The Calvinism-Arminianism debate is substantially a debate between what is called “synergism” and “monergism.” For those who are new to this debate, the following is a primer on the two perennial branches of theological systems within Christianity. Or to put it another way, there are two very different ways for believers to understand their salvation.
The first type is the Arminian-Synergist. They affirm synergism. It teaches that two forces in the universe are necessary to bring about regeneration in the life of the sinner. Specifically, the two forces at work (cooperation) that are necessary to bring about regeneration, or spiritual life, is the human will 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). These individuals will sincerely say, “I believe in grace alone.” But the truth is they believe that grace is not alone (sufficient); rather, the human will is necessary for regeneration to be effective.
Many people do not like being labeled “Arminian” (e.g. “I am neither Calvinist or Arminian!) The reality, however, is their theology functions synergistically. Thus, how they identify themselves is inconsistent with what they teach and believe. At the end of the day, they are Arminian, whether they like it or not.
The second group is Calvinist-Monergist. They affirm monergism. They (including myself) 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 the spiritual human will (i.e. moral inability), the Holy Spirit performs the miracle of spiritual resurrection (regeneration) in that person. Thus it is monergism (one work). Grace is sufficient to be effective, and does not depend on some action of the human will.
In other words, the Holy Spirit does not merely “whisper” in the hardened sinner’s ear and hopes that the rebel sinner will “cooperate.” Instead, while the sinner is in a state of hardness and rebellion, the Holy Spirit penetrates into the human will and performs the miracle of spiritual life (regeneration). That is grace alone. That is what the Bible teaches. 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 8:47
Arminians cannot affirm grace alone. They must always have the creature’s will as the final determiner of their destiny, not God.
One final note.
Arminians pray inconsistently. They pray unknowingly as a Calvinist:
“God, change the unbeliever’s heart.”
I have never heard an Arminian pray:
“God, only whisper in the unbeliever’s ear, but don’t change their heart unless you’ve been given permission by the unbeliever.”
The Calvinist prays and affirms biblical truth consistently.