The total depravity of Calvinist theology

"Calvinist Theology" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Calvinist Theology” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

Get a print of this cartoon HERE!

I love Calvin. I love Reformed theology. Karl Barth is my favorite theologian hands down.

It doesn’t mean we have to take it hook, line, and sinker.

I love Barth not only for his honesty, depth, and focus, but also because he let us watch him develop his theology until the end of his life to the point where many theologians then and to this day consider him a major contributor to the idea of universalism.

But some Calvinists would like us to believe that there is not one good thing within us and that, essentially, we are riddled with sin rooted in a completely sinful heart. I do believe that at the core of our being there is a fissure, a disintegration, a brokenness. Self-observation alone suggests this. But does this mean that we are evil to the core?

How about a puzzle. Let’s look at that for an analogy. There’s the 1,000 piece puzzle in a box, unopened. There’s the puzzle spread out over the table top. There’s the puzzle being assembled. There’s the puzzle complete and displaying a beautiful picture. At no point is the puzzle any less a puzzle. At no point is the puzzle totally depraved. Just because a puzzle isn’t assembled doesn’t make it imperfect. It is a perfect puzzle in the box and completed on the table.

Some might argue that we are puzzles with pieces missing or damaged which would indeed make us imperfect, irreparable and incomplete. But I don’t think this is so. I think we all have all the pieces within that make us essentially perfect. Every one of us is a different puzzle. Broken? Yes. Imperfect? No. Some of us are more assembled than others. Some less. Does this make us a better puzzle than the other one? No. We are all perfect at different stages of our assembly. This analogy works for me.

It is our life’s work to assemble ourselves.

Hey why not join The Lasting Supper? This is what we do: self-assembly! CHECK US OUT!


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24 Responses

  1. Years ago, I thought it would be helpful to a discussion on Universalism to point out that widely respected Biblical scholar William Barclay affirmed universalism in his biography. His only regret was that he had not taught it more clearly. The immediate reaction of the person was not openness to explore how Barclay came to that conclusion, but to vow never to read or study anything he wrote, even again.

  2. Heidi says:

    I loathe Calvin. I loathe Reformed Theology. I lay at their feet every wrong that has happened at the hands and to the hands of god-fearing lovely Protestants who have been twisted up and perverted and injured by their ugly theology. God is a bastard, we are worms. Nothing good can come of that reading of scripture. Nothing. I’m tired of them getting some credit for being clean, rich and well organized. It is elementally flawed, down to it’s very essence a bastardization of how life should and could be.

  3. Why don’t you let us know what you really think about Calvinism? (attempt at some humor) While I am United Methodist, I served a Presbyterian Church once that I helped create. It was fascinating. I found as many Presbyterians who didn’t accept Calvinism as I did Methodists who did, so I survived in the local church during those years. But the Presbytery was even more divided on that and many other subjects..

    I happily returned to my Wesleyan roots full-time after six years, but sadly I didn’t escape that mentality.

  4. esbee says:

    Preachers usually preach the scripture about “not forsaking to assemble yourselves together” meaning that is a command to attend church (every time the door is open). . When we went to church my husband was constantly put down and mistreated for several inane reasons. (You’re singing too loud, you should not read sci-fi, your wife hates you because she does not keep house, etc—all of this from 1-2 persons) I prayed about the situation looking for a solution and is there another way to look at that scripture. My husband liked to build models (Star Trek, etc) and saw the word “assemble” on the model boxes. Assemble has a different meaning other than gathering together. It means to put together and build up. So I figured what if that verse means to build up one another, help one another be a better Christian, encouragement as we stumble along with God, etc. We certainly were not getting that at church. So assembling together just for the sake of “obeying” a scripture the way the preacher says (and passing the plate when people are there) yet missing the point of what Christianity is all about. That is what most people on this blog see when they see the problems in the church. But ultimately Jesus came to fix that which is broken and we sure are a broken lot.

  5. David Waters says:

    Its all between the ears. None of it right. None of it wrong. All of it wishful thinking. Nothing more. Nothing less.

  6. doug walters says:

    What do you like about calvinism?? To me seems like divine lottery??

  7. doug walters says:

    Watch “Hellbound” really good documentary on differing views of hell. It’s a fascinating watch.

  8. Dave P says:

    You go, Heidi. It cannot be said too many times in too many ways that Calvin (and even worse, his followers through the centuries) was a douchebag.

  9. irreverance says:

    I think what most people consider to be “Calvinism” is an dated theology. In order to “get it” we have to look at it in context.

    It arose as a response to an abusive Roman Catholic theology that placed the burden of eternal punishment squarely upon the shoulders of sinners. Basically, if you go to hell, it’s your own damn fault. If you want us (the church) to mediate for you and save you (or your family and friends), well that will cost you.” In this very hierarchical, medieval system the church effectively had the power to play (Vicar of) God. Fear and guilt was used to keep the masses in line, and piety was defined by service to the church.

    Calvinism arose in the context of a paradigm shift. Europe was evolving from a medieval culture to an early-modern one. This shift largely came as a result of increased access to information (printing press), a new, more scientific view of the world, and the rise of humanism (which is to basically say that human beings had been given the faculties to “figure it all out” for themselves).

    When an atmosphere of abuse encounters new ways of thinking about things, new answers emerge. Calvinism with its predestination answered many issues of the day effectively.

    –By what authority does the Pope say that (or determine) people get to go to heaven or are consigned to hell? None. The Pope is a sinner too and no better than anyone else in this shift away from a vertical society to a more horizontal one. Only God knows that, and no one can pretend to know the mind of God. This levels the playing field, and now the dock worker is potentially just as authoritative as the Pope. Thus enters a strange understanding of (sort-of) egalitarianism.

    –Who should deal with community affairs to determine what is right and what is not? The invested community, rather than distant Rome. Communities are governed by a small group of “qualified” individuals who discuss reasonably what a healthy spiritual community should look like. Yes, everyone in the group is a sinner and therefore doomed to pursue (even if subconsciously their own personal agendas), and that’s where conversation and reason come in. This reasonable form of communication keeps personal agendas at bay (mostly).

    –What do I have to do for the church to get into heaven? You don’t HAVE to do anything. Indeed, there are even some people outside the church who get into heaven. Unlike in the RC system where only perfect people get in (so the less than perfect have to be cleansed in purgatory, nobody is perfect and nobody is expected to be perfect. Instead, people are seen as being in a process of perpetual transformation.

    I’ll stop there. But the point is that IN THAT CONTEXT Calvinist theology was a much-needed pastoral and communal approach that helped people to break from the shackles of long-established systems of spiritual abuse by offering a different story to live by and a different kind of community to live in. The problem is that the rigid so-called Calvinism of today is really just another form of legalism that is devoid of the pastoral and revolutionary spirit that came into being in the 1500s. I believe today’s task is to reclaim that spirit today. In other words, get past the words and get to the point.

  10. That was helpful.

    It also reinforced my belief in universalism, that is, in the final scope of things, God chooses to save everyone.
    I am glad to be joined in this belief to some extent by William Barclay, Leslie Weatherhead, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Origen, Erasmus, Voltaire, Paine, Parker, Dewey and representatives of New England Unitarianism, and a host of others who died too young, thanks to the Roman Church and Calvin (Servetus). Glad to be born in the 20th century and in America. I am still alive. .

  11. Jason A says:

    I am a Calvinist but what you guys all describe does not fairly reflect what I believe. The tragic thing I hear in the comments are accusations of legalism, judgementalism, and arrogance. For me, Calvinism is humbling. Before God saved me, I was spiritually dead. That’s really what Total Depravity is: absolute spiritual deadness — having no genuine desire for the real God but a God created in our own image. I was absolutely as dead as every other person on this planet whose eyes have not been open. But God opened them. Now I am able to see Him, believe in Him, have the Spirit dwelling within me to comfort me commune with me and enable me to follow Christ. Calvinism, when it’s seen from the context of NOT ME but HIM causes me to give all thanks to God, all honor to God, all service to God. It also causes me to see myself as absolutely no better than anyone else. I didn’t choose God, He chose me so there is no small part of me that was better than everyone else which gave me the ability to chose Him. I was solely chosen for some mysterious reason that only God is privy to but that reason is not me being better than the guy next to me.

    That should cause me to have compassion on all those around me. They are me before my conversion. I need to love them, serve them, present the gospel to them. Pray for them. Hope for them. Submit to God to be His tool in their lives. It should never cause pride or arrogance. Calvinists should be the most humble of all Christians if they really believed their doctrine. Sadly, I say this as a sinner who still struggles with pride, but for me that’s just a reminder of how underserving a magnificent gift I’ve received.

    I also believe that God is very forgiving of our theological errors as long as they do not stray too far from orthodox christianity. So if I’m wrong on the Calvinist thing, God will still have mercy on me and if I’m right, He’ll have mercy on those who are not Calvinists. Some of the most Godly men and women I’ve ever known have not been Calvinists and they are wise and great examples that I look up to. They may have wrong doctrine, but they are far more faithful than I. I am sure everyone of us will have some doctrine they beleive in that they will be surprised in Heaven that they were wrong on. And for that one or two guys who had every doctrine right, they probably struggled with Pride so it’ll all be even.

  12. dave P says:

    “Submit to God to be His tool in their lives. ”

    Some advice – don’t be a tool.

    “I also believe that God is very forgiving of our theological errors as long as they do not stray too far from orthodox christianity.”

    Define “too far” and “orthodox christianity”. That means you still get to decide who’s in and out depending on what you mean by “too far” and “orthodox christianity”.

    “They may have wrong doctrine, but they are far more faithful than I.”

    Do you even have a clue how wrong this is?

  13. I have not written any anti Calvinistic words here, but I have yet to forgive Calvin for allowing the death of Michael Servetus. I really admired Servetus. He was labeled as a heretic by both the Catholics and the Calvinist. He had no where to go. But given my reading of history, he was a pretty good fellow and Calvin let him die.

    The more I read of history, beliefs may be important, but not important enough to kill people over them. And in the end, how people treat one another is more important than one a person believes.

    When I read of people protecting (saving) persons who believed differently than themselves, then I think we should check out what is going on in the spiritual lives of such saints. Calvin wasn’t a saint. .

  14. I would imagine that “correct doctrine” has done more damage in the world than most anything else. It does give “doctrine” a bad name.

    But then again I suppose “love one another” could be seen as a doctrine, but I would rather take my chances with those words than ones that twist things in a knot, worrying about who is chosen and who is not.

    It is why I am comfortable with the (doctrine) of “universal salvation” as preached and taught by many fine preachers and theologians..

  15. David Waters says:

    And thus we see the evolution of doctrine… a response to a circumstance. I try these varying approaches in my checkbook when it’s circumstance is not as I’d prefer. Eventually it Always comes full circle to the reality that it’s all between my ears and no matter what I believe is the better approach, according to the various financial gurus, the actuality is that all contain risk.
    Man wants to be right to feel good. Wants to be eternal to be superior so man makes up what is necessary to achieve these things. We’re right, you’re wrong. We go to heaven, you go to hell. We hit the lottery, you live as a pauper. Them catholics are wrong, but calvin is our hero, screw him I choose Luther, I choose wesley, I choose peter, paul and mary!
    Such non-sense. All of it.

    You did not choose where you were born and if you’d been born in Iran you’d believe in Allah and Mohammad and feel just as right about it.

    Talk about open your eyes! Toss it all in a blender then pour it down the drain and …. evolve.

  16. David Waters says:

    *** All contain risk and inaccuracies, sprinkled with a little truth.

  17. Jason A says:

    I didn’t say it was for me to define orthodox Christianity. My job is to love everyone. Show by my example what it means to follow Christ. I don’t accept Universalism but I’m not the Judge. I’ll let God worry about what He considers orthodoxy. A friend once told me that our approach to the spiritually lost and those who are not lost its the same. We want to encourage people from the darkness we are in to even greater light. Some are closer to the light than others but we all have room to grow so whether it’s an atheist or the most godly man currently on earth, there is room for growth. We all can offer a helping hand to others in their walk and we all take from others what God opens or eyes to seeing. Is all about God so I love someone who I might consider unorthodox the same as I treat my pastor. Not sure where the controversy is in that. In all things, I’m thankful to God for the light he’s given me, I pray for greater light and hope others gain greater light as well. I leave eternal destinations to God.

  18. David Waters says:

    Sounds like one big guessing game. As many ideas/gods as there are people. Keep it simple. We’re all worm dirt. Play nice.

  19. Jason A says:

    Why are so many of the comments here so angry? If you are truly inclusive, would that not mean you would have room in your heart for those who are not? If God universally loves me even though I’m a Calvinist, why don’t you?

    Also, what is the most loving thing someone who believe the way to heaven is by a very narrow path? Is it not to share in a loving way their understanding of the way? Would not the most hateful thing for a Calvinist to do is keep his mouth shut and not tell someone who is not a Christian how to be saved? As universalists, you may think I’m naive and wrong, but is there no room in your heart for compassion and understanding for the Evangelist who thinks he sees lost people around him and speaks the truth in love as he understands it. Do we hate Billy Graham for is not being a universalist or do we love him because we see his heart for the lost. If he is wrong, then he needs even more sympathy because he feels guilty for failure where there is none.

    Just saying I see you behaving in the same way you accuse Calvinists of but that seems okay to you. Strange…

  20. Dave P says:

    You’re perfectly entitled to your wackadoodle beliefs. However, peddling them to all and sundry as if they were the only possible true option is somewhat abhorrent. If your belief isn’t just about you, but about the “eternal salvation” of everyone and that causes you to badger all an sundry about your beliefs then you’ve just become a pest. Just like Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and everyone else that has decided they have the keys to the castle.

    There are an infinite number of possible combinations of gods and religious beliefs and the likelihood that you have hit on the one true way is infinitesimally small, so it would behove you and all the other interferers tactually ask yourself, “What if I’m not exactly right”, and have a bit of humility.

    Not only that, but you assume that Calvin was the bearer of all truth, but you and the rest of his followers can’t even all agree on what that exactly was, so that makes each Calvin follower equally wrong, all based on the ramblings of a random religious agitator who lived centuries ago.

  21. esbee says:

    “in the final scope of things, God chooses to save everyone.”
    even people like Hitler and ISIL chopping the heads off innocent people?

  22. David Waters says:

    In the final scope of things, there is no god. No one is saved or righteous or worthless. Now fight nicely children!

  23. Jason A says:

    I’ll be the first to admit I have pride and need more humility but that pride is based in sin. If I have the truth, it’s not because of something I’ve done, it’s something God has given me by the hand of others. How is it pride to share the good news as I’ve heard it from others with someone else. It’s an act of love and thanksgiving. Hey, the best ribs in town are from outback steakhouse. Am I proud or just excited about great ribs and sharing the news. We can still be friends if you think Applebee’s are better. I think Jesus is the only way of salvation and is awesome. Try him out? Disagree? That’s sad but we can still be friends right? I want my motivation to be excitement, love, passion, and not pride. I’m a sinner so am not perfect at it but that doesn’t change the message.

  24. David Waters says:

    The only god, sin, heaven or hell is between the ears of humans.