This post is not like the other posts I’ve done in the past, but is a bit different. Here’s what you should do if you care to participate in this fun little dialogue on theology and faith:
Read about the two arguments. One is for monergism and the other is for synergism. Then, think a bit on these important issues before putting your thoughts down, it is a helpful thing to not respond immediately. Type your comments to this post addressing the questions concerning this theological debate which can be found at the end of this post. You do not need to answer all of the questions, but you do need to answer at least one of the questions for the sake of guiding the dialogue over this hotly debated issue. Be gracious, please, to others commenting on this post that you disagree with. If you aren’t going to comment, then please don’t bother reading. The purpose of this post is for a discussion and all the content of this post is not original to myself and can be found elsewhere. Alright, let the games begin…
The following is a blog post by theologian/scholar Michael Bird posted on Euangelion on Sept. 5, 2010:
Christian Sanctification – Indicative but no Imperative?
“One of the standard features of Christian ethics is that it has an indicative part (what God has done for us in in salvation) and an imperative part (how we are to live in consequence). In other words, because of what God has done for you, now you should live in a manner worthy of your salvation. This pattern of indicative and imperative certainly works in Paul (e.g., Romans 6), but I would argue that it is also the pattern in the Pentateuch since the long is given to a redeemed people not to redeem the people. In fact, Charles Talbert’s study on the Sermon on the Mount shows that while Matthew is big on imperatives, he still has an indicative.
Where am I going with this? Well my concern is that some are beginning to replace the imperative element in Christian sanctification (i.e., the need to diligently prosecute, pursue, and cultivate holiness and godliness) with the need for more knowledge of the indicative (i.e., believing more in the grace of God). Dan Ortlund, who is a jolly nice chap, gives a big listing of quotes that basically take this line. For instance, one guy quoted, Jared Wilson, writes: “As pat as the answer may sound, the key to healthy Christian growth in godliness is submissive study of the Scriptures”. Now let me say that I believe in big “G” grace and I’m against big “M” moralizing. I’m fully aware that an understanding and appreciation of Christ and his work will work itself out in transformed behavior. No denials. But I am concerned that the “now go and do this” and “in response let us live like this” or “don’t do this” that we find in the Scriptures are being marginalized in the name of a piety that is largely cognitive rather than transformative, a piety that is cerebral rather than practical.
But let’s consider one of the exhortations to godliness in the Scriptures. Here is 2 Pet 1:3-10 (I preach a sermon on this passage called “Godly Mathematics”).
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Now notice that there is clearly an intellectual aspect about knowing the call of God and his promises, but thereafter we are called to add certain virtues to our life in order to life a godly life. It is not just a matter of read your ESV study Bible more or “let go and let God brother”. We have the responsibility to deliberately adopt changed attitudes and changed behaviours that show our family likeness by our conduct and thereby make our calling and election sure! This is not some moralizing self-help step ladder to salvation, it is the genuine calling of the Christian to work out what God has worked in (Phil 2:12-13). Good theology, godward passion, and christocentric interpretation is not enough. Based on the words of Jesus, Paul, and James I’m willing to say that the differences between the sheep and the goats, between the followers and the fans, between hearers and doers, and between wearing a cross and carrying one, is whether one earnestly struggles against sin and earnestly seeks after godly virtues in the power of God’s Spirit. It is mediation on grace, imitation of Christ/God, transformation of the self, and actively pursuing application that will make us godly people.
I constantly read that any soteriology that is apparently synergistic must be bad. Whether that is second temple Judaism or semi-pelagianism, they are synergistic, and therefore they are the bad kinda thing that the Apostle Paul warned of. But I think that “syngergism” as soteriological category is a misnomer. First, every form of soteriology seems to have an element of divine action and human response. If “salvation” is contingent upon certain human responses, like faith repentance, then anywhere where you have a divine sovereignty/human responsibility tension, then you are gonna have some kind of synergism. Even if God animates the human response directly or indirectly, it is still a human response. Second, the only form of soteriology that is not synergistic is universalism. Unless you do absolutely nothing, no response, no responsibility, no ability, no effort at all, the only form of monergism is universalism, everyone gets saved no matter what they believe or what they’ve done. Some systems of soteriology are explicitly synergistic and they speak of cooperating with divine grace (e.g., Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodox), however, we should avoid ragging on these with the charge of “synergism” because any soteriology that includes a human response is in some sense synergistic. A better way to evaluate soteriologies (ancient or modern) is to look at the type of divine action, its efficacy, and the human response that makes it effective in a particular scheme.”
The following links are to a popular Reformed website titled, “Monergism.” The first link concerns a basic understanding of Reformed monergistic beliefs (especially read ‘grace,’ ‘salvation,’ ‘perseverance,’ and ‘sanctification’). The second link, oddly enough, can be found on the same website if you go to the home page, then “bad theology,” then “synergism” (A bit ironic concerning the comment by Bird above). I have saved you the trouble of going through these multiple links and you can just click the second link below which will take you to many articles listed on the synergism/monergism debate. Obviously, being found at a site titled Monergism.com, the articles will be undoubtedly focused far more on an accurate representation of monergism as opposed to synergism. These two links are the type of thing Bird seems to be addressing in his brief post. There is a lot of content at the following links, but only enough should be read to get a representation of the monergistic viewpoint.
After having read the a bit from the two opposing viewpoints of the debate, I request that you leave a comment on your thoughts on the synergism/monergism debate. Unlike some, I do not believe it to be the ‘end of the world’ if you don’t really know where you stand on these sorts of issues. There are strong arguments on both sides in my opinion, however, my opinion you will notice is intentionally absent from this post for the sake of an interest in your opinions.
Therefore, tell me what you think.
Do the monergism folks have it right? Do the synergism folks have it right?
Does Michael Bird paint an accurate representation of monergism or not? Why?
Can one discount synergism, yet, rely fully on one’s intellectual capacities to over-emphasize the ‘indicative’ as Bird suggests? Why/Why not? If you disagree with Bird here, could there be some truth to this?
How can we go about understanding how this monergism/synergism debate plays into our own theology and how we are called to live in this time in the mix the old age and the Kingdom of God (Already/Not Yet)?
How can one be an agent of ‘Salt and Light’ in the world if one is a monergist/synergist, or does that even matter?
Final question for those who are in with the Pauline studies… If one of these views (monergism/synergism) is the historic position held by orthodox Christianity (by this I mean early church up through the east/west split), yet, it was changed at a certain time period and that point is not disputed today, then why make all the fuss about N.T. Wright’s view of Justification with an appeal to a departure from historical orthodox Christianity?