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Clogged Pipes? Or Totally Depraved?

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Written by Basil on 01/21/2004 11:58 AM. Filed under:

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Karl posts about works, and Jennifer responds. She pulls in an analogy from one of her seminary professors about pipes and grace: “[Balthasar] sees us as clogged pipes, and grace is Draino. Barth would say the pipes are rusty and no good. Destroy the pipes. We need new pipes! Christ can give us new pipes. Or, does Christ unclog our pipes? Does Barth make grace too disruptive? I guess this is the classic Catholic-Reform debate.”

Therefore, the pipe in this analogy is human nature. In response, the pipes are not totally depraved. We did not irreparably malform human nature. That is categorically false. We do not have the power to entirely pervert what God created good; we have introduced a disease to it, but Christ is still able to heal it. He does not destroy human nature and start over. To return to the analogy of the pipe, it is clogged, not rusty.

If human nature is by nature sinful, the Incarnation is impossible. If the human nature has become sinful by nature, then Christ could not have taken it on, without taking on sin.

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4 Responses to “Clogged Pipes? Or Totally Depraved?”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    Thanks for responding!
    I am wrestling with this because I was very moved by Karl Barth’s theology, yet my tradition (Methodism) tells me that you are right – we are not totally depraved. But perhaps I am misinterpreting the doctrine of total depravity. Also, I think Barth takes traditional Reform theology and turns it on its head. As I said, I continue to struggle so thanks for the conversation.

  2. Jonathan Duttweiler Says:

    Okay, ask yourself this: If, when we are converted, we receive “new pipes”, why do we still sin, why do we still act as though the pipes are still rusty, clogged, whatever?

    Orthodox theology matches our experience of reality. We are converted, but we struggle to follow Christ. We stumble, sometimes fall and, hopefully, get back up to follow some more.

  3. sockmonk Says:

    This is true, but Orthodoxy is also not equivalent to Methodism in this respect. Many of the prayers we pray in preparation for the Eucharist, and in the Canon we’re going to pray to kick of Lent, go to great lengths to emphasize our complete helplessness to save ourselves and our total dependence on God for salvation. I think this is much of the idea the Reformers were trying to get a handle on, even if they missed the mark a little.

  4. name Says:

    Too disruptive?

    Man cannot liberate himself from the bondage of sin alone; he is indeed totally depraved because of the Fall.

    Remember, the “total” in “total depravity” signifies totality in EXTENT, not in DEGREE. Man is not as bad as he can get. That is categorically false. But no aspect of humanity is unaffected by sin – the extent of the corrupting action of sin is total.

    And hence we need a savior. Biblically, we recieve new life.

    Romans 6:4
    We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.