This is an interesting topic, Della.
What would you say the implications are of these 2 worldviews? What are the logical outcomes of each? One that I can think of (and this comment is limited to a pre-baptism, pre-salvation state) is the total depravity position is a precursor to other Calvinistic beliefs. However, total depravity is not necessarily contrary to Catholic theology. It is completely orthodox to say that no man can desire or respond to God’s invitation without actual graces being extended toward that person. Even Augustinian predestination is not contrary to Catholic belief–we are allowed some leeway on this issue.
I think it is important to clarify that–at least to my understanding–salvation is not rehabilitation. It is resurrection, first of spirit and eventually of body. The old nature must be done away with. It cannot be patched. We are given a completely new nature in its place. Granted, I am a convert from Protestantism, but I am unaware of any Catholic doctrine that would contradict this, and it certainly can be found in Scripture.
I think the mistake Evangelicals make is they confuse the sin nature of a man with the rest of his creature components. They tend to discount that we still bear God’s image. They fail to differentiate spiritual depravity with temporal depravity. And they may forget that all people are born with God’s natural law written in their hearts, with the possibility that this conscience can be seared, plunging that person into a deeper state of depravity. While we are all initially dead to God with no reminant of spirit that can be ressucitated, only reborn as a new creation, temporal depravity can certainly vary from person to person. Objectively, one cannot equate someone who does not believe in God, but who is involved with philanthropy, with Hilter.
Della, your statement of Evangelical belief, “Christ’s redemptive act on the cross does not renew us, but in a sense obliterates us and replaces us with Christ, because there is nothing worth saving in the human heart and soul. Christ’s redemption covers us up instead of reshapes us. We cannot become truly holy, but only imitate Christ’s holiness or have it laid upon us by God,” does not reflect what I was taught as a Protestant. (Of course, there are so many varieties, I don’t doubt that many people do believe as you describe.)
But my previous Evangelical understanding within Presbyterian and Evangelical Free circles was the following–that there is a past, present, and future aspect of salvation. My understanding was: we have been saved from the penalty of sin (upon regeneration), we are being saved from the power of sin (throughout our life on earth and to the extent that we surrender our will to Him), and we will be saved from the presence of sin (when we die and go to heaven). Each of these three aspects pertains to one of the three components of our being: spirit, soul (the seat of our will, personality, and intellect), and body respectively.
Evangelicals absolutely do believe in an infusion of grace that fundamentally changes us–an actual renewal. They believe that our spirit is not replaced by Christ, but that we are given a new spirit that is completely holy. If our spirit were not completely holy, it would not be a suitable dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.
The doctrine of imputation, according to Evangelicals pertains to how God deals with the second aspect of salvation: we are being saved from the power of sin. In a state of sanctifying grace, we are indeed covered by the finished and superabundant work of Christ. Catholics actually believe this, too. Imputation is applied to us when we commit venial sins. We are still in a state of grace and “covered” by the blood of the Lamb. The point of difference between Catholics and Evangelicals is Evangelicals do not recognize our ability to fall from santifying grace. They do not understand that the concept of mortal sin is not a matter that some sins cannot be covered by Christ, but some sins are directly or indirectly a rejection of Christ by way of deliberately resisting or offending the energetic efforts of the Holy Spirit.
I truly think the differences between the 2 camps are much more nuanced than first appears. The differences are mainly a misunderstanding on the part of Protestants plus a few corrections in key points of theology. I’m optimistic that we will see a massive revival of Protestants realizing this and coming into the Catholic Church in unprecedented numbers.