Calvinists are perhaps the strongest defenders of Total Depravity in Christendom! And of course. Who better to stand up and proclaim humanities total and complete inability – without the grace of God – to make any move, inclination, or will towards God, then those who take their cue from St. Augustine, the originator of the doctrine of Original Sin who battled against the Pelagian Heresy?
The doctrine of Total Depravity took center stage and became the focus of articulation for Calvinists during the Dutch Reformed Synod of Dort (1618-1619) in response to certain concerns voiced by the Remonstrants, who were themselves (at this point in history) Dutch Reformed Calvinists. Arminius was the strongest voice of the Remonstrants, but did not live long enough to attend the Synod. Other Calvinists strongly opposed the Remonstrants.
“In preparation for the Synod to discuss these issues, some of these Calvinists wrote down their views on Human depravity:
“That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do any thing that is truly good (such as saving Faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will and effect what is truly good, according to the Word of Christ, John 15:5, “Without me ye can do nothing.”
That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without [the grace of God], can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements that can be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ.”
What a strong Calvinist statement of human depravity and our absolute helplessness apart from God to provide for our salvation! It affirms that human beings are so depraved that they cannot think, will, or do anything that is truly good. Furthermore, humans cannot save themselves by their own efforts, faith, or free will because they live “in the state of apostasy and sin.” It describes their utter helplessness to think, will, or do good, or to withstand temptations. The only hope for salvation is from God – to be born again and renewed by the Holy Spirit of God. The statement affirms that only God can renew human understanding, thinking and willing so that humans can do good, for Jesus said that without Him humans can do nothing. Indeed, it affirms that any good deed “that can be conceived” must be ascribed only “to the grace of God in Christ.”
One might infer that such a strong Calvinist statement was voicing the opinions of the strong Calvinists who formed the majority at the Synod of Dort (the Remonstrants were systematically excluded so that their views had no real representation at the Synod). In fact, this statement is a quote from Articles III and IV of the issues raised by the Remonstrants. Such a strong affirmation of human depravity and the complete inability of humans to save themselves means the Remonstrants cannot responsibly be called Pelagians or even semi-Pelagians. Pelagians and semi-Pelagians affirm that natural human beings can initiate or respond to God completely independent of God’s grace. Nothing could be more foreign to the beliefs of these Arminian Remonstrants than the notion that sinful humans could initiate, much less earn, their own salvation. Just as there are different kinds of Calvinists, with many Calvinists bristling at being called hyper-Calvinists, it is totally inappropriate for theologians to describe these Arminian Remonstrants as Pelagian or semi-Pelagian in doctrine. Indeed, the Synod of Dort unfortunately mislabels the Arminian Remonstrants as “entirely Pelagian.” Let us abstain from calling them what they were not. The Arminians at Dort were Calvinists – members of the Reformed congregations – who had concerns about the extremes to which some Calvinist theologians had taken Calvinism, at points probably further than Calvin himself. Caricaturing the Remonstrants as Pelagians or semi-Pelagians is, therefore, historically inaccurate and inapproapriate.”
This quote was taken from Whosoever Will [p. 3] and is a part of the ongoing internal dialogue among the South Baptist (SBC).