I use the word “definitive” quite sparingly, but it is absolutely fitting when applied to Jimmy Akin’s The Drama of Salvation: How God Rescues You From Your Sins and Brings You to Eternal Life (Catholic Answers Press, 2015).
I first learned of this book when, I kid you not, I had just finished footnoting Akin’s The Salvation Controversy (2001) several times in a new book of my own. I considered it the clearest expression of Catholic soteriology to date, so I was incredibly curious to see how Akin had developed his presentation in the fourteen year interim. What I considered the core ofThe Salvation Controversy – Akin’s Scriptural illustration of the past, present, and future aspects of justification, and his analysis Paul’s statement that we are saved by faith apart from works of the law (Torah) – is here, but integrated into a much more comprehensive presentation of Catholic belief regarding how we are saved. The final portion of the book consists of bonus material that, taken by itself, makes The Drama of Salvation a veritable source book of Catholic teaching on this subject:
- The Council of Trent’s Decree Concerning Justification (1547), the Church’s most extensive, dogmatic treatment of the subject
- The Letter of the Holy Office on Salvation Outside the Church (1949), correcting the controversial claims made by Fr. Leonard Feeney, S.J.
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church‘s statements on Grace and Justification (1992)
- Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999) by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation
- Dominus Iesus (2000), the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith’s declaration on the centrality of Jesus Christ and His Church to human salvation
- Two of Pope Benedict XVI’s audiences (2008) treating St. Paul’s teaching on justification
The bulk of the book, though, is Akin’s clear, scriptural exposition of Catholic belief. I was impressed by how he consistently cut through differences in terminology between Catholicism and different streams of Protestant thought (especially Lutheranism) to reveal our areas of agreement. In his first chapter he lays out the plan of salvation as it appears in the pages of the New Testament: Repentance, Faith, Baptism (and if one should later fall into mortal sin, Confession). He then confirms the Catholic reading of Scripture with quotations from Church leaders of the late-first and early-second century. The second chapter shows, absolutely conclusively to my mind, that Christ and His Apostles taught that justification is a process with past, present, and future aspects.
The next three chapters explain the difference between “temporal” and “eternal” salvation and the related matters of penance and indulgences. By beginning in Scripture, and then tracing the developments in the Church’s offering of indulgences, a number of misconceptions are cleared away and objections answered.
The sixth chapter is perhaps my favorite. Akin gives the most insightful exposition of St. Paul’s teaching on justification that I have ever read. He also leads the reader through a study of James 2:14-26. Akin exhaustively examines the role of faith and works in justification, and his analysis of Paul’s use of the term “works of the Law” is top-notch. This chapter leaves no doubt that, while we are not justified through obedience to the Law of Moses, we Christians are bound to the Law of Christ (Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 9:21) – which we fulfill through the power of His Spirit at work within us.
Chapters seven and eight are commentaries on Trent’s Decree Concerning Justification and theCatholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, respectively. Even if you have already read both works, I wager that you will find Akin’s survey illuminating. He finishes his exposition with a well-balanced chapter examining the possibility of salvation for those who do not come to an explicit faith in Christ.
As I said, this work is a monumental development of Akin’s already-illuminating The Salvation Controversy. The only element not carried over was his contrasting of Catholic teaching and Calvinism’s belief in T.U.L.I.P., the theological tenets of Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints. Given the much greater scope ofThe Drama of Salvation, I do not consider it a loss, especially when Akin has made the information available online.
This is an exciting work, one that puts gratitude in your heart for the amazing salvation that Christ offers. If your goal is to deepen your understanding of salvation and sharpen your ability to explain the Gospel to others, then The Drama of Salvation is the most comprehensive resource available.