Sunday, December 20, 2009

Thoughts on Monergism

My Calvinist friends (hi Ryan!) should be relieved to know that I found a new hobby: resurrection apologetics! Not only is it cooler, it is more unifying to the body of Christ.

However, I hope you will forgive me if I offer some thoughts on monergism... (i.e. Calvinism by its technical term) You'll have to, so let's get cracking.

OK, so I was reading Arminian Perspectives, the blog of Ben Henshaw. I came across this quote:

"Calvinists often argue that God’s love has failed if Christ’s atonement was made for all and yet not all are saved. I find it strange that Calvinists, who are so quick to criticize Arminians for holding to a man centered religion, argue that unless man responds to God’s love in saving faith, then His love for them has somehow failed. How is it that they feel comfortable equating the success or failure of God’s love with man’s response to that love? Is the nature or validity of God’s love dependant on man’s response? Doesn’t that seem a little man centered?"

I thought that was a cool quote. It got me thinking: it's true, Calvinists do claim to be more God-centered and almost invariably end up painting Arminians as man-centered worshipers of free will in some way or another. But think about this:

In synergism, you look at a person and say, God has given them grace, grace enough for them to be saved. Then you ask, how have they responded to it? In monergism, you look at a person and ask, have they responded to God? Then, and only then, you conclude that God gave them saving grace.

Synergism: God wants this man and is drawing him toward Himself. What will he do with it?
Monergism: What did the man do with it? All right, then God wanted him and irresistibly drew him.

It is interesting how the theology that claims to be more God-centered actually puts God second in the equation. The only thing is, monergists would stipulate that man's response to God is invariably His grace, therefore the grace and the response are synonymous. But it still seems like a weird way to think of things, because in monergism, everything is essentially an extension of God's sovereign (read: exhaustively manipulative and controlling) will.

Another thought I had on monergism lately is the whole "only grace" thing. Essentially, salvation is broken down into two components: God's grace and man's response. Monergism claims that these two are synonomous, whereas synergism sees them as two different parts which are mutually exclusive, though the latter cannot work without the former and the former will not work without the latter.

Basically, monergists argue that their system is the only one that is truly "only by grace", because every part of salvation is performed by God. But here is the problem: in synergist's haste to deny this and clear their doctrines from the charge, they miss the real problem with monergism.

As I write the next paragraph after this one, remember very clearly that there is a distinction between an offered gift and one's acceptance of a gift. A quick deviation: If a rich man offers me a $60,000 car, can we really say that I earned the car just because I said, "wow, sure, thanks!" and accepted it? Can we say that the car I got was not a hundred percent of the rich man's grace? Frankly, I think the reason that monergists are so quick to shortchange man's responsibility in salvation is because they cannot understand how great a price Christ paid and how great a gift we have been offered.

Now, on to my real point. If the reason a person accepts the gospel is 100% because of a special grace he has been given, then, doesn't it logically follow that the reason a person doesn't accept the gospel is 100% because of a lack of that special grace? Essentially, monergism steals human responsibility. And it gets worse when many monergists resort to compatibilism: when you confront them about this, they say, "of course! Man is completely responsible! And God is completely sovereign! It's all a divine mystery!" Daniel Gracely compared it to a rocking horse: Calvinist riders push forward with all their might toward God's sovereignty, but when you point out that they are really left with a strange God, they fall backward on man's responsibility. And so, they maintain an illusion of movement, even though they're really going back and forth. Frankly, I have no problem with mystery, but embracing blatant contradictions is sick.

Here's another thought on monergism... who is more sovereign, a king ruling a nation, or a kid in a sandbox? Everyone is quick to affirm that the king is more sovereign. But monergists, with their lines of argumentation, often end up suggesting the latter (though they have no idea). They suggest that God is more sovereign if He is more controlling. The kid in the sandbox has more control over his toys than the king does over his subjects. So why is the king more powerful, even though he has less control? Some may say it has to do with the size of the kingdom. OK. Just blow up the kid and the sandbox until it and the kingdom are the same size. The king is still more sovereign. Why? He has less control, but he is more sovereign? He is more sovereign because of the fact that he is ruling over creatures with wills - wills that can choose.

In fact, that is the real distinction between a man and a maniquin. The man can choose, the maniquin can't. What other distinctions are there? That the man is alive and the maniquin isn't? All right, then what is the distinction between a live man and a dead man? One has a soul, the other doesn't? But what does having a soul entail? It means being alive, which means being able to think, and reason, and choose option A over option B, to make a genuine choice for yourself. If your choices are all chosen for you (no matter how compatibilistically), why are you called a will, a soul, an individual?

That's where monergism has always gone nutty. Remorse, regret and repentence only make sense under synergism. "I'm so sorry, I feel so bad for doing x." As opposed to? In monergism, it should be, "I'm so sorry, I feel so bad for doing x, even though I could not possibly have done otherwise". Frankly, I don't know what regret is under monergism. (And using Romans 9:16 to defend this doctrine is sort of odd, since it is the only scripture that could possibly refer to people getting blamed for what they were predestined to do, yet that reading is flawed.) What do you regret, that you did what you had to do? That you did what you were predestined to do? Really, it comes down to regretting that God did not give you more grace, regretting what Adam and Eve did, not regretting what you did. Monergism, in my opinion, is a staunch rehashing of the blame game.

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