Total Depravity and Left Behind

The latest entry in Slacktivist Fred Clark’s long-running (over six years now) series deconstructing the Left Behind series for its crimes against literature and theology took an interesting rabbit trail this week, as Clark posted a brief dissertation on the Reformed doctrine of Total Depravity. Total Depravity states (quoting from Wikipedia) “that people are by nature not inclined or even able to love God wholly with heart, mind, and strength, but rather all are inclined by nature to serve their own will and desires and to reject the rule of God.” It is of course the first of the five points of Calvinism, though one can find some agreement in Lutheranism and other Christians influenced by Augustinian thought.

In his essay, Clark takes Total Depravity to mean encompassing all aspects of the human being—spirit, conscience, reason, will, physicality—and says this is what Calvin actually argued. He contrasts this definition with how many Christians use the term today, which he says is better defined as utter depravity, meaning absolutely base, vile, rotten to the core. While attacking Left Behind for constantly “telling and not showing” a world gone mad because Christians and children have been raptured from it (a regular Slacktivist refrain: LB is “not scary enough”), he attacks utter depravity as neo-Platonism and ignorant of the divine spark in beings created in God’s image. Going further, he argues utter depravity makes for rather undemocratic politics, as humanity cannot be trusted with the pursuit of justice or rational self-governance. The answer is totalitarianism or lawlessness.

A committed Calvinist would say Clark flirts with semi-pelagianism in this interpretation. Still, I thought it was worth a read, as is much of the work in Clark’s Left Behind series. Six years in and only the first movie and a book-and-a-half done. Maybe he’s banking on a thousand-year reign after all…


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