One of the core beliefs of all Calvinists (and many Christians in general) is that of Total Depravity. Fundamentally, it suggests that mankind is inherently fallen, corrupt, and incapable of doing good of his own accord. There is a good question on the site here, and I will admit, I find it to be a very compelling biblical case.

The question is - what do you call the opposite of total depravity? In other words, if man is capable of being sufficiently good to save himself, (at least in theory if not practice) but just regularly chooses not to, what do you call that doctrine? And, what, if any biblical support would there be for it?

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    I think a more answerable question is, On what grounds is Total Depravity rejected in some doctrines? Because, as stated, you're setting up a false dilemma -- that a doctrine in opposition to Total Depravity would allow man to be able to save himself.
    – svidgen
    Feb 12, 2013 at 18:06
  • I don't think the bible ever discusses anything other than Total Depravity. I would love to know what grounds you can build the opposite doctrine on.
    – Greg
    Feb 12, 2013 at 19:08
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    Regardless of whether or not the stance is doctrine or heresy, it should have a name of some kind. Just wondering what that would be Feb 12, 2013 at 20:08
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    I'm not sure why there needs to be a name for any doctrine that opposes Total Depravity. There are undoubtedly many doctrines, named or not, that are incompatible with Total Depravity. But, I think you'll be hard-pressed to find a named heresy or doctrine that you can label as the doctrine the opposes Total Depravity.
    – svidgen
    Feb 12, 2013 at 20:33
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    Traditionally, we who hold fast to Total Depravity refer to the others as Pelagians or Semipelagians. Things get a little murky with classical Arminians who hold to total depravity in that Calvinists and Lutherans would call this synergism. Calvinists and Lutherans see this as semipelagianism, but the Arminians do not because they admit complete inability before God's spiritual quickening. A lot of this is intertwined with one's view on regeneration. An article that is of benefit to read even if you do not agree with them premise and conclusion is Feb 13, 2013 at 14:25

5 Answers 5



@SanJacinto answered the question perfectly by reminding me of Pelagianism. Pelagiansim is the heresy that posits:

  1. There is no original sin


  2. Man is, in theory, if not in practice, capable of perfection, if he were to so choose.


  3. In practice never does.

  • Ah, touche. That's definitely the polar opposite, now isn't it! +1
    – svidgen
    Feb 13, 2013 at 15:22
  • Normally, I wouldn't accept my own answer, on a matter of principle, but by proxy I want San Jacinto's answer to be recognized as the most on target. Other answers are good - this just gives the exact vocabulary I was looking for. Feb 15, 2013 at 14:57

The closest thing I know of that automatically rejects total depravity is the doctrine of justification according to the Catholic Church.

Total depravity resigns the entire human nature unto the bondage of sin and therefore no part of the will remains which can obtain righteousness, even in conjunction with God’s grace, unless first the soul becomes totally justified, by Christ’s work alone. The Catholic version of original sin removes the ‘Total’ from it, so that a small reserve of freedom in the will exists, which can, while moved by God’s grace, take a role in its own justification. Therefore instead of a single justification that restores a totally depraved sinner to a righteous soul in an instant, the Catholic version denies such a thing and proposes a justification in stages with a mixture of grace and works:

We now come to the different states in the process of justification. The Council of Trent assigns the first and most important place to faith, which is styled "the beginning, foundation and root of all justification" (Trent, l.c., cap.viii). Cardinal Pallavicini* (Hist. Conc. Trid., VIII, iv, 18) tells us that all the bishops present at the council fully realized how important it was to explain St. Paul's saying that man is justified through faith. Comparing Bible and Tradition they could not experience any serious difficulty in showing that fiduciary faith was an absolutely new invention and that the faith of justification was identical with a firm belief in the truths and promises of Divine revelation (l. c.: "illumque [Deum] tanquam omnis justitiae fontem diligere incipiunt"). The next step is a genuine sorrow for all sin with the resolution to begin a new life by receiving holy baptism and by observing the commandments of God. The process of justification is then brought to a close by the baptism of water, inasmuch as by the grace of this sacrament the catechumen is freed from sin (original and personal) and its punishments, and is made a child of God. The same process of justification is repeated in those who by mortal sin have lost their baptismal innocence; with this modification, however, that the Sacrament of Penance replaces baptism. Considering merely the psychological analysis of the conversion of sinners, as given by the council, it is at once evident that faith alone, whether fiduciary or dogmatic, cannot justify man (Trent, l. c., can. xii: "Si quis dixerit, fidem justificantem nihil aliud esse quam fiduciam divinae misericordiae, peccata remittentis propter Christum, vel eam fiduciam solam esse, qua justificamur, a.s."). Since our Divine adoption and friendship with God is based on perfect love of God or charity (cf. Galatians 5:6; 1 Corinthians 13; James 2:17 sqq.), dead faith devoid of charity (fides informis) cannot possess any justifying power. Only such faith as is active in charity and good works (fides caritate formata) can justify man, and this even before the actual reception of baptism or penance, although not without a desire of the sacrament (cf. Trent, Sess. VI, cap. iv, xiv). But, not to close the gates of heaven against pagans and those non-Catholics, who without their fault do not know or do not recognize the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance, Catholic theologians unanimously hold that the desire to receive these sacraments is implicitly contained in the serious resolve to do all that God has commanded, even if His holy will should not become known in every detail. (Catholic Encyclopedia > J > Justification)

The long and short of it is Catholic faith infuses our own works in justification, which from a Protestant standpoint is nothing more than self-righteousness and legalism.

Catholics are not alone in holding this sort of view. Eastern Othrodox and even some sections of traditional Protestant churches that no longer hold their founding evangelical teachings, also have a similiar concept of justification.


Short answer: Self-Esteem Movement

Longer Answer:

To find the opposite of Total Depravity, we would have to find a doctrine that presents man as ultimately and only ever good and worthy in his identity. By definition, I don't think you would ever find this extreme within the Christian church, as any doctrine that would present man as only ever good would reject the need for any level of atonement, and would thus present guilt and shortcoming as nothing more than an illusion.

In other words, any doctrine that believes that something is required to commune with God, necessitates, by definition, the belief that something is lacking in either the means or the end goal of communion with God. Either you're missing the means to commune, or you're missing the communion itself.

Therefore, according to the opposite of Total Depravity, we already have communion with God.

The most common way to achieve this doctrine is to claim the deity of the self, and raise the self up to the divine level.

Whitney Houston put it well when she sang the following:

I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all

So we have this belief where loving one's self is the greatest love of all. I believe this doctrine is the opposite of Total Depravity. Ironically, it's this doctrine that to love ourselves is the greatest love that most who believe in Total Depravity would point out as being the very paragon of fallenness.

For an official name, I think it would be called the "self-esteem movement".

The Self-Esteem Movement is any movement that seeks to elevate the position, worth and goodness of the individual person above and beyond all else, not simply in the self's action, but in the self's identity. It's like my 6th grade physical education teacher who would say that there are no bad kids, only kids who do bad things. This statement affirms an identity of goodness while denying all evidence to the contrary.

Total Depravity, by contrast, would say that there are ever only bad kids, and this is why they do bad things. They're simply acting out their true identities.

There is no Biblical support for such a doctrine as the self-esteem movement. I believe that God makes it extremely clear that we are fallen and depraved (Romans 1-3), and that we are in need of rescue. Nevertheless, this hasn't stopped some religious institutions arising from the Christian tradition (I hesitate to call them churches), from incorporating the self-esteem movement within their belief systems. Those institutions typically have as their chief mark, self-actualization, and not the leper's cry of Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy!).

Just to be sure that I'm not called out as being contradictory in this last paragraph pointing out that some "churches" have indeed incorporated this belief, typically those institutions focus on assuring followers not that they have a need for salvation, but that they have somehow bought into the illusion that they're not good enough. So the bulk of the time is spent on bolstering the follower's belief that he or she is, indeed, good enough, and is simply ignorant of his or her overall worth. Thus, the goal is to lead the follower to recognize his or her own worth (not the worth of Christ necessarily), and by this, he or she will find salvation. I don't believe these institutions ought to be called "churches" at all.


You just have to look at the "L" for your answer. They believe in Total Depravity and Limited Atonement. The "opposite" would be Limited Depravity and Total Atonement, yes? Is that not in effect what the opponents of Calvin teach?

  • Indeed! and when I search for those terms it takes me to Pelagianism. Thank you! Feb 13, 2013 at 21:01
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    That's unfortunate because I don't think the terms necessarily imply that.
    – kurosch
    Feb 13, 2013 at 22:06

The opposite of total depravity as it is being taught by most theologians is simply total ability.

It is the "in other words" part of your question that implies something that opponents of total depravity are not saying. When someone says that they do not believe in man's total depravity they are not saying that man is capable of saving themselves. Those that teach total depravity are saying that man cannot turn to God on their own. Those that oppose this teaching are saying that man does have the capacity to turn to God. This however is not the same as saying that man can save themselves.

Total depravity is usually equated with the original sin teaching. The opposite of original sin is original grace.

I am a believer of total ability and original grace. However I do not believe that man can save themselves.

One of the main texts used to support total depravity is Romans 5:12-14. Here it says that sin and thus death entered the world through one man, Adam. Verse 13 says that sin is not imputed where there is no law. Then verse 14 states nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses even those that did not sin according to the likeness of Adam.

Adam had a verbally given law which nobody else from Adam to Moses had. And Moses was given written laws. However when Adam ate the forbidden fruit he aquired a knowledge of good and evil. Law can be defined as knowing what is good and evil and the consequences of doing evil. So basically those from Adam to Moses had the law in their conscience and were thus accountable for their own wrongdoings not for Adam's sin. Ezekiel 18:20 says that the son shall not bear the guilt of the father. We did not inherit Adam's sin nor did Adam's sin make us incapable of coming to God on our own.

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