Point: “This chapter will have been misunderstood if anyone describes it as a reinstatement of the doctrine of Total Depravity. I disbelieve that doctrine, partly on the logical ground that if our depravity were total we should not know ourselves to be depraved, and partly because experience shows us much goodness in human nature.” From: The Problem of Pain –C.S Lewis
Counterpoint: Yet another scholar who misunderstands the Calvinist term “Total Depravity.” Most people who take issue with John Calvin have never taken the time to read Calvin’s classic work, “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” In it Calvin makes the meaning of Total Depravity quite clear, citing copious scripture references in support of his exegesis. It does NOT mean man is saturated to the full with depravity or evil! It simply means that depravity (sin) touches every part of the man to one degree or another. From the tip of his little toenail to the end of the longest hair on his head, every part of man experiences the effects of sins indwelling; mind, body and soul. Man cannot do good works with a completely pure heart as is required by the law according to God’s measure. Even his best works by his fallen nature are tainted with sinfulness, and would remain so if it were not for the touch of Christ’s cleansing blood.
While I greatly respect much of C.S Lewis’ writing, he was in error here. His disagreement with this doctrine is clearly based on a misunderstanding of the term as it is defined. It is “Total Depravity” – not “Saturated Depravity.” Of course mankind is not as evil as he can become and is capable of good deeds as witnessed. God’s interventions guarantee that.
As far as his conclusion that man, under Total Depravity, would not know himself to be depraved.
Man by the infectious sin of his nature judges his own depravity on a sliding scale. (“I have some things that need attending, but I’m not near as bad as that character over there.”) That doesn’t measure up to God’s standards. And as the bible makes clear, it is God’s standards that are the rule and measure, not our flawed judgments. So it is that man does not know his darkest peril in his natural state. He isn’t aware of the depth of darkness that entraps him in his unregenerate prison. It requires Divine intervention for God to enlighten the eyes of our heart to make us personally aware of our situation.
I’m not trying to pick a fight. This is not a point to be argued with me, but an observation for clarification. C.S Lewis himself declared that he had his own theology, and often points out in his writing that certain things he proposes are his own opinion. He is honest about it. Furthermore, the great bulk of his writing is aligned very well with orthodox Christian thought, and prove biblically sound.
In the areas of his theology where I disagree with him, I pass over and my respect remains. It’s his heart-felt love for Christ that draws me to his words and thoughts. In that most important arena of his soul I find no error. And I’m quite sure heaven is a richer place due to his home-going to be with his Savior. I know earth is poorer for it. I look forward to that day when I can gather with “Jack,” along with all the elect, around the throne of glory, singing the praises of our Savior-Redeemer and King, Jesus Christ our Lord!