November 15, 2006

On Synergism

Gerald has a piece on Augustine and the synergism/monergism distinction up at Iustificare. Gerald believes that the real question is not about synergism vs. monergism, but rather about the resistability of grace. I think he is probably right about this, but I question his definition of synergism, since synergism is working together, but he seems to interpret it as simple concurrence. If I want God to do something, but have no power in myself to make it happen, it's not clear that this is synergism. However, Jesus does say "this is the work of God: that you believe in the One He has sent" (John 6:29). So let's suppose that believing or willing is a "work" (ergon) for the purpose of synergism. I have two points to make:

  1. Synergism about post-salvation works is explicitly taught in Scripture. ("For we are God's co-workers [Gr. synergoi]" - 1 Cor. 3:9; "Timothy, our brother and God's co-worker [synergos] in the gospel of Christ" - 1 Thess. 3:2) The real issue here is what is meant by Philippians 2:13, "For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to will and to act for His good purpose."

  2. True monergism about salvation would imply that the human being didn't want to be saved until after he already was saved. I'm not sure how much sense this really makes, even for a Calvinist. This is especially true in light of John 6:29, which I quoted above; if believing is a work, then salvation must precede belief, or at least belief must not be a necessary precondition of salvation if we are to deny that human beings work together with God toward their salvation. It seems rather that, even regarding salvation, we want to say something like "I worked more than any of them, yet not I, but God's grace that was with me" (1 Cor. 15:10). In other words, we don't actually want to deny that the human being works along with God, even if we believe in irresistable grace.

It seems to me that what these two points bring out is that what the so-called 'monergist' actually wants to say is that God's work precedes and causally determines the human works. However, he still has to say that these are our works in the sense that we will them and do them (Phil. 2:13, again). I think that most Arminians will also want to say that God's work by grace in the individual's heart precedes the individual's works (Wesley's "prevenient grace"), but the Arminian will deny that the works are thus causally determined so that Gerald is indeed correct, and it all comes back to the resistability of grace.

Posted by Kenny at November 15, 2006 7:55 PM
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Comments

If he is right, Calvin was a synergist. That in itself is a reductio of his position, since the term was coined to describe Calvin's view.

As far as I can tell, anyone who is a compatibilist is automatically going to be a monergist, whereas libertarians could go either way. Gerald's definition of monergism makes compatibilists and libertarians automatically synergists, with only hard determinists who deny any human freedom as monergists.

This is like saying that hardly anyone believes in limited atonement, because there's always some sense in which the atonement is unlimited (i.e. it is extended as an offer to all, even if not all are chosen to receive it). But that misses the point. The view was never intended to say that there's no sense in which the offer is not limited. It's taking the name of the view over-literally and applying it in a way that the proponents of the view do not do.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at November 16, 2006 8:49 AM

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