Defense of Monergistic Regeneration
The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate, Biblically and logically, that monergism is the soteriological position in greatest fidelity to Scripture. God's saving grace is at once monergistic, irresistible, and effectual. The decision to receive Christ is not an anthropological impetus that invites God's saving power, but a response rendered certain following the regenerative call of the Holy Spirit in those whom God has chosen. God quickens the fallen spirit of the elect, decisively and calculatedly, toward the outward call cast forth by the preaching of His Word in order that it be willingly and gladly embraced.
Direct Biblical and theological evidence will be marshaled in defense of the monergistic view. Arguments for the synergistic view, including the so-called "Arminian texts" will also be analyzed and critiqued. Finally, a set of syllogistic arguments (built upon Biblical suppositions) will demonstrate the synergistic view to be in violation of the principles of logic.
II. A BIBLICAL DEFENSE
Charles Spurgeon once made the statement that, "we all, by nature, are Arminians." While on the surface this statement may seem needlessly polemical to some, perhaps experience and a little reflection suggest that it is more than just a little bit accurate. Anyone who has had the opportunity to witness the typical reaction manifested in those hearing the Calvinistic doctrines explicated for the first time can't help but wonder, if for a moment, whether Spurgeon may just have hit the nail squarely on the head. For, as soon as predestinarian buzzwords such as elect, chosen, and predestined are brought out, there is almost invariably a rather militant and visceral recoil on the part of the hearer that objects, "Why, then, does God still blame us? This just doesn't seem right or fair to me!" Indeed, there is often an immediate effort made to eviscerate the predestinarian language found in Scripture of its import and to creatively cast it in another interpretive mold. This fact should prove instructive to any person interested in these matters regardless of whether they ultimately pitch their tent in the Calvinist or Arminian camp. What is it, precisely, in the so-called "Calvinistic system" that causes people (believers and unbelievers alike) to so quickly revile its teachings and respond so paroxysmally? What do we learn of human nature and its habits by virtue of these nearly ubiquitous reactions to an aged church teaching? Clearly there is something that swells in our natures, compelling us to protect whatever it is that Divine monergism threatens. What is it exactly?
From the vantage point of Biblical anthropology, it cannot be anything other than our innate desire for autonomy. The fallen nature of humankind is such that we have a natural aversion to anything that smacks of overwhelming authority and control and which threatens to derogate our sense of freedom and liberty to choose for ourselves our own destinies. But was this not, after all, the primordial sin in the Garden and precisely the spiritual cancer that Adam has past on to us, his distant progeny? Ah, yes! Things begin to make sense. There is a natural angst that forcefully conjures up within us when first introduced to the fundamentals of Reformation theology and its teachings on grace which inalterably entails predestination in the plain sense of the word. Concerning this initial shock and avoidance, one Lutheran theologian puts plainly what many experience saying,
human beings don't like to be told that they're not in charge and that,
in fact, are quite literally at nothing less than the unmitigated mercy
of God and the agents of His means. St. Paul labors to drive this point
home to the congregates of the churches in Rome proclaiming unambiguously
that, given God's absolute sovereignty, Divine favor "does not,
therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy"
and that "God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he
hardens whom he wants to harden" (Rom 9:16;18). Of course, being
the apologist par excellance, the apostle immediately anticipates the
aggrieved words of those who would object to this authoritative teaching
saying, "One of you will say to me, 'then why does God still blame
us? For who resists his will?'" (Rom 9:19). And to this, Paul delivers
a most humbling and forceful rejoinder somewhat reminiscent of Job's
famous interchange with God so many centuries earlier:
There is no better place than this to begin a defense of the Reformed doctrine of monergistic regeneration. It is a resistless fact that Paul's answer to his objector in this passage would be utterly meaningless if he had at first been promulgating some form of Arminian soteriology where human choice precedes Divine favor. For, were the Arminian schema true, Paul's response to why God "still blames us" would simply be that God is reacting to the results of our own free choice, i.e., how we use our own intrinsic powers of moral agency and freewill. But the fact is that we see Paul doing precisely the opposite. His focus has nothing whatsoever to do with humans and their "powers" or faculty of free will. Rather, he forcefully tears down such notions stressing very clearly that all outcomes rest squarely with God and His divine right to exercise His providence over His creatures. The creature does not wag his finger at the Creator and say, "Hey! What do you think your doing!" If God does one thing to one of His creatures and a different thing to another, what business is that of ours? The Lord Jesus iterates quite clearly, "the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it" (Jn 5:21b). As Biblical exegete, Robert Mounce puts it in his commentary on Romans,
John Calvin also affirms the clear import of Romans 9 saying:
Paul's answer, then, makes no more sense against the backdrop of Arminianism than would the question antecedently posed by his imaginary interlocutor. Were the Arminian system true, there would be nothing to object to! Yet contrast Paul's clear teachings with those of Jacobus Arminus:
For Arminius it is man's free will that saves by permitting God's grace to enter his life! But for Paul, the fact that divine favor and one's salvation depends (Rom 9:16) entirely on the grace and mercy of God is at the heart of his message. This is the essence of the doctrine of monergistic regeneration and, for that matter, the gospel itself. For something to depend entirely on something else is for the latter to be the complete and sufficient cause of the former, i.e., salvation depends on God, not man. Monergism, then, upholds the proper Biblical model of salvation, whereas synergism does not.
It is a sad fact that all but completely forgotten in the modern Evangelical world is the true, undergirding substance poured into the doctrine of sola gratia by the original Reformers which necessarily entailed God's choosing a people for Himself according to nothing other than His own sovereign predilection. Root and branch, this is fundamentally opposed to the notion that the decisive point in one's salvation is their choosing to accept God's salvation. As eminent Princeton theologian, B.B. Warfield, has put it,
The Remonstrants, of course, came some time after the original events of the Reformation. And, as we shall see, the soteriological schema promulgated by this reactionary group has resulted not so much in providing a cogent explication of the Biblical data concerning predestination and election as much as it has simply provided a whole-cloth denial of it. A notable fact, beyond just the doctrines of election, is that even secular sources have acknowledged the liberalizing effect that the brand of Arminianism disseminated by the Remonstrants has had upon Evangelicalism right down to the present day.
As theologian Wayne Grudem has observed, this sovereign work of God in regeneration was clearly portended in Old Testament prophecy where regeneration is shown to be fully the work of God. Indeed, God promised a future time in which He would pour out His Spirit on a people of His choosing, bestowing upon them new life and creating in them new desires:
These are the people, i.e., God's elect, of whom Paul speaks in Romans 8 in what has come to known as "the Golden Chain of Salvation":
Arminian theologian, Robert Shank, contends that in this passage "there is nothing about Paul's affirmation which establishes that election is unconditional or that all who experience calling and justification will inevitably persevere." Shank attempts to rework this passage such that a "corporate election in Christ" is what is Paul is really trying to teach us. In other words, whoever is "in Christ" by their own volition, is then "elected" by God. Shank also tows the line of the classical Arminian view of election that sees it as resting in God's prescience. Says Shank, "In Romans 8:28-30, the election is concomitant with God's foreknowledge " This all might work expect for one big problem: God's calling. Without this calling, justification and ultimate glorification don't happen. And Paul's language is clear: those who are called, are justified and glorified. Election can't possibly be based on foreknowledge since justification first depends on God's calling. Paul neatly sums up His teachings on Divine grace in 1 Cor 1:30 where he says, It is by His doing that you are in Christ Jesus" [author's emphasis]. As theologian, James White, says regarding this passage, "It is not by our doing, our by a combination of our actions and God's grace, but by His doing that we are in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor 1:31).
It is precisely the kind of weak exegesis on the part of Shank and other Arminians concerning passages like Romans 8 and 9 that prompted Spurgeon to tell of one of his encounters with such contentions:
It isn't just Paul, however, that propounds the doctrines of monergism with great clarity (though his teachings should be enough since sola Scripturians only need to be taught something once in Scripture for it to be true!). Many are surprised to learn that some of the strongest teachings on monergistic regeneration are found in the words of Christ Himself. We have seen some of these teachings already if, at least, by implication. It is in the sixth and tenth chapters of John's Gospel, however, that these teachings become sturdily explicit. As White observes, Jesus teaches the doctrine of unconditional election in the most monergistic terms possible:
Jesus adds in verse 65 that " no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." In this one passage alone, Jesus at once affirms at least four of the so-called "five points of Calvinism" including total depravity ("no one can come" unless he is drawn (v. 44)), unconditional election (the Father gives believers to the Son, (v. 37)), irresistible grace ("All that the Father gives will come " (v. 37)), and perseverance of the saints ("I shall lose none of all that he has given me (v. 39))!
Later, in chapter 10, Jesus engages in a very revealing dialogue with the unbelieving Jews in which He explains the nature of His relationship, as the Great Shepherd, with His "sheep":
Of critical importance here, is the order in which Jesus iterates His rebuke in verse 26. Why does Jesus say the Jews don't believe? The answer is because they are not His sheep. The Arminian system reverses this order. In order for it to work, someone's not being numbered among the sheep must be due to their non-belief. But Jesus makes clear that in order to believe in the first place, you must be among His sheep whom the Father gives to Him! (v. 29).
This order of things in how a believer comes to believe is restated in different ways throughout other parts in Scripture. Luke makes mention of it in Acts 13:48 where he records that upon hearing the gospel message, the Gentiles there "were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed." The belief of the Gentiles was the result, not cause, of the appointment to eternal life given to them by God.
1. Additional Biblical texts supporting monergistic regeneration.
Before moving to a consideration of the so-called "Arminian texts" and, then, a defense of monergism using a series of logical syllogisms, what follows is a list of several other Biblical passages that bear critically on monergistic regeneration (though this list is by no means exhaustive). A plain reading of these texts immediately tears down any Arminian interpretation of belief preceding saving grace [all emphases are the author's]:
2. The So-called "Arminian Texts".
Doesn't the Bible say that God wills for all to be saved? How, then does this square with the idea that God must appoint people to first believe in the gospel message and, then, unilaterally regenerate them so that they are able to do so? For example, Paul writes, "This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:3-4). And Peter says that "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Pet 3:9). Aren't these passages a clear contradiction of the Reformed doctrine of monergism?
The solution to this problem is found in understanding the different types of God's will. We must distinguish between at least three categories of the wills of God, namely, God's sovereign, efficacious (or decretive) will, His preceptive will, and what is sometimes called God's will of disposition. The first of these, God's sovereign, efficacious will, refers to that will of God which is both hidden and irresistible. It is with this will, for example, that God created the world and all its functioning elements like light. When He said, "Let there be light" (Gen 1:3), the light could not have disobeyed Him and refused to shine. It was God's sovereign, efficacious will that the light shine and so it was. Similarly, God has an eternal plan for mankind which falls under the rubric of this will. His plan in redemptive history will happen. It cannot not happen. God will succeed in His purpose for creating the world. Man cannot thwart His plans. The prophet Isaiah affirms, "For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?" (Is 14:27)
The second of the wills of God, His preceptive will, refers to that which God has revealed to us through His Biblical precepts. God's preceptive will is not hidden from us as with His decretive will. This includes such things as the Decalogue and Christ's command to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Mat 22:37). This is what the Lord wills us to do and we can and do refuse to do it at times! We are charged with abiding by the precepts of God's revealed will to us in Scripture. The rest is God's business. For as it says in Isaiah, "' my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways' declares the LORD" (Is 55:8). That we can and do transgress God's preceptive will does not indicate that God's ultimate plans are somehow thwartable. Indeed, even transgression of and want of conformity to God's precepts fits in within His perfect plan for the redemption of mankind.
Nevertheless, we are responsible for following God's precepts. It is not within our province to say "Let us do evil that good may come" (Rom 3:8) It is God's business to use evil for good, not ours. If God allows sin, He allows it for an altogether good purpose. If we sin, however, we sin to sin, not that good may come. To say otherwise is to heap condemnation on oneself. We are responsible for that which God's reveals to us; that He commands us to do.
Finally, the third will of God, His will of disposition, describes those things which are pleasing or bring delight to God. Theologian, R.C. Sproul describes God's will of disposition thusly:
What Peter and Paul are telling us in the passages cited above fall under the rubric of the Lord's will of disposition. After all, if they fell under His sovereign, efficacious will, no one would perish! Everyone would come to salvation which proves too much for Arminians turning this passage into an advocacy for the heretical doctrine of universalism. But clearly, many people do perish in their sins. Thus, as Grudem puts it, "these verses simply tell us that God invites and commands every person to repent and come to Christ for salvation, but they do not tell us anything about God's secret decrees regarding who will be saved." Theologian, Millard Erickson, compares 1 Tim 2:3-4 and 2 Pet 3:9 with the passage in Ezekiel where God proclaims, "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live " (Ez 33:11). God is simply revealing that He takes no immediate pleasure in punishing the wicked. Yet in Proverbs 16:4 we read that, "The LORD works out everything for his own ends-even the wicked for a day of disaster." How is that these both can be true? The simple answer is that the Ezekiel passage falls under God's will of disposition, whereas the latter falls under God's sovereign, efficacious will. While it brings God no immediate pleasure to destroy the wicked, He is still going to exact His fury on them because it fulfills a greater good which He has purposed in Himself. An analogy to better understand this, albeit crude, would be a parent punishing a child. While it brings them no pleasure or delight to do so, they still do it because "just" character of the parent demands it.
We must also remember that, ultimately, God is not going to do anything that He doesn't want or will to do! Reformed theology teaches that the locus of God's purpose in these things is to be found in a magnification of His own glory which is further manifested both in His meting out justice and wrath on the wicked, as well as in extending His grace and mercy on the unconditionally elect. Both plans will be carried out.
III. A LOGICAL
We have seen, thus far, the manner in which Scripture supports monergistic regeneration and its corollary, irresistible grace. We now move to the task of proving these doctrines using a combination of Biblical axioms that bear on soteriology and a simple, syllogistic application of the rules of logic, especially, the law of non-contradiction and law of causality. This final section should make it clear, beyond the peradventure of a doubt, that not only is synergism unbiblical, but that it is fundamentally illogical.
The desire and
subsequent decision to receive salvation, X, is either,
If X is uncaused,
then it is a self-created effect which is impossible. For, in order
for something to create itself, it must exist prior to itself which
violates the law of non-contradiction (since it would have to be and
not be at the same time, in the same sense). Thus, X is caused by something.
That something is either,
If the ultimate cause for X is intrinsic, then it is accomplished through one or more of the following constitutive human faculties:
a. body (somatic
On the other hand,
if X is ultimately caused by something in the mind, or cognitively,
then it can be said that the mind that chooses X is vitally superior
to that of the mind that rejects X. For, it is clearly better for the
mind to choose salvation than not to. Resistless logic, however, renders
such a scenario absurd, indeed unbiblical, by making salvation contingent
upon one's inherent intellectual acumen. But Scripture abundantly affirms
that salvation extends to the full range of human beings without respect
to genetic content, congenital factors, or level of education. Christianity
is not a faith for scholars only. Rather, Christ says, "Come to
Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden" (Mat 11:28) [author's
The second option, synergism, may also be ruled out. For, we are concerned here with the simple causation of X, and thus, sufficient causal agency as opposed to becoming lost in a panoply of necessary conditions (NCs). If variables A, B, and C, are necessary causal factors, then each are necessary but not sufficient to bring about X, i.e., the desire and resultant decision to receive Christ in faith. And if they are not sufficient, then they are not ultimate. Only the final, decisive factor, D, can be counted as the ultimate cause of X. For it is not until this final factor comes to exert its force that the effect in question is actualized.
Simply stated, this final factor must fall under the rubric of either intrinsic or extrinsic monergism as both a necessary and sufficient condition. Synergism, then, only backs up a step the original issue of how one ultimately arrives at X. The synergist argues that God, through prevenient grace, supplies the necessary conditions which form the backdrop for a Christly decision to be made, but that the final-and therefore sufficient-factor is left up to individual. God's grace is a necessary but not sufficient condition for one's salvation. God may graciously provide all manner of necessary conditions but the ultimate outcome hangs precariously in the anthropocentric balance of human decision. The individual must exert monergistic force if salvation is to be procured. And, indeed, procured rather than received it must be in the Arminian system. This is precisely what leads one leading theologian to comment that,
Indeed, some Reformed
scholars have even gone so far as to call Arminianism simply, "Christian
we are left with the final option: that the desire and subsequent decision
to receive salvation is accomplished through extrinsic monergism. God
is the fully sufficient cause for our salvation. Thus, the decision
to be saved is the result or fruit, not cause, of the regeneration that
is wrought in us monergistically by God. This faith comes by way of
grace from the Sprit that moves as the wind, blowing wherever it pleases
so that God's elect are those "born not of natural descent, nor
of human decision, or a husband's will, but born of God" (Jn 1:13)
[author's emphasis]. And, again, as Paul says, "it depends not
on him who wills or runs, but on God's mercy" (Rom 9:16).
Murphy is the founder and director of the Minnesota Apologetics Project,
a Minneapolis-based Christian apologetics ministry (www.mn-apologetics.org).
Back to Monergism.com