Total depravity

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Total depravity (also called absolute inability, radical corruption, total corruption, or Augustinianism) is a theological doctrine that derives from the Augustinian concept of original sin. It is the teaching that, as a consequence of the Fall of Man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin and, apart from the efficacious or prevenient grace of God, is utterly unable to choose to follow God or choose to accept salvation as it is offered.

It is also advocated to various degrees by many Protestant confessions of faith and catechisms, including those of Lutheranism,[1] Arminianism,[2] and Calvinism.[3]

Contents

Summary of the doctrine

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 or even able to love God wholly with heart, mind, and strength, but rather all are inclined by nature to serve their own will and desires and to reject the rule of God. Even religion and philanthropy are wicked to God to the extent that these originate from a human imagination, passion, and will and are not done to the glory of God. Therefore, in Reformed theology, if God is to save anyone He must predestine, call, elect individuals to salvation since fallen man does not want to, indeed is incapable of choosing God.[4]

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. All good, consequently, is derived from God alone, and in no way through man.[5]

This idea can be illustrated by a glass of wine with a few drops of deadly poison in it: Although not all the liquid is poison, all the liquid is poisoned. In the same way, while not all of human nature is depraved, all human nature is totally affected by depravity.

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