After Church: Total Depravity or Good in Something?

What Is Total Depravity
Heck, this forum post I made deserves an article in itself. So here it is! My response to this post:
God chooses to see us a perfect only through the blood of Christ. The only good that is in me is that which comes from Christ. Hollywood does not have this redeeming quality. Therefore, nothing truly “good” can come out of Hollywood – or anywhere else for that matter.The idea that “good can be found everywhere if you dig through the crap” is a dangerous theology. I would say that kind of thinking is what has brought society to a point where sexual immorality is normal and murdering unborn children is acceptable.
I’m not trying to pick a fight and I would love other’s input. It is just that I truly find this theology scary as it does not seem to be backed by scripture.

Ok, let’s back up a bit. In Genesis 1:26ff:

26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. 31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

God makes everything; God makes everything good. The Hebrew word tobh, which basically means “good” in the same semantical sense as “good’ in the English language, remains indisputable.

In the theological sense, the Fall was prefigured by a state of perfection – well, at least what God wanted to make, and that is perfection enough. God made everything. Everything was good, and everything was sufficient for both God’s purposes and the creatures living on the earth. The Fall, caused by Adam and Eve eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (note) opens their eyes to both. Evil, at this point, we assume exists only in the form of Satan and whatever else God allows. It is here that creation becomes “spoiled”, so to speak – imperfect. Perhaps “imperfect” isn’t strong enough for it, but there you go.

In this sense, to deny that there is “good” even in those things of the world (imperfect though they might be, heinous and the like) is almost akin to rejection of the world. There is no reason to return to it, nor to help it. That is certainly not Scriptural in any sense. There are things that are good – but like everything after the Fall, they are corrupted. Irredeemable, we might say, except by the righteousness of God (I assume we’re talking about salvation in the legal sense like Luther and Calvin set up). I think it’s obvious that we’re on the same page with “Christ alone” and only becoming righteous through Christ, but that’s a different issue.

When I say “good”, I mean that things are good, but have been corrupted by evil. Unless you’d like to give evil its own ontological status, which I don’t believe is supported by any Christian theology I know of. Parts of the original design are lost in the shuffle of sin. Or, you might say that Christians can see redemption where others cannot, and that provides a perfect opportunity for evangelizing.

Given what you’ve said, would you then say that the sunset or the natural world are also lacking this redeeming quality? Or the universe itself? For if everything isn’t “good” any longer, then how could such things be a beautiful display of God’s handiwork?

These are not the things that lead to the current degeneration of culture – that has an entirely different cause in sin, not in the fact that everything is evil by default.

I think we’re talking past one another here. When I say “good”, I mean it in the semantical sense above. This is the reason why I don’t use KJV for these things. Romans 3:9-12 in the NASB (i.e., a more literal and accurate translation than the KJV) says thus:

9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written,
“There is none righteous, not even one;
11 There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”

This is why I use “righteous” rather than “good”; it’s just too confusing otherwise. We can use Young’s Literal Translation too, and see the exact same thing:

9 What, then? are we better? not at all! for we did before charge both Jews and Greeks with being all under sin,
10 according as it hath been written — `There is none righteous, not even one;
11 There is none who is understanding, there is none who is seeking after God.
12 All did go out of the way, together they became unprofitable, there is none doing good, there is not even one.

And you can see an obvious difference in both: there is none doing good. I am referring to a state of being, Unless you believe in total depravity, then I’m not sure whether we’re talking about the same thing.

I can go a bit further here, actually. In Romans 7:

14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

We see Paul showing us the war between his mind and his body – or, the flesh and the spirit. The spirit wills to do good; it wants to do good, but can’t. Take a look at the bolded portion (verse 18): nothing good dwells in the flesh, but the spirit wills to do good but cannot. We do the very things we do not want because of this corruption; we sin, because we have knowledge of the Law. That knowledge, taken from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, leads us to this place. Now that our eyes have opened, the cognizance of the difference has produced its own problem. The Law, though good in itself, gives sin the opportunity to tell us what is sin: it provides us with a contrast. Two different laws rage within us, but sin succeeds in the flesh.

So we can see, even here, that is not things in general we are referring to here, but people. The flesh must refer to our physical body, our vessel of sin. It is us who are corrupted. Created in God’s image, yes, but wholly incapable of doing good except through Christ.

Still, the things that humans create (in the arts, literature, etc.) still come from the divine spark, that God created us in His image. You can see that in nearly everything our culture produces – just corrupted beyond repair, yet still with the tiniest sliver of hope provided by Christ’s resurrection. That is what I see in my entertainment. Otherwise, why participate in pop culture at all?

Romans 7 has more to say on this, surely, but the point stands.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • I’m with you on this! I wanna hear what Yann has to say about it, coming from the neo-calvie camp (my term, not his).