do the Protestant Reformers Mean by "Total Depravity"?
"Total" doesn't mean "utter."
It doesn't mean that we are as bad as we can possibly be.
The Reformers admit that there is much that fallen humankind can do, and
can do superbly well: science, mathematics, government, art, music, painting
("culture" in general), and what Calvin calls "mechanical"
arts (i.e., engineering.)
However, "total depravity" does mean
the scope of the fall is total:
there is no human undertaking that isn't fallen, sin-riddled, corrupted.
the penetration of the fall is comprehensive: there is no aspect of the human being (reason, will, affect) that is unaffected
and by which we can restore ourselves.
E.g. (i), we can still reason (or
else we shouldn't be human; the structure
of reason survives the fall), but now our reason subserves the wrong end or
purpose, particularly as we approach the specifically human or divine.
Reason now applies itself to aggrandizement of ourselves, or exploitation
of others, or the legitimization of unconscious motivation (i.e.,
E.g. (ii), we can still will (to be
without will is to have ceased to be human), and can still will moral
good, but we cannot will the
cannot will ourselves out of our sinnership, cannot will ourselves into the
kingdom. (Note John 3:3: apart from
Spirit-regeneration we cannot so much as see
the kingdom, much less enter it.) The
will is "bound" or "enslaved" (not free) in that it cannot
will righteousness. But such bondage
is never to be confused with philosophical determinism: the Reformers never say
that genuine choice is denied us with respect to creaturely matters.
E.g. (iii), we can still love, but
now our affections are misaligned; we love what we ought to hate and hate what
we ought to love. At the very least
we love the creature above the Creator; our loves are "disordered
affections": lesser loves (legitimate in themselves) usurp our greater love
(for God.) In addition our
creaturely loves are riddled with self-interest.
No one part of the society can save the rest.
The individual cannot save the society as a whole, or the society the
individual. Economics cannot put
right what sociologists identify as the human problem; neither can sociologists
put right what economists identify as the human problem.
While Marx reduces all considerations (Freud's explanation included) to
the dialectical laws of materialism (and one's place in the economic spectrum),
and while Freud reduces all considerations (Marx's explanation included) to
intra-psychic unconscious conflict, the doctrine of Total Depravity exposes both
as one-sided and short-sighted.
Note too that culture,
however sophisticated (Kulturprotestantismus)
is not the kingdom, is not even the vestibule to the kingdom, at the same time
that culture remains a creaturely good, albeit fallen.
insisted that he differed "not a hair's breadth" from the Reformers on