Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Synergism and Monergism: How Does God Work?

“Jacob Arminius is remembered in the annals of church history as a controversial Dutch pastor and theologian who wrote numerous works, filling three large volumes, defending an evangelical form of synergism (belief in divine-human cooperation in salvation) against monergism (belief that God is the all-determining reality in salvation, which excludes free human participation)...(like most theological terms, SYNERGISM has multiple shades of meaning, not all of which are positive; here it merely means any belief in HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY AND THE ABILITY TO FREELY ACCEPT OR REJECT THE GRACE OF SALVATION” (Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology,” pp. 13-14).

As I’ve explained on the site before, the word “synergism” comes from the Greek word “sunergeo,” meaning “to work with.” The word “monergism” comes from the Greek word “monergeo,” meaning “to work alone.”

So which is it? How does God work? Does He work alone in salvation, where He not only gave His Son but FORCES you to believe in Him? Or does He give His Son so you can demonstrate faith IN HIS SACRIFICE in order to be saved?

The answer is: God works with human cooperation, what is known as “synergism.” To see if this is true, let’s turn to Scripture.

To investigate this subject, my first post will only discuss four passages of Scripture. Future posts on synergism and monergism will detail these two views further.

The first passage to investigate would be Mark 16:

“Then He[Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And THESE SIGNS will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new languages; they will pick up snakes; if they should drink anything deadly, it will never harm them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will get well.’
Then after speaking to them, the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out an preached everywhere, the Lord WORKING WITH THEM and confirming the word by the accompanying signs” (Mark 16:15-20, HCSB).

The word for “working with” in the Greek is “sunergountos.” So here, we find that the Lord is assisting the work of the Eleven, whom He just told to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15, HCSB).
In verse 17, the Lord tells the disciples that “signs will ACCOMPANY (or follow) THOSE WHO BELIEVE…” This means that as a result of their belief, demonstrations will occur to prove that their belief is right. In verse 20, the Lord does as promised, for everywhere the disciples go preaching (as He told them to do in Mark 16:15), the Lord works to bring about signs and wonders.

This passage shows that, while the Lord sacrificed His life, He does expect us to believe on Him: “WHOEVER BELIEVES and is baptized will be saved…” The one who responds to the Lord’s work as Savior and Lord will do miracles—all because of the NAME of Christ. Christ didn’t stop the disciples from going into the world to preach the gospel (to do it Himself).

The next instance we see synergism is in 2 Cor.6:

“WORKING TOGETHER with Him, we also appeal to you: Don’t receive God’s grace in vain” (2 Cor. 6:1, HCSB).

The Greek word for “working together with” is “sunergountes.” Notice that, prior to the start of chapter 6, Paul has spent time talking about being made anew in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Next, Christ has given believers a ministry of reconciliation, that which they received in Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-19). In verse 20, Paul says that “we are ambassadors for Christ.”

But then Paul says something that I can’t get past: “CERTAIN that God is appealing THROUGH US…” Not only did Paul say that he and others are working WITH God and then, that God is working THROUGH them? The answer? Because God was doing both. The Spirit lives INSIDE the believer, so Paul and others couldn’t do what they did without the Spirit; however, they were also WORKING WITH God because of the message of reconciliation: “Therefore, we are AMBASSADORS for Christ; certain that God is appealing through us, WE PLEAD ON CHRIST’S BEHALF. ‘Be reconciled to God’” (2 Cor. 5:20, HCSB).

1 Corinthians also presents us with the issue of synergism:

“For WE ARE GOD’S COWORKERS. YOU ARE GOD’S FIELD, GOD’S BUILDING. According to the grace given to me, as a skilled master builder I have laid a foundation and another builds on it. But each one must be careful how he builds on it” (1 Cor. 3:9-10, HCSB).

The Greek word for “co-workers” is “sunergoi.” Here, Paul makes it clear that he and Apollos are workers with Christ—Christ is a worker (He built the church) and Apollos and Paul are just men in it who have been graced to build the church further.
When Paul writes that he and Apollo are God’s coworkers, they are saying that they are working with God. To do what, you might ask?

“They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6, HCSB).

Notice that there are three stages to growth: first, there has to be a seed planted; then, the seed has to be given water; last but not least, the growth comes. Paul is saying that in the process, each one (whether himself or Apollos) has played a part. However, the most important part is that God gives the increase, God multiplies the fold.

The next time we see synergism is in James where it talks about faith and works:

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? CAN HIS FAITH SAVE HIM?
If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, IF IT DOESN’T HAVE WORKS, is dead by itself.
But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works. YOU BELIEVE THAT GOD IS ONE; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder.
Foolish man! Are you willing to learn that FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS USELESS? Wasn’t Abraham our father JUSTIFIED BY WORKS when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith WAS ACTIVE TOGETHER WITH his works, and by works, FAITH WAS PERFECTED” (James 2:14-22, HCSB).

Verse 22 tells us that faith “was active together with his works,” for which we see the Greek word “sunergei.” The next phrase tells us that by works, faith was “perfected,” or “completed.” We can believe in God (James 2:19) all we want; but that doesn’t distinguish us from the demons. The truth is, there must be something more than belief in God.

And I think James has implications for the Arminian/Calvin debate. If we say we believe in God, then our actions should demonstrate that. We should be willing to put our faith into action, the same way Abraham did. If the Calvinist really believes in a God that keeps and preserves, he should live as though he wants to be kept and preserved—and as though he wants to persevere.

From the examples of above, we can see that God works with people and people work WITH God. It is a process called synergism, an interaction between God and man whereby both agree to do their part. In my next post, I will go into what Roger Olson calls “two-covenants theology” and show synergism in God’s dealings with man.

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