GG&E Session Three Outline: Monergism vs. Synergism, and the winner is…

Posted: July 28, 2011 in Theologababble

Synergism vs. Monergism

  1. Synergism (working together) is the idea that people must cooperate with God before they can be born again, or regenerated. God makes His world-wide offer of salvation, and those who choose to respond properly through faith and repentance will be regenerated and justified.
    1. Synergists who acknowledge the depravity of man teach a concept known as “prevenient grace.” According to Wesley’s Order of Salvation, “Human beings are totally incapable of responding to God without God first empowering them to have faith. This empowerment is known as “Prevenient Grace.” Prevenient Grace doesn’t save us but, rather, comes before anything that we do, drawing us to God, making us WANT to come to God, and enabling us to have faith in God. Prevenient Grace is Universal, in as much as all humans receive it, regardless of their having heard of Jesus. It is manifested in the deep-seated desire of most humans to know God.”

                                                               i.      This grace allows men to freely choose to believe the Gospel or to reject it.

                                                             ii.      This allows total fairness on God’s part.

  1. There are a few problems with this idea:

                                                               i.      There is zero direct Biblical support for this, but rather is drawn inferentially (and errantly) from passages like John 3:16, 36 and Revelation 3:20.  

                                                             ii.      It only moves the problem back one step, and not even a good step back at that. If unregenerate men are made morally neutral and God gives equal grace, why do some men choose Jesus while the majority of them reject Jesus?

                                                            iii.      P.G. admits compatibilism, yet then seeks to endorse libertarianism.

                                                           iv.      What good is prevenient grace to a dead sinner?

                                                             v.      Every biblical reference to an unregenerate person seems to contradict the idea of prevenient grace.

                                                           vi.      Though doing His best, God is ultimately unable to save everyone, even though He really, really wants to.

  1. The idea of God desiring the salvation of the human race is faulty.
    1. Since not all are saved, God is either unable or unwilling to do it.
    2. If God is unable to save people, than God is not omnipotent.
    3. If Jesus came to save all men, than Jesus failed miserable.
    4. If the Spirit cannot draw successfully, than we are stronger than God.
    5. If God is able, it stands to reason that God is not willing (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).
    6. Matthew 11 and Mark 4 refute prevenient grace (see verse list).
    7. Though perhaps well intentioned, prevenient grace is a concept foreign to Scripture, and even if it were true it leaves salvation ultimately in the hands of man, since if God graces all men equally, the determining factor for who responds positively is left in the hands of a sinner.

                                                               i.      If John and Joe are both given prevenient grace, why do they not respond the same? The only possible answer is that they are not the same, meaning their natures are not identical, and since God is the one who formed their natures (or allowed sin to form it), we cannot escape the conclusion that God is directly responsible for the salvation of men, and that if God’s greatest desire was for the salvation of all men, than surely He would have given large enough doses of prevenient grace so as to secure an acceptance of His Son.


R.C. Sproul says it this way:

As the name suggests, prevenient grace is grace that “comes before” something. It is normally defined as a work that God does for everybody. He gives all people enough grace to respond to Jesus. That is, it is enough grace to make it possible for people to choose Christ. Those who cooperate with and assent to this grace are “elect.” Those who refuse to cooperate with this grace are lost. The strength of this view is that it recognizes that fallen man’s spiritual condition is severe enough that it requires God’s grace to save him. The weakness of the position may be seen in two ways. If this prevenient grace is merely external to man, then it fails in the same manner that the medicine and the life preserver analogies fail. What good is prevenient grace if offered outwardly to spiritually dead creatures?

On the other hand, if prevenient grace refers to something that God does within the heart of fallen man, then we must ask why it is not always effectual. Why is it that some fallen creatures choose to cooperate with prevenient grace and others choose not to? Doesn’t everyone get the same amount?

Think of it this way, in personal terms. If you are a Christian you are surely aware of other people who are not Christians. Why is it that you have chosen Christ and they have not? Why did you say yes to prevenient grace while they said no? Was it because you were more righteous than they were? If so, then indeed you have something in which to boast. Was that greater righteousness something you achieved on your own or was it the gift of God? If it was something you achieved, then at the bottom line your salvation depends on your own righteousness. If the righteousness was a gift, then why didn’t God give the same gift to everybody?

Perhaps it wasn’t because you were more righteous. Perhaps it was because you are more intelligent. Why are you more intelligent? Because you study more (which really means you are more righteous)? Or are you more intelligent because God gave you a gift of intelligence he withheld from others?

To be sure, most Christians who hold to the prevenient grace view would shrink from such answers. They see the implied arrogance in them. Rather they are more likely to say, “No, I chose Christ because I recognized my desperate need for him.” That certainly sounds more humble. But I must press the question. Why did you recognize your desperate need for Christ while your neighbor didn’t? Was it because you were more righteous than your neighbor, or more intelligent?

The question for advocates of prevenient grace is why some people cooperate with it and others don’t. How we answer that will reveal how gracious we believe our salvation really is. The $64,000 question is, “Does the Bible teach such a doctrine of prevenient grace? If so, where?”

We conclude that our salvation is of the Lord. He is the One who regenerates us. Those whom he regenerates come to Christ. Without regeneration no one will ever come to Christ. With regeneration no one will ever reject him. God’s saving grace effects what he intends to effect by it.

–          Sproul, “Chosen by God”

  1. If synergism is to be rejected Biblically and logically, we must now determine is there is merit to the concept of monergism.
    1. Monergism (working alone) is defined by Century Dictionary this way: “In theology, [monergism is] the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is the only efficient agent in regeneration [the new birth] – that the human will possesses no inclination to holiness until regenerated [born again], and therefore cannot cooperate in regeneration.”

                                                               i.      Unlike synergism, which teaches that man’s faith/repentance, in conjunction with God’s grace, results in regeneration and then justification, monergism teaches that God’s grace in regeneration results in man’s faith/repentance and subsequent justification.

  1. Logic favors monergism.

                                                               i.      The decision to believe and be saved is either

  1. Caused
  2. Uncaused.

                                                             ii.      The decision cannot be uncaused, because a self-created effect violates the laws of non-contradiction, for the effect would have to exist apart from itself. Therefore the decision to believe in Jesus is a caused decision. But caused by what?

  1. Something within the individual
  2. Something from inside working with something from outside the individual
  3. something from outside the individual.
    1. If the decision to believe in Christ comes from within (option 1), than it was caused by either the body, mind, and spirit. This decision did not come from the body, for the body is not involved in conscious thought. If it is caused by the mind, than all minds making the better decision to receive Christ are superior to other minds which rejected Jesus, thus making salvation available only to those who have superior reasoning skills- this certainly is not the case. If it is caused by the spirit, this means that some person’s spirit is more righteous than another’s, another Biblical absurdity, given that men reject God, hate God, do not seek God, etc.
    2. If the decision to believe in Jesus comes by way of cooperation within and without the individual, than really this option gets defaulted back to option (1) because even if God did His part, man would still have to do his part, which of course is caused by the body, mind, or soul, and we can conclude that this is not the case.
    3. Therefore, one can logically conclude that the decision to believe in Jesus ultimately comes from an outside source- namely, God. God does not believe for us, but is rather the source of our faith. It is a gift. It is grace.
    4. More importantly, the Bible clearly supports monergism (See session one).

                                                               i.      Unregenerate men would never come to Jesus, because they:

  1. Cannot accept the Cross and think it’s foolish. 1 Cor. 2:14, 2 Cor. 4:3-4, 1 Cor. 1:18, 21-24.
  2. Cannot respond positively to the Gospel. John 3:27, 14:16-17.
  3. Are not sheep. John 10:26
  4. Miscellaneous Biblical truths:

                                                               i.      Salvation by grace alone is designed to give God all the credit, so that we cannot boast. Eph. 2:8-9. Ez. 36:26-27, 1 Cor. 1:30-31, 1 John 5:1

                                                             ii.      Faith is a sovereignly given gift from God. It does not come from within an individual. Eph. 2:8, Acts 16:14, Heb. 12:2

                                                            iii.      Repentance is a gift as well. 2 Tim. 2:25

                                                           iv.      Apart from God, we would never do good. Phil 1:6, 2:13

                                                             v.      God’s choice of whom to save was based on His own purposes- not as a response to our foreseen faith. Eph. 1:4-5, Romans 8:29-30

                                                           vi.      Salvation is an act of God’s mercy to undeserving sinners. Romans 9:16, Phil 1:29

                                                          vii.      The new birth is at God’s discretion- not man’s. John 1:12-13, 3:8

                                                        viii.      Jesus reveals the Father to whom He wants to. Matt 11:27 

Conclusion: If you have been born again, you are born again because God elected to save you before you were even born. This decision of God’s was not based upon any foreseen faith on your part, because faith itself is a gift from God, and even if it wasn’t you would never put your faith in the cross because prior to your rebirth you saw the cross as foolish and stupid. Apart from grace, you would have never seen your sin for what it was, because repentance is also a gift from God. You never would have come to Jesus had the Father not drawn you, and all who the Father draw will be saved. God formed an intimate relationship with you before you were born, and he predestined you to receive eternal life, rather than the eternity in Hell that you yourself chose apart from grace. In time, God regenerated your dead heart and drew you to Himself, giving you the faith you placed in Christ, which in turn led to your justification, ongoing sanctification, and eventual glorification. If you are saved today, you are saved because God gave you to Jesus, who died for you, appeasing God’s wrath upon your sins, and the Holy Spirit gave you new life. It was, is, and will always be about God. You are saved by grace, NOT because of anything you did apart from grace. You deserved Hell, you rejected God, you hated God, you rebelled against God, you chose Hell over God, and everything you did prior to your salvation was all for you, not for Him. And yet…God showed His love for us by saving us- not because of us, but in spite of us. That is grace.

  1. Ryan says:

    Good post, glad to see you writing this. Couple things:

    //The decision to believe and be saved is either


    The decision cannot be uncaused, because a self-created effect violates the laws of non-contradiction, for the effect would have to exist apart from itself.//

    You need to make it clear that belief is an effect.

    Also, almost every time you use the word “than” you mean to use “then.” I’m a grammar Nazi.

  2. I hate myself now. Thanks, Ryan. 🙂

  3. […]             The human race was God’s creation, and we as a race willfully fell into sin. God could have allowed us all to go to Hell, but instead He chose to create for Himself a people among whom He would demonstrate His love, mercy, grace, kindness, care, etc. etc. And in this plan, God chose to demonstrate His wrath upon sin, His holy hatred, His righteous indignation upon a fallen race by choosing not to save all men, but rather those who by grace place their faith and trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. As I concluded in this post: […]

  4. […] amused at the reactions drawn by the mention of predestination and election, particularly from a monergistic perspective. Many people do not think it’s fair that God be the determiner of who receives […]

  5. […] people. He draws them to His Son through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, an upon their regeneration they see not only themselves for the sinful beings they are, but they also see the Son for the […]

  6. […] written extensively throughout this blog about my Biblical and logical reasons for believing that monergism is the most Biblical understanding of God’s salvation of sinners, but I’ll include here […]

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