Sunday, September 05, 2010


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.


Anonymous said...

I would also ask whether or not it makes life in relationship to Jesus central or not. Like in Colossians 2:6-10. If a soteriology is so "monergistic" that it actually leaves Jesus out because he finished the work (which he did) and so the Christian life becomes a matter of certain practices, and not obedience to Jesus, then it might not be soteriology any more.

Paul D. Adams said...

Amen! When asked by Craig Blomberg whether I was leaning toward Calvinism or Arminianism in submitting my paper to him (Election and Salvation in the Gospel of John) I responded, "Yes." One cannot read through John's Gospel and not see the human and divine dynamic re: soteriology.

pennoyer said...

I think there may be a dimension you have not considered in your short post.

Theoretically speaking, if God ultimately supplies what he requires from human beings (whether it be faith or good works) then we are not limited to "monergism = universalism." God could supply to some and not to others, giving ears to hear to some and not to others, etc.

Is this just an issue of terminology? I believe the term "synergy" is typically reserved for soteriologies in which human beings really and truly contribute to their own salvation. But in the kind of theology I'm describing above (let's call it Calvinist), the only real "synergy" would be in the work of the God-man Jesus Christ (though even there, Jesus does not work towards his own salvation but that of others).

Gary Ware said...

'Monogism' would identify human responses as evidence of salvation, not that salvation is contingent upon human response.
But you would have known that before you wrote this post.

Matt Viney said...

Mr Bird's blog posts are always thought-provoking. I think this one will attract plenty of heated comments (he's used to that!).

I do have some reservations about the idea of synergism, and so I'll ask a couple of questions and see if anyone can help me out. These are GENUINE questions, by the way.

1. if a human decision can make Christ's work 'efficacious' for salvation, is God UNABLE to save some people who are simply unwilling to make that decision? Put another way, if a human response makes THE difference between a person who accepts the Gospel offer and a person who rejects the offer, was God UNABLE to save the latter, simply because they refused it?
2. doesn't synergism (of any sort) reduce the doctrine of election/predestination to simply God foreknowing who would accept the offer?
3. On the cross, Jesus said "it is finished". If the efficacy of the atonement is limited to those who MIGHT choose to accept the Gospel message, what precisely was finished?
4. Why can't the 'response' aspect of our salvation also part of how God's truly saves his people? If no one can come to Jesus unless God 'draws' him (Jn. 6), how can our 'response' be credited to us?
5. Romans 11:36 says: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen." If at the judgement day, the only difference between me and a person who is about to enter eternal damnation is that I made a 'better choice', how will not the glory of salvation be divided between God and myself? Surely the heart of SYNERGY demands that it is in some sense a cooperation between God and myself. It seems to me that if I have 'chosen better', then salvation isn't "of the Lord" (Jonah 2:9) - it's a team effort.
6. If Ephesians 2:8-9 is right, then how can salvation not "of ourselves" in some way?

It seems that we'll always be struggling to understand how God's will and ours relate. However, syngerism seems to leave us with (i) a God who is ABLE to save, but needs your say-so; (ii) beleiver's standing heaven because they themselves made the crucial choice; (iii) a cross that makes people 'save-able', but doesn't actually save anyone for sure.

Any thoughts?

Kutz - (Peter Kutuzov) said...

Hey Michael,

I'm surprised that your post only dealt with the perspective that "salvation is contingent upon certain human responses, like faith repentance".

I'd have thought that the nuances of that assertion would be where your discussion was going to go. Gary seems to have had similar thoughts.

Are you planning on posting on that in the future? I'd like to hear your thoughts. I'm still young in the ways of the systematic theological force.