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Monergism is the position in Christian theology that God, through the Holy Spirit, works to bring about the salvation of individuals through spiritual regeneration without cooperation from the individual. Monergism is most often associated with Calvinism (like Presbyterians and Dutch Reformed) and its doctrine of irresistible grace and in particular with historic doctrinal differences between Calvinism on the one hand and Arminianism on the other.
This position is often presented in contrast to synergism, the belief that God and individuals cooperate for salvation.
Statement of the doctrine
Monergism states that the regeneration of an individual is the work of God through the Holy Spirit alone, as opposed to Synergism, which, in its simplest form, argues that the human will cooperates with God's grace in order to be regenerated. To most synergists, regeneration is a process that begins when a man responds to God's initiative, repents, and begins the labor of loving God and his neighbor. Monergists believe that regeneration takes place as a single act in which God regenerates a man from his fleshly state and, thus now enabled, a man can believe, and that he inevitably and invariably will do so.
While most synergists hold that God initiates all the work but that the work of salvation requires man's "free will," monergists maintain that God alone initiates and completes all the work of salvation. To a monergist, a person does possess human freedom before regeneration (if by freedom, is meant the ability to choose what one wants). Yet, a man; because of his unregenerate and fallen nature is in slavery to sin (i.e. man chooses sin; because that is what he wants); because he is dead in his sin before God's regeneration and in this state he is unable to choose God (because he does not want GOD; he may want the gifts from GOD, but not GOD). Synergists, on the other hand, have varying beliefs regarding man's freedom to respond to God. According to monergism, faith in Christ only springs from a heart first renewed by God. Among various arguments, proponents believe 1Corinthians 12:3 to mean that no one can possibly confess Jesus as Lord apart from the Holy Spirit's prompting and being a true conviction of his heart.
According to monergists, all men are conceived and born with an unregenerated human nature, and faith to believe is beyond the power of this unregenerated human nature. God circumcises the heart. The apostle John is understood by some monergists as having recorded Jesus saying that we love darkness, hate the light and will not come into the light (John 3:19,20; monergists assume that "doing the truth" and "loving the light" in consequence are the results of God's irresistible grace which brings a love and faith enabled by grace. The natural man, apart from the quickening work of the Holy Spirit, will not come to Christ on his own; since he is at enmity with God; and so, will not understand spiritual things (meaning the experience of loving GOD; i.e. seeing GOD's loveliness) (1Cor 2:14). Reading or hearing the word of God alone cannot elicit saving faith in the reader(1Thess 1:4,5). The monergist believes in heralding the gospel indiscriminately, and the Holy Spirit regenerates who He will, according to His sovereign grace.
Monergists know that once the "eyes have been made healthy" a person will infallibly follow God; because the Infinite is effective to what the Infinite wills to effect. "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." Philippians 2:12-13. GOD always does according to His good pleasure; and no thing can stop an infinite Being's good pleasure.
Opposition to monergism
Synergists have a variety of beliefs. Many would hold the same views listed above in describing how God opens the eyes and ears to a person to both see and hear the Salvation of God before he has faith. They would make the distinction, however, that a man can reject this revelation and maintain his desire to remain as he is. They would maintain that God, in his grace, comes to all human beings to follow him, but he allows the "free will" of the individual to not respond to him. Some synergists believe that because man is made in the "image and likeness of God," he has the ability to make free choices for good or for evil. Other synergists believe man is unable to do good but God has extended grace to all people which gives them the ability to have faith in Christ (see prevenient grace). Synergists believe salvation is a matter of human and Divine synergy, not divine choice alone without human cooperation. Synergists interpret Biblical passages, such as the parable of the talents and the passage "If today you hear the voice of God, harden not your heart."[Hebrews 3:15]
Some synergists believe that monergism is fatalistic; because they interpret it to believe that a man is not free to resist God's (outward) call. Many monergists, however, would counter that when the heart has been regenerated, man accepts God's (inward) call freely and so would defend that their Christianity, while not predicated on "free will," does, in fact, involve their freedom. Opponents of monergism would argue that this type of freedom is akin to being free to take the one-and-only choice available. But again, if freedom is simply the ability to do as we please; then, how that freedom is brought to pass is irrelevant. Moreover, if we are at enmity with GOD, we will never be pleased to love or have saving faith in GOD; as synergism states that we can. See Romans 8:6-8 "For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God."
These arguments are both aspects of the general argument that monergism means that God chooses individuals without any condition provided by the individual (See the "U" in T.U.L.I.P. - i.e. Unconditional Election). Therefore, according to monergism, the only reason that one person is saved and another is not is because God sovereignly decided, without any conditions provided by the two individuals, to save one of them. It follows that the only reason people are not saved is because God sovereignly chooses not to save some individuals. Therefore monergism is said to lead to the conclusion that God does not in fact love every human being, as GOD's Word declares; " I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, but they shall not find Me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord:" Proverbs 1:26-29. Nor want to save every person, as GOD's Word declares; " Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus? Hath not the Potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory..." Romans 9:18-23. By contrast, Synergists maintain that God does not save certain individuals because they do not desire to be saved. According to both monergism and synergism, God will not force His will or His forgiveness on those who do not desire it.
Opponents claim that there is no writing in Church literature prior to Augustine which can be construed in a monergist way. Yet, the Scriptures given above demonstrate that the Church literature (i.e. Holy Writ) in the time of Jesus Christ and the apostles could be interpreted to support monergism. However, this interpretation has not found favour with the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Churches, which have remained firmly synergistic.
- Monergism.com - Contains articles explaining and defending Calvinistic monergism.
- A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God by Jonathan Edwards
- Two Views of Regeneration (chart) by John Hendryx
- The Work of the Trinity in Monergism by John Hendryx
- Jesus Teaches Monergistic Regeneration by John Hendryx
- The New Genesis by R.C. Sproul
- A Defense of Monergistic Regeneration by Gannon Murphy
- Monergistic Regeneration 2-Part MP3 Lecture by Art Azurdia