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Total Depravity Vs Provisionism

Total Depravity teaches that, as a consequence of man’s fall every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin as a result of their fallen nature and, apart from the efficacious or prevenient grace of God, is completely unable to choose by themselves to follow God, refrain from evil, or accept the gift of salvation as it is offered.

Understand that BOTH Calvinism and Arminianism affirm total depravity. They are both represented in those bold words. Those that oppose total depravity are generally labeled as Pelagian, or Semi-Pelagian, which are typically seen as derogatory labels. But there is another view called Provisionism that we will look at to consider. And we will see if Provisionism and Pelagianism are the same or different.

Total depravity is also called total inability, or utter depravity, because it is emphasized that because of the fall mankind can not know God, can not respond to God, can not understand the things of God or the gospel itself without God first intervening with either regeneration(Calvinism) or prevenient grace(Arminianism).


The “efficacious” grace of God is another name for the Calvinist teaching of “irresistible grace.” Irresistible grace teaches that the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom He has determined to save, the elect. In Calvinism, to have the faith necessary to believe the gospel and be saved, you must first be regenerated. Regeneration is an irresistible and ontological act of God toward only the elect. It is taught that because mankind is totally dead, they can not respond to the gospel without regeneration first occurring from God. Total depravity is the very foundation of Calvinism. To reject it on their minds is accept the heresy of Pelagianism. 


In Arminianism, to have the faith necessary to believe the gospel and be saved, you must first act upon prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is a resistible and ontological act of God toward all mankind. So the Arminian believes that in addition to the gospel, we must also accept the prevenient grace of God in order to accept the  gospel.


To have the faith necessary to believe the gospel and be saved, we only need to hear the gospel. The gospel itself is sufficient to believe. The gospel itself is the drawing of the individual and grace of God that is preached through human agents. 

The concept of Provisionism is that God provides. God provides the means of salvation through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. God provides the means of necessary faith by sending the gospel to all mankind through the Holy Spirit by means of the scriptures and human agents to spread the message. The gospel message is sufficient for man to respond to in belief and faith. Nobody is lost due to lack of provision, but because they did not love the truth and rejected it of their own free will. We are able to respond to the gospel message without an ontological act of God such as regeneration for the Calvinist or prevenient grace for the Arminian. The gospel itself is sufficient provision to believe and be saved.

The Boogie Man Fallacy

“The boogie man fallacy” is a fallacious argument meant to squash meaningful discussion by falsely labelling an opponent’s position with that of a known heresy so as to demonize and discredit it. This is lazy theology because it is a lack of desire to acknowledge the nuanced and meaningful differences in different positions. This creates a simplistic black and white narrative and eliminates any remaining meaningful discussion of the issues. Calvinists will often accuse opponents of Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism. They will even sometimes go as far as accusing Arminians of this, but especially Provisionists. So let’s take a look at what this is all about.

Pelagianism - Pelagius was a 5th century rival of Augustine. While it is likely a smear campaign against Pelagius, the beliefs put on his name are rightly declared to be wrong and heretical. Pelagianism says a person can take the initial steps toward salvation by his own efforts, apart from divine grace. It denies original sin and asserts wrongly that human nature is essentially unimpaired by the fall of man. The presence of Pelagianism within Christianity is rather minuscule in terms of people actually ascribing to this view. So a new and more commonly used term was invented in the 16th century to closely associate opponents with this call Semi-Pelagianism.

Semi-Pelagianism - This view does not deny original sin and its effects upon the human soul and will, but it taught that God and man cooperate to achieve man’s salvation. This cooperation is not by human effort as in keeping the law but rather in the ability of a person to make a free will choice. The semi-Pelagian teaches that man can make the first move toward God by seeking God out of his own free will and that man can cooperate with God’s grace even to the keeping of his faith through human effort. This would mean that God responds to the initial effort of a person and that God’s grace is not absolutely necessary to maintain faith.

1)Provisionism can believe in the inheritance of a sinful nature, but deny inherited sin and guilt. We are not born guilty or sinful. We become that way when we sin.
2)Provisionism denies man cooperates in salvation. Salvation is a gift of mercy from God and we can not earn it. The father of the prodigal son did not have to reconcile with his son simply because he returned home. But the father of the prodigal son could not have reconciled with his son without his son returning first.
3)Provisionism denies that man can make the first move toward God. It teaches that God makes the first move by way of the Holy Spirit sending out the gospel by human agents and that we are able to respond to that without any ontological action from God, ie. regeneration or prevenient grace. The gospel itself is the prevenient grace of God.

By these points, Provisionism has meaningful differences from Pelagianism of any kind.