"As she stood looking at it, wondering why there was a lamp-post in the middle of a wood and wondering what to do next, she heard a pitter patter of feet coming toward her..." (C S Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Total Depravity and the Imago Dei

While I would agree that the doctrines of grace are axiomatic to biblical interpretation, I am curious as to the best articulation of Total Depravity. Total Depravity expresses the reality that all areas of life are tainted by sin. Since the Fall of Adam, natural man is entirely influenced by sin. This depravity is expressed in different degrees for different individuals. Thus the murderer and the mystic are both totally depraved, yet their depravity may exist in varying degrees of depth.

The question is, Does total depravity posit that no unbeliever will demonstrate a 'seeking' of God? (though never to find him outside of Christ). Does it argue that the works, thoughts, and art of the natural man are worthless in aiding us to know God? For example, can a pagan paint a picture that is 'God-reflecting'? Can an agnostic express philosophical truth clearly enough that it actually helps Christians to better understand God? Can a musician who knows nothing of Christ's atonement produce music that is valuable to the pursuit of knowing God?

Now, of course the typical cautions need to be explicit. The pervasiveness of sin is not the issue. Naturally man is sinful, rebellious, and treacherous towards God. To study any area of human existence without God is to study the ruin of the image of God, and I certainly wouldn't advise a Christian to delve deep into the teachings of Buddha or Bertrand Russell to know God more. That is not the issue. The issue is does this ruin mean 'worthlessness' or 'unworthiness'?

The apostle Paul can quote the OT "There is no one...who seeks God" (Ro 3)and he can say to the pagan Athenians "Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you." (Acts 17) Explain the paradox...


Pastor Erik DiVietro said...

Well said. I think the paradox is a very real one, and a matter of point of view.

I wrote a little tract once called "It's Your Choice" which one of our men questioned me about. He said, "But it isn't really their choice, is it?"

My response was "Yes and no." We, who already know Christ, also know that it was the Holy Spirit drawing us through His Word and his people, that brought us into fellowship with the Father through the Son; but how do you explain that to someone?

Really, from their perspective, they have to make a choice - albeit a choice to accept that the choice is not theirs, that grace is being extended to them without their abilities contributing to it.

From God's perspective (and somewhat from ours), we know man is depraved; and yet from a human perspective, we must somehow choose to accept it.

Paradox indeed.

cmadin said...

first, we're fallen, but we're also made in the image of God - all of us, and I would argue that we all have a spark of the divine somewhere. the NT tells us that no one will have an excuse when they stand before God, because we all have an innate understanding of right and wrong, to some extent.

i completely disagree that nonbelievers are incapable of pointing us to God. if we assume that God is the source of all beauty and truth, and nonbelievers are obviously capable of creating works of beauty and truth, then clearly He can speak through them. think of much classical music, or other art that is "morality-neutral", that can bless people and bring them closer to God regardless of the author.

In Mere Christianity, Lewis says something to the effect that Christians can learn about God from other religions, because even Christians don't know everything about Him.

So you can take your Calvinism and stick it! :)