Arminianism vs. Calvinism – Total/Partial Depravity

The first of the five points of TULIP (Calvinism theology) is total depravity. This was a direct response to the Arminian view of partial depravity.

What does total depravity mean? It is referring to man’s depravity meaning man’s natural condition apart from any grace exerted by God to restrain or transform man. Total depravity is captured by the phrase, “the dead man theory.” Ephesians 2 puts it this way:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved-…” – Ephesians 2:1,5

Total depravity may be better explained in Romans:

“no one understands; no one seeks for God.” – Romans 3:11

Partial Depravity on the other hand, is better stated in the phrase, “the wounded man theory.” Although man is fallen, his mind, will and emotions were only wounded by the fall. Therefore, “the human will is free and [still] self-controlled, having power to yield to the influence of the truth and the Spirit, or to resist them and perish.” (Articles of Faith of the National Association of Free Will Baptists)

The bottom line: the Calvinists saw that the remonstrance was giving fallen man more credit than he deserved, and attributing an ability that was simply not there. And they understood that how one viewed the fall would be reflected in how one understood, believed and preached the gospel.

Study verses for this section: Ephesians 4:18, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Romans 8:5-7, Romans 1:30, John 3:19, Ephesians 2:1-5, Isaiah 64:6, Titus 3:3, John 8:34, Mark 7:21-23, Isaiah 53:6, Genesis 6:5, Genesis 8:21, John 6:44, Matthew 19:26, Psalm 14, Romans 3:10-18

– Adam Smith

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8 thoughts on “Arminianism vs. Calvinism – Total/Partial Depravity

  1. Arminians hold to Total Depravity also. The difference here between the Reformed view is that we believe scripture teaches grace is resistible rather than irresistible.

  2. Adam Smith says:

    I am taking each of the five points one at a time, so the grace issue is not addressed in this part of the blog. I would like to hear your viewpoint on it though. I definitely don’t know all there is to know about Arminianism (obviously) or Calvinism for that matter, so it would be interested to get your thoughts.

    I would almost agree with you on the total depravity issue. I think the issue is more with how God remedies the human depravity. It is my understanding that Arminianism holds the view that man is capable. That while man is, in the general sense, a sinner, he has capacities within himself to choose to be saved.

    I think we are dead in trespasses and sin, and dead people don’t make choices. Dead people can’t make themselves alive. So, I think there is a clear distinction there.

  3. John Meunier says:

    My knowledge of Arminianism is limited to reading John Wesley’s sermons and other publications.

    He held to total depravity. Human beings are incapable, by their own powers, to seek or strive for God.

    But, he followed others in teaching that God’s first work of grace was a grace that comes before justification. This prevenient grace – and not humanity’s own nature – is what allows us to seek to do good and seek God.

    The “wounded man” sounds like Pelagian or semi-Pelagian teaching, which Wesley rejected.

    As a practical matter, it is hard to distinguish all these positions and can become like angels dancing on a pin. Since neither “depraved nature” or “prevenient grace” can been seen or measured, the distinction may be more interesting to philosophers than the rest of us.

  4. Adam Smith says:

    Hi John, prevenient grace sure makes it seem more plausible, however I can’t find any Biblical proof for it.

    I am not saying that in a condescending or argumentative way. I am simply saying that I haven’t found Biblical texts to support the theory of prevenient grace.

    Let me add this comment to all who read. I hate these labels. I used to be what some call a four point Calvinist. I am now what people would call a five point Calvinist. However, I don’t live and die by that label. I follow the Word of God and try every day to just let the Bible speak.

  5. Hi Adam, Arminians completely agree that man is dead in sin and can’t respond to God. We do not hold that man is capable. The disagreement between A and C is not on Total Depravity, but rather on the nature and extent of God’s drawing grace. In order to be saved, we must be first be drawn by God (John 6:44). The difference is that Arminians believe scripture teaches that Jesus draws all (John 12:32), and that the drawing is resistible (Matt. 23:37).

    Since it’s relevant, let me plug a blog entry that I recently did on prevenient grace. I included a number of scriptures there, including some of the ones that Bruce listed. Here is the link:

    God bless,

    • David Barnett says:


      John 1:16. Let’s take it in context. Yes, even Pharaoh received those same graces and it hardened his heart. Read Romans 9 and you will see that there was not so much an on/off switch in Pharaoh’s heart toward’s God. It was more so that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened by God from God’s grace. The patience that God had with Pharaoh was so long-lasting.

      Titus 2:11. Yes, again contextually, God’s grace is effective enough to save all. This is getting at the doctrine of Limited Atonement. Thank you for the heads up on the universalism.

      Romans 5:18. I agree with the quick note you made on the end, but I would add one thing to it. Only the elect will receive it. Not anyone. God’s chosen. If God’s sacrifice truly covered the sins of all men of all time, then all would be saved.


      I have to disagree with you. Your opening statement is contradictory to the doctrine you claim to believe. On one hand you are saying that man has no capacity to respond to God. On the other hand you say that man has some compass inside him to see the goodness of God and accept/reject it. Total Depravity does not teach that. Partial Depravity however does.

      Respectfully, I must say that most Arminians when given the doctrine of Total Depravity will adhere to it and say they believe it. However, if you believe in Total Depravity, you HAVE to believe in Irresistable Grace. Why? Well let’s talk about it:

      The doctrine of Total Depravity states that as a consequence of the Fall of Man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin and, apart from the efficacious or prevenient grace of God, is utterly unable to choose to follow God or choose to accept salvation as it is freely offered.

      Arminians do no believe that doctrine. They claim to believe in Total Depravity when given it, but they do not believe it when portrayed correctly.

      When you believe the doctrine of Total Depravity, it automatically points to the other 4 points. Here are some scriptures that back the doctrine:

      Genesis 6:5: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

      Psalms 51:5: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

      Psalms 58:3: “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.”

      Ecclesiastes 7:20: “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”

      Ecclesiastes 9:3: “This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.”

      Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

      Jeremiah 13:23: (NIV): “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”

      Mark 7:21-23: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

      John 3:19: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.”

      John 6:44: “[Jesus said,] ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.'”

      John 6:64-65: “[Jesus said,] ‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.'”

      John 8:34: “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.'”

      Romans 3:10-11: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”

      Romans 8:7-8: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

      1 Corinthians 2:14: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

      Ephesians 2:1-3: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

      Titus 3:3: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”

      My goal here in responding is not to in pride rub against anyone that may read, but more so point people to what God is really saying in the Gospel and the Cross. Sound doctrine matters.

      Thank you and I love you,

      • Adam Smith says:

        David –

        “On one hand you are saying that man has no capacity to respond to God. On the other hand you say that man has some compass inside him to see the goodness of God and accept/reject it.”

        I cannot find where I said man has some compass to accept/reject the goodness of God. If that is what I said, then it is a misstatement on my part. I hold to the doctrine of total depravity.

      • David Barnett says:

        @Bruce… not @Adam. Sorry bro. That is my mistake. Disregard.

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