Denying Total Depravity!

Augustine, in the early fifth century after Christ had confronted the apparent refutation of his and the Christian church’s doctrine of total depravity by the seeming good works of the heathens. Not all were fornicators and adulterers; some were loyal to wife and family. Not all were lawless threats to their society and nation; some were self-sacrificing patriots of their nations and promoters of the earthly good of their societies. Not all were drunken sots; some were marvellous artists and talented writers.
Confronted by appeals to such heathens by the foes of his doctrine of total depravity, Augustine did not compromise the biblical truth that is basic to the gospel of grace. He did not appeal to some remnants of the image of God in fallen mankind. He did not invent a theory of common grace to explain the seemingly noble, virtuous deeds and lives of some ungodly men and women. Rather, Augustine described these deeds as “splendid,” or “glittering,” “vices.” The seemingly noble and virtuous deeds of some unbelievers are not genuine good works, belying the total depravity of these heathens. They are vices, and only vices, that is, sins. But they are sins that glitter, whereas other sins, for example, adultery, drunkenness, murder, and rioting, are sordid sins.
Arguing for his theory of common grace by explicitly appealing to the “virtues of the heathen,” among which Kuyper counts the writings of the pagan pederast Plato and of the heathen idolater Cicero, Kuyper rejects, indeed scoffs at, Augustine’s explanation of the seemingly noble deeds of the ungodly as “splendid vices.”

“True, some people save themselves from this awkward position (the apparent contradiction of total depravity by the seemingly noble deeds of unbelievers) by speaking of the virtues of unbelievers as “splendid vices” (A Kuyper).

Regarding such works as “splendid vices,” says Kuyper, “is a subterfuge, which lacks earnestness.” Thus Kuyper denied the Reformed, Christian doctrine of total depravity. He denied total depravity by and in the interests of his theory of common grace.

By Prof David Engelsma in “Christianising the World.” Reformed Free Publishing Association.

(James R Hamilton, written October 2020)
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