The Monergistic/Synergistic Controversy over Free Will

Dear hijas,

Let’s review. We’ve been speaking to what became known as the Monergistic/Synergistic Controversy concerning free will as it came out of the positions of Luther and Erasmus.

If we remember, for purposes of definition:

Monergism: Regeneration, or new birth (birth from above) is the work of God alone. It is only God that can bring a man “dead” in trespass and sin back to life. It is only God that resurrects this dead man from spiritual death to spiritual life, and this He does through the work of the Holy Spirit. This monergistic view is the Biblical-Augustinian-Lutheran-Calvinistic-monergistic position concerning salvation. It is this position that honors God completely, giving Him the total glory, and is the foundation for the sola, ‘Soli Deo Gloria’.

Luther’s monergistic position was that fallen man does not have faith ‘in order to’ be born again, but that man is ‘born again’ (regenerated, quickened, and this the work of God alone) and as a result has ‘faith’, the gift of God (Eph. 2:8,9). Do you see the difference?

It is best seen, among other places, in John 3 and Jesus’ interchange with Nicodemus. If you read this account starting in John 3:1 you cannot help but be struck by the analogy of birth. The whole point of Jesus’ teaching here to Nicodemus and to the rest of us, is that you did not cooperate in your own natural birth. You didn’t participate in any way to your own conception and birth, as if you told yourself, “I think I want to be born, so I’m gonna help my Mom and Dad, be part of the whole thing, you know, and then grow as a fetus for nine months and come into the world, thereby existing as myself.” NO, you didn’t cooperate or participate in any way. Spiritual birth, regeneration, or being ‘born again’ (literally, born from above) works in the same way. YOU don’t participate. YOU don’t cooperate. It’s solely the work of God ALONE. This is the whole point of Jesus’ analogy here to Nicodemus.

What we can draw from this is that salvation, God’s kingdom, is only for those to whom God gives it, to those ‘He’ has given new life. You are ‘His’ new creation, born from above by God’s will, not your will. As you play no role in your physical birth, you play no role in your spiritual birth. This is the monergistic position, and is in that line that goes through Augustine-Luther-and Calvin. It is the consistent Biblical view which understands the Fall of man rightly and completely. On the flip side is the synergistic view of Erasmus and Roman Catholicism, a semi-Pelagian view.

Synergism: Regeneration is a ‘cooperation’ between God and man. They both do their part; man does his part, God does His. God and man work together to bring about the latter’s conversion. The relationship is synergistic: together with, at the same time, working together. Man exercises his free will to ‘choose’ God, and God ‘rewards’ him with salvation. The grace of salvation from God, is a ‘reward’ for man’s ‘faith’. Man can say about his own conversion, “I helped, I’ve done something(my choice) and some things(my works) to help myself. I can take credit for part of it.”

The two views couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to one another. Protestants and Catholics are on opposite sides of the coin still today, and as we will see, so are Arminians and Calvinists.

With love, I remain,

Dear ol’ Dad

Vaya con Dios mis hijas

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