Sunday, 31 May 2015

Are Arminians synergistic?

It is claimed that Arminians are synergists whereas Calvinists are monergists. I don't strongly object to the label but I am not certain it is helpful; especially when it is concluded that Arminians save themselves. This is obviously incorrect. The dispute is not whether God is involved: he is; it whether we are involved.

Calvinists argue that God regenerates us prior to faith and that this regeneration is effectual. By this they mean that such people do not fail to come to faith and thus are saved. God must regenerate men because we are depraved and depraved men do not choose God; and because we are dead in our sins and dead people cannot choose God. Thus we are all estranged from God; God, for reasons known only to him, chooses a man; God regenerates the man who responds in faith; and God saves him.

The Arminian would disagree with this process but he also disagrees with the framework. The framework fits with the Calvinist worldview so to argue about whether regeneration precedes faith, or whether God's regeneration is effectual, or whether depraved dead men can choose God assumes Calvinist concepts.

Arminians often argue for prevenient grace, but all that means is that God is, at all times, calling all men to repent: to turn away from their sin and follow him. Calvinists may wish to call this regeneration which they say is an ineffectual regeneration. Well if you wish. But it is not ineffectual because God is somehow limited in his abilities, it is ineffectual because of the nature of faith. Trust is something we have in God, not something that God is able to decisively bring about in man. God is certainly faithful, but men do not always believe that to be the case.

So back to synergism. The word is derived from syn (together) and erg (work). In science it means to work together, though theologically it means the combination of God's grace (his work) and man's faith; and faith is is not a work. So while God requires faith from me, the saving is all of him.

A father who is a mechanic has 2 sons whose cars are broken. The father asks his sons if they would like their cars repaired? The first son says yes and the father repairs the car; the other son says no so the father does not repair his car. Now neither son actually did any work on his car. Is the situation with the first son synergistic? Did the son do any work?

So do I mind being called a synergist? Not particularly. But to the extent Calvinists use it to misconstrue or misrepresent what Arminians believe it is unhelpful.


  1. I would submit that many Arminians believe that you can lose your salvation - and many of those believe that you can lose your salvation through works (not doing enough good works or doing evil works - sinning.)

    If your continued salvation requires works - doing good ones, or not doing bad ones - then you do have a synergistic salvation - you may get it by faith, but you keep it by works.

  2. Hi MzEllen. Yes many do think you can lose your salvation, including myself. But not all Arminians do.

    Some of those who do think you can may think one can lose their salvation by the bad works that they do. I would hesitate to call sin "work", nevertheless you are correct in identifying this as a false belief.

    What I would say is that God saves us. God is faithful. Nothing can remove us from God's hand. But just as God saves us if we have faith in him, so he will reject us if we reject him. So bad works do not damn us but unbelief does. The criterion is always faith (or lack thereof), even in the OT.

    So while I don't think that good work saves us, nor sin damns us, I do think that sin and disobedience distances us from God. Further, continual, unrepentant sin that we refuse to come to God about hardens our conscience against the Holy Spirit. I think that following such a path will eventually lead to unbelief. It is not the sin that causes our loss of salvation, it is the rejection of faith that occurs as a result of continual disobedience. I am not out of the kingdom every time I sin and back in every time I say sorry. If I have faith then God saves me as he promises. Sin affects my relationship with God but thanks be to Jesus that his blood covers my sin. And one day sin will lose its hold on me.

    God bless

  3. Bethyada,
    I first came across your blog when I was searching for word counts and Bible statistics. And you had already done all the leg work for me. I still regularly use the updated chart you provided. Then, lo and behold, I saw your comments on Blog and Mablog, which I’ve been lurking around for several years now. So, I clicked over and realized you are an Arminian!
    Anyway, I’m not sure what my label is anymore. Be that as it may, I preached 1 Corinthians 12 this morning at my church. Paul lists faith among the spiritual gifts. Now, this isn’t Paul’s main point by far, but I wonder if Paul is intending the saving faith that all Christians exercise, or some other kind of (related) faith. I suspect it is not saving faith, since Paul’s broader (but still not primary) point is that each member of the Body has a God given gift of various varieties of the manifestations of the Spirit.
    But, to get to the point, Scripture does seem to indicate that saving faith is a gift from God. (Ephesians 2:8) While we are culpable for all our sins, including our unbelief, am I right in understanding that you believe God offers all people grace through faith (the kind that raises the spiritually dead to spiritual life) and that some people reject the offer? If that is correct, do you believe that faith is only operable upon receipt by the individual? In other words, how does one receive the gift offered if they are dead in their trespasses and sins?. You mentioned “ineffectual regeneration” in the post. I’m not sure if you accept that term or not, but if you do, do all people get “spiritually raised from the dead” and then spiritually die again if they reject? These questions and others are what drives me back to monergism.

  4. Hi Jason, welcome. I have been reading and commenting at Mablog for some years. I learn a great deal there.

    You are correct that 1 Cor 12 is a special faith given to some. I don't think that Eph 2 means that faith is a gift, but this requires a longer response.

    As to your other questions, this is a little hard to respond to because there are assumptions in your questions. So I have written something that I will post tomorrow that should explain my position better. Till then you can check out my determinism label. Cheers.

  5. Thanks for the response. I look forward to your explanation regarding Ephesians 2. I'm working on a project now that includes some detailed exegesis of Ephesians 4, so Ephesians has been kicking around in my head for a while now.

    No doubt the questions I raised and the way I framed them flow out of prior presuppositions and theological commitments. Guilty as charged there.

    I will enthusiastically read through your determinism label.

    Thank you for your "about" page statement. It is refreshing.




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