Synergism and Monergism; these are two of the foremost contested doctrines in the Theological arena today. Despite popular belief, I will demonstrate that one can affirm Molinism whilst synergistically affirming Monergism (pun intended).
As per John Hendryx, Synergism is:
[t]he 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. This theory accordingly holds that the soul has not lost in the fall all inclination toward holiness, nor all power to seek for it under the influence of ordinary motives.[i]
The Century Dictionary defines ‘Monergism’ as:
In theology, the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is the only efficient agent in regeneration – that the human will possesses no inclination to holiness until regenerated, and therefore cannot cooperate in regeneration.
This article does not endeavour to discount the notion of synergism but rather, illustrate that Molinists can also affirm ‘monergism’. It is important to note that, unlike Calvinism and Arminianism; Molinism is not a soteriological system. Therefore, Molinism does not necessarily entail Monergism.
It is quite unfortunate that many individuals commit the straw man fallacy when attempting to rebuke Molinism. Whilst there exists a laundry list of misinformed views of Molinism, I will deal with the common assertion that Molinism entails the belief that a totally depraved individual can “choose God”. As per Matt Slick:
Whichever view different [of Prevenient Grace] Molinists hold, the issue of concern is the ability of the unregenerate to freely choose Christ.
Unfortunately, Molinism does not necessitate the view that the unregenerate man contains the ability to freely choose Christ [God].
The question therefore arises; does prevenient grace necessarily enable the unregenerate man to freely choose God [or Christ]? [Note: I affirm Christ is God; this is just for semantic purposes].
Dr Kirk MacGregor, in a private discussion on whether prevenient grace “enables” man to “choose God”; notes:
I don’t think that prevenient grace empowers a totally depraved person to choose God. Rather, I think that the totally depraved person has the soft libertarian ability to refrain from resisting prevenient grace. In other words, the options before the lost sinner are 1) resist and 2) doing nothing. “Accept” isn’t an option. But if the sinner takes option 2, God does all the work of salvation.
This can be understood by two illustrations:
The Current Analogy
Firstly, the ‘Current Analogy’ which I first presented in Tim Stratton’s forceful response article, Molinism is Biblical: Rejoinding the Reformed Rejoinder:
Person X is in the middle of the ocean floating on his back. X senses that the rift is pulling him somewhere. X is unsure of the destination, but he freely chooses not to resist it — he allows the current to move him wherever it wills. God’s drawing [through prevenient grace] is like this current. If God, through the use of this current, draws X to solid land, ensuring X’s safety and survival, could one say that X ‘did something’ to save himself? Of course not; it would be better to say that God — the mover of the current — was the one who monergisticly saved X.
The “current” here reflects the drawing by the Father that is necessary to have the ability to come to [or to believe in] Christ as illustrated in John 6:44 [ESV]:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
Note: The word ‘can | δύναται’ [in John 6:44] refers to the ‘ability’ of man. The Greek word δύναται is a verb that literally means, ‘to be able’.[ii] Or as HELPS Word-studies notes: ‘to show ability (power); able (enabled by God), empowered’.[iii]
Therefore, illustrating that man does not have the ability to come to, or believe in; Christ unless the Father draws him. This affirmation devoids the charge of Pelagianism to the Molinist.
And ‘all people’ will be drawn to Christ as per John 12:32:
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Note: If one argues that the word draw | ἑλκύω ‘only’ refers to an ‘irresistible force’; I suggest reading my other article that demonstrates the dilemma if one holds to this position.
The “land” in the above illustration represents regeneration. If man chooses to ‘not resist’ God’s drawing, God will inevitably draw the unregenerate man to a point of regeneration. The only non-salvific ‘work’ or ‘action’ the unregenerate man can do is ‘resist’ God. The unregenerate man cannot ‘swim with the current’ or ‘work with God through prevenient grace [toward regeneration]’ but rather, the unregenerate man can only (1) allow God to draw Him therefore, inevitably regenerating Him or (2) resist God’s drawing.
I note the disdain some may have through the usage of the word ‘work’ which is preceded by the adjective, non-salvific [or non-meritorious]; in the above paragraph. However, this ought not be an issue for ‘Monergists’; especially those who adhere to the belief that ‘Regeneration precedes faith’. This doctrine dictates that one can be regenerated yet; not be saved. In order to be saved; they must possess faith – thereby reflecting the principle ‘saved by faith’ that is, the exhibition of faith. As per Wayne Grudem:
By way of application, we should realize that the explanation of the gospel message in Scripture does not take the form of a command, “Be born again and you will be saved,” but rather, “Believe in Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”[iv]
If one must exhibit faith, an act in order to be saved; does this mean faith is a ‘work’ that is meritorious or even a ‘human work epitomized through man centered philosophy’? Surely not. In fact, Paul himself distinguishes ‘faith’ from ‘works’ in Romans 3:27:
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.
Just as Paul proclaims that the utilization of faith, faith being a gift from God,[v] the means by which salvation is granted – does not merit the salvation upon the ‘user’. Likewise, the utilization of the ability to refrain from resisting the drawing of God is not a meritorious work thereby; the Molinist too affirms Monergism.
Therefore, the Molinist affirms that God is the author of salvation from beginning to end.
Secondly, the Ambulatory Model as explained by Dr Kenneth Keathley:
Imagine waking up to find that you are being transported by an ambulance to the emergency room. It is clearly evident that your condition requires serious medical help. If you do nothing, you will be delivered to the hospital. However, for whatever reason you demand to be let out, the driver will comply. He may express regret and give warnings, but he will still let you go. You receive no credit for being taken to the hospital, but you incur the blame for refusing the service of the ambulance.[vi]
In this illustration you do not do anything to arrive at the hospital. Resisting is the only thing you have the ability to do. Any “contribution”, “work” or “action” made by you is hurtful, likewise ‘all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Metaphorically, the ambulance represents the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion. If you come to faith it is solely due to the causative role of the Holy Spirit. However, if you do not come to faith; it is due to the resistance you exerted.
Similarly to the ‘Current Analogy’, the only causative work you can do is resist; a negative action. Thus the ambulatory model provides for a monergistic work of grace that leaves room for the sinner to refuse to accept.[vii]
As Richard Cross explains,
It might be thought that the concession that a person can impede God’s bringing about X in her by pre-emptively doing not-X somehow makes her salvation wholly up to her after all, since God’s doing a is still dependent on her not doing not-X. My proposal, however, is that her doing not-X at a time (t) simply prevents God from bringing about X at her t, provided that God does not coercively prevent her from doing not-X. This amounts to a kind of Augustinianism: damnation is, and salvation is not, something which is brought about by the creature.[viii] [Emphasis: Amended the original use of ‘a’ to ‘x’]
Cross thereby argues that the Ambulatory Model simultaneously affirms both monergism and resistibility. It is monergistic because all that is necessary in this scenario is that a person refrains from acting. Much like the ‘Current Analogy’.
Some may object that ‘resisting’ or ‘refraining’ is a choice and therefore, constitutes as a ‘work’ or ‘action’ on the part of the individual. However, a number of philosophers point out that omissions are not efficient causes.[ix] Kevin Timpe calls such omissions “quasi-causal” because they control events but do not cause events.[x]
In conclusion, to reject Molinism for the belief that it is ‘synergistic’ is to commit the straw man fallacy. Whilst there may be some Molinists who adhere to a Synergistic view of soteriology; Molinism does not necessitate the incorporation of a synergistic view in the salvation process. This would be like rejecting Calvinism in its entirety due to a ‘brand’ of Calvinism that adheres to infralapsarianism whilst completely ignoring other forms of Calvinism that adhere to supralapsarianism and sublapsarianism.
Likewise, to reject Molinism upon the basis that some proponents adhere to synergism or the belief that Molinism necessarily entails synergism, is to be intellectually dishonest or just plain ignorant. I have demonstrated that Molinists can also affirm Monergism therefore, the argument that Molinism is not, or cannot be monergistic is superfluously flawed.
[i] John Hendryx, What is Monergism? (1st December 2017) <https://www.monergism.com/legacy/mt/sitepages/what-monergism>.
[ii] Strong’s Concordance: G. 1410: δύναται.
[iii] HELPS Word-studies, Cognate: 1410 δύναται (Helps Ministries Inc, 2011).
[iv] Wayne Grudem, Regeneration: What Does It Mean To Be Born Again? <https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/regeneration_grudem.html>.
[v] Ephesians 2:8 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
The word ‘this / τοῦτο refers to the preceding clause since τοῦτο is in the Neuter Gender whilst the words ‘faith’ and ‘grace’ are both in the Feminine Gender.
See A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Broadman, 1930; reprint R. R. Smith Inc., 1931) vol IV 525; Norman L. Geisler, Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will (Bethany House, 2010) 229; William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: 1-2 Timothy – Titus (Baker Book House, 1953) 121 and Samuel Fisk, Election and Predestination: Keys to a Clearer Understanding (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2002) 34.
τοῦτο often takes a conceptual antecedent, as in 1 Thessalonians 3:3.
[vi] Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (B&H Publishing Group, 2010) 246. See also; Richard Cross, ‘Anti-Pelagianism and the Resistibility of Grace’ (2005) 22(2) Faith and Philosophy 207. And Eleonore Stump proposes a similar position that she calls a “quiescent view of the will.” See Eleonore Stump, “Augustine on Free Will,” in The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007) 124-47.
[vii] Kevin Timpe explains that this model is “neither deterministic nor Pelagian….The resulting view allows one to maintain both (i) that divine grace is the efficient cause of saving faith and (ii) that humans control whether or not they come to saving faith.” See Kevin Timpe, “Controlling What We Do Not Cause,” (2007) 24(3) Faith and Philosophy 284-99.
[viii] Richard Cross, ‘Anti-Pelagianism and the Resistibility of Grace’ (2005) 22(2) Faith and Philosophy 206 – 207.
[ix] See G.Botterill and J.S Lavelle, ‘The Absent Relata Problem: Can Absences and Omissions Really Be Causes?’ (2013) The University of Sheffield <http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/76562/> and H. Beebee, “Causing and Nothingness”, in: J.D. Collins, E.J. Hall, and L.A. Paul (eds.), Causation and Counterfactuals (MIT Press, 2004) 291-308.
[x] Timpe, “Controlling What We Do Not Cause,” 290-99. Cf. P Dowe, “A Counterfactual Theory of Prevention and ‘Causation’ by Omission,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 79:2 (June 2001): 216-26; J. J. Thomson, “Causation: Omissions,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 66:1 (January 2003): 81-103; and S. McGrath, “Causation by Omission: A Dilemma,” Philosophical Studies 123 (2005): 125-48.