Monergism describes the position in Christian theology of those who believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, works to bring about effectually the salvation of individuals through spiritual regeneration without cooperation from the individual. Monergism is most often associated with Calvinism (like Presbyterians and Dutch Reformed) and its doctrine of irresistible grace and in particular with historic doctrinal differences between Calvinism on the one hand and Arminianism on the other.
This position is often presented in contrast to synergism, the belief that God and individuals cooperate for salvation. Lutherans generally adhere to a modified and less stringent form of monergism.
Statement of the doctrine
Monergism states that the regeneration of an individual is the work of God the Holy Spirit alone, as opposed to synergism, which, in its simplest form, argues that the human will cooperates with God's grace in order to be regenerated. To most synergists, regeneration is a process that begins when a man responds to God's initiative, repents, and begins the labor of loving God and his neighbor. Monergists believe that regeneration takes place as a single act in which God regenerates a man from his fleshly state and, thus now enabled, a man can believe, and that he inevitably and invariably will do so.
While most synergists hold that God initiates all the work but that the work of salvation requires man's freedom, monergists maintain that God alone initiates and completes all the work of salvation. To a monergist, a person does not possess human freedom before regeneration; a man is in slavery before God's regeneration and in this state he is unable to choose God. Synergists, on the other hand, have varying beliefs regarding man's freedom to respond to God. According to monergism, faith in Christ only springs from a heart first renewed by God. Among various arguments, proponents believeto mean that no one can possibly confess Jesus as Lord apart from the Holy Spirit's prompting and conviction.
According to monergists, all men have an unregenerated human nature and faith is infinitely beyond all the power of this unregenerated human nature. God Himself gives the spiritual ears to hear and eyes to see the beauty of Christ in the gospel. God alone disarms the hostility of the sinner turning his heart of stone to a heart of flesh. It is God, the Holy Spirit, alone who gives illumination and understanding of His word that we might believe; It is God who raises us from the death of sin, who circumcises the heart; unplugs our ears; It is God alone who can give us a new sense, a spiritual capacity to behold the beauty and unsurpassed excellency of Jesus Christ. The apostle John is understood by some monergists as having recorded Jesus saying to Nicodemus that we love darkness, hate the light and will not come into the light (irresistible grace rather than a free choice enabled by grace). And since our hardened resistance to God is thus seated in our affections, only God, by His grace, can lovingly change, overcome and pacify our rebellious disposition. The natural man, apart from the quickening work of the Holy Spirit, will not come to Christ on his own since he is at enmity with God and cannot understand spiritual things ( ). Reading or hearing the word of God alone cannot elicit saving faith in the reader ( ) unless God plows up the fallow ground of our hearts and the Spirit "germinates" the seed of the word. God commands all people everywhere to repent and believe the gospel, so the monergist believes in heralding the gospel indiscriminately (although opponents point out that whether they obey this command will not make any difference either for their potential listeners or for them, since whether they obey or not their salvation is predetermined). But no one will hear it unless the Spirit gives them ears to hear.; note that in fact Jesus refers to some who love the light and come to it gladly, and some who hate it and draw away; monergists, however, assume that "doing the truth" and "loving the light" in consequence are the results of God's
Monergists assume that once the "eyes have been made healthy" or the "fallow ground is plowed," a person will infallibly follow God. By contrast, those who disagree with monergists believe that just because God has enabled a person to see the truth, does not mean that the person will follow the truth. There is also a distinguishing between the truth being revealed and accepting the truth (see the next section for more details).
Opposition to monergism
Synergists have a variety of beliefs. Many would hold the same views listed above in describing how God opens the eyes and ears to a person to both see and hear the Salvation of God before he has faith. They would make the distinction, however, that a man can reject this revelation and maintain his desire to remain as he is. They would maintain that God, in His grace, comes to all human beings to follow Him, but He allows the freedom of the individual to not respond to Him. Some synergists believe that because man is made in the "image and likeness of God," he has the ability to make free choices for good or for evil. Other synergists believe man is unable to do good but God has extended grace to all people which gives them the ability to have faith in Christ (see prevenient grace). Synergists believe salvation is a matter of human and Divine synergy, not divine choice alone without human receptivity. Synergists interpret Biblical passages, such as the parable of the talents and the passage "If today you hear the voice of God, harden not your heart."
Some synergists believe that monergism is fatalistic inasmuch as a man is not free to resist God's call. Many monergists, however, would counter that when the heart has been regenerated, man accepts God's call freely and so would defend that their Christianity, while not predicated on freedom, did, in fact, involve their freedom. Opponents would argue that this type of freedom is akin to being free to take the one-and-only choice available.
These arguments are both aspects of the general argument that monergism means that God chooses individuals without any consideration of the individual's own choices. Therefore, according to monergism, the only reason that one person is saved and another is not is because God decided, without any consideration of the two individuals or their own decisions, to save only one of them. It follows that the only reason all people are not saved is because God chooses not to save some individuals without there being any particular reason that He chooses not to save them as well (since He could do so just as easily). Therefore monergism is said to lead to the conclusion that God does not in fact love every human being or want to save every person. By contrast, Synergists maintain that God does not save certain individuals because they do not desire to be saved. According to them, God will not force His will or His forgiveness on those who do not desire it.
Opponents claim that there is no writing in Church literature prior to Augustine which can be construed in a monergist way. Even afterward, the Eastern Orthodox have remained firmly synergistic.
- Monergism.com - Contains articles explaining and defending Calvinistic monergism.
- A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God by Jonathan Edwards
- Two Views of Regeneration (chart) by John Hendryx
- The Work of the Trinity in Monergism by John Hendryx
- Jesus Teaches Monergistic Regeneration by John Hendryx
- The New Genesis by R.C. Sproul
- A Defense of Monergistic Regeneration by Gannon Murphy
- Monergistic Regeneration 2-Part MP3 Lecture by Art Azurdia
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