Arminian Today

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Jack Cottrell’s Doctrine of Partial Depravity

In his systematic theology text, The Faith Once For All, by Dr. Jack Cottrell, Cottrell builds a case for what he terms “partial depravity” to separate his view from the Calvinistic (or in his terms, Augustinian) view.  The Arminian view of man’s depravity is similar in that Arminius taught the total depravity of humanity.  Arminius stated concerning the effects of the Fall of Man in Genesis 3:1-8:

The whole of this sin, however, is not peculiar to our first parents, but is common to the entire race and to all their posterity, who, at the time when this sin was committed, were in their loins, and who have since descended from them by the natural mode of propagation, according to the primitive benediction. For in Adam “all have sinned.” (Rom. v, 12.) Wherefore, whatever punishment was brought down upon our first parents, has likewise pervaded and yet pursues all their posterity. So that all men “are by nature the children of wrath,” (Ephes. ii, 3,) obnoxious to condemnation, and to temporal as well as to eternal death; they are also devoid of that original righteousness and holiness. (Rom. v, 12, 18, 19.) With these evils they would remain oppressed forever, unless they were liberated by Christ Jesus; to whom be glory forever.

It is clear from other statements from Arminius that he believed in the total depravity of man and that apart from the grace of God, none could be saved.

The Restoration Movement (of which Dr. Cottrell is apart of) rejects the doctrine of total depravity.  Alexander Campbell taught that sin is a personal issue and thus we are sinners because we choose to violate the Law of God and rebel.  We are not sinners because of Adam but because we choose to sin.  When we choose to sin, we fall into the condemnation of sin and the soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4).

Dr. Cottrell then first notes in his book that we are sinners because we sin and not that we sin because we are born sinners.  He deals with the texts that teach the sinfulness of all people (including babies) and then turns to the issue at hand.  Cottrell states that the system of Calvinism rises and falls based on the first point, total depravity.  If in fact the doctrine is true then it logically follows that the rest of Calvinism could be true.  If the doctrine can be shown to be false, Calvinism would fall.

Cottrell deals with the issue of inability.  He notes that Calvinist point to Matthew 7:18 but he turn points to Matthew 12:33 to point out that the decision to be either good or bad lies within the control of the person.  He notes that Romans 8:7-8 is not dealing with the gospel but with the law.  Man cannot please God under the law but he can choose to be saved.  Cottrell notes that nothing in the context of Romans 8:7-8 is dealing with the gospel of Jesus Christ but with the law.  He points to passages such as Matthew 23:37; John 3:16; Romans 1:17; Revelation 22:17 that point people to believe the gospel.

Does not John 6:44 teach that the Father draws people to the Savior?  Cottrell says yes but then he states that the drawing is not irresistible but resistible and universal as he points to universal passages such as Romans 1:16; 10:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; Hebrews 4:12.  He appeals to John 12:32 as words from Jesus that His desire is to draw all to Himself.  The Word of God, writes Cottrell, is powerful enough to draw sinners to the Lord (John 20:31).

In relation to faith being a gift given to the elect, Cottrell points out that passages such as Acts 5:32 or Acts 11:18 are both referring to groups and not individuals.  He states the same about Philippians 1:29 and 2 Timothy 2:25 though he points out that 2 Timothy 2:25 is not about initial conversion to Christ.  He deals, as this point, with Ephesians 2:8-9 and correctly notes that the Greek clarifies what the “that” of Ephesians 2:8-9 is and that is salvation through grace.

Cottrell then turns to Colossians 2:12 as an appeal that faith precedes regeneration.  He notes that faith is the means by which we are raised with Christ through faith.  He notes from Ephesians 1:13-14 that the sealing of the Spirit occurs only after faith as hearing and believing are aorist participles and suggest that these acts precede the action of the main verb, the sealing of the Spirit (Acts 5:32; 15:7-9; 16:30; 1 Peter 1:22).

Cottrell closes by pointing out that any doctrine must be examined by the Scriptures and we should not come to the Bible with a priori conception of what a sinner can and cannot do so as to fit within our theological systems.  It is easier to simply read the Bible and allow it to say what it says and allow it to mean what it means.  I think all of us would agree.

In some ways, I find Dr. Cottrell’s arguments solid.  I would encourage you to read his systematic theology text.  Cottrell exegetes his passages and does wrestle with deep theological issues and traditions.  You might not agree with Cottrell but at least he does wrestle with the Scriptures and he holds the Bible as the final authority above the works of Calvin, Arminius, or Campbell.  So do I.  On a minor note, Dr. Cottrell says that while his view is attacked as “semi-Pelagian” he prefers to call it “pre-Augustinian”.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

09/21/2011 at 10:00 AM

2 Responses

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  1. “Pre-Augustinian” is probably a good title for his view, since so many of the early Church fathers prior to Augustine were somewhat “semi-Pelagian” — though I have been cautioned about stating it that way. I can’t help that, though. When I read some of the statements in the early fathers, they just appear very semi-Pelagian, or they grant too much ability to fallen man’s will. Perhaps I need to start referring to their view as “pre-Augustinian.”

    WilliamWBirch

    09/21/2011 at 10:26 AM


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