Sunday, May 29, 2011

Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin is a "Semi-Calvinist"?

It's true, you can find anything on the Internet. This Roman Catholic writer (in the link above) was angered by Jimmy Akin's article: A TIPTOE THROUGH TULIP. After setting forth the five points of Calvinism, Akin's detractor states,

This set of ideas has been substantially rejected by the Council of Trent and by the teaching of the Magisterium since that time. But Akin insists that a Catholic may accept each of these ideas, with only limited modification. All five Calvinist doctrines on salvation are explained by Akin in such a manner that Calvinist doctrine and Catholic doctrine are merged. His resulting position on soteriology is part Calvinist, and part Catholic, and fundamentally incompatible with sound Catholic teaching on grace and salvation.

I can't help but recall Geisler's Chosen But Free. It's true, Akin does indeed modify TULIP to be palatable for Romanism, as Geisler tried to make it palatable for Evangelical Arminians.

Here are a few excerpts from Akin:

Total Depravity: What would a Catholic think of this teaching? While he would not use the term "total depravity" to describe the doctrine, he would actually agree with it. The accepted Catholic teaching is that, because of the fall of Adam, man cannot do anything out of supernatural love unless God gives him special grace to do so. Thomas Aquinas declared that special grace is necessary for man to do any supernaturally good act, to love God, to fulfill God's commandments, to gain eternal life, to prepare for salvation, to rise from sin, to avoid sin, and to persevere.

Unconditional election: What would a Catholic say about this? He certainly is free to disagree with the Calvinist interpretation, but he also is free to agree. All Thomists and even some Molinists (such as Robert Bellarmine and Francisco Suarez) taught unconditional election.

Limited Atonement: This is not to say there is no sense in which limitation may be ascribed to the atonement. While the grace it provided is sufficient to pay for the sins of all men, this grace is not made efficacious (put into effect) in the case of everyone. One may say that although the sufficiency of the atonement is not limited, its efficiency is limited. This is something everyone who believes in hell must acknowledge because, if the atonement was made efficacious for everyone, then no one would end up in hell.

Irresistible Grace: A Catholic can agree with the idea that enabling grace is intrinsically efficacious and, consequently, that all who receive this grace will repent and come to God. Aquinas taught, "God's intention cannot fail... Hence if God intends, while moving it, that the one whose heart he moves should attain to grace, he will infallibly attain to it, according to John 6:45, 'Everyone that has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.'"

Perseverance of the saints: A Catholic must affirm that there are people who experience initial salvation and who do not go on to final salvation, but he is free to hold to a form of perseverance of the saints. The question is how one defines the term "saints"--in the Calvinist way, as all those who ever enter a state of sanctifying grace, or in a more Catholic way, as those who will go on to have their sanctification (their "saintification") completed. If one defines "saint" in the latter sense, a Catholic may believe in perseverance of the saints, since a person predestined to final salvation must by definition persevere to the end. Catholics even have a special name for the grace God gives these people: "the gift of final perseverance."

Akin fleshes this out in greater detail. I guess in Akin's defense against his fellow Romanist, Akin would probably argue from the old cliche that Romanism has 100% of the truth, while Calvinism has some other less percentage, so his setup is acceptable. On the other hand, like Geisler, Akin takes accepted terms and pours different meaning into them. This is simply a ridiculous way to do historical theology. I wonder if Akin could just as easily take doctrines from Mormonism and do the same thing: make an acceptable Romanist version of Latter Day Saint theology.

From my Reformed perspective, Akin's article suffers because of his basic definitions of TULIP. As I skimmed the article, I didn't see any confessional statements, say from the Westminster Confession, or the Three Forms of Unity (If they are there somewhere, I missed them in my quick reading, but I don't think they are). Take for instance, Akin's explanation of Total Depravity:

Despite its name, the doctrine of total depravity does not mean men are always and only sinful. Calvinists do not think we are as sinful as we possibly could be. They claim our free will has been injured by original sin to the point that, unless God gives us special grace, we cannot free ourselves from sin and choose to serve God in love. We might choose to serve him out of fear, but not out of unselfish love.

Akin documents this with end note #9, which simply gives more explanation about the Romanist correctness of serving God in fear, not an actual doctrinal standard or source.

Akin's first few sentences appear to be trying to make the distinction between total and utter depravity, but even this is muddled. The Reformed hold total depravity refers to the fact that our whole humanity is fallen. Every part of a human being has been affected by the Fall (will, heart, mind, body, etc). As to the rest of Akin's definition, The Reformed hold Romans 3:10-12 describes how no one does good. The ultimate standard for goodness by which mankind is judged is the law of God, which reflects his perfect character. Judged against that standard, no one does good.  So, contrary to Akin, men are always and only sinful.

The Reformed don't typically use language like "free will has been injured by original sin." We don't speak of injured free will, we speak of the enslaved will or dead in sin. The Canons of Dort declare,

"Therefore, all people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform."

The Westminster Confession states, "Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto."

Akin says some sort of "special grace" is given so men can free themselves from sin and choose to serve God. This isn't Reformed either. Akin's paradigm appears to posit a spiritually sick man that needs a little help to get himself going. The Reformed though posit the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit raises a spiritually dead man to spiritual life.

Throughout Akin's entire definition of total depravity, he either misrepresented Calvinism, or didn't use words that expressed the theological point accurately. Perhaps if he had used confessional statements, this could have been avoided. According to Akin's procedure, I might as well discard my copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and just make up what I want to about Romanism.

1 comment:

CathApol said...

I've posted my own "response" to Akin's TULIP. Whereas I am a bit critical of attempting to use Calvinist terminology to fit a Catholic truth - I have not crossed over to declare this to be an heretical essay, as your other respondent has done. My response can be found here:

My closing statement in that article is:

That is well and good, but the criticism of using their terminology
still exists (as with my initial article [this article, to the best of my knowledge no longer exists] which did much the same as
Akin's here does). If one is to convert to the True Church, then
why hang on to errors of the past at all? When one converts, they
need to RENOUNCE their past - and EMBRACE that which they
now KNOW to be the Truth. Let's not "tiptoe through TULIP," let's
just crush the TULIP so they can move on and know the Truth.