How is total depravity true when many people appear to act morally and do good deeds?
THOMAS: Total depravity doesn’t mean that everyone is as sinful as they possibly could be. Total depravity allows for a range of sinful rebellion, but also common grace.
Calvin had a doctrine of common civility. When he talked about the civil magistrate, which is a fairly broad concept in Calvin, he allowed for the civil magistrate to do a great deal of good, to respect law and order. We’re talking about the sixteenth century, but Calvin allowed that the civil magistrate could uphold that which is good and punish that which is evil and have at least a sense of moral goodness.
We’re often fairly critical about the Pharisees, and rightly so, but I might be glad if I had Pharisees living next door to me because I could trust them with my property. I could give them my keys when I go on vacation and they would take care of the home. They might do it out of very bad motives in terms of good works and so on, but they would recognize something that is good and true.
So, that would be the entry point, and now we’ll have the two-star theologians take this to another level.
LAWSON: No, you said it well, just like I wrote it for you.
This is a transcript of Derek Thomas’s and Steven Lawson’s answers given during our 2020 Dallas-Fort Worth Conference, and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.