Do Methodists Do "Total Depravity"?

I remember a couple of years ago eating lunch during the interview sessions for the South Georgia Board of Ordained Ministry. One of the interviewers and fellow elder shared how they did not care for one of the candidates they interviewed. I asked why? They replied, “They talked about ‘total depravity’ and we Methodists don’t do ‘total depravity’.”

When I first heard the statement I was suspicious. While I couldn’t call it to mind at the moment, I seemed to remember that John Wesley did believe in total depravity. It may sound more like Calvin than Wesley, but the fact remained – Wesley did teach about depravity. In his sermon, On Original Sin, Wesley states,

“Hence we may, Secondly, learn, that all who deny this, call it original sin, or by any other title, are but Heathens still, in the fundamental point which differences Heathenism from Christianity. They may, indeed, allow, that men have many vices; that some are born with us; and that, consequently, we are not born altogether so wise or so virtuous as we should be; there being few that will roundly affirm, “We are born with as much propensity to good as to evil, and that every man is, by nature, as virtuous and wise as Adam was at his creation.” But here is the shibboleth: Is man by nature filled with all manner of evil? Is he void of all good? Is he wholly fallen? Is his soul totally corrupted? Or, to come back to the text, is “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart only evil continually?” Allow this, and you are so far a Christian. Deny it, and you are but an Heathen still.”

Why are we Methodists so afraid of talking depravity? Baptists have the market cornered on “You are a sinner and on your way to hell!” We Methodists have cornered the market on “God loves you and showers you with grace!” The truth lies in the middle and the distinguishing mark of Methodists is in our understanding of prevenient grace and how God gives everyone, yes everyone (even the depraved), the capacity and opportunity to respond and turn to God.

Maybe Methodists don’t like depravity because it smacks of Calvin and predestination. Maybe Methodists don’t like depravity because we like the positive message of grace and love. Maybe we Methodists just don’t like our church members to feel uncomfortable or anxious.

The truth is we are all sinners and if left in that state without God’s grace, we would never desire good or God. Thanks be to God that his grace is poured out on all creation. God does not leave us depraved.

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