Making monergism make sense: reconciling divine sovereignty and free will

Lets take a closer look at a puzzle
Lets take a closer look at a puzzle

This article at Free Thinking Ministries was written by my friend Tim Stratton. In it, presents a view of God’s sovereignty over salvation without falling into the error of double-predestination.

Excerpt: (links removed)

Many reformed folks (freely?) choose to reject Molinism because they contend that this theological view “smells of synergism.” What is this stench that reportedly makes John Calvin turn over in his grave? Simply put, synergism is the view that man plays at least a small part in his own salvation process. Monergism, on the other hand, is the view that God is the author of salvation from beginning to end.

Since Molinism affirms that man is free to choose to reject God’s saving grace or not, many Calvinists jump to the conclusion and assume that Molinism must be synergistic. This does not necessarily follow.[1] Consider one possible model:

1- God, by nature, is a volitional unmoved mover who is free to choose between options in accord with His nature. (This is supported via the Kalam and the Argument from Time).

2- By God’s grace, humans are created in the “image of God.” By nature, then, we are free to choose between options in accord with our nature. (This is supported via the Freethinking Argument).

3- Adam & Eve freely chose to disobey God and this sin completely separates humanity from God. This is what it means to have a “totally depraved sin nature.” (Every aspect of man is separated from God).

4- In this state of depraved separation from God (sin nature), humans do not even know God exists if merely left to our own devices.

5- If humans do not even know God exists, then, left to our own devices and apart from God’s grace, it would be impossible to choose to love and follow God (thus, Pelagianism is impossible on this view).

6- God, in His love for all people, provides amazing prevenient grace to all people (Romans 1:20), writing the law on the human heart (Romans 2:15), conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-9), and draws all men (John 12:32). This is commonly referred to as “common grace.”

7- Therefore, by God’s grace, human nature has changed from a “totally separated from God nature” to a nature that has now experienced enough divine revelation (influences) allowing all mankind to start making some free and volitional choices in accord with our new nature; namely, to choose to resist God’s grace and revelation, or not.[2] Mankind is without excuse because we do not have to resist what God has made clear (Romans 1:18-20).[3]

[Note: According to Calvinist, Matt Slick (albeit inadvertently), Mark 4:10-12 implies that if an unregenerate person gets access to clear and accurate information, then they possess the ability to become Christians!]

8- If one does not reject or continually resist the grace and revelation God provides them, then God will continually provide more and more until the person reaches the point of “no return” and will become saved.

Thus, God does ALL the work in salvation from beginning to end on this Molinistic model; all the human can do is freely resist God’s grace and revelation, but he or she does not have to! The human does nothing to gain salvation apart from God’s grace on this Monergistic Model of Molinism.

I think that Stratton’s formulation above does indeed keep God as the sole initiator of salvation. And that’s good. But it also makes sure that human who resist God’s leading are responsible for their choice to resist God, and that’s good. We want salvation to be 100% by faith alone in Christ alone. But we don’t want God to be the cause of people not being saved. On Stratton’s view, God wants everyone to be saved. If anyone is saved, it’s because God did ALL THE WORK to lead them and secure their salvation with the death of Jesus on the cross. But, on Stratton’s view, humans do get a choice – the choice to trust God or not. And so, if a person is not saved, then it’s their fault – not God’s. This works.

Read his whole post, and see what you think about it.

8 thoughts on “Making monergism make sense: reconciling divine sovereignty and free will”

  1. Point 4 is impossible, as the law is written on our hearts.

    Romans 1 is clear that what can be known about god has been shown to non believers.

    Ephesians 4 does talk about the hardness of the hearts of gentiles.

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  2. I do think that the “tension” between God acting, and our “free will” is one of the “mysteries of faith.” It does not make sense to us on this side of heaven.

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  3. I am a molinist with reformed leanings, and I wish this argument succeeded, but I don’t think it does on a few points.

    2. Imago Dei: most arguments based on this make a host of non-biblical assumptions about what attributes are given to mankind in the Imago Dei. The only ones explicit in scripture are dominion over creation and gender. How do you biblically justify that the ID includes free choice?

    6. God’s Witness: You forgot to include the witness of God in nature. Are you saying this too is invisible to the sinner due to our “total depravity”? Or only visible once prevenient grace kicks in? I’m not sure if I agree with that.

    Other than that, interesting argument. Not sure if this will win over any Calvinists.

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  4. I don’t think this argument works, and it makes me wonder if Tim Stratton understands what monergism really means. Under his view (unless I’ve misunderstood it), God can provide all the prevenient grace he wants, but in the end, we are still free either to accept or reject the gospel. That means after God has done his part, there’s still a part for us to do. We have to use our free will to choose. If it’s possible for us to reject God after God’s completely done his part, then God’s part is not sufficient to guarantee that we will choose him. That means salvation is not a monergistic act of God. It’s a synergistic act. God does his part in providing prevenient grace, and we do our part in choosing him.

    Monergism is the view that God’s actions are sufficient to bring us into a saving relationship with him. God doesn’t just bring us to a state of neutrality from which it’s up to us to make the right choice. He brings us all the way to saving faith. It is impossible, under monergism, for God to completely do his part for somebody, and yet that person rejects the gospel.

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    1. We have to remember that not everyone’s salvation happens in exactly the same way. Before reading this article, i was thinking as you noted in your comment. But I always wondered how people who knew nothing of God and Jesus could ever be saved. At the very least, it did not seem fair that they should have no hope just because they were born deep in a jungle, isolated from the rest of the world. If acceptance of God is a requirement for salvation, how could this person have any hope? How can you square this with the idea that God is not willing that any should perish? The concept of monergism answers this question.

      Regarding your last statement, remember that man in all this does have a free will with which to reject the influence of the Holy Spirit. But by simply offering no resistance, one can then be saved even without the specific knowledge of God and Jesus.

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