Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Second Debate - Monergism vs. Synergism

In the background, one Orthodox Christian is preparing to respond to the Exegesis Challenge I previously presented (link). Meanwhile, an Internet poster (Matt) from BeyondFundamentalism.com has accepted a challenge to debate Monergism vs. Synergism. Here's a link to the debate page (link), as well as the present author's introduction, below:

The present debate is one that is of great importance and interest in the church today, as it has been for many years. The issue is the administration of salvation: is it monergistic or synergistic? The present author will advocate for monergism and respond to Matt's advocacy of synergism.

There are, in essence, three views of salvation with respect to the role of God and man in its administration. The first view (which neither the present author nor Matt will advocate) is a view that man saves himself - help from God is not needed. This view is usually classified under the heading of Pelagianism, whether or not the historical figure Pelagius actually held such a view. For the sake of completeness, we could label such a view anergism, though such a term has not been academically accepted. This view suggests that grace is not necessary: man has the ability unassisted to avail himself of salvation, and any grace from God is superfluous. In other words, anergism argues that the grace of God has no essential role in salvation. Conversely, anergism either denies that God can positively influence man's saved/unsaved status, or that God chooses not to. Anergism can handily be identified as the view that "Salvation is possible for the unassisted, and God has left the decision up to man as to whether he will perish."

A second view is a view that man cooperates with God in order to be saved. This view is held by - among others - Arminians, Semi-Pelagians, and modern-day Roman Catholics. It is also held by others that are usually grouped outside of Christianity, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. This is the view that the present author identifies as synergism. This view acknowledges that grace is necessary, but asserts that grace is not sufficient. Conversely, synergism denies that God can entirely determine man's saved/unsaved status, or that God chooses not to. Synergism can handily be identified as the view that "God has made salvation possible, has provided assistance to man, but has left the final decision up to man as to whether he will perish."

The third view is monergism, the view that God by grace alone saves man. This view is held by those within the "Reformed" and "Calvinist" communities as well as by many pre-Reformation Christians, most notably Augustine. This view is also the view of the present author and his namesake Francis Turretin. Monergism holds that grace is both necessary and sufficient for salvation. Consequently, Monergism affirms that God ultimately determines who will be saved and who will perish, and denies that God either cannot save some or that God restrains Himself from saving those whom He wants to save. Monergism can handily be identified as the view that "God's grace ensures the salvation of those upon whom God chooses to bestow grace."

Anergism and synergism, to the extent that they attempt Scriptural justification, both rely on the Scriptures that focus on man's need to do various things such as confess, repent, believe, and persevere. Synergism goes further and recognizes the Scripture that teaches that grace is necessary - that man cannot be saved apart from grace.

Monergism completes the Scriptural testimony by recognizing that even man's good actions: confession, repentance, faith, and perserverence are gifts of God and the fruit of the Spirit's work in a person. Monergism concludes from these Scriptures that man is unable to do good of himself (sometimes referred to as "total depravity"), that man is changed from unable and unwilling to able and willing by an act of God's regeneration (sometimes referred to as "irresistable grace"), that God exercises His grace to preserve the sonship of His children (sometimes referred to as "perseverance of the saints"), that God chooses His children without regard to their merit (sometimes referred to as "unconditional election"), and that Christ's sacrificial work was offered for all and only the chosen children, whom God alone knows (sometimes referred to as "limited atonement").

The philosophical considerations noted above are typically with respect to the issue of "free will," with anergists and synergists viewing man's will as essentially autonomous from God's will, and monergists viewing man's will as subordinate to God's will. Scripture, of course, is typically brought to bear on the issue, with the anergists and synergists emphasizing the requirements made of man and certain general statements of God's interest in salvation, and monergists emphasizing the omniscience, wisdom, and omnipotence. Synergists and monergists also typically appeal to God's love, though in different respects: synergists claiming that they understand God's love to be broader, and monergists that they undestand God's love to be deeper.

The present author believes that monergism is the purest expression of Scriptural truth as to the administration of salvation: it is all of God. We do act, but we are not the cause of our salvation: we run as though we have not seized the object, and yet we have already been seized by Christ. We trust in Him to save us, and we trust in Him because He has converted us.

Scripture says:

Psalm 3:8 Salvation belongeth unto the LORD: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.

Psalm 68:20 He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto GOD the Lord belong the issues from death.

Therefore, the present author affirms monergism as the truth of Scripture.

As agreed, the following three questions are presented to challenge Matt to consider the issues. In order to set the stage for the questions, I present the following account:

In 1950 a man named Osama and his twin sister Theresa are born. He lives and dies in 2010 without ever having had faith in Christ. He does not inherit eternal life. She comes to faith in Christ in 2009 and dies in faith in 2010 with her twin brother. She does inherit eternal life.

1) In what way and at what time did God desire to save each of these twins?
2) Did God love these twins differently (from each other) at any time?
3) Did God get what He wanted with respect to each of these twins?

I hope that this provides a good platform for this informal debate, and I welcome any comments, clarification, and so forth. [Incidentally, I welcome comments by any readers of this blog on the questions presented, particular readers who are synergist or anergist in their soteriology.]

May God use this debate to the edification of all those who pass by,

-Turretinfan

7 comments:

GeneMBridges said...

I might point out that not only does Arminian (and I'm using this as a catchall phrase for those soteriologies that affirm libertarian freedom) soteriology teach grace is necessary but insufficient, but it also teaches that grace is quantitative not qualitative. I'd point that out to your opponent.

Oh, and if he decides to revert to Molinism @ any point, I'd point out that William Lane Craig admits that the exegetical evidence for it is paper thin.

He writes in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Craig, “Middle-Knowledge View,” 125.)
Since Scripture does not reflect upon this question, no amount of proof-texting can prove that God’s counterfactual knowledge is possessed logically prior to his creative decree. This is a
matter for theological-philosophical reflection, not biblical exegesis. Thus, while it is clearly
unbiblical to deny that God has simple foreknowledge and even counterfactual knowledge, those who deny middle knowledge cannot be accused of being unbiblical.


Like Libertarianism, it cannot be exegeted from the Scriptures.

That alone should signal the defeat of synergism, for, if libertarianism cannot be exegeted from the Scriptures and the Scriptures explicitly contradict it (and by assigning our choices to causes it certainly does), then synergism is thereby denied.

Turretinfan said...

Brother Gene,

Thanks for the comments!

Good point about "quantitative not qualitative" - it's the correlative to my comment about Arminians believing that God's love is broad, rather than deep.

The way that God exercises His grace shows His love. God is longsuffering toward all, but provides special mercies to the elect.

It is as though one is looking (in Arminianism) at the surface of the river and seeing that it stretches from bank to bank. In Calvinism, however, you discover the difference between the channel and the shallows. God's love is great toward the reprobate, but so much greater toward the elect, that we can call the former love "hate" as it is called in Romans 9.

I'll be interested to see if Matt heads in the direction of Molinism, and yes - that position of Jesuit origin is lacking in exegetical support.

Thanks for the quotation from WLC. I'm working on a response to another of his books, but perhaps "Four Views" would make a good next project for the blog.

Good point as well regarding Libertarianism (with respect to the will, presumably, not economics) - Edwards crushed any hope (either exegetically or philosophically) for such a viewpoint in his excellent treatise a few hundred years ago, and the viewpoint has never recovered, because the viewpoint is contradicted both by reason and common sense.

-Turretinfan

Josh said...

"...Arminians...synergism. This view acknowledges that grace is necessary, but asserts that grace is not sufficient."

Was grace sufficient or insufficient when "Noah found grace in the eyes of God" and that grace commanded him to build an ark? Your characterization above is a red herring and strawman. It is not a question of whether grace is sufficient to save man with zero input from man or not, but a question of type of grace is God's grace--what does God say it is? Did God say his grace does everything for us? If God said that, I doubt he would have told Noah to build the ark. He could have simply lowered an ark from the heavens after all, yet he did not. If God's grace left no response to be made on our part, he would not have said "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" nor would we need any response at all. Faith would be futile and repentance unheard of, because God would just wave a magic wand and be done with it if the sufficiency of his grace truly meant that man needs not do anything even lift his pinky.

Turretinfan said...

Josh,

Thanks for your comments.

You asked: "Was grace sufficient or insufficient when 'Noah found grace in the eyes of God' and that grace commanded him to build an ark?"

I respond:

a) God's gracious provision of physical salvation to Noah is different in important ways from God's gracious provision of eternal life to the elect.

b) If you suggesting that man is saved by obedience to God's command, just call your theology works salvation and be done with it. Tell me, was Noah saved from the flood by works or not?

c) My characterization of the Arminian position is neither a straw man nor a red herring. It is not a straw man, because Arminianism does deny that grace is sufficient to save, suggesting that man must work together with the grace (i.e. co-operate with it) in order to be saved. It is not a red herring, because the issue of the sufficiency of grace is central to the monergism/synergism distinction.

d) You wrote: "It is not a question of whether grace is sufficient to save man with zero input from man or not, but a question of type of grace is God's grace"

You can rephrase the question lots of ways: including whether God's grace is the kind that actually saves, or the kind that merely makes salvation possible. Regardless of how you phrase the question, the issue is the same: is grace enough to ensure the salvation of God's targets for salvation? The monergist answers "yes," the synergist answers "no," and the anergist answers "irrelevant."

e) You asked: "[W]hat does God say [grace] is?"

See 2 Corinthians 12:9 and Romans 11:6.

Grace is sufficient, without works, according to God.

f) You asked: "Did God say his grace does everything for us?"

Yes. See, for example, Hebrews 12:2, Philippians 2:13, and Ephesians 3:20, as well as the verses mentioned above.

g) You wrote: "If God said that, I doubt he would have told Noah to build the ark. He could have simply lowered an ark from the heavens after all, yet he did not."

See (a) above. Nevertheless, also consider the way that God saved Daniel from the lions and Daniel's three friends from the furnace. God can save by ordinary means (such as warning those whose hearts he has prepared), circumstantial means (such as stopping the mouth of the enemy), and extraordinary means (such as preventing fire from having its ordinary effect).

Tell me why it is said that Noah found grace in the sight of God, and not that the rest of mankind (to whom Noah was sent as a preacher) found grace? Could it be because God prepared Noah's heart so that Noah believed and obeyed God?

h) You wrote: "If God's grace left no response to be made on our part, he would not have said "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" nor would we need any response at all."

Oh, there are plenty of responses to be made, but it is not the response that saves - after all - the next verse completes the thought:

"For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."

As also elsewhere it is written:
Hebrews 13:20-21
20Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, 21Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

i) You wrote: "Faith would be futile and repentance unheard of, because God would just wave a magic wand and be done with it if the sufficiency of his grace truly meant that man needs not do anything even lift his pinky."

Faith trusts in another for salvation. A self-faith that trusts in one's act of will is futile.

Repentence is turning from sin. It is the effect of a heart that has been changed by God from stone to flesh, and an awareness of the sinfulness of sin.

God's transformation of god-hater to child of God is miraculous. It is the result of the operation of the Holy Spirit, not a magic wand. Furthermore, God has chosen to save man by grace through faith in Christ - but faith itself is the gift of God and a fruit of the Spirit's work in a man's life.

Thus, all of salvation is of God, and God's grace is sufficient to enseure the salvation of the elect. God gets what God wants: that's part and parcel with being omnipotent.

-Turretinfan

Josh said...

"If you suggesting that man is saved by obedience to God's command, just call your theology works salvation and be done with it. Tell me, was Noah saved from the flood by works or not?"

Apparently you think Noah was saved from the flood by works, and you deny fully that Noah found grace in the eyes of God, because you refuse to realize what grace is. Grace isn't God handing us salvation on a silver platter AND spoon feeding it down our throats. He hands us the platter, but we have to eat it. Could we have provided the platter ourselves? No. But now that he has provided it, we can eat it ourselves.

"You can rephrase the question lots of ways: including whether God's grace is the kind that actually saves, or the kind that merely makes salvation possible."

Which way would you categorize the grace that Noah found in the eyes of the Lord?

"Oh, there are plenty of responses to be made, but it is not the response that saves"

I agree that the response doesn't save. The blood of Christ saves. But I doubt not that you would dare take it one step further and say the response isn't necessary, and that's where we would disagree. This is the problem with Calvinism. Calvinism asserts that God makes you beleive and makes you repent and makes you confess Christ, but then they say "but you don't need to be baptized." If they had any consistency then God would still be controlling you with his remote and would make you be baptized. But all of Calvinism is merely designed as an easy way to get around certain parts of the New Testament that modern sophists do not like. If you really beleive that God controls you and makes you make every response that is needed for salvation, you would say that God makes you be baptized rather than leave it an open question whether it is necessary or not, and you would then assert that if anyone is unbaptized they either are not elect or God hasn't yet pushed the button on their remote that makes them get baptized.

GeneMBridges said...

Josh, within the constraints of libertarian freedom - the commitment of the synergist - why does one man believe and not the other given the same conditions?

Put another way, why does one man reject the gospel and not the other.
To say, "because he has free will," is to beg the question and is also unresponsive. We do not deny the freedom of the will; rather we deny the will is free in the libertarian sense.

This is the question you must answer.

We affirm grace is sufficient because Scripture plainly teaches it and because if man must cooperate with grace in the sense the synergist asserts - from his libertarian free will - then grace is thereby insufficient. So, it is not a straw man. In fact, here is what Miley said:

Freedom is fundamental in
Arminianism," therefore, "the [Arminian] system holds accordingly the universality of the atonement and provisory nature of the atonement, and the conditionality of salvation. (Vol. 2, 275)

and

that the atonement is only provisory in its character, rendering men savable, but not necessarily saving them'; and that salvation is conditional in the sense of a real
Synergism (p. 169)

If grace makes men saveable, is that not an admission grace is insufficient?

Turretinfan said...

Josh,

You quoted put my question italics, but you did not answer it:

Was Noah saved from the flood by works or not?

You wrote: "Apparently you think Noah was saved from the flood by works, and you deny fully that Noah found grace in the eyes of God, because you refuse to realize what grace is."

I respond: Your tone here is not fully helpful. I don't "refuse to realize" anything. If I have not realized something it is because you have not explained it. On the other hand, I think that you do not understand what grace is, or what the expression "find grace in the eyes of" means. At least, you have not demonstrated that you understand either of those things. Nevertheless, I leave open the possibility that you have just not been given a fair chance to explain yourself, so feel free.

You asked: "Which way would you categorize the grace that Noah found in the eyes of the Lord?"

I respond: Perhaps you clarify your question. Which way with respect to what? While you are at it, you could affirm or deny the answer to the rhetorical question I had posed (is grace enough to ensure the salvation of God's targets for salvation?)

You stated that you agree that it is not the response that saves, it is the blood of Christ that saves.

However, if the blood of Christ saves, and if the blood of Christ was shed for each and every person, how can it be that fewer than each and every person is saved?

Your response (implicit in the remainder of your comments) would appear to be that the reason fewer than each and every person is saved is because the blood of Christ alone does not save - there is an additional requirement: human obedience.

Or - to put in the style of language the NRA uses - Christ's blood doesn't save people, people save people. To invert things, by adopting your logic, youthful George Washington might have asserted that he did not chop down the cherry tree, the axe did it.

Of course, both concepts are foreign to you and to Scripture. You know that is Christ that saves, but part of your theology (the "offer and acceptance" part) denies it. To be Biblical, you should discard that portion of your theology.

I don't know where you get your understanding about the "Calvinist" view with respect to the necessity of baptism. I can't recall any major classical Reformed author suggesting that baptism is necessary for salvation, although all would assert that it is an ordinary part of the Christian life - same as also participation in the Lord's Supper.

Perhaps you're confused about what Reformed doctrine is?

In any event, every good thing I do is because of God working in me. To what source do you attribute the good things you do, if you believe you do anything good? Is some part of the credit for those good things you've done your own?

-Turretinfan