I have to agree with De at the Thinklings, that Jim Nicholson from the Boars Head Tavern hit a home run with this post. Jim begins:
There are two fundamental errors we need to be careful to avoid.
The first, and more obvious one, is to disbelieve the reality of depravity.
The second, and more insidious, is to believe that "total" depravity is "utter" depravity.
A good thought, but not unique or brilliant, just a good, carefully nuanced statement about what is meant by the notion of "total depravity." Where the post gets brilliant is in his application of the doctrine to some current issues. In doing this I think Jim gives us one of the best examples of applied theology I have seen in quite awhile. He says;
It is, in my view, a fundamental error to believe that depravity means that everyone is essentially selfish to the point of disregard for other people or for the rest of creation in every circumstance. This error is seen in contemporary American politics on a daily basis; the result of it is that flawed people like Bill Clinton aren't seen as just flawed people, they become monstrous predators; flawed people like George Bush aren't seen as flawed people, they become tree-eating baby killers. Dick Cheney can't just be a guy who had a hunting accident, he has to be the center of a vast duck-winged conspiracy to kill lawyers with birdshot. It never occurs to anyone anymore that those on "the other side" of the aisle, or of the question of the moment, are merely wrong, they must be either evil, or stupid, or both. (Cf. Krauthammer's observation.)
That is an excellent observation and application of the truth of total depravity. Total depravity doesn't mean utter depravity. It means that everything we do is tainted as sin, it doesn't mean that we are always as evil as we can be.
Along with this observation on the nature of depravity, throw into the mix the fact that all men are created in the image of God and that God pours out His common grace on all of creation and you have a situation where we are all a pretty much mixed bag and where in most cases no one is as good as we think or as bad as we fear.
I thought of one other application of this that relates to a matter that has been floating around the blogosphere of late.
My (conservative) friends Dignan and Joe Carter have recently thrown Ann Coulter under the bus of conservativism and have urged other kids on the conservative playground not to play with her. Dignan says she is Conservativism's #1 enemy and Joe says that conservativism deserves more civility and less Coulter.
I have never seen Ann on TV and haven't read any of her books. I may have read a half dozen or so of her columns on the internet so I know little about her, except to say that, from the little reading of her I have done and from Dignan and Joe's comments it appears that the schtick that gives her fame is her constant vilification of her political/ideological opponents.
In the interest of full disclosure I am a conservative so my views would align very closely to hers in many ways, I am sure. But she does take things a good deal further, in that she is not content to say that her opponents "are merely wrong, they must be either evil, or stupid, or both" (see above).
Maybe one part of the cure four Coulterism would be for Ann and her followers to consider the difference between total depravity and utter depravity, and stop engaging people on the basis of utter depravity. I am told that Ann has at least visited, maybe she attends regularly, Redeemer Pre in Manhattan. If so, surely she has heard the gospel and hopefully has had the chance to learn a little biblical anthropology, which refers to the biblical doctrine of the nature of man. Hopefully, if she continues under the preaching of the gospel this can help her avoid the errors that these folks speak of.
But whether or not Ann changes her ways Jim's post is still a helpful reminder to all of us about how we can engage debate from a sound theological point of view.