Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Arminianism and synergism

The Arminian perspective is that God saves man. It is God's power that effects salvation. Man is able to resist God. So even though God desires all men to be saved, he does not force salvation; this also means he does not change their will so that they may desire salvation, even though God woos men, and can limit man's actions.

This ability to resist has been taken to mean that man takes a role in his salvation, salvation is synergistic (God and man) in the Arminian perspective and monergestic in the Calvinist perspective.

I do not find these terms particularly helpful. I would not describe the Arminian perspective as synergistic, and if I were to accept such a label I find Calvinists play loose with the label; equivocating such that the ability to resist becomes saving oneself.

If the role of man and God in salvation is fundamentally distinct, then the term synergistic becomes less feasible. I will compare what God and man can do, and why, from the Arminian perspective.

Arminians belief that devotion and love is fundamentally an act of the will. Men have a degree of freedom that God has given them. Therefore God is unable to override such freedom without preventing love from being love. If God overrode such freedom then man would act devotedly toward him, but such actions would not arise from love. Since God desires love he does not do this, even though God has the ability to make us automatons. I have written about this here. Man's ability to reject God results from God's inability to do the logically impossible. The inability to do the logically impossible (God or man) is not a true limitation.

Arminians also believe that God saves men by an act of his grace. Yes, this may be because of our faith, but that is only because God has set the condition of faith. Thus man cannot save himself of his own accord. And if man wished to be saved and God declined to offer salvation then men would remain unsaved. Man does not have the power to save anyone including himself. This is not because salvation is logically impossible, it is clearly intrinsically possible as God can save people. But man lacks the capacity to save. The inability for man to save himself is a true limitation.

Limitations of power (or knowledge) are fundamentally different from limitations of logic. God is still omnipotent even if he cannot make a rock he cannot lift. God's role in salvation is essentially all of it. The fact that man has a role at all (accepting or refusing God's offer) is solely due to God's inability to do the logically impossible. Man's role is based on logical possibilities and God's role on power possibilities and these are categorically distinct. Calling Arminianism synergistic reflects a lack of understanding about these categories.

3 comments:

  1. Part of the problem is that the terms 'synergism' and 'monergism' are contested terms. For instance, the Oxford dictionary for the Christian Church defines 'synergism' strictly as being the theology of Philip Melanchthon. I also define it differently than Calvinists do. I do agree though that the usefulness of the term is certainly questionable.

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  2. I think you make a very good point. I think it would go hand in hand with the argument that a legitimate call (or offer) has to be legitimately capable of being rejected or accepted. If reciprocated love is the compelling reason to make the offer, then certainly the offer must be real rather than nominal. A Calvinist would not accept this, of course, but it strengthens the logic of a non-Calvinist's conception of soteriology.

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  3. JCF, yes, and definitions of words are what they are, not the etymology. The problem is that synergism is frequently contrasted with monergism. In this situation the contrast appeals to the etymology—both-power versus single-power. When contrasted, the implication is that synergists do part of their salvation. I show that the ability to resist is a logical necessity if one thinks that love is an essentially free response, it isn't doing in the same sense that God does.

    SLW, a Calvinist may not accept it, and that is fine. What is not is the difficulty or refusal of the Calvinist to take Arminianism on its own terms. Fault finding of Arminianism frequently occurs with hidden Calvinist assumptions.

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