others. ( I will be the first to admit that I am not perfect when it comes to practicing what I preach, and I don't believe that any of us can truly make this claim ( although some are probably closer than others ), but this does not mean that we should not strive for it and exhort the brethren to it! )

Having established that we do, after a sort, have a 'free' will, can we conscientiously transgress Good's Law ( though we are no longer under it's curse ), selfishly following our own will, thoughts, and desires, even when it comes at the cost of others? We too often do ( at least I know that I do ), but I would wager that most of us ( all who's consciences have been cleansed by God-Hebrews 10 ), before 'paying the piper', will hear a 'still, small' voice in our mind, saying 'you shouldn't outta done that'!

With this in mind; let us consciously decide ( will ) to make choices that are in conjunction with what we know of the will of God, not because we must if we want to 'go to heaven when we die', or out of the fear of 'going to hell when we die', but out of loving, sacrificial obedience to God, not because we have to, but because we want to!

May God bless you with this,

                   Charles Shank

2 comments:

bill said...

I'm more of a pelagius .....just realized this reading some of his works last night and it came from him nor a calvin or arminianist....also I have c one to believe that we are not born under adam.....only israel but that we were born not in covenant with God like in romans and ephesian s. ....

Charles Shank said...

I would probably, since I wrote this, take more of a middle position, in that it is 100% us & 100% God, as In any marriage!