Why I Stopped Being a Calvinist (Part 4): The Heresy of Monergism

By Robin Phillips

The Heresy of Monergism

If all Calvinism were to be encapsulated by a single term it would be the word Monergism. The term comes from the Greek mono meaning “one,” and erg meaning “work,” and describes the notion that salvation is affected by only one agent, namely God. As R.C. Sproul explains it, “A monergistic work is a work produced singly, by one person… A synergistic work is one that involves cooperation between two or more persons or things.”

While there is certainly a sense in which the Bible teaches that God is the only agent effecting salvation, Monergism goes wrong in denying that human beings are able to co-operate in the process of regeneration and salvation.

Monergism arises out of the fact that Calvinists are deeply uncomfortable acknowledging any synergy between the divine will and the human will. Indeed, a Calvinist will say that when a man or woman appears to co-operate with God, this is only because the Lord first predetermined that he or she should do so, thus preserving the sense in which only one agent is operative.

Some Calvinists teach that Monergism only applies to regeneration, and that sanctification is synergistic. Reformed Baptist Andrew Naselli expressed this view when he wrote, “A monergistic view of regeneration is biblical, but a monergistic view of sanctification is not.” Other teachers have been more globalist in their application of Monergism, applying it to every level of the Christian walk. For example, one Calvinist professor I had (who is actually considered a moderate) went so far as to assert that I don’t even have free will when it comes to deciding whether to have honey or raspberry jam on my toast in the morning, because whichever choice I make results from God’s prior will-act in making the choice for me. There no real synergy between the divine and the human, for God remains the only true agent that is working.

Monergism isn’t entirely bad, because it arises from at least three good theological impulses. First, it takes seriously the fact that God is in complete control of everything that happens (Matthew 10:29). Secondly, it takes seriously the fact that we cannot earn our salvation by works and we can never have anything to boast about before God (Romans 3:27). Thirdly, Monergism recognizes that in all the good that we do, it is God working in us (Philippians 2:13). Where Monergism needs to be critiqued is when it takes these truths and formalizes them into a tight system, drawing further extrapolations which end up excluding important Biblical teaching about the role of human co-operation in the salvation process.

Interestingly, the thing that first alerted my wife and me to the problems in a Monergistic approach was when we saw how it tinctured various practical areas of the Christian life. Again and again we were seeing that the Monergistic mentality essentially sets up the relationship between God and man (as well as grace and nature) like two transactions in a zero-sum game. In a zero-sum game, the gains of one side will always correlate to the losses of the other side. So for example, the Monergistic mentality feels that if too much freedom or efficacy is granted to man or nature then there is that much less left over for God’s own freedom, sovereignty or glory. What results is partly analogous to the kind of Apollinarian dualism discussed by Colin Gunton in Yesterday and Today: A Study of Continuities in Christology or again by Demetrios Bathrellos in The Byzantine Christ. The Apollinarians “could not conceive of a coexistence and cooperation between the divine and the human natures and wills in Christ that would respect the particularity and integrity of both” (Bathrellos, p. 15). The Apollinarian discomfort preserving the particularity and integrity of the human is echoed again and again in Calvinist treatments of the relationship between the human and the divine. For example, in James White’s book Debating Calvinism, he argues that “the first element of the Bible’s teaching of monergism is the absolute freedom of God.” For God to be truly free, He must be the only energy operating.

Similarly, in R.C. Sproul’s classic Chosen by God, Sproul goes so far as to assert that anything short of total Monergism leaves God less than God. On this scheme of things, Monergism is not merely true, it is true necessarily, for it is no more possible for God to create a non-monergistic universe than it is possible for Him to cease being God. Ironically, this is meant to free God, although it actually ends up significantly limiting Him. For as David Bradshaw observed,

on this view the Augustinian interpretation of predestination is not only true but is necessarily true, since God could not create creatures who are capable in any way of affecting his judgments regarding salvation and damnation. Yet the Augustinian position began precisely as the attempt to exalt the divine will over all necessity…. It is problems such as these that led Pascal to exclaim that the God of the philosophers is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The Augustinian-Thomistic God, who is perfectly simple and fully actual, seems to be locked within a box from which he cannot escape in order to interact in any meaningful way with his creatures.

By contrast, Saint Maximus the Confessor argued that because humans are made in the image of God, they possess the same type of self-determining power as God. “As regards the way in which self-determination must be understood, it is noteworthy that, for Maximus, the basis and archetype of man’s self-determination is the self-determination of God. As we have seen, Maximus argued that man is self-determining because he is made in the image of the divinity, which is self-determining…” (Bathrellos, p. 167).

Monergism and Prayer

One practical area of the Christian life where we saw this playing out was when it came to prayer. While attending Calvinist churches I frequently encountered the idea that prayer doesn’t actually change things. This came up again and again in conversations I had with Calvinist elders or lay people concerning blessing the food we eat. No one was ever willing to admit that when we asked God to bless the food that anything actually happened as a result of the prayer. One person told me that if prayer made a real difference then God wouldn’t be truly sovereign and our prayers would therefore be a ‘work’.

Consistent with this framework, in the Calvinist church we attended for five years, I never remember the pastor once praying and asking the Lord to bless the Eucharist before administering it, even though the church considered itself to be liturgical and to hold an exalted view of the Eucharist. James Jordan goes even further and declares that “By refusing to consecrate the bread and wine, we affirm that the grace of the sacrament comes from the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life.” Once again, this is the zero-sum mentality which assumes that any role we play (even praying a prayer of consecration) must necessarily subtract from God’s portion of the pie.

This Monergistic approach to prayer permeates countless books and articles by Calvinist authors when handling the topic of prayer. For example, in Arthur Pink’s discussion of prayer in his book The Sovereignty of God, he takes violent exception to an article on prayer where the author had declared that “prayer changes things, meaning that God changes things when men pray.” Calvinist Joseph Wilson argued similarly in his 1991 article “Does Prayer Change Things?” He wrote, “No man can believe in the glorious, Biblical doctrine of absolute predestination, and believe that prayer changes things. The two are incompatible. They do not go together. If one is true, the other is false. Since predestination is true, it follows as night follows day, that prayer does not change things.” Calvinist David West made the same point, “Prayer does not change things, nor does it change God or His mind.” Similarly Calvinist Dan Phillips commented, “prayer does not change things.”

Monergism and Pastoral Ministry

The Monergistic idea that “everything has to be 100% God” can bring normal Christian duty into a condition of atrophy. One of the most disheartening expressions of this is when there is a de-prioritization of helping those who fall away from the faith, since if the person is elect we can be sure God will bring them back, but if they are not elect, then there is nothing we can do anyway.

Some Monergists I know have told me that because everything is 100% God (meaning there is no divine/human synergy at work), the only way to help troubled people is to preach to them and let God do the rest. When a Monergist says, “only God can engineer a change in that person’s heart”, nine times out of ten he means “only God, independent of any human instrumentality, can change that person’s heart.” In practice, this means we have to sit back and “let go and let God.”

Some elderly Calvinists I have known have appealed to Monergist principles when explaining why we should stay clear of disciplines like psychotherapy. When human instrumentality is involved, there is always a lurking suspicion that man rather than God is at work. This finds expression in the common notion that the only way to help a troubled person is to preach to them and then let God do the rest. Such a view is the cornerstone of a type of counseling practiced in many reformed churches known as called ‘Nouthetic Counselling.’

I have been using some extreme examples to illustrate my point about the problems of Monergism. Yet these same principles are usually assumed or implied even in the writings of mainstream Calvinists. For example, a standard Calvinist treatment of the problem of evil is to assert that God is not responsible for moral evil precisely because the sin He foreordained all comes to pass through secondary causes. This basic argument permeates most Calvinist theodicies. However, the ramifications for understanding God’s relationship with the world like this are far-reaching. I started to realize that this theodicy was problematic when the men’s group at our former church was studying a book in which a Calvinist author asserted that a problem with the libertarian view of free will is that it makes God directly responsible for our evil decisions since evil would then be happening through the primary causation of God. Now regardless of whether this is a legitimate implication of the libertarian position, it clearly implies that God is not responsible for the acts He performs through means, and that He can only get the credit for what He does directly and immediately. But as soon as we claim that the reason God is not responsible for evil is because His predetermination of evil occurs through means, we have implied that whenever God works through means the responsibility for what is done rests with agents other than Him, namely the creature. However, if the credit goes to the creature for anything that God accomplishes through means, then we are left with a system in which we can take the credit for most of the acts God performs in this world, since God accomplishes most things through means.

Take this out of the realm of theodicy and into the realm of pastoral care, and see what happens. If our basic paradigm is that the credit goes to the creature for anything God accomplishes through means, then of course we’ll want to take a hands-off approach when it comes to helping people so as not to subtract from God getting the glory for it. Only when God acts in someone’s life ‘out of the blue’ and not through visible human instruments, does He get the glory for it, at least if we follow out the logic of this argumentation.

(For further discussions about the evangelical quest to eliminate instrumentality, see the articles ‘Is Will-Power Good or Bad?’ and ‘B.B. Warfield and the Quest for Immediacy’ and ‘8 Gnostic Myths You May Have Imbibed.’)

Making salvation 100% “a God thing” (rather than a matter of synergistic co-operation) seems at first glance to be a liberating doctrine, as does Calvinism’s insistence that you can never lose your salvation. I have sat under many Calvinist sermons in which the pastor will declare how liberating it is to know that you will persevere to the end. However, this teaching on perseverance comes at a heavy price. In exchange for being able to lose your salvation, Calvinism offers the possibility that you may not really be one of the elect. If pressed on the question of how one can know whether he or she is among the elect, a good Calvinist will either tend to say “Don’t think about that” or he will enjoin the person to take comfort in the fruit of his life. The first option is a dodge, for what comfort can there be in a system that proclaims “You are elect of God, but don’t think too hard about whether what I’m saying is true”? The second option—to gain confidence from the fruit of one’s life—is only semantically different from those modalities to which Calvinism claims to be an alternative. In a functional sense (stripped of metaphysics), it puts salvation in our own hands as much as into God’s. And how is one to know if that “fruit” is authentic or enough to be a clear indication of election?

Monergism and Free Will

When my wife and I began to observe the practical liabilities of Monergism, we backed up to rethink the whole paradigm. We saw that our Calvinism had set up a duality between grace and nature, sovereignty and freedom, the divine and the human, as if these are related like two teams in an American football field. If one team controls forty of the hundred yards, then the other team necessarily controls the other sixty. When this is our basic paradigm, of course we always try to set things up so that it will be 100% God and 0% man.

The alternative, however, is to affirm that it is actually 100% God and 100% man. Once we realized this, we saw that there is space for nature to have a qualified autonomy. After all, if it doesn’t undermine God’s sovereignty for Him to make dogs doggy or for Him to make chickens with chicken-ness, then there is no reason that God’s sovereignty should be thrown into question because man has free will.

(As an aside, I should point out that by ‘free will’ I do not simply mean it in the compatibilist sense that we are free to choose what we want without coercion. Naturalist philosophers who believe that our minds are completely conditioned by biochemical laws have no problem affirming that human beings have free will in this sense. Indeed, the most radical materialist determinists all agree that we are free in the sense that we can choose according to our inclinations. However, if this is all we mean by ‘free will’, then we have conflated the distinction between determinism and freedom, thus expelling any coherent meaning from the latter. Both naturalist determinists and Calvinists can agree that the will is the effect of desires that could never have been otherwise, but only the Calvinist will add to this the sophistry of suggesting that this is compatible with ordinary notions of human freedom.)

Monergism and Worship

Another problem with the Monergist paradigm is that it is out of step with the church’s experience as it has unfolded over time in the life of the worshiping community. Archaeological evidence has now firmly established that the earliest forms of Christian worship were intensely material. The early Christians used lots of things (from icons to relics of departed saints) as aids in worship. This tradition has continued down to the present day in all the oldest branches of Christendom. By contrast, Calvinist worship has usually been barren, stripped of all physical accoutrements.

This is something that goes back to Calvin himself, not merely his followers. There’s been a lot of good scholarship explaining why this was in light of Calvin’s historical context and his broader theological commitments, but one central reason can again be located in Calvin’s Monergism. After all, if our starting assumption is that there is an unspoken tension between God and creation, and between grace and nature (an assumption on which Monergism feeds), then this tension can only be resolved by moving everything over into God’s department. We will then instinctively feel that it is more honoring to God when we can approach him immediately, that is, without any intermediaries rooted in the created realm. The bare walls of reformed churches are animated by this Monergistic impulse. They want to emphasize God by de-emphasizing the stuff of creation, and hence the color, vibrancy and stuff-ness of historic Christian worship is evacuated from the sanctuary. Using stuff as aids to worship is then reconfigured to be a species of idolatry, even though God prescribed things to be aids of worship in the era of the old covenant. (See my article ‘Are Calvinists Also Among the Gnostics?‘)

Once we appreciate that God’s employment of intermediaries does not subtract from His glory, there is space for a greater appreciation of the role that the saints have in helping us. Monergists are uncomfortable with the saints directly helping us because, given their zero-sum mentality, this subtracts from God’s 100%, just as psychotherapy subtracts from God’s glory by denying Him the ability to work directly.  (To read more about why it is important to honor Mary and the saints, see ‘Putting Mary Back into Christmas.’)

Objections and Answers

Objection #1: Many of your observations about Monergism are problems with Calvinism rather than John Calvin himself. The problems you diagnose occur as Calvinists have taken certain latent tendencies within Calvin’s thought to an extreme that Calvin himself would have discountenanced. The solution therefore is not to reject Calvinism so much as to return to a proper and more authentic form of Calvinism.

Answer to Objection #1: It is true that many of my observations about Monergism have arisen as Calvinists have taken Calvin’s teachings to an extreme, abandoning the dialectical balance that Calvin himself was able to preserve. Nevertheless, Calvin’s own theology cannot be entirely insulated against the criticisms I have raised, especially with regard to the zero-sum contest between God and creation. While Calvin may not have gone to the extremes of his later followers, he did provide the basic framework that, once accepted, legitimizes the excesses I have diagnosed. This especially becomes apparent if we consider Calvin’s debt to the tradition of medieval nominalism, which is a topic I have begun to explore and will be published on in the near future. However, since this is ultimately an historical rather than a theological question, I have not included information about it within these reflections.

Objection #2: You have presented a caricature of Calvinism. The Calvinist ideas you discuss are not Calvinist ideas at all. To give one example, the quotes about prayer represent a minority position among Calvinists, as most serious Reformed thinkers will follow Calvin in asserting that prayer does actually change things. Similarly, many of your concerns about the zero-sum approach will be shared by most serious Calvinists. If you have a problem with Calvinism you would do better with critiquing the Reformed Confessions (Westminster, Belgic, etc.), rather than looking for extreme statements among those professing to be Calvinists.

Answer Objection #2: In critiquing Calvinist ‘ideas’, I am not simply talking about ideas that are necessarily taught from the pulpit in an explicit way. Rather, I am using the term “ideas” in the broad sense that Charles Taylor has described as the “social imaginary” in A Secular Age or that James Davison Hunter talked about with the language of “pre-reflective frameworks” in To Change the World or that James K.A. Smith articulated as being the ‘adaptive unconscious’ in Desiring the Kingdom. What these and other authors have tried to focus our attention on is not ideas that exist as disengaged concepts in a person’s head, nor ideas that can be reduced to a set of propositions on paper; rather, they are all urging us to give attention to ideas that exist as unstated understandings that make up the ‘background’ to how a people make sense of their world. Such “ideas” exist as implicit understandings and may not ever be explicitly articulated or cognitively recognized. They are, as Taylor describes it, the largely unfocussed background which gives cohesiveness to group experience, “something much broader and deeper than the intellectual schemes people may entertain when they think about social reality in a disengaged mode.”

Now take these categories and apply them to the zero-sum approach. What I am arguing is that Calvinist communities are easily tinctured by the zero-sum approach on this deeper and more implicit level. It is irrelevant that Calvinists will read this paper and say, “I don’t recognize the type of reformed theology you are describing, because you are presenting a caricature of Calvinism.” The reason this is irrelevant is because I am diagnosing concepts embedded in the adaptive unconscious of Calvinist communities rather than simply doctrines explicitly expounded from the pulpit or lectern. I am addressing a network of inchoate practices, assumptions and conventions which implicitly ‘carry’ certain notions, even while the doctrinal formulations may not explicitly affirm them. Put another way, I am dealing with an implicit theology which comes out of the fingertips of the laity as much as the official theology that is taught at the seminaries or in the lecture hall. Thus, when I object to Monergism, I am objecting to the whole package, including the type of excesses it implicitly encourages and the background narratives made plausible by Monergistic categories. These narratives unconsciously tincture the general mood of Calvinist communities because they affect how the laity unconsciously imagine their world.

Further Reading


  1. I think it would be a fine thing if someone were to do a write-up on how monergist soteriology essentially requires monoenergist Christology, which has indeed been formally condemned as a heresy at the Sixth Ecumenical Council.

    1. Would that matter to the Magisterial Reformed? I would like to read that as well, but I’m curious if they even adhere to the ecumenical councils? Certainly, most Calvinists do not adhere to the seventh.


      1. Lutherans accept the 7th, I think. But then, they aren’t technically “Reformed”.

    2. Unfortunately, a theologically debate is never validly engaged with the statement “x is true/false because y stated it is true/heretical”; which is a mindset that many Catholics fall prey to when they jump into theological discussions with both feet.

      You are either stating faith or debating theology. You cannot do both in the same conversation and have the conversation read coherently.

  2. Technically Augustine was a weak synergist. His predestination relates to the area of God’s effective call to which the human being cannot help but be compelled to respond to. Ultimately, this view is seen as too weak of a synergy. Nevertheless, it is certainly not the monergism of Calvin.

    St Photios reminds us to be careful on this point: “After the death of the holy Augustine certain of the clergy began to reassert these impious doctrines. They began to speak evil of Augustine and falsely accused him of denying free will…” (Bibliotheca 54)

  3. i feel as though i’m missing the nuance of the view.

    It seems paradoxical at least to assent to monergism and to attempt to avoid behaviors that appear inconsistent with monergism–for instance, avoiding something that could be a ‘work.’ But if monergism is true, doesn’t it follow that such behavior is impossible in the nature of the case? Even if i go to counseling thinking i need human help, or even if i pray with the hope that it will change things, if monergism is true, then God is the sole agent of causation behind both my actions and my intentions in those cases, is He not?

    Am i oversimplifying here? It seems analogous to saying, “Since hard determinism is true, then i better do my best not to exercise my libertarian free will.” There seems to be a bad conflation between metaphysics and epistemology there, or perhaps, a metaphysical claim and an action-guiding claim.

  4. I enjoyed this article.
    Wondering if you’ve addressed Augustine’s teaching on ‘All sinned in Adam’.
    Augustine’s ‘proof’ was sexual desire. I think this is one of the major flaws of Augustinian/Calvinism.

    1. Which itself is a manifestation of the radical monasticism that was common in that day. Yes, celibacy is better than marriage, but marriage is good because God created it and made it holy, not only for the propagation of the human race, but also for the good of the spouses. Sexual desire is good, because sex itself is good and holy; the consequence of the Fall is that sexual desire is easily perverted, tempting us to use sex sacrilegiously. If it were not so, if sexual desire were evil, then the Song of Solomon would not be in the Bible. But as it is, God created sex to be the highest expression of married love, even empowering this married love to make the spouses partners with God in the creation of new life. Therefore, it is good that the consummation of Holy Matrimony be pleasurable and desirable, for it itself is good, and it is never wrong to desire good things. It is wrong to seek good things by evil means, or to do evil that good may come of it, but the desire for good is never wrong. Indeed, choosing celibacy is good precisely because marriage is good, and it is therefore noble to sacrifice it for the sake of serving God more fully. It is no sacrifice to forsake evil; we never had any right to it in the first place. Sacrifice consists of giving up good things for the service of God. Now, sacrifice is worthless when done while clinging to evil, but sacrifice is a virtue when done with a clean heart.

  5. I always thought that Pelagianism was the reason for the West’s monergism. What is the East’s response to the heresy of Pelagius?

  6. Dear Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy. I greatly enjoyed reading your 4 part article, Why I stopped being a Calvinist, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. Could you please do me a favor? I don’t have a printer. So could you mail the complete series of articles, on printed pages, Why I Stopped Being A Calvinist, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and whatever else, to me at: Mr. Scott R. Harrington 3151 West 38th Street Apt. 14 Erie PA 16506-5356 814-580-0421 email hidden; JavaScript is required Thank you. Sincerely, Scott R. Harrington

  7. Slight rabbit trail – any suggestions on books/readings/posts that deal more in depth with the Orthodox understanding of God’s sovereignty vs. our free choice and personal responsibility?

  8. Man, is Sproul a unitarian in that lead quote? Does he not believe at least three persons cooperate?

    1. I have never met a Calvinist who held to a fully orthodox triadology and Christology. They always seem to lapse off into Arianism, or Semi-Arianism (Eternal Subordination of the Son/ESS), or semi-Modalism (incarnational sonship, which John MacArthur used to teach), or Nestorianism (denying Mary the title of Theotokos), or Eutychianism (their view of Biblical inspiration often tends toward this), or even all five (!). They focus so much on what God did (soteriology) that they completely lose sight of who he IS.

      1. Oh and by the way, I never fully gained a full understanding or appreciation for the Trinity until after I began investigating Orthodoxy (I still haven’t become Orthodox yet, due to life circumstances, but I hope to be received into it as soon as I can). I was raised in a generic evangelical Protestant environment, where the focus is all on “what Christ did for ME” and where the Trinity and historic Church teaching was almost never mentioned since they just preferred to quote the Bible directly (sola scriptura gone to seed).

        As a result, inadvertent Modalism and other such errors were quite common (one popular evangelical study Bible I read claimed that God is like a case of multiple personality disorder. That’s MODALISM.) I myself was once verbally reprimanded by a Calvinist professor after I confided, meekly, that I didn’t really understand the difference between what Sabellius and Nicea actually taught (how could I? Evangelicals don’t have catechism classes, and that includes the Calvinist/YRR types, too).

        When it comes to both the Trinity and the Incarnation, I would argue that to be orthodox is to be Orthodox. No other Christian communion seems to have it together on these issues.

  9. Although I respect your labors and thoughts that went into these articles I must confess that the main thrust of the entire series is really a straw man buried beneath much philosophy. Furthermore your arguments tend to stem from an authority grounded in councils, Church Fathers or traditions and remarkably avoid any citation of scripture to back up your points (except when you are praising the goodness of Calvinism!), see Colossians 2:8, 2 Timothy 3:16, Psalm 119:9-11, and Matthew 4:1-11. Also most of your answers in the “Q&A” sections do not even address the objections raised.

    1. “Although I respect your labors and thoughts that went into these articles I must confess that the main thrust of the entire series is really a straw man buried beneath much philosophy.”

      It probably would be helpful to Robin and readers for you to at least briefly support your contention here with an actual argument.

      “Authority grounded in Councils” is precisely the Eastern Orthodox approach to the interpretation of the Scriptures, just as various traditions of interpretation resulting from the ideas of the Protestant Reformers (5 Solas, etc.) are for Protestants. Scripture has been as critical and central for guiding the thinking of the Orthodox Councils of Bishops of the first millennum as it was for the various Reformers (who displayed, like their Protestant descendants, much less of a consensus of interpretation than those Councils produced, which I would argue one would not expect if the Reformers were all equally guided by the Spirit).

      All Christians today must interpret the Scriptures through the lens of a particular framework or Christian tradition (which all are traceable to particular historical persons and situations in history). It stands to reason all of us are frequently blinded to aspects of the Scripture’s true meaning by our own presuppositions (grounded in what we have been taught, and the philosophical assumptions inherent in the cultures in which we have been raised, and our own experiences).

      It seems to me what you must seek to show for Orthodox is why the various church traditions of understanding Scripture that originated in the Reformation era give more evidence of the Spirit’s guidance than the Orthodox approach. Just to be clear, merely citing Scripture and your interpretation of it in support of your view will be circular reasoning and not constitute a valid philosophical or historical argument. I’ll offer a tentative potential common ground as a starting point–likely you and Orthodox would agree that the true ultimate authority for the Church and the individual Christian is God in Christ through the Holy Spirit (not just the letter/text of the Scriptures), Who alone can reveal the intended meaning and proper application of the Scriptures.

    2. Endoxos,

      Do you mean to imply that the Reformed do not believe in any secondary authorities, such as creeds, confessions and conciliar descisions?

      The only reason to go to an exegetical argument would be if the Reformed reject those doctrinal definitions and judgments, yet they don’t. So it seems that it is sufficient to cite the councils to highlight their theological inconsistency.

    3. “Also most of your answers in the “Q&A” sections do not even address the objections raised.”

      True. I wrote four full articles full of specific objections, and the Q&As literally address strawman’s not presented by anyone.

  10. God obviously didn’t create everyone equal …… and is “free will” not predestined?Very few will achieve his rewards….faith is the key, not knowledge of faith. Quit over thinking it guys and just believe…

    1. The idea of “just believe” is more in tune with modern American sensibilities than historic Christianity.


  11. Where’s the Bible or even the church father’s in all of this? The strongest argument he could have made is that a synergism, without a completely autonomous human in view, is the most obvious and substantiated idea in Scripture and the church fathers.

  12. In reference to my straw man comment, the author does not fully understand Monergism, which means he is building up a false argument. Monergism is essentially that God saves us we do not save ourselves….I think the author understands this point but stops here. Jesus died on the cross, not his church. God is the author and perfecter of our faith, not his church. Salvation is based on God’s mercy, goodness, kindness, grace, and love not on our ability to will our salvation. Unless God chooses us, Romans 9, we only choose death, Romans 3. It is after the justification of the sinner that God renews our will as a new creation, 2 Corinthians 5:17, and at which point we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:12…This would be the Reformed sanctification process. However, never ever ever are we left to our own works and righteousness throughout the entire Christian life, Romans 8. I could go on but I am sure there is enough contention to be had.

    The Reformed position is scripture, the original Greek and Hebrew, is the only infallible authority over the church. Church Fathers, councils, creeds, etc. can be secondary authorities, if they do not contradict scripture, but are not *infallibly* authoritative. Thus, my complaint, not argument, is there was not any reference to scripture throughout the entire blog, except when praising the Reformed position. Does that strike anyone as ironic?

    We can agree that the Trinity, Filioque added, is the ultimate authority but how can we even know that this statement is true?

    1. Having left a Reformed church a little over a year ago, for many of the same reasons that the author of the article notes, I am left to wonder how Calvinists deal with Romans 4 which was the real turning point for me. God clearly imputes righteousness to Abraham BECAUSE HE BELIEVED. (Caps only used for emphasis…) I believe in grace through faith, just as the scriptures clearly state. However, it is clear in Romans 4 and in James 2 that God imputed/accounted righteousness to Abraham because of his faith and will do so to others accordingly. Romans 5:2 makes it clear that we have access, “by faith into this grace wherein we stand”. Reading all of Romans 1-11 as one narrative was very helpful to me. The Reformed position that faith itself is a work cannot be supported by the Bible.

  13. And I could just as easily turn the tables on you and ask you to prove the exact opposite, why the orthodox position is superior to the Reformed, but you are unable to use the Church fathers or councils. If you do it would be circular.

  14. Back to monergism, the author takes monergism into the realm of providence, sanctification, prayer, and what ever else he thinks it includes, but monergism only refers to justification.

    1. Monergism refers to everything in Calvinism(not just justification) because everything, even sins, and all means and all ends have been eternally decreed by God. Therefore everything happens by necessity. When we exercise our wills which Calvinist portray to be free (because we act according to our desires), we are not exercising “free” will because even our desires for good or evil originate in God and happen by necessity. Calvinists are neccessitarians. When you make a choice, you could not have chosen otherwise…but you are still held responsible in Calvinism, nonetheless. It kind of makes Christ’s words meaningless when he says that “IF” Sodom and Gommorah had seen his mighty works, they “WOULD HAVE” repented in sackcloth and ashes”. There is a good book that refutes calvinism. It can be read for free here: http://evangelicalarminians.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2013/03/Hodgson.-The-Calvinistic-Doctrine-of-Predestination-Examined-and-Refuted.pdf

  15. The essential question at hand is really the effects of original sin. Calvinists believe we all die in Adam Romans 5. Dead men can’t choose life. However God breathes life into the dead, Ezekiel 37.

    1. According to St Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians, a unconverted person is ” alienated from the Life of God through the ignorance that is in him…” It is relational not a static “state of sin” as the Westminster confession says. It should not be likened to biological death with connotations of total inability rather it should be explained as separation from God, who is Life. The Ephesians Chapter two passage says we were dead in trespasses and sins(in the plural) not dead in sin(singular) as the Calvinists usually teach to indicate the “so called” original sin/hereditary sinful nature/total depravity inherited from Adam. In Revelation 3:1, the Lord tells the Christians in Sardis that” Thou hast a name that thou livest and art dead”….There was no total inability there. When God told Abimelech in Genesis, “Thou art but a dead man” it meant simply that he was under the threat of death….Just like the unconverted person is under threat of final death, the second death. This “total inability” inference forced into Ephesians 2 is eisegesis( read into the text).When St Paul talks about the ressurection of the Soul, he always refers to Holy Baptism( Eph 2:10-14 Roman 6) not the awakening of the soul from spiritual slumber. This enlightening, awakening grace is what leads a person to seek Baptism into Christ to experience the NewBirth…it is not the new birth itself.

  16. Calvinist reads Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.”
    Orthodox reads Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to the councils, church fathers, and creeds.”

    1. This is really just calumny, but it’s worth noting that one of the major errors that Orthodox see in most sola scriptura readings of Scripture is that word is identified with the Bible rather than with Jesus Christ, which is the Word identified by the Bible in John 1:1. The Scriptures, illumined by the councils, Fathers, the Creed, the liturgy, etc., are a witness to the Word but are not the Word.

      It seems that you are reading the Orthodox approach to all the witnesses to Holy Tradition as essentially being the Roman Catholic one, i.e., that tradition is a separate “authority” from the Scriptures. But we don’t regard all these things as separate pieces but rather as a single, organic whole. For us, the Fathers, the Councils, the liturgy, etc., are not “sources” for doctrine but rather all witnesses to the single common experience of the Word.

      In the future, you may find it more helpful (not to mention, more charitable) to let the Orthodox (or whoever else) tell you how they read the Scriptures and what they believe rather than telling them yourself.

      1. Endoxos,
        Since it is not clear to whom you ae responding, I’ll just take all of it. Monergism is a more specific thesis than that we do not save ourselves. And this is so because some non-monergistic models also hold that we do not save ourselves. Monergism by contrast takes any human participation in our salvation as something to be a priori excluded and so entails that only one will is operative.

        No one takes the church as the ground or ultimate source of salvation, so your comments engage no one’s position. Secondly if your comments are meant to exclude the church then you are going to have to explain why God bothers having a church or using human agents at all if everything is done directly.

        Since the Orthodox do not disagree with any of the verses you cite, citing them does no argumentative work. We disagree over how those are to be interpreted.

        If the Reformed position is scripture then it seems odd that people whose native language was Greek consistently missed it for 1500 years.

        The question is not whether scripture is the highest material authority in the church or not. The question is whose interpretation of it is normative. On your gloss, no interpretation is beyond possible revision, which is why the Reformed faith is a man made religion. It’s the best we can do for now. This is just another form of Pelagianism.

        If the theological positions are agreed by all sides to be scriptural (namely dyothelitism) then there is no need for an exegetical argument. Only arguments showing theological inconsistency.

        The Sixth council officially endorsed the position Robin is laying out here. I hardly think that amounts to being unable to appeal to councils.

        Monergism in the Reformed system is applicable to more than just justification, but also to regeneration, election, definite sanctification, etc. So you are factually wrong to say it is applicable to only justification.

        It is true that Calvinists have a particular view of original sin, but that of itself is of no argumentative value. The question is in what way are we said to be dead in sin. We are dead IN them, not dead simpliciter. This is because those acts entail death. This is why Paul says the good that he wills in Romans 7 but cannot accomplish, because he can still will the good. And again, in reference to Ez 37, no one thinks we make ourselves regenerate so that passage is simply not applicable.

      2. And with such advice I believe you have proven my point by saying the reading of Psalm 119:9 for the Orthodox is as I described above. Furthermore the Greek word for Word in John 1 is logos, which can mean a number of things including yes, Jesus, which would be consistent with the given context. However in Psalm 119:9 the Hebrew word used is dabar which can mean anything from a word (lower case), book, commandment, promise, decree, etc. However it is never translated as God. So I don’t see how you can eisegetically impose something that is not there.

        1. It seems to me that reading that passage as referring to the Bible is eisegesis, especially since most of the canon of the Bible wasn’t written by the time the Psalms were.

          In any event, I disagree that I’ve “proven [your] point,” but of course you knew I’d say that. 🙂

          The truth is that everyone interprets the Bible according to traditions. To accuse the Orthodox of relying on councils, etc., as though that were some kind of sin, is to act blind to your own traditions. After all, if the Scripture has such perspicacity that monergism is the only possible reading of it, why did it take 1500 years before anyone discovered that? Calvinism is itself its own tradition, acknowledged or not.

          In any event, assuming you are a Trinitarian Christian, you are yourself reliant on the Ecumenical Councils. The Triadology accepted by most Christians (even in outline form) is not explicit in the Scriptures.

          1. “After all, if the Scripture has such perspicacity that monergism is the only possible reading of it, why did it take 1500 years before anyone discovered that?”

            Because the Church kept the Scriptures from being translated into the common (vulgar) languages for the express reason of retaining authority over the common people. Anyone attempting to translate the Scriptures (so that people could read what they said and not be told what they said by corrupt popes and bishops) was quickly condemned as heretical.

            It didn’t take 1500 years. Augustine taught exactly what Calvin would teach later and what Paul had preached earlier. His view was the accepted view of the early church, and the “Reformed” position is exactly that: a return to the traditions and writings of the early church. How could Paul or Augustine teach according to traditions when as yet none had existed (besides the Eucharist, baptism, etc. described by Jesus)?

  17. Mr. Perry,

    By definition synergism is an act of saving yourself. Monergism is an act of God saving us. This can be no clearer. Also monergism only applies to justification because we are dead IN our sins before conversion, not after. Dead men don’t will, they are dead. Citing Romans 7 to prove your point here makes no sense because you would have to concede that Paul was not justified while he wrote that letter. Obviously that is ridiculous.

    Furthermore, Pelagianism is the logical conclusion of synergism, look up the definition.

    My scripture citations are not just citations but actually are coupled with an interpretation “unless God chooses us, Romans 9” and “we only choose death, Romans 3” so not sure if you just missed that part. And again, scripture is authoritative beyond interpretation. Scripture stands on it’s own authority. When Jesus was tempted in the desert did he cite councils or the Pharisees? No. He cites scripture. If Jesus cites scripture on its own accord we should take a cue.

    1. By definition synergism is an act of saving yourself.

      Well, that’s just wrong. Monergism is the act of a single energy and will in salvation (usually taken to be God’s, but Pelagianism is actually monergistic, too, though it’s the human energy and will at work). By definition, synergism is the co-operation of multiple wills and energies (in the Christian case, two, namely God’s and man’s). To say that synergism requires only one will is a total contradiction of the word itself.

      Furthermore, Pelagianism is the logical conclusion of synergism, look up the definition.

      Your call to look up the definition of Pelagianism strikes me as a bit suspect, though, with the basic definitional error you made for synergism.

      And again, scripture is authoritative beyond interpretation. Scripture stands on it’s own authority. When Jesus was tempted in the desert did he cite councils or the Pharisees? No. He cites scripture. If Jesus cites scripture on its own accord we should take a cue.

      If citing Scripture is all it takes, why do you keep adding your own words in this discussion? It seems that you admit to interpretation, as well, though you say that you do not. One finds Scripture being interpreted throughout Scripture. Why not just cite? Interpretation is needed. Some interpretations are correct, and some are incorrect. How do you determine which ones are correct? (Saying “whichever one agrees with Scripture” is just begging the question.)

    2. Endoxos,

      You assert that synergism is an act of saving yourself, but provide no reason to think that this is so, let alone true by definition. Is there some lexical source that standardly defines synergism that way? None that I know of.

      I already gave reasons from within the Reformed system to show that monergism is applicable in other areas than justification. You ignored these and so they remain.

      I would only have to concede that Romans 7 is talking about a specific period in salvation history. I am happy to make that concession.

      As far as dead men not willing because they are dead, then it would follow that unregenerate persons have no will. Even Calvinism denies that claim. So you seem to be arguing for something else other than Calvinism, like say Gnosticism or Manicheanism. Good luck with that.

      Pelagianism is a thesis about how nature and grace relate with the consequence of works salvation. The thesis is that nature is grace so it is self sufficient. I reject that thesis. Secondly, pelagianism is monergistic since it is the will of the agent alone that achieves salvation. Pot, meet kettle.

      As far as your interpretations of scripture I simply do not accept them. I think they are bad interpretations.

      Jesus didn’t need to cite councils for a simple reason. He’s God. Secondly, Jesus has an extraordinary commissioning from the Father. Who commissioned the Reformers? Did the Reformers have a direct commissioning from God? Did they do the miracles and prophecy that Moses and Jesus did? No.

  18. Monergism was present before the Reformation, it was just condemned as you say. However, does this make it false? It seems to me that citing councils is nothing but an appeal to popularity. And yes I believe in the Trinity and I respect councils in general, as well as many other Calvinists, even though I really see myself as a Christian not a Calvinist but it helps to distinguish doctrine, would say the same thing. The issue is if scripture portrays something other than what the council decided then I stand on scripture, not on councils. Scripture is perfect, men are flawed. I hold scripture to be the only infallible authority, but not the only authority.

    1. An infallible text requires either an infallible interpreter or a true tradition. It’s clear that lots of people say that the Bible “clearly says” one thing or another, yet they do not agree among themselves. You say that the Scripture says one thing but that the Ecumenical Councils contradict Scripture. Yet they would say that they were following Scripture. Why are you right about what the Scripture says, and they are wrong?

    2. No, the decisions of Councils are not an appeal to popularity, nor a fallacious appeal to authority. Rather, Councils are the Biblically-approved means of settling doctrinal disputes among Christians, cf Acts 15. Since the Bible clearly states that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to the Apostles to teach them all they need to know, it follows then that the decisions of Councils about sound doctrine are the infallible decrees of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if a Council condemns a teaching as heresy, it is because that teaching is indeed heresy.

  19. Monergism is not a single “energy” it is the sovereign will of God. Pelagianism is the un-sovereign will of man. Synergism is false because dead men cannot will anything. God is sovereign men are not. Synergism is equal to pelagianism because in the end of the day you have to concede that without the will of man “cooperating” with God, salvation would not take place, thus projecting the will of man above and beyond the will of God.

    ” None is righteous, no, not one;
    no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
    All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.” Romans 3:10-12

    Gee sounds like synergism though….lets try again.

    You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. John 15:16

    What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. Romans 9:14-18

    Call me crazy and heretical but the scripture is clear. I’m out. Galatians 1:3

    1. Look, I get what your doctrine is, and I’ll just refer you to Robin’s passages regarding the zero-sum game of Calvinism (pertinent to your use of “sovereign” here), but monergism doesn’t mean “sovereign will.” It literally means “single work.” The whole doctrinal system that proceeds from it does indeed mean that a single energy and single will are involved in salvation, which is why it really betrays a heretical Christology, namely, Monoenergism. I’d also say it requires Monothelitism, as well.

      As for “the scripture is clear,” well, the only way for me to read that is “My interpretation of the Scripture is the only possible one.” But you haven’t yet established that. Scripture has to be interpreted. Denying that doesn’t make it not so.

  20. The zero-sum game is a demonic fabrication that is only based on the author’s longing to prove Calvinism is false by blasphemously using “hallow and deceptive philosophy” Colossians 2:8. One that does not even attack a position put forth by Calvinists…straw man! I could go on and on and on and on but to no avail I am afraid. The article still lacks any scriptural backing as well as your devilish synergistic blasphemies! Furthermore, I have tried to explain that monergism is not applicable to anything but justification but the author presses on all puffed up with his idolatrous knowledge. In my last battle cry I call out the greatest fall the orthodox church ever endured…..FILIOQUE!!!

        1. I dunno, Eric, I think it kind of went out on a high note there! Lol! I had no idea what an entertaining “discussion” I’d helped to start. 🙂

  21. An excellent article on Calvinism!
    Thank you.
    I wonder if I could ask a question to get more clear on the Calvinist usage of monergism vs synergism?
    I have been pondering about whether the Calvinist, while playing the monergism card is actually holding the synergism card behind his back.

    To be more specific: It seems that the language shifts to extremely deterministic when the question concerns (God + good), and while there, its a great advantage point to pontificate condemnation of synergism.

    But it seems like when pressed to address problematic logical conclusions caused by determinism in the question of (God + Evil) the language subtly shifts away from monergism / determinism over to synergistic collaboration. Where there are in fact two synergistic causal influences acting upon the human (i.e. God’s decree, and human inclination).

    The data that seems to be missing is the *measurement* of those causal links to evil.
    If a man has an “inclination” to commit sin (S), does it follow that there is an absolute guarantee he will commit (S)?
    But when, according to determinism, God *decrees* he will commit (S), that does seem to necessitate an unquestionable causal link to (S).

    Additionally, according to this scheme, God ordains the man’s “inclinations”.
    I have even heard arguments to escape God being the author of evil that unwittingly play the card of Molinistic foreknowledge, which would otherwise be adamantly rejected.

    This leads me to wonder if all of the terms that are proudly proclaimed as elements of the superior theology may be nothing more than wide phylacteries.

    Perhaps I’m being too critical?
    Perhaps my understanding of monergism/synergism is inadequate?
    Appreciate your thoughts.
    Br. D.

  22. If Calvinists believe that God absolutely determines and causes everything, this must then include their own Calvinist arguments, statements and defenses as well as others’ opposing arguments, statements and defenses, and thus is essentially God talking to Himself!!! Which poses the question of why Calvinists say anything whatsoever at all, or even get upset and angry at opposition…it is just God again saying His thing on both sides through human automatons…a conversation with Himself…and apparently for His glory. If Calvinism is true, then God just wrote this as well…not me. To me, it is not so much that Calvinism is heresy…it is simply unbelievable ridiculous illogical nonsense…or not.

  23. Any one can understand (if they are saved and have the Holy Spirit), because Paul distinctly stated “no one can understand spiritual issues as a natural man”, 1 Cor. 2:14. So, if I am writing and one is saved and reading, you will totally understand clearly that God is the FIRST CAUSE of regeneration or it just hasn’t happened! No dead spiritual person, no person in darkness, no person in the bondage and slavery of sins clutches, no person under the king of Satan and Demons, and no person who is “not seeking God” which Romans clearly states is the position of ALL human beings from the womb, can or will or desires to be saved and do anything of any value spiritually! It is IMPOSSIBLE! Totally impossible! Most Pelagius will state God does something to “help” man but never does God do the work first and in a total and sole manner. Again, NO human being can or will call upon, ask for, cry out for help, or ask for forgiveness, and repent of sin unless God works FIRST in the heart and soul of a person. That is so clear only a lost person would not understand. Now, I know a young Christian and new-born child of God may not understand all of the related aspects of these matters at first, but after reading the word they will ALL say Amen to what I have stated and the Reformers stated and also all of the Church Fathers who were orthodox down through the centuries stated on this issue. It isn’t a secret nor hard to understand. Putting any thing, regardless of how you speak of it, will, desire, hope, longing, abilities, thoughts, i.q., etc., and attaching it to the Gospel of Grace is a heresy and even borders if not being blasphemy!
    Adding to the Gospel of Grace is a terrible smudge and black mark on the Gospel! Those who engage in such as Paul stated in Galatians are to be accursed!! One can rise up and stand against what the word states on this, but they will pay dearly for their folly!

    1. God working on the heart of sinful man and extending the twin graces of repentance and faith is not the same as a regenerate heart preceding faith. Only one so blindly loyal to a theological position so fraught with errors and contrary to the scriptures could conceive of such an idea. A child of the Lord can study the scriptures and see with clarity that a man with a regenerate heart is saved. Why then does a man with a regenerate heart need to repent and place faith in Christ? Why must those as yourself insist upon placing the idea into a cart/horse dichotomy rather than a birthing issue as the Lord so does when speaking to Nicodemus. Faith is the spiritual equivalent of birthing pains (contractions). Regeneration is the spiritual equivalent of the actual birth. When a child is born birthing pains and contractions come in conjunction with the new birth. When the Lord births a new child into His spiritual family there are contractions which accompany the birth. Faith and regeneration occur in a simultaneous action, conjoined with the actual finished product, a new life! Why do people ignore the plainness of scripture to espouse such an incorrect position as you posit? Even a babe in Christ could understand the faith and regeneration aspect of the salvific process unless someone perverts or complicates the issue for them. It would be akin to bringing in an OBGYN to explain every specific detail of what occurs in birth when we know what must occur in the birthing process in a general sense. I have shown people that though the word teaches the gospel is simple that when I break down each work which takes place for their redemption by each agent of the Godhead and the person used by the Lord to present the gospel things can become so complicated we could confuse man with the complexity of what goes on “behind the scenes” and leave them misunderstanding what is necessary for salvation. So, keep it simple by accepting the word of God in verity and plainness. Your post makes much ado about nothing other than to express a theological position underpinned and fraught with errors easy to refute with great plainness of the word of God.

      1. Also, it is by being placed in Christ that all of these things come together, you can’t think of them as steps. They come at once by the Spirit placing God’s sheep in Christ.

  24. Great article!!
    Isn’t it true though that when you dig into Calvinist enunciations of causation, what appears is universal divine hard determinism? I like William Lane Craig’s take on this. R.C. Sproul’s way of enunciating it is to assert that if one atomic particle moves without God making it move, then sovereignty has no meaning. How the average Calvinist deals with the resulting doctrines of necessity seem to be varied as you well point out. The ones they call “Hyper” seem to be the ones who accept the system for what it is. Perhaps it makes one feel better to say that good events are monergistic, while evil events are synergistic, in order to reduce the specter of God’s culpability to evil. But when you remove all of the peripheral arguments and actually find Waldo in the system, you discover as Sproul does, that all things are monergistic.

  25. Luke 18:17-27 (KJV) Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.

    What can a little child do to save himself? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. He is totally helpless, and he knows he is helpless. If you are not sure of this, go ahead and make a list of things a 2-year old is capable of doing for himself — it won’t take much ink.

    Hopefully this short but very important verse is worth meditation, especially by anyone that thinks anything they do might be toward his or her salvation.

    1. What indication do we have that it is the helplessness of a child that the Lord exclusively means here, especially in light of the many commands He gives to believers that would also be impossible and even nonsensical for a toddler?

      (BTW, as the father of three children, I am astounded at all the things a two year old is capable of — even assuming that two years old is the sole meaning for “a little child.”)

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