Tullian Tchividjian, Rick Phillips and Total Depravity
So the evangelical blogospheric dust-up last week between Tullian Tchividjian (TGC) and Rick Phillips (Ref21) over the relationship between justification and sanctification in the Christian life appears to have settled somewhat. Tullian wrote an article responding to the question “Are Christians Totally Depraved?” His answer, in short: Yes – in a sense.
Rick Phillips criticized Tullian’s article in his own blog post, “Thank God that Christians Are Not Totally Depraved.” Tullian responded with a post which was largely an exercise in missing the point, quoting extensively from various Reformed confessions while turning the discussion away from the question of depravity and to an argument about the relationship between justification and sanctification. Phillips responded with a comparatively irenic post, attempting to clarify his own and Tchividjian’s positions. Meanwhile, the TGC combox brought the usual heat rather than light, with Tullian’s fanboys and girls rallying around their hero.
Several have commented that the issue seems like two sides of the same coin, arguing about differences of emphasis (rather than substance) in relating justification and sanctification. Phillips rounded out this discussion by posting on common misconceptions in that regard.
While it appears accurate to see both Phillips and Tchividjian as orthodox in their views of justification, sanctification, and the relationship between the two, the heart of the disagreement is regarding total depravity, not justification and sanctification.
Bottom line: Tullian misused the term “total depravity” when he applied it to Christians. He says Christians are totally depraved “in a sense,” that sense being half of the standard theological definition of total depravity. And “half-totally depraved” is a confusing concept.
A definition of total depravity incorporates (at least): (1) the radical corruption of every human faculty by sin and (2) a complete inability to not sin (non posse non peccare; cf. Berkhof p. 246-7, Reymond p. 450f., Grudem p. 497f., Shedd p. 601-2). Tullian stipulates that he is using the term only to refer to the first half of the definition – but this is a confusing misuse of the term. While it may carry rhetorical force in illustrating his point regarding the pervasive nature of sin even in the life of a Christian, it is ultimately a confusing rather than clarifying way of teaching the doctrine of indwelling sin in the life of a believer.