Note: This was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
This is my final post on this subject (yay!) as I feel I have sufficiently covered all the important points. Furthermore, the final installment in the blog “Why I am Not a Calvinist” is about an issue I find so unimportant and Biblically obscure, I am simply not addressing it out of my own ignorance and lack of concern.
Ultimately, in the present day (2,000 years removed) we generally have monergists (belief is given to believers by God) and synergists (the opposite) … It should be noted that synergists technically believe there is a sort of cooperation between God willing belief and a person’s will. While this is patently obvious (as long as we keep in mind that God is the “author and perfecter of our faith”) and not disputed aside from perhaps some hyper-calvinists. However, for all practical purposes, push a synergist hard enough and he will essentially say “God can’t make someone believer,” meaning God is not powerful enough to change someone’s beliefs. God can drag you to heaven kicking and screaming. Praise be to Him, He is doing that to me.
If the first sentence in this blog didn’t already answer the question for you, let me begin by summing up my own position, which is based purely upon Scripture:
God is the “author and perfecter” (Heb 12:2) of the Christian’s faith, which means as Christ said “no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). Before becoming a “new creature” (2 Cor 5:17) all men were “indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2:3). After being “saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8) you, as a Christian, will “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-2:13).
My issue is not with synergism in its literal sense, but for what people make out of it: man is totally autonomous from God. But, this is simply not true. God makes a non-Christian a Christian by changing his will, and in accordance with that new will the Christian will work out his own salvation, with direction from the Holy Spirit. This is why the Bible says, “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord” (Prov 16:1).
So, is there synergy in the way our will cooperates with God’s? Yes. Does that will that desires to cooperate with God originate with man alone? No. It is given to man from God, hence the idea of monergism.
Before we get into anything, it is important to note that the blog I am opposing does not make a very good argument at all. It does not quote Scripture and rather complains about the implications of monergism on worship. So, if you were expecting to find a reason as to why monergism is totally out there and clearly heresy, you will be disappointed.
In the beginning he sounds moderate:
While there is certainly a sense in which the Bible teaches that God is the only agent effecting salvation, Monergism goes wrong in denying that human beings are able to co-operate in the process of regeneration and salvation … For example, one Calvinist professor I had (who is actually considered a moderate) went so far as to assert that I don’t even have free will when it comes to deciding whether to have honey or raspberry jam on my toast in the morning, because whichever choice I make results from God’s prior will-act in making the choice for me.
In this line of thinking, I think we see how the synergists throw the baby out with the bath water. Obviously, his professor’s views were too extreme. But, are we to ignore all the exceedingly clear things Scripture has to say that righteousness does not originate with man, that faith itself is the work of God? This is his claim:
Where Monergism needs to be critiqued is when it takes these truths and formalizes them into a tight system, drawing further extrapolations which end up excluding important Biblical teaching about the role of human co-operation in the salvation process.
Agreed, we must not go beyond Scripture, but sadly for Phillips, he never even invokes Scripture. However, He does invoke Saint Maximus the Confessor. The argument? “[B]ecause humans are made in the image of God, they possess the same type of self-determining power as God. ”
Now, this idea makes sense as long as it is placed during the sanctification process and it is God always doing the prodding, and by His grace, man works out His salvation in fear and trembling with support from the Holy Spirit. There is no indication in the Scripture that we ever do it alone.
Augustine does a better job harmonizing how a human, with obvious free will, both yearns to do God’s will and has this will originate with God’s agency:
When God says,
Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you, Zechariah 1:3 one of these clauses— that which invites our return to God— evidently belongs to our will; while the other, which promises His return to us, belongs to His grace…Such passages do they collect out of the Scriptures—like the one which I just now quoted,
Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you,— as if it were owing to the merit of our turning to God that His grace were given us, wherein He Himself even turns unto us. Now the persons who hold this opinion fail to observe that, unless our turning to God were itself God’s gift, it would not be said to Him in prayer,
Turn us again, O God of hosts; and,
You, O God, wilt turn and quicken us; and again,
Turn us, O God of our salvation, — with other passages of similar import, too numerous to mention here. For, with respect to our coming unto Christ, what else does it mean than our being turned to Him by believing? And yet He says:
No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. John 6:65 (On Grace and Free Will, Chapter 10)
Let’s be frank. Why pray for God’s help through temptation or for wisdom, if God cannot affect our wills? Phillips, without ever confronting this idea, turns to his own confusion in prayer:
While attending Calvinist churches I frequently encountered the idea that prayer doesn’t actually change things.
The logic behind this is solid, though the conclusion is incorrect: If God preordains all things, and decided what to do before you pray, why even bother doing it?
But I then pose this back at the anti-Calvinists: are your prayers so special, that you give God some sort of new insight that He would have otherwise missed? Is “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?” (Romans 11:34) meaningless?
Obviously, prayer is not what the anti-Calvinists think it is. Just as God decided to save men by faith and not my flipping a metaphysical switch that turned all men everywhere into righteous beings, in God’s sovereign will He wants us to pray even though it seems like God could do better by flipping a switch before we ever pray. He asks us to pray and He uses our prayers as a means of intercession. So, the prayers are useful but they do not abrogate His perfect foreknowledge and power to exercise His sovereign will.
In fact, our recognition of God’s power over our will, and yet our ability to exercise it at the same time, should lead us to pray for all things and know that God can actually answer those prayers! Have confidence, Christian, that God can keep you from temptation, deliver you from the evil one, and provide you with not only your daily bread, physically and spiritually. You are not all on your own.
“The Monergistic idea that ‘everything has to be 100% God can bring normal Christian duty into a condition of atrophy,” says Phillips, invoking the old criticism of the Puritans being “the frozen chosen.”
Good point. When God separates the sheep from the goats, it will be apparent to all who’s faith and assurance were counterfeit, not bearing themselves out in the real world in visible good works. However, just because people may take monergism and use it as justification for being morally lazy, their laziness doesn’t make the doctrine disappear from Scripture.
Phillips then recounts his de-conversion noting that him and his wife “saw that there is space for nature to have a qualified autonomy. After all, if it doesn’t undermine God’s sovereignty for Him to make dogs doggy or for Him to make chickens with chicken-ness, then there is no reason that God’s sovereignty should be thrown into question because man has free will.”
Granted, no reasonable person is saying that man cannot decide whether to get coffee at Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks. The issue is, as his words craftily hide, in reality man’s “qualified autonomy” is not autonomy at all. It is qualified that God has the veto power over man, something he never brings up. We are back to the whole “irresistible force versus immovable object” thing. God is more irresistible than we are immovable.
Or, in mathematical terms God > Man
Phillips’ argument then degrades into his disdain for Calvinistic austerity, noting:
Archaeological evidence has now firmly established that the earliest forms of Christian worship were intensely material. The early Christians used lots of things (from icons to relics of departed saints) as aids in worship…By contrast, Calvinist worship has usually been barren, stripped of all physical accoutrements.
This is just bad archaeology. What has been “firmly established” has been anything of the sort. I am sure, in his mind, Philemon’s house was decked with icons and they prayed the Nicene Creed every Sunday morning. However, in reality, there are almost no preserved ruins of a church for the first few hundred years of Christianity. One of the earliest known churches, which happens to be in Israel, has pictures of fish, not people. If anything, there seems to be indications that Christians avoided artistic representations for at least two hundred years, even though there were notable exceptions after that point in time. See also here.
Furthermore, anyone who has actually studied ancient history knows how qualified our statements have to be when we say things like “everyone knows all the respectable Corinthian women wore head coverings” or “all the early Christians used the fish symbol” or any other claim. There are simply not enough ancient records and ruins for us to make such a complete picture of an ancient society, give or take a hundred years.
Thankfully for Christians, what we do have are hundreds of pages of writings from roughly the same time period over clear questions of theology.
For some reason, after all of this, Phillips then makes this final assertion:
Once we appreciate that God’s employment of intermediaries does not subtract from His glory, there is space for a greater appreciation of the role that the saints have in helping us.
Calvinists aren’t opposed to idolatry and praying to people instead of God because it goes against the ideas found in monergism, as he argues. They are against it because they are not Biblical, and even from a logical standpoint, strange and unnecessary.
The veneration of saints didn’t exist for hundreds of years! Even Mariology, which had beginnings as soon as 150 years AFTER Christ, did not become a full blown rite of veneration until the middle ages. This seems to me something totally divorced from early Christian tradition and this is what Calvinists take issue with.
After all of this, I ask, what kind of synergism to synergists even believe? The kind that Augustine and I talk about, which is generally referred to as monergism anyway? Or, do they just think God has zero involvement whatsoever because there is an invisible law out there that God will never violate your “freedom” to have your own will? Sadly, it is the latter, which is not synergism at all. For God’s will to cooperate to man’s will, God has to be able to add something to the equation!