Akin on Calvinism

Dr. Daniel Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written an article set to appear in the April issue of SBC Life. He sent out an advanced copy to the students of Southeastern, and from there it has made its way to at least one blog. In the article he addresses the drama surrounding Calvinism in our Convention, and while I find fault with some of his handling of the Doctrines of Grace, his attitude and approach to the controversy is right on. Dr. Akin is seeking to be fair, and offers good counsel when asking both sides to "tone down the rhetoric." He rightly points out that the BFM2K allows for evangelical diversity within the convention, and that is a good thing. He begins to lose me when he delves into history. He makes the statement, "Later in the 17th century, followers of Calvin would systematize his theology and go beyond what Calvin himself taught." He does not attempt to back this up, and I suppose it falls outside of what he is trying to accomplish. If so, he should have avoided making the statement.

First, Calvin's theology did not need systematization. Unlike Luther's writings, Calvin's theology was systematically arranged in one work; his magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Second, if Dr. Akin is claiming the Canons of Dordt go beyond Calvin, I, and most in the Reformed tradition who read Calvin and his successors, would disagree. Third, to go beyond a founder does not necessitate contradicting him. Paul admittedly goes beyond the teachings of Jesus, but does not contradict them. Though the Puritans went beyond Calvin in some ways they did not cut a divergent theological path. Fourth, while "Calvinism," or Reformed theology, traces its origin back to the man with the pointy beard, it has been refined and built upon by many others. So, for example, Reformed theology views the Sabbath more along the lines of Puritan thought than that of the Genevan Reformer's. This does not make it corrupt-Calvinism, or hyper-Calvinism, only a more developed version of it.

Theologically I find Dr. Akin's comments somewhat odd as well. He affirms total depravity saying,

"Every aspect of man’s being is infected with the disease of sin so that he cannot save himself, neither can he move toward God without the initiating and enabling grace of God. Man is not as bad as he could possibly be, but he is radically depraved. Most Baptists would agree on this point, at least in some measure. It is hard to deny it in light of Romans 3:9-20 and Ephesians 2:1-3 (emphasis mine)."

Not the strongest statement on depravity, but good. Of course, Wesley and others could affirm this and then appeal to "prevenient grace" which overcomes this depravity for all men without exception, enabling them to choose Christ, though not necessarily. But taken at face value, this is a decent statement.

He then makes a strong statement concerning unconditional election, but wants to claim "mystery" in what I consider an odd place. He writes, "No one is saved apart from God’s plan, and yet anyone who repents and trusts Christ will be saved. There is tension in this position, but a tension we should accept and maintain. John 6:37-47 is helpful at this point (emphasis mine)."

This issue is not an aspect of the mystery found in the tension between the sovereignty of God and responsibility of man. Total depravity establishes that no one can believe apart from divine grace, and irresistible grace explains that this grace is effective. Yes, anyone who repents and believes will be saved, but this cannot happen apart from God's effectual grace. He points to John 6:37-47 to show the alleged mystery, but the overall context fights against this claim. There Jesus explains that no one can come to him apart from the Father's drawing, and if any are drawn, they are raised up. This whole passage establishes the very doctrine he seems to be a little soft on.

Look, there is mystery in Scripture; in God himself! I grow weary of many in my own camp who apparently believe all things have been answered, not only in Scripture, but in the Reformed tradition. I am with Calvin when he said,

It is not right that man should with impunity pry into things which the Lord has been pleased to conceal within himself, and scan that sublime eternal wisdom which it is his pleasure that we should not apprehend but adore, that therein also his perfections may appear. Those secrets of his will, which he has seen it meet to manifest, are revealed in his word - revealed in so far as he knew to be conducive to our interest and welfare…

If we give due weight to the consideration, that the word of the Lord is the only way which can conduct us to the investigation of whatever it is lawful for us to hold with regard to him - is the only light which can enable us to discern what we ought to see with regard to him, it will curb and restrain all presumption. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3 Ch. 23

I have trouble with some in the Reformed tradition, who do not heed Calvin's words. I have been guilty of this very sin myself. But I think God has chosen to reveal how he operates in regeneration. There is mystery in how God is sovereign and has decreed all things, while men remain free moral agents who act without being coerced. This is a mystery historic Calvinism has always maintained.

His words on reprobation amount to an empty assertion and are unhelpful. I know he does not have time for this side issue, but if that is the case, why bring it up? I am tempted to write something on the topic.

In the end, I am uncomfortable with some of his doctrine, but I love his attitude. He is right when he argues that theology must begin with God and not man. His counsel for people to be honest and up front with their beliefs when candidating at churches is good. His call to be sensible in our dialogue is needed. We need more men like Dr. Akin who can make assertions, appeal to Scripture, and even correct others with gentleness and humility. I have no doubt that a theological conversation with the President of Southeastern would be profitable. This is not something we can say of all men who serve/lead at institutions of higher education.

...these topics are very important because they have an impact on how we approach the mission of GodSome will no doubt believe I am spending too much time on an irrelevant topic. But theological dialogue on these topics is very important because these doctrines have an impact on how we approach the mission of God. Honestly, I tire of blogs that pimp the five points every week, for there is much more to the whole counsel of God, "true religion," and the missio dei than the synod at Dordt. But these things do matter - critically so in my estimation.

You can read Dr. Akin's article here, download it here (scroll to the bottom and wait for the countdown), or wait for it to come out in next month's SBC Life.