A few years ago the admin at Orthodox Bridge wrote a piece against Calvinism titled “Plucking the Tulip.” I decided to respond to it. This will be both an easy and hard endeavor. It will be hard in the sense that it is time-consuming (I think the essay is about 20 pages). It will be easy because the author offers almost no arguments whatsoever. We’ll begin
Clarifying our Terms
The title of our paper begins our problems. Arakaki identifies Calvinism with TULIP with Predestination. In doing so he is operating off of the severely challenged “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” Paradigm. This paradigm states in its various forms that Reformed theology is a decretal theology centered around the doctrine of Predestination. The work of Richard A Muller has effectively buried this thesis (Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, vo. 1, Christ and the Decree).
Is there an official Reformed position?
Arakaki appears to go back and forth on this point. He begins by saying, “The Canons of Dort represent the Dutch Reformed Church’s affirmation of predestination in the face of the Remonstrant movement” (1). While he is correct in that the Canons of Dordt is an official document of Continental Reformed Churches, he is woefully in error in identifying predestination as the defining feature of Reformed theology. However, in a footnote he says, “Unlike Lutheranism with its Formula of Concord, the Reformed tradition has no confessional statement with a similar normative stature (Pelikan 1984:236).” I was stunned when I read this. Does he not realize that the 3 Forms of Unity are ecclesiastically binding upon Dutch and German Reformed Churches? He says above that the Canons of Dort represent the Church’s teaching. Did he forget that he just said that? Does he not realize that the Westminster Standards not only are binding upon Anglo-American Reformed Churches, but when interpreted in the light of the Solemn League and Covenant, are binding upon the kingdoms of England, Ireland, and Scotland? If he cannot get these most basic points established, what hope does the reader have that he will be able to seriously represent the intricacies of Reformed Theology? I noted throughout this paper that he has an over-reliance on Pelikan.
In one sense my rebuttal is already complete. Arakaki thinks that the Reformed faith is predestination is TULIP. By rebutting him along these lines I give credence to his flawed analysis, such that it is. I suppose it can’t be helped. He notes,
The Scots Confession took the extreme position that the Fall eradicated the divine image from human nature: “By this transgression, generally known as original sin, the image of God was utterly defaced in man, and he and his children became by nature hostile to God, slaves to Satan, and servants to sin.” (The Book of Confession 3.03; italics added)
I have two problems with this. First, why is he quoting the Scots Confession instead of the Westminster Confession, since the latter is officially binding? Second, he thinks that defaced = eradicated. It does not. It means “marred.” Further, he gives no extended discussion from more thorough Reformed sources. I will. Charles Hodge, in glossing original sin and nature, writes, “Although original sin corrupts our whole nature, yet the essence or substance of the soul is one thing, and original sin another…Original sin is said to be an accidens quod non per se subsistit, sed in aliqua substantia est, et ab ea discerni potest (II: 229, 230, quoting the Formula of Concord). The following page is a more or less accurate summary of what Calvin and others believed on the Fall of man. He notes,
Another reading of Genesis can be found in Irenaeus of Lyons, widely regarded as the leading Church Father of the second century. Irenaeus believed Adam and Eve were not created as fully mature beings, but as infants or children who would grow into perfection (Against the Heretics 4.38.1-2; ANF Vol. I,p. 521)
One may legitimately ask, though, why Irenaeus’ reading is to be preferred to Augustine’s? Irenaeus doesn’t offer anything resembling a logical argument, nor does Arakaki. There is nothing here for me to rebut because there is no logical argument. Arakaki continues,
One of the key aspects of the doctrine of total depravity is the belief that the Fall deprived humanity of any capacity for free will rendering them incapable of desiring to do good or to believe in God.
Yet this is not what the Reformed believe. We believe in liberum arbitrium, free choice, which is a more accurate rendering than “free will.” As Richard Muller notes, “[T]he faculty of will (voluntas) is free and that the bondage into which humanity has fallen is not a bondage of the faculty of will as such” (Muller 1995, 176). What has been lost, or rather limited, is the freedom of choice particularly to salvation. Further, Will is distinct from intellect (intellectus) . The intellect is that which knows objects, and the will is that which has a desire for them. The next page in Arakaki’s paper is a litany of quotes from the Church fathers on free will. Since I have already demonstrated the Reformed position on free will, and that Arakaki’s charges miss it, I see no point in responding to these patristic citations.
Thus, Calvin’s belief in total depravity was based upon a narrow theological perspective. His failure to draw upon the patristic consensus and his almost exclusive reliance on Augustine resulted in a soteriology peculiar to Protestantism
I couldn’t help but chuckle at this since Orthodoxy has its own narrowness. Lossky, anybody? Arakaki mentions the “patristic consensus.” This will figure later into his argument on Scripture, but I will cut it off at the ford. The Eastern Orthodox have yet to give a coherent, non-circular definition of the patristic consensus. In any case, the most devastating analysis of the so-called patristic consensus can be seen here
This will end the first part of my rebuttal. I think I have demonstrated that the author has not read the Reformed sources, does not show an adequate understanding of official Reformed documents, and offers little in way of an actual analysis and critique.