Synergism & Freewillism
Taught in Modern Pulpits
by John Hendryx
"Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be." Rom. 8:7
Our theology really reflects how we think about God. When we have poor theology it reveals that we are thinking wrong thoughts about God. Wrong thoughts about God dishonor Him. Good theology, then, means that we are thinking more closely in line with His revelation about Himself, and therefore honor Him with our thoughts. A.W. Tozer once remarked: "The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him." I would agree that unity in the church is of great importance but we cannot have it at the expense of revealed truth. To say we all love Jesus but have entirely different understandings of who Jesus is just will not do. Although this essay is critical and may appear polemical, it is important that we expose theological error where we find it so that we have the right balance in our understanding of God and His plan. It is only written in a spirit that we strive after what is excellent and leave behind that which does not benefit the church.
Recently I received a letter from a brother who pointed out some of the erroneous theology coming out of Chuck Smith's ministry. For those of you who are not familiar with him, he is the Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, a church that strongly promotes a synergistic gospel, meaning that both God and man each make a contribution to complete the work of salvation. To give you an idea where he stands, Smith also recently gave a hearty endorsement to Dave Hunt's embarrassingly unscholarly book entitled "What Love Is This" which was intended to expose the shortcomings of the doctrines of grace.
As was pointed out to me by a visitor, part of Chuck Smith's sermon on Eph, 1:1-4 focuses on God's foreknowledge and the word "chose." He gave the following racetrack illustration of what it means for God to choose us. In essence Smith taught the following: God knows everything, so when He chooses you it is like Him going to the racetrack. Since He knows who will win, those are the ones He chooses. God doesn't choose losers, only winners; I am a winner because I chose Him first. Here is his exact quote from that sermon:
" you could go to the race tracks with this kind of knowledge (foreknowledge). Imagine what you could do, having foreknowledge knowing every horse what he was going to do in that race and you would go to the race track with this kind of knowledge. Now if you could do you think you would go there and pick out a ticket of losers? I don't know what you do at racetracks. Would you pick out a bunch of losers? You would be stupid if you did. Of course you wouldn't you would pick the winners, because you know in advance who is going to win the race. What the outcome is going to be. And so you make your choices predicated on what the outcome is because you already know in advance what it is going to be. That is just using your head. Now that is what thrills me about God choosing me ... God already knows the choice you are going to make. But you are the one that makes the choice, but God in all of His wisdom, knows the choices each person is going to make. But He doesn't make the choice for you. He only knows in advance, that which you are going to choose. " http://calvarychapel.com/library/smith-chuck/studies-books/00-ALL-1979/5275.htm
So I am a winner because I chose Him first? Hmmm, lets follow this logic ... In other words then, according to Smith's analogy, God only chooses the one who has physically trained himself better, or is naturally stronger than the one who lost the race, so to speak. Or, to bring this same analogy into the spiritual realm, God chooses the one who contributed more towards his/her salvation - One man, while still in his old nature, either created a right thought, generated a right affection, or originated a right volition that led to his salvation while the other man, did not have the natural wherewithal to come up with the faith that God required of him to obtain salvation (to "win the race'). So God, according to this scheme, really chose one man over the other based on something good within one while rejecting the man who lacked this inclination towards goodness. So who are we trusting for salvation then? Why does one believe and not another? Is one naturally endowed with more wisdom to start with? Did one train himself better prior to salvation, so to speak? Even if God initiates with grace, in this scheme, what does the one man have, who chooses God that the one who rejects Him does not? Has evangelicalism gone full circle? ... Isn't that the very reason why we broke off from Rome in the 16th century - to get away from such man-centered doctrines? Are we saved by merit then? I would challenge you to go back to the Council of Trent, the document that came out of the Catholic Counter-Reformation to see how closely it resembles Smith's teaching on the free will of one who is not yet born again.
In the Council of Trent (1563), which is the standard of the Roman Catholic Church, we find the following statement about freedom of the will written in opposition to one of the most critical recovered biblical doctrines of the Reformation (Sola Gratia):
"If any one shall affirm, that man's freewill, moved and excited by God, does not, by consenting, cooperate with God, the mover and exciter, so as to prepare and dispose itself for the attainment of justification; if moreover, anyone shall say, that the human will cannot refuse complying, if it pleases, but that it is inactive, and merely passive; let such an one be accursed"!
"If anyone shall affirm, that since the fall of Adam, man's freewill is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a thing titular, yea a name, without a thing, and a fiction introduced by Satan into the Church; let such an one be accursed"!
The frightening thing to me is that much of modern evangelicalism has basically compromised the most valued biblical doctrine recovered at the Reformation: Salvation by Grace Alone (By grace alone through faith alone). We have replaced it with a cheap counterfeit: Grace PLUS Faith. We must that recognize that faith does not come from the natural man but the spiritual man. "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." (1 Cor 2:14) We would never believe unless the Holy Spirit came in and disarmed our hostility to God, making our heart of stone into a heart of flesh that we might believe. Faith, desire and will for God are not produced by the old nature but are produced only after God does a work of regenerative grace in our soul. (1 John 5:1; Ezekiel 11:19-20; Acts 16:14b)
We can really see how the synergistic concept carries over into the religious language of modern popular evangelicalism. The other night I was out with some friends celebrating a birthday and one of the gentlemen sitting there said, "I accepted Christ three years ago..." Now I understood what he meant and have heard this expression many times before but something inside me felt uncomfortable when I heard it put that way. In fact, this expression has never been comfortable for me, but we all have probably used it at one point or another. So after coming home I pondered what about this expression that I didn't like. I think it comes down to this:
When someone says: "I accepted Christ" at such and such a time in the past, it puts the entire impetus or stress of salvation on the individual and his assurance comes from something he did at a moment in the distant past. But the reality of the matter is that God accepted us. We were a loathsome stench in His nostrils but the blood of Christ made us clean and a sweet aroma to Him so that He might have fellowship with us. So perhaps we should try to be more biblical when conversing about salvation by speaking of it in a more God-centered manner. Without being legalistic about this, for instance, instead of "I accepted Christ ten years ago " perhaps it would be more effective to listeners to be speaking like this: When God called me to faith in Christ; When God opened the eyes of my faith or understanding (as he did Lydia in Acts). When God turned my heart of stone into a heart of flesh; When God turned me from darkness to light; When God made me alive in Christ. --- The work of salvation is the work of the Trinity: God the Father elects us, Jesus the Son, purchases our redemption (those the Father has "given Him.") (John 6:37,39) and the Holy Spirit applies the benefits of Christ's redemption to the same.
To say that we "received" Him is actually more biblical but it would be good to put that in context. "We love God because He first loved us" Even in the one place where John uses this word "received" (John 1:12) he is careful to qualify it with the next verse which says:
"...children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." John 1:13
Not of human decision. Hmmm. Born of God. All glory to Him. In other words, I didn't generate a right affection or originate a right volition that led to my salvation until God did a work of grace in me. God did it and my response was sure. I deserved only God's wrath but He was merciful to me and brought me to Himself. Regeneration is not we, in the flesh, voting yes, it is a work of God that disarms the rebellion in our hearts towards God that the Spirit applies to His people when the gospel is preached. We did the believing but God gets the glory, even for the very desire we have for faith. The Church is charged with calling all people to repent and believe the gospel, but no person will do so left in his unregenerate state. Our hearts are far too disinclined from the desire for God. But those who are born again have now the dispositions of their hearts changed which desire to believe and obey:
"Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes,and you will be careful to observe My ordinances." Ezekiel 36:26-27
With this in mind we can preach indiscriminately to the lost, "Be reconciled to God!" (2 Corinthians 5:20). In other words, "...repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21) is commanded to all people. It is the sinners responsibility to turn and embrace Christ, but God, the Holy Spirit alone initiates and applies the benefits of the new birth through the preached word of God: You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God...That word is the good news preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23,25) James says, He chose to give us birth through the word of truth (James 1:18). These verses testify that the apostles strongly believed that regeneration came only as God applied the gospel to the heart of His people through preaching. So it is not we who effect our own conversion to God, but an act of His lovingkindness:
"It is not of him that wills or of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy" (Romans 9:16).