The Issue of One’s Ability to Believe: Total Depravity/ Inability -- By: George E. Meisinger

Journal: Chafer Theological Seminary Journal
Volume: CTSJ 11:1 (Spring 2005)
Article: The Issue of One’s Ability to Believe: Total Depravity/ Inability
Author: George E. Meisinger

The Issue of One’s Ability to Believe:
Total Depravity/ Inability

George E. Meisinger

George Meisinger is president of Chafer Theological Seminary and teaches in its Theology and Old and New Testament departments. He earned a B.A. from Biola University, a Th.M. in Old Testament Literature and Exegesis from Dallas Theological Seminary, a D.Min. in Biblical Studies from Western Seminary, and has done Ph.D. studies in Systematic Theology at Trinity Theological Seminary. He also pastors Grace Chapel in Orange, California. His email address is [email protected].


A helpful article on human depravity appeared in the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society. The author began by saying:

The evolution of doctrine due to continued hybridization has produced a myriad of theological persuasions. The only way to purify ourselves from the possible defects of such “theological genetics” is, first, to recognize that we have them and then, as much as possible, to set them aside and disassociate ourselves from the systems which have come to dominate our thinking. In other words, we should simply strive for truth and an objective understanding of biblical teaching.1

This evaluation is appropriate because of a pervasive tendency to accept a theological system—whether Orthodox, Roman, Reformed, or Arminian—and then make each biblical verse fit one’s pre-arranged categories.

When we take up the subject of depravity, there are three theological systems at work.

Three Views

The following will give perspective.

1. Pelagianism,2 a theological system founded by Pelagius (ca. 354–418), has three foundational tenets:

(a) Adam’s sinful nature transfers to his posterity

(b) justifying grace is not given freely, but according to merit

(c) after water baptism, sinless perfection is possible

Pelagius rejected Augustine’s assertion that man is unable to earn salvation, i.e., that man is totally depraved.

Ability must be present if there is to be obligation, [Pelagius] argued. If I ought to do something, I can. Pelagius argued that the will, rather

than being bound over to sin, is actually neutral—so that at any given moment or in any situation it is free to choose the good and do it.3

Where the gospel of grace is freely preached to the sinner, what ultimately determines...

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