I have a strong conviction about how to read the Bible. When we read a verse of scripture we should never interpret it in a way that is opposed to the clear meaning of other scriptures. For instance, 1 Corinthians 14:34 says, 'Women should be silent in the churches'. Taken out of context this seems pretty straight forward but when we read the rest of 1 Corinthians- much less the rest of the Bible- it is clear that women do speak and teach and proclaim within the Body of Christ. So we conclude that Paul is speaking about a specific situation here and not as a universal all-time rule for women in churches. By the same token Paul says many things about the character and nature of God, Man, Creation, etc. But we must always keep these in line with what has been revealed in Jesus. In John 14 Jesus makes an incredible announcement. He tells Philip and the disciples that whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father. Do you want to know what God is like? Look to Jesus. So here is my point: Any interpretation of the Old or New Testament scriptures that is contrary to what Jesus has revealed to us about God can not be correct. Or to put it another way, we don't read Paul to find out what Jesus is like we look to Jesus to explain what Paul was talking about. This all sounds terribly complicated until we look at Total Depravity in the Calvinist system of thought.
Total Depravity according to Calvin meant that everything about Mankind is fallen and broken by sin. To Calvin's way of thinking this is a critical point in his theology because it sets up the number one point that John Calvin wanted us to understand about God. He chooses us, we do not choose Him. WE CAN NOT BY ANY MEANS FORCE GOD TO DO ANYTHING. I happen to believe that. But I do not understand Total Depravity the way some Calvinist consider it. Here, I will diverge from what some of you may have been expecting, namely a scholarly discussion of what Calvin thought. I am actually not too terribly concerned about what Calvin himself thought. I am much more concerned with what we think and in the conversations I have with Calvinists and non I am concerned with this Total Depravity issue. You see, Calvin may be right but I have two things to say about this. One, I believe that Man was made in God's image and that no matter how badly Sin has messed it up it is still in there. You can see it in the beauty of friendship, love, and forgiveness in Christians and non-Christians alike. I see this as God's original splendor still percolating beneath all the filth we have covered it with. So, while I- and every non-Calvinists I know- agree that there is no part of Man that does not need the redemption of Christ I will not yet declare Man totally depraved in the way that some Calvinists seem to think of Man. Man is not wholly evil. Second, Jesus does not see us this way.
If Total Depravity is technically correct or not too many Calvinists and non use it to misunderstand how God looks upon Man. When Jesus sits next to prostitutes and tax collectors the Word does not record Him thinking, 'What a bunch of despicable reprobates! There is no good thing in them and they make my skin crawl.' On the contrary, the Pharisees are rather annoyed with Jesus because He not only teaches them but seems to genuinely enjoy being with them. I know, I know, we are fallen, corrupted, 'All have fallen short...' Yes, I understand that. But when Jesus looks on the Rich Young Ruler who rejected Him the Word says, 'He loved him.' Think about that for a moment. Some of you may have thought, 'Ok, I know God loves me but it is solely because of the work of His Son. It is because of Christ's sacrifice for us that God can stand to look at us.' Or, some of you might think 'Well, of course He loves me. He knows all things and He knows what I will become in His Kingdom. He loves me for what He will make of me.' But the Rich Young Ruler rejected Him and would never become any more than what he was- in fact, he was probably never closer to the Kingdom than at that moment and the Word says he walked away. I have seen those who walk away and I bet some of you have as well. What they go on to become is never pretty. No, somehow Jesus loves us. He does not love the sin. He does not love us for the good things we occasionally do. He loves us.
Now, some may step in at this point and say, 'I see that He truly loves us but that is because He is so loving. It has nothing to do with who we are. We are yet totally depraved, utterly sinful.' My only response to that is that sometimes we say things we just don't think through. God does not love sin or depravity and yet He loves us. Therefore there is something about us that is not sin or depravity. I have a teenage daughter. If she came home one day and told me that she was a loving person and that is why she is going to marry a totally depraved, sinful, immoral man I would have a less than positive response to this. God loves us and He plans on marrying us!
Total Depravity is a good way of understanding our relationship to God in regard to our salvation. We have nothing and can do nothing that demands God's love. But do not then go on to understand that is all Man is. The King of Kings truly loves us. He finds a value in us that I do not comprehend but as we relate to one another it is perilous to forget that the King loves those whom you love, those whom you hate, and yes, even Democrats and Republicans. Let us treat each other with this love and leave Total Depravity on a theoretical shelf to be pulled down only when we get too prideful. But in my life I have seen more people rescued by the certain knowledge of God's love than the hell-fire sermons of a vengeful God who may or may not save us against His better judgment.