Total Depravity Includes Human Inability

The doctrine of total depravity teaches that every person since the Fall is conceived with an inborn moral and spiritual corruption that permeates his entire being. According to this doctrine, a person is so pervasively polluted with his internal corruption “that every aspect of his being and personality is affected by it” (Storms, Chosen for Life, p. 4). In order to show how radically corrupt a person is, I think we should include the term inability. Man is totally unable to please God. Paul stated it like this in Romans 8:6-8: “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” We should note that Paul says our unregnerate minds are so hostile to God that we are unable to please God. Only the monergistic work of the Spirit in regeneration can enable anyone to embrace the Gospel in repentance and faith. Understanding man’s total inability clarifies aspects of total depravity. Along this line, take a moment to read Charles Spurgeon’s concise and helpful insight on Human Inability.


  1. says

    Spurgeon, when speaking of the necessity of what I prefer to call divine intervention or initiative, called it “the powerful, supernatural, irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit.” I’m more comfortable with that terminology than I am with speaking of actual regeneration preceding faith and repentance in my O.S. Perhaps it’s just timidity on my part, but I much prefer to speak of it in other terms: divine enablement, drawing, or even simply illumination, besides the others I’ve used here.

    It is my understanding that some profs at DBTS (Doran?) have a similar view which affirms human inability, but which stops short of referring to the Spirit’s initiating work as regeneration. Is that correct?

  2. Ryan Coon says


    Perhaps it would help if you could differentiate between that “initiating work” and regeneration. what is different? what is the same?

    When I tried to do this, or have asked others to do so, the two appeared so close that I could not distinguish the two in any satisfactory way.

    I figure you probably already are aware of this article, but it is IMHO the best treatment of the issue that I have read.

  3. says

    Chris, Ryan has mentioned Mark Snoeberger’s article and this is the source to check out.

    I am not certain why you need to be timid about the terminology. I would like to think that Spurgeon would label the description you cite as Regeneration. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, smells like a duck, then it is a duck. What he and you describe is theologically called regeneration. Nevertheless, you are entitled to refer to God’s initial saving work with whatever term you want.

    The use of regeneration to describe the initial saving work of the Spirit has a historical precedence and seems to be a good way to describe what Paul describes in 1 Cor 2:14 and Eph 2. If someone is dead in trespasses and sin, would we not say that only an impartation of life can raise him from the dead. I am not hesitant to use regeneration because it clearly describes a monogeristic work of the Spirit and leaves no room for prevenient grace.

    When you note that “some profs at DBTS have a similar view,” you are correct for only one or two of the faculty at DBTS. I do not recall hearing Dr. Doran use the term regeneration to describe the Spirit’s initial life-giving salvific work. I believe he uses regeneration as a more comprehensive term. I have heard him say that God has to give the sinner life and this results in belief. In actuality looking past the nomenclature, I believe theologically that we agree. However, you would need to email him to get the final word about his understanding.

  4. says

    I’ll give the article a read. Thanks for the tip. It’s not at all a new concept to me. In fact, it seems that everyone I read argues unabashedly for regeneration preceding faith. I’m on an island here.

    My “timidity” comes from the fact that while I know there must be an initiating work of God due to man’s inability, I’m trying to reconcile the exact nature of that work with the abundance of texts that appear, at least on the surface, to speak of spiritual life as a result of faith and repentance.

    Ryan, I know that my imprecise terminology only muddies the waters. I’m most comfortable calling this initiating work illumination, especially on the basis of tests like 2 Cor. 4:1-7. It clearly describes the need for a miraculous work of God in the lost man’s heart. I’m just “timid” to call what it is describing full-blown regeneration.

    Be gentle, dear readers. 🙂

  5. Ryan Coon says


    Sorry for the delay in responding to you. Hopefully you have had a chance to read Prof Snoeberger’s article by now. It should help explain the many texts that “appear to speak of spiritual life as a result of faith and repentance.” I would agree there are many that do appear on the surface to teach that, but I feel as though Snoeberger more than sufficiently deals with that problem.

    What has always been my “hang-up” with your understanding is the difficulty in differentiating between illumination and regeneration. Assuming that we both agree that unregenerate man is spiritually (eph 2) that is he is unwilling and unable to positively respond to the message of the gospel, assuming also that total depravity affects the mind, heart, and will of man, and finally assuming that genuine saving faith is an act that involves man’s mind, heart, and will, we are left with the need for a divine work that grants spiritual life to man’s mind, heart, and will to enable him to positively respond to the message of the gospel in genuine repentant faith. (Pardon the greviously long run on sentence here 🙂 ).

    If you call that act illumination then I would ask what then is left to happen at regeneration. I also have not seen a passage that ties the act of illumination to the will. 2 Corinthians 4 and Ephesians 1 speak of the mind and possibly heart of man, but not the will. I have understood illumination to be essentially the regeneration of the mind, but I do know good men who would agree with you and disagree with me. I just have difficulty seeing how a monergistic work of the Spirit of God which enables spiritually people to have life (i.e., respond positively to the gospel), a work which allows their mind to understand correctly spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:10-16), to embrace the truth of the gospel, and to trust fully in the savior who is proclaimed in the gospel…and not call that regeneration. It sure sounds an awful lot like regeneration to me. And if it is not, but is something else as it is often suggested like illumination, then what differentiates the two? What is left to happen at regeneration that hasn’t happened before?

    Perhaps my explanation has only served to further muddy the waters, but it does at least point out some of my hesitations with understanding faith and repentance to be prior to regeneration.

    Hope that helps.

  6. says


    I believe your comment is clarifying. Thanks for responding.

    I first heard Dr. McCune define illumination as the “regeneration of the mind” many, many years back. This is a great definition of illumination and I have often used it.

    When I first started in Grace’s doctoral program, I had this ordo salutis, at least as it relates to the order of the effectual call and regeneration: efficacious call-repentance-faith-regeneration. For similar reasons as you present, I began to rethink my ordo salutis while doing my doctoral work and whatever was left of my ordo salutis was completely eradicated in my first year at DBTS as I interacted with Dr. McCune.

    Today, I understand that the general call is made effective (the efficacious call) through regeneration (so Reymond) and this results in repentance and faith.

  7. Ryan Coon says

    Dr. McCabe,

    I agree that Reymond’s treatment of the Ordo is very helpful.

    I think we would disagree, however, on one aspect. I see being a Steeler fan as distinctly prior to regeneration, and being a Bronco fan as subsequent. If I could diagram it, the ordo would resemble:

    Unregenerate (a.k.a. Steeler Fan) –>Effectual Call/Regeneration —>Faith and Repentance —> Bronco fan (cf. Ephesians 4:22-24).

  8. says

    Fortunately, our disagreement relates to a non-salvific area. Though I like football, especially the Pittsburgh Steelers, I do not live and die on football. Regenerate people may disagree on these athletic issues but our concerns are with those things that last for eternity. In particular, this soteriological issue has an eternal bearing on life and death. Thankfully, we agree on this eternal truth.

    I need to finish grading your term paper 🙂

  9. Athenaeum says

    —Regenerate people may disagree on these athletic issues but our concerns are with those things that last for eternity.

    Are you saying that there won’t be football in eternity? Whatever will we do!?! Anyway, I’m with Ryan and Dr. McCabe on the regeneration preceeding faith version of the ordo salutis. I have not problem equating illumination and regeneration. As to those texts that speak about someone believing and then receiving life, I don’t think John or Paul (or whoever else) were trying to address the specific issues involved here. In other words they did not necessarily have the ordo salutis paradigm in mind (a theological construct to help logically arrange a series of events that do not necessary have strict chronological arrangement in time and space experience). John 3:16 for instance conveys a general truth–those who believe receive eternal life. John did not feel the need to explain all the theological details involved (Note that he does not explain how the spiritually dead is able to beleive). I feel that those who deny regeneration preceeding faith press these text beyond their bounds and fail to adaquately explain how the dead is able to perform acts of the living.

    For what it’s worth,

    Tim Scott

  10. says

    I agree with you, Tim, that neither John nor Paul had an Ordo Salutis in mind. In the few so-called problem passages for my Ordo Salutis, I take it that both John and Paul were focusing on the benefit of believing, eternal life, rather than what produced belief, regeneration.

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