I consider the doctrine of total depravity to be a near consensus of Christendom. I say near consensus because I'm not sure that the Eastern Church formulates human sinfulness quite the same way as the Western church has under the influence of Augustine (Bounds, are you out there?). Similarly, I'm not sure that the Roman Catholic tradition has always understood total depravity quite as extremely as most Protestant traditions have. Thus I don't think Thomas Aquinas thought that our minds were completely fallen.
But from the standpoint of both Wesleyan, Reformed, and Lutheran theology, humanity is totally depraved and can do no good in its own power. Contrary to popular belief, the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition is not Pelagian and does not believe that humans have free will independent of God's empowerment. The difference between the two traditions is the process of moving from total depravity to salvation. For the Calvinist, it is an all or nothing proposition, like a normal light switch. Either God turns the light on, and you move toward holiness and you are saved, or He doesn't. [I might add that I am a little uncomfortable with the way Protestants both Wesleyan and Reformed alike talk about holiness as something like righteous living, but that's another series]
By contrast, the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition thinks of the movement from depravity to holiness more on the model of a dimmer switch that can be on in varying degrees. At some point in every person's life, God turns the light up just enough for the person to indicate whether they would like more light or not. This is not a point of the person's choosing! If the person does not respond appropriately when God turns up the light, the person may not ever get another chance. There goes putting off repentance until your death bed!
On the other hand, if a person thus empowered by God signals a desire for further light, God will turn the light up further unto salvation. In theological terms, Wesley referred to the "just enough" dimmer light as God's preventing or as we say, "prevenient grace." It can lead in turn to "saving" or "justifying grace."
It is now my task to process these theological discussions in the light of Paul's own categories. I believe that much of our theological language is mythical, if you would, not thereby meaning that it is false, only meaning that we tend to process theological truths by way of metaphorical narratives. My dimmer switch "story" is a good example. I believe I am accurately representing a truth but I am doing it in a non-literal way.
A more palatable way of putting it is to say that all language is ultimately "incarnational" language. So Paul uses certain language in relation to human sinfulness. Augustine used a different set of images. We should not mistake either for the exact reality. But they both point toward the reality. I will try not mistake my own images for reality either, but I do want to try to get into Paul's head on the relevant issues here and then compare them with the head of Augustine, Calvin, Wesley, etc.
The idea of a sinful nature is, as I understand it, Augustinian. It is not Pauline, and I regularly complain in class about the NIV's translation of the Greek word for flesh, sarx, as "sinful nature." Here are some thoughts on Paul's use of the word flesh:
1. It is related to embodiment. After all, why else would Paul use the word for skin?
2. It tends to have a negative connotation. The word body, soma, does not tend to have a negative connotation. Even though these two words overlap in meaning at a certain point, "body" tends to have a somewhat more neutral sense, while "flesh" tends to have a negative one.
3. Flesh is often related to sin.
"I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh" Rom. 7:18.
"The law is spiritual, but I am made of flesh [sarkinos], enslaved under Sin" Rom. 7:14
Indeed, we might infer from these images that flesh is that part of me that is enslaved to sin.
4. It is possible not to be "in the flesh" in this life. In other words, one can get "out of the flesh" while still on earth.
"Those who are in the flesh are not able to please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you" Rom. 8:8-9.
We see therefore that Paul can use the word "flesh" with varying degrees of literality, ranging from flesh as literal skin to flesh as a metaphor for a state of susceptibility to the power of sin.
Although not all agree [e.g., Dunn], perhaps the majority of Pauline scholars now recognize that Paul is not talking about some current and ongoing personal struggle with sin in Romans 7. The context argues overwhelmingly against such a reading. We have mentioned above both the fact that Paul speaks in Romans 7:14 of someone "enslaved to sin" because they are "made of flesh." Yet in the very next chapter he denies that a person "in the flesh" can please God. These comments would contradict each other if both were meant to refer to Paul's current state.
The dissonance of the "current struggle of Paul" interpretation only increases the more we look at the context. Romans 6:17 is particularly telling:
But thanks be to God because you were slaves of sin but you obeyed from the heart the type of teaching which you have received.
Here the timing of enslavement to sin is prior to coming to faith. For Paul to say that he is currently enslaved to sin would thus imply that he was not even a person of faith yet. Indeed, the wording of this statement is very similar to Paul's resolution at the end of Romans 7:
Who will rescue me from the body of this death? But thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord (7:24-25a).
We should thus read Romans 7:13-15 as a dramatic enactment of the process of going from being a slave to sin to being free from sin. We should have read it this way all along, given Paul's preface to this sequence of thought in 7:5-6:
For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins which came through the law used to work in our members bearing fruit to death, but now we have been released from the law and have died in relation to that by which we were held so that we might serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.
So when we now come to the Augustinian imagery of a sinful nature, we recognize a certain skew from Paul's own imagery. The idea of a nature--particularly for us who now process human behavior in terms of DNA--raises questions about physical things inside of me, genetics, brain structure, and such. Before Christians thought about such things, we still found those in the Wesleyan tradition arguing over whether a person's sinful nature might be eradicated or perhaps could only be supressed.
We can see that these discussions are all somewhat wrong headed. Paul does not say that we all have a sinful nature. What he implies is that Sin holds power over this creation. So in Romans 8:20 Paul says that "the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but on account of the One who subjected it in hope." Our flesh is a part of this creation, and its default state in this realm is enslavement to the power of Sin.
But it is interesting to note what this state of affairs did not mean in Paul's own imagery. For example, notice how Paul argues in Romans 7:16-17 in relation to the person without the Spirit:
If I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. But now it is no longer I doing it but sin that dwells in me.
In Paul's formulation, the person wants to do good and wants to keep the law, but is unable to do so because of a foreign power over them. And Paul is not talking about a believer here. He is talking about a Jew who might want to keep the heart of the Jewish law, say the prohibition on coveting.
There is no sense here of depravity of the "I," although we might overlay Paul's own thoughts with our sense of will. Only then can we say that this person has a "bent" to sinning. But for Paul, this person's inclination is not to sin. The person is simply not empowered to do so.
What we find here is a quasi-dualistic sense of a human person. I am not totally depraved in my essential being but I may actually be inclined toward the good in my ego, in my "inner person" (7:22)!
Similarly, while Romans 5:12 speaks of sin and death entering the world through Adam, it says nothing of us acquiring a sin nature. In some way because of Adam, all now sin. But Paul leaves it to us to figure out the mechanism for why that happens. Reading between the lines, the answer that sticks closest to Paul's own categories is one that sees the power of Sin coming on the world and over human flesh because of Adam's sin. At the eschaton we will no longer have such flesh, because "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 15:50).
Against this backdrop, we can see the Augustinian reading of Paul as an overreading. Sure, Paul does quote the psalm, "There is none righteous, not even one" (Rom. 3:10 quoting Ps. 14:1-3). To do so, he takes the psalm somewhat out of context because it was originally referring to fools who say there is no God! But note that Paul does not say that "there is no one with any good in them whatsoever" or "there is no one who has ever done one good thing." At the very few points where Paul's language might sound a little like this, we should understand Paul to be speaking somewhat hyperbolically, given his default mode of talking about human action.
As with other issues later theologians are to blame for this body of argumentative death. Paul talks about humans as if they have free will and as if they can desire good. He does not have a worked out theology of how this can be. He does not fit our apparent free will with the idea that we are elect--and to do so is not commendable when it ends up skewing one or the other pole of his thinking! He does not have some dark sense of total depravity. All are sinners, yes. All need God's grace to be saved, yes. No human is worthy of God, yes.
But he apparently does not think of humans as unable to want the good, and he can say of himself before he came to Christ that "according to the righteousness that is in the law, I was blameless" (Phil. 3:6). He doesn't cover his theological tale here by referencing prevenient grace. He is, to put it simply, talking like a Jew. Works do not justify, yes. But Paul talks as if unbelievers can do some good even though they do not have the Spirit.
So, I'll concede to Thomas Schreiner that the idea of prevenient grace is more Wesley than Paul. But in terms of which theology produces a "theological product" that looks more like the NT, Wesley wins over Calvin. Wesley's doctrine of prevenient grace accounts for good done by a person who is not regenerate. Calvin will largely deny it. Wesley's doctrine of sanctification implies that a person can live above sin after the Spirit. Calvin is far more pessimistic and Luther doesn't even want to talk about it (shh, it's God's secret, so Gerhard Forde).