Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Monergism Vs Synergism

Before I try to define monergism or synergism, I'd like to define the roots of both those words.


  • From the Greek syn-ergos, συνεργός meaning working together) is the term used to describe a situation where different entities cooperate advantageously for a final outcome. Synonymous with "teamwork" and "division of labor." [1]

  • Combined action or functioning; synergism. [2]

I couldn't find a definition for this word, but since "syn-" is more than one, together, it seems apparent that the prefix "mono-" means just one, alone. (As in the phrase "dihydrogen monoxide" which means two hydrogen and one ogygen) Monergy would then mean one energy source working along.

Moving on from that, let's look up the words "monergism" and "synergism."
These words are generally used only to discuss the theological concept of regeneration, I have found several different definitions:

  • In general, it may be defined as two or more agents working together to produce a result not obtainable by any of the agents independently. The word synergy or synergism comes from two Greek words, erg meaning to work and syn meaning together, hence synergism is a "working together." ...essentially the view that God and humanity work together, each contributing their part to accomplish salvation in and for the individual. [3]

  • Teaches that God and man work together in salvation.[4]

  • The doctrine that there are two efficient agents in regeneration, namely the human will and the divine Spirit, which, in the strict sense of the term, cooperate. [5]

  • Doctrine advanced by some Lutheran theologians that spiritual renewal is exclusively the activity of the Holy Spirit. [6]

  • The teaching that God alone is the one who saves. [7]

  • Monergism (Greek mono meaning "one" and erg meaning "work") is a term for the belief that the Holy Spirit is the only agent who effects regeneration of Christians. [3]

  • In regeneration, the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ independent of any cooperation from our unregenerated human nature. [5]

Now, these definitions seem to stay mostly true to the original concepts. Synergism is the energy of God and man working together to regenerate the individual. Regeneration is a synergistic effort in which both agents together cause the result. Monergism, on the other hand is God working to save the individual without any help from anyone. God is the one agent who causes regeneration.

Going from that, I would say that I very strongly believe in monergism. God saves us. We do not save ourselves. We cannot save or regenerate ourselves. God made us the first time, and only He can make us a new creation. We cannot even "help" regenerate ourselves somehow. Only God has that kind of power. The energy that causes and produces regeneration comes from one source: the Lord Most High. The idea that God and man would somehow work together to regenerate the person is ridiculous. In fact, I have yet to meet a christian who believes that God and man work together to regenerate a person.

Other definitions that are go a bit further in their claims:

  • "...means that the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly comes to us through regeneration "[5]

  • "According to monergism, faith in Christ only springs from a heart first renewed by God."[1]

  • "To the synergist, faith may arise from unregenerated human nature." [1]

My word! What does inability to have faith have to do with what energies are involved to save a person? Here we come to something very important. I mentioned before that I have never met even one christian who believes that God and man work together to regenerate a person. Where, then, did this concept of "synergism" come from?

What in the world?

As far as I can tell, it came from calvinists trying to describe the belief system of their opponents.

What calvinists believe:
God regenerates people who do not have faith, by His power and His alone, and as a result, those people will turn to Him in faith.

Non-calvinist christian in general believe:
God regenerates people, by His power and His alone. He chooses who to regenerate based on a condition: faith. The faith neither assists in salvation, neither somehow earns or merits the salvation. Salvation does not depend on the faith, but on God, and those with faith do not deserve to be saved.

The calvinists then describe their opponent's position as:
"...the doctrine that there are two efficient agents in regeneration, namely the human will and the divine Spirit, which, in the strict sense of the term, cooperate."[5]
"...essentially the view that God and humanity work together, each contributing their part to accomplish salvation in and for the individual."[3]

Seeing as the non-calvinists very specifically deny that they believe in synergism, why do the calvinists say that non-calvinists believe it? Well, to the calvinist, it seems logical that if the condition is faith, faith must somehow be a part of the salvific process. That faith is man's will working together with God to save him. They believe that this logic is necessary, and therefore to say that one must have faith to be saved, one must believe in synergism. To me, that seems quite illogical.

Now, it seems to me that everyone agrees that there is only One that saves or regenerates, and that is God Alone. The condition on which the action is taken is completely separate from the energy or process of the actual action. The condition of faith is completely separate from the energy and process of God regenerating people. For a blunt example, let us suppose that I punch everyone who calls me "Becky" hard enough that they are knocked unconscious. The condition of calling me "Becky" is entirely separate from the energy of process of me punching them hard enough to knock them out.

Previously, I said that I believe in monergism, and by those first definitions I do.
I believe that God, by His power and His alone, saves and regenerates us. However, if we are going by the extended definitions that include God saving people who do not have faith, I would have to say that I do not subscribe to that belief.

I do not believe in synergism, as I said before. Man does not "co-operate" with or somehow "assist" God to redeem or regenerate himself. The idea is preposterous! However, if we are going by the definition that "faith may arise from the unregenerated human nature," then yes I agree with that part of that definition, but would say that the wrong word is being used! That's like saying that believers will be damned, and then defining "damnation" as "going to heaven," in which case I would agree that believers will go to heaven, but would say that "damnation" is not the right word to express that concept!

Things would go a lot smoother if everyone were using the same definitions. I believe that the "extended" definitions do not fit the orignal concepts at all. That is why by the first definitions, I agree with one and disagree with the other, and yet by the "extended" definitions, I disagree with the one and agree with the other!

I believe that monergism should be solely defined as:
God, by His power and His alone, saving and regenerating a person.

Synergism should be defined as:
The action of regenerating the person is accomplished by God and man's power combined.

Let's keep it to the original concepts.

Final Example

Here I will include one last example of how the condition on which the action is taken is completely separate from the energy or process of the actual action. I am driving alone the road, and see a small body slumped on a sidewalk. I pull over, and see that there are two people lying unconscious on the pavement: an old man, and a girl who appears to be about five. I check for a pulse, and find that both of them are still alive. I think for a moment, and decide that I really don't care about the old guy, but will take the little girl to the hospital because she is so young and cute. I don't have a cell phone, or any change, and it's a bad neighborhood, so I decide to pick her up and put her in my car, and drive her to the emergency room. She makes it to the hospital, and they save her life.

Reviewing the story, the condition on which I took the girl to the hospital was that condition of being young and cute. That condition was completely separate from the energy and process of me carrying her to the car, driving her to the hospital, and them saving her life. She did not somehow assist me, and yet she fulfilled a condition. In a similar way, the condition of salvation is completely separate from God's energy and process of saving and regenerating a person.

1 - wikipedia.com
2 - dictionary.com
3 - theopedia.com
4 - http://www.godweb.org/dictionary/dic_l-o.htm
5 - http://www.monergism.com/what_is_monergism.php
6 - thefreedictionary.com
7 - www.spiritrestoration.org/Theological_Terms/Laity_to_Orthodoxy.htm


Mark Bastian said...

I just stumbled upon this blog post while doing my own research on sanctification. Obviously you have put a lot of research into the words "Synergism" and "Monergism" which is great. However some of the conclusions you have come to are incorrect.
The word "Synergism" was not "from calvinists trying to describe the belief system of their opponents." but rather it was and is still used as a medical/pharmacological term whose meaning is the combination of two or more drugs or agents that, when administered together, produce an effect that is greater than the sum of the individual components.
My personal opinion is you have taken a very cursory approach in blogging on a subject that deserves much more depth than you have given it.
It's also nice you started out with good references to support your statements. But when it came to statements like:
"What calvinists believe:"
"Non-calvinist christian in general believe:"
you gave only your referenceless opinion.
One other criticism; I was surprised that you would present a theological post and not give a single biblical reference to back up your position. Since the bible is the root of all doctrine and this is a doctrinal issue, then it's quite strange that you would not refer back to the root document from which all true doctrine is derived from.

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Mr. Mcgranor said...

This is an excellent article. I would define Monergy as God without,and Synergy as God within.

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