Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
The Basics of Monergism and Synergism
03/25/2012 - Alan KurschnerThe "Calvinist vs. Arminian" debate is substantially a debate between what is called "synergism" and "monergism." There is no third option (unless one is willing to affirm Pelagianism). For those who are new to the Calvinist-Arminian debate, the following is a primer on the two perennial branches of theological systems in Christianity. Or to put it another way, there are two very different ways for believers to view how their salvation was brought about.
In general, the first type (the Arminian-Synergist) affirms what is called "synergism." Synergists believe that two forces in the universe are necessary to bring about regeneration in the life of the sinner. In specifics, the two forces at work (cooperation) that are necessary to bring about regeneration, or spiritual life, is the will of man and the Holy Spirit (grace).
To put it another way, the work of the Holy Spirit is dependent on the creature’s will, hence, “synergism” (working together). Synergists will sincerely say, “I believe in grace alone.” But in reality, they believe that grace is not alone (sufficient), but that man’s will is necessary for regeneration to be effective.
It could be said that synergists are “functional” Arminians because even though some will deny the label, their theology functions synergistically (thus, how they identify themselves is inconsistent with what they teach and believe).
The second group of believers (the Calvinist-Monergist) affirm what is called “monergism.” Monergists believe that there is only one force in the universe (grace alone) that brings about regeneration in the life of the sinner. In specifics, because of the deadness of man’s spiritual state, his moral inability, the Holy Spirit performs the miracle of spiritual resurrection (regeneration) in that person, hence, “monergism” (one work). Grace is sufficient to be effective, and does not depend on some action of man.
In other words, the Holy Spirit does not merely whisper in the hardened sinner’s ear, hoping that the rebel sinner will “cooperate”; rather, while the sinner is in a state of hardness and rebellion, the Holy Spirit penetrates in the will of man and performs the miracle of spiritual life (regeneration). That is grace alone. Faith does not precede regeneration, regeneration precedes faith.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions– it is by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:4-5
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12-13
He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” John 8:47Arminians cannot affirm monergism (grace alone); they must always have the creature’s will as the final determiner of their destiny, not God. Inconsistently, Arminians pray (without knowingly) Calvinisticly, “God, change my unbelieving relative’s heart.” I have never heard them pray, “God, only whisper in my relative’s ear, but don’t change their heart unless you’ve been given permission.” In contrast, the Calvinist prays and affirms biblical truth consistently.
A Brief Corrective to Dr. Steve Lemke
03/03/2012 - James WhiteGreetings from somewhere between Quizno's and gate B-14. On my way to minister to the saints in Hilo and Honolulu (and hoping to be ministered to as well!). Infamous blogger and channel rat "johnMark" informed me that Steve Lemke of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (and one of those who participated in the famed "John 3:16 Conference" of a few years ago) had made reference to me in a comment found here. Lemke is attempting to substantiate the concept of "belief against the will" as part of Reformed theology. The person to whom he is responding briefly points out Lemke's error in his follow up comment, which says, "Actually they don’t because there is the expectation of God changing the person’s heart. You do not see people forced to believe as they kick and scream in protest." Exactly. Lemke quotes me as follows:
(3) JAMES WHITE — “The doctrine of ‘irresistible grace’ . . . is simply the belief that when God chooses to move in the lives of His elect and bring them from spiritual death to spiritual life, no power in heaven or on earth can stop Him from so doing. . . . It is simply the confession that when God chooses to raise His people to spiritual life, He does so without the fulfillment of any conditions on the part of the sinner. Just as Christ had the power and authority to raise Lazarus to life without obtaining his ‘permission’ to do so, He is able to raise His elect to spiritual life with just as certain a result.”
Note: “no power on earth can stop Him,” “without obtaining his ‘permission,’” “just as certain a result”
First, I am honored to be noted by Dr. Lemke, though, it does strike me as a little strange that he would cite me, since one of his conference co-patriots falsely identified me as a "hyper-Calvinist." Hopefully, Lemke realizes that this identification was, and remains, false. In any case, what Dr. Lemke does not seem to understand about Reformed theology is that God ordains the ends and the means. The ends is the salvation of God's elect. His decree renders their salvation a certainty. But what he seems to miss, as noted by the comment offered in response to his own, is that just as God's grace is irresistible, so the result of that grace (regeneration, the imparting of a heart of flesh after taking out the heart of stone, etc.,) is just as certain. God changes the heart so that my act of faith toward Jesus Christ is the natural result of my changed nature. I am a new creature, not because the old rebel decided to become something other, but because of the resurrection power of God by the Spirit. The very idea of someone kicking and screaming seems a bit ironic, in light of the Reformed insistence upon the deadness of man in sin. Surely the heart of stone contains no desire to be changed, but ignoring the impartation of resurrection life as the means by which a radical change in the will of the elect is effected again presents a fundamentally distorted view of the position Dr. Lemke, and his compatriots, seek to deny.