Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Total Depravity of Everyone Else

Morgan Guyton is one of my favorite Christian bloggers because, while I strive to be thoughtful and insightful on my blog, his consistently makes me feel clueless and dull by comparison. Post like this are perfect examples of this. He points to two trends in conservative Christianity--valuing firearms and purity pledges or rings--as manifestations of a quintessentially suburban theology called the "total depravity of everyone else".
If I carry a gun into church, I am embodying a two-fold doctrine of sin: 1) There is no danger that I would be tempted to sin with my gun (like in the heat of an argument over the church budget or a sermon that sounds un-Biblical). 2) There is enough danger from the wickedness “out there” that I should be armed in case the bad people storm our building and start shooting. This two-fold doctrine of sin could be termed the total depravity of everyone else.
And later:
Searching for a more beautiful Christian vision for human sexuality than the message proclaimed by our miserable market-driven pop culture is a very worthy, commendable cause! Where suburban Christian sexuality goes wrong is when it becomes about protecting our daughters from bad people, which is the message exemplified in events like the suburban churches’ purity balls that fathers attend with their daughters in order to sanctify their virginity pledges.
Here’s why this looks to me like an expression of the total depravity of everyone else. As long as fathers are in charge of their families and their daughters avoid bad people, then we can keep bad seeds out of our households literally. Handguns and purity rings have become the two most important weapons keeping suburban Christians safe from the bad people out there.
Guyton is incredibly discerning; he constantly weaves together praise for what the American church is doing right while pointing out places where it's gone wrong, and why. He also does a great job of separating out what believers and churches say (e.g. the Biblical doctrine of total depravity) from what their words and actions reveal (in this case, the unbiblical doctrine of total depravity of everyone else).

He also references an earlier post of his attacking the definition of sin many Christians use an excuse not to love people. In doing so, he interprets Romans 3:10-18--you know, the passage used to support total depravity--in a way that was interesting to me.
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”
“Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Interpreters often use this passage to speak to the depth of human sinfulness, to just how bad and lost people are without God. But just before this passage, in verse 9, Paul writes, "What shall we conclude then? Do we [Jews] have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin." Paul's point here is not to hammer home how sinful people are but to put Jews and Gentiles on equal footing. In other words, Paul is not speaking to the depth of sin but to the breadth of sin. This is important for answering the doctrine of "total depravity of everyone else". Rather than simply railing against how bad the "bad people" are, Paul is reminding us that there are no "good people" except God, and removing the basis for this kind of us-and-them thinking. The cross removes whatever basis may have existed for these kinds of judgments.


  1. I think Guyton is a hack, just another Calvinist hack. I would draw your attention to the word "total" in Total Depravity. I know I'm not TOTALLY depraved. Now I don't know that Guyton isn't, and from what I've read of him I think he might be. Its more reasonable to believe in the TOTAL depravity of others than of yourself, unless you know yourself indeed to be TOTALLY depraved as Guyton does.

    Take the gun example. I'm not a gun guy. But lets take Guyton's example. Could I walk into a church with a gun knowing I would not use it to kill anyone. Absolutely. Could I assume on seeing someone else enter the church with a gun that there is no danger? Hell no.

    Look at the daughters chastity example. As a father (I'm not really a father but for this scenario) should I keep my daughter away from bad people? Yes. Should I assume that this will preserve her chastity, that she has no bad sexual desires? No. Unless I've taught her Biblical morality very well. Which, I'm sure I would teach her very well, So it would make sense for me to trust her but not others. Guyton is either arguing that I should not trust her despite having raised her right, or he's suggesting I should trust the miscreants who I know were not raised right equally with my daughter whom I raised right: in either case he is WRONG.

  2. And as for Paul's "there is none righteous" rant; he culled these passages from various places in the Old Testament and ripped them out of context. They come from contexts speaking about atheists and pagans. And in most of those contexts they are in fact being conterpoised against a category called "the righteous" and "my people." Rather than relying on Paul's skill at twisting the OT and throwing together out-of-context proof-texts, I think we ought to go find those passages where Paul took them from and see if they still establish this point (Which of course, they do not). Proof-texting is an invalid interpretational paradigm, especially when you clearly have to rip the passages out of context to make your point, which is exactly what Paul does in Romans 3 and in Romans 9: neither the total depravity of all men nor the concept of predestination can be supported by the Old Testament passages Paul abuses and misuses without them being ripped out of context and abused and misused.