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TOTAL INABILITY

Loraine BoettnerLoraine Boettner:

“This doctrine of total inability which declares that men are dead in sin does not mean that all men are equally bad, nor that any man is as bad as he could be, nor that anyone is entirely destitute of virtue, nor that human nature is equal in itself, nor that man’s spirit in inactive, and much less does it mean that the body is dead. What is does mean is that since the fall, man rests under the curse of sin, that he is actuated by wrong principles, and that he is wholly unable to love God, or to do anything meriting salvation. His corruption is extensive, but not necessarily intensive. It is in this sense that man, since the fall, is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, wholly inclined to all evil. He possesses a fixed bias of the will against God, and instinctively and willingly and turns to evil. He is an alien by birth, and a sinner by choice. The inability under which he labors is not an inability to exercise volition, but an inability to be willing to exercise holy volitions. And it is this phase of it which led Luther to declare that ‘free will’ is an empty term, whose reality is lost; and a lost liberty, according to my grammar, is no liberty at all.” (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination)

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5 Responses

  1. Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

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  2. Reblogged this on My Delight and My Counsellors.

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  3. “The inability under which he labors is not an inability to exercise volition, but an inability to be willing to exercise holy volitions.”

    I believed this for my entire Christian life, but have begun to seriously question this based on scripture, church history and real world living. Essentially, our theology teaches that human beings do not have the capacity to desire God or to obey Him.

    However the Bible is full of people who willingly respond to God.

    If we have absolutely no ability to do this, then how do we explain Gen 4:26 “At that time people (plural) began to call upon the name of the Lord.” How is that possible? We’re all these people regenerated before Christ even came to die for our sins?

    Or how do we explain the Ninevites? An entire nation who repented of their sins and urgently called out to God, and gave up their evil ways in Jonah 3? We’re they born-again too?

    Consider Job, who God declared this of: “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil?” How is that even possible, if man has no ability to even desire to follow God?

    Look around today. People on every continent, every tribe and every language can believe in any god they want to. Many people have a desire to know their “god”. Nothing holds them back from that. And yet, we are told that humanity is completely unable to even want to know the real God? I could go on.

    When you combine these things with the fact that the early church fathers categorically reject the idea that we can not respond to God, it makes one stop to reconsider Calvin’s idea. Theology that works has to not only explain what the Scriptures say, it must also take into account the real world we live in.

    Total inability seems to be a doctrine that doesn’t really work, or at least only works in a classroom. For these reasons I have begun to reconsider it.

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    • Total inability makes sense when you also believe in unconditional election. The Ninevites, Job, any Christian, would not be able to respond to God unless He allowed them to. God elects whomever He chooses, and those He elects respond to His call. “I sought the Lord, but afterward I knew it was He who reached for me.” If God does not elect someone, that person is stuck in his sinful nature, a reprobate.

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      • Great answer, Amy!

        I would agree with you on that one. If one understands and accepts unconditional election, then total inability makes more sense, but it still doesn’t tie up all the pieces as nicely as I would like.

        Total Inability is a late concept, which the early church fathers categorically reject. It would be a lot easier for me and others to accept it as being true, if it always was accepted as true.

        Here is a sampling of their thought on man’s ability to choose:

        ” There is set before us life upon our observance [of God’s precepts], but death as the result of disobedience, and every one, according to the choice he makes, shall go to his own place, let us flee from death, and make choice of life.” Ignatius 35-107 AD. He was a Disciple of the Apostle John and appointed as Bishop of Antioch by the Apostle Peter.

        “And again, unless the human race has the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be. But that it is by free choice they both walk uprightly and stumble, we thus demonstrate… Justin Martyr c. 160

        But this we assert is inevitable fate, that they who choose the good have worthy rewards, and they who choose the opposite have their merited awards. For not like other things, as trees and quadrupeds, which cannot act by choice, did God make man: for neither would he be worthy of reward or praise did he not of himself choose the good, but were created for this end; nor, if he were evil, would he be worthy of punishment, not being evil of himself, but being able to be nothing else than what he was made.” Justin Martyr c.160

        “There is, therefore, nothing to hinder you from changing your evil manner of life, because you are a free man.” Melito c. 170

        “But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect similar to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself his own cause that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff.” Irenaeus c. 180

        “to Obey or not is in our own power, provided we do not have the excuse of ignorance.” Clement of Alexandria c. 195

        Samuel’s post got me thinking about this (like many of his do) and I turned into a more thought out post on Not For Itching Ears:

        http://notforitchingears.com/2015/01/12/the-total-inability-of-calvin-to-explain-mans-ability-to-respond-to-god/

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