Saturday, January 28, 2006

Problems That Arise From Synergistic Soteriology (Part I)

For anyone scratching their head at the word "synergistic" know that I use it not to flaunt theological prose but simply to be accurate. Synergism is a theological term for any view of soteriology (how salvation occurs) which calls for man to do something to procure his salvation(decision, acts of will, surrender, trust are examples) this is in contrast to Monergism (mono-one ergo-worker) which teaches that man has nothing whatsoever to bring to the table; salvation in it's entirety is a work of God applied to the sinner. I use this word as opposed to "Arminian" because almost everybody I talk to about it refuses to accept the label Arminian , although theologically they are. Some affirm total depravity or perseverance of the saints but leave salvation up to an act of human will, "deciding" for Jesus. Some say for example God has done 99% now he leaves us with 1% to do, odd because the 99% is worthless without the 1% to make salvation secure, thus logically someone who believes this way really should only glorify God for 99% of their salvation, and pat themselves for fulfilling the 1%. This is an example of synergism, my point in this post is not to dissect Arminian soteriology versus Reformed, but rather to look at the effects of synergistic soteriology in 2 main areas: I) Theology and II) Practice.

I) Theology
When people have adopted a synergistic view of salvation, particularly as it is here in American evangelicalism where people are called to make "decisions" for Jesus, naturally to be consistent other theology follows. Much of the consequential theology has little whatsoever to do with biblical revelation, rather it flows out of necessity to reconcile issues which arise from adopting a synergistic view. This comes in views of the human will, which necessarily must be completely in tact for synergism to be a viable system to adopt. I will take up the nature of the human will in my next post, for all synergists make an assumption of a libertarian (absolutely free with no impediments) view of free will. This leads to many issues, if salvation is dependent upon the intact libetarian will choosing or rejecting Jesus, logically problems arise when we think of: those unreached never hearing the gospel and thus not able to choose, children and the retarded who are too incompetent to grasp the message and thus make decisions, God's right to govern the actions of men, and so on. I will take up some of these issues and show how none of the views are biblical at all but rather are the fruit of Arminian synergism.

a) The unreached
Almost every Christian has encountered or thought of the question, "What about the people who never heard about Jesus?". This is an issue for the synergist because if they never heard the gospel how could God be just in condemning them for not choosing to believe the gospel? Numerous answers have been given to reconcile this supposed difficulty, the most popular one is that people will be judged by what truth they know and what they did with it, this is allegedly supported by some text in Romans. Another view presented is that those whom God knows would have chosen Jesus if offered Jesus will be saved. So you can see this problem of those who never had the decision laid before them is fixed by basing their salvation on what they did decide to do.

The unreached in the biblical framework and their being judged is no problem biblically, man without exception is condemned before God. "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God they did not glorify Him as God...." (Rom1:20-21) Paul lays out here how the heathen are condemned and are without excuse, the gentiles had a preacher, creation, and they rejected God. The problem when we come to the bible for God is not how He will be just in condemning men, rather the problem we see being wrestled with is how can God be just and NOT judge sinful men. The fact that this morning the sun has risen and shined upon wicked men is an injustice, how God can be just and continue to bear with those who despise His glory is the biblical problem.

Also another major problem I think we will find with the notion that those who are outside of faith in Christ can be saved is that is directly undermines missions. Why on earth would the church be called to send out missionaries when God will overlook the sins of the unreached based upon some goodness or "seeking" He sees in them. Not only does it undermine missions but the necessity of the cross of Christ itself I think is put into danger of falling into the realm of inconsequential. This is so because again people are being saved by their own goodness not a righteousness imputed (as a Calvinist I am open to the possibility of God regenerating some of the unreached prior to missionary arrival, there are actually amazing stories of this nature). What I am responding to and against is a salvation by works being given to the unreached as a way to vindicate the justice of God which seems so unfair to our egalitarian minds.

b) The incompetent
Because in the synergitic view of salvation the application of justification upon a sinner is dependent upon the sinner's making a choice to accept that application, the question then also arises, what about young children who can't yet comprehend the gospel? This has resulted in theories of "age of accountability" where children under an undefined level of competency are dismissed from being called into account for their sin (many today even reject the notion of children being sinners altogether, how everybody needs the atonement eventually then is beyond me) . This is also applied to the mentally handicapped who also by virtue of mental incompetency to grasp the gospel and thus make an intelligent decision for Jesus are also excused from judgment.

When I start talking like this people generally start freaking out, to be clear I am NOT saying that God is sending babies to hell, what I am saying is that these silly philosophical constructs have no grounding in scripture whatsoever. A teacher who came as a guest to the school I previously taught basic bible classes at once threw this age of accountability teaching out to the class, I asked him if he had any scripture to support this doctrine, to which he quickly replied "No." These are simply inferences people make based upon their view of the character of God which I think is already been shown to be faulty with the man centeredness of God in synergist soteriology. As a Calvinist I have a view of particular redemption and unconditional election which God can apply to infants who die as well as the retarded, salvation is not dependent upon human will therefore the issue of competency is a non issue for me. God can and does I think elect and regenerate mentally handicapped and infants, I can say that because I don't see the scripture teaching that either of those are applied to man by man but to man by God sovereignly . To point to scripture which supports the fact that salvation is not wrought by human will is easy:

"To those who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:13)
"So then it is not of him who wills nor him who runs but God who shows mercy." (Rom 9:16).
"But when it pleased God who separated me from my mothers womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me...." (Gal 1:15-16)
"And you being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of you flesh, He made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses." (Col 2:13)
In these examples we see God is the worker who applies salvation man is the welfare recipient.

c)Views of personhood/Gods rights over human will
Again with the synergistic system comes views of what it means to be a person. How often have I heard the teachings that free will is essential to being a person, without free will we would be "robots". The tree of knowledge was essential for our being persons, we had to be able to choose God over evil. This goes hand in hand with views of God's right to govern the human will. God, according to many popular teachers, has no right to interfere with the human will, and man's choosing faculties. Norman Geisler in his teaching upon Calvinism labeled the Reformed view of regeneration as "Divine rape" because man had no vote whether or not he would be regenerated. In his book "By Divine Design" Michael Pearl writes in the chapter "Things God can not Do" that God is bound by ethical codes surrounding autonomous human personhood, "Not even God has rightful access to the sacred seat of the individual's soul...To do so is to constitute Divine rape."(p.21) I want to focus on Pearl's book for a moment and cite a few passages because his view of human personhood typifies this sort of view of human will.

(1)"Since freedom of will is an essential part of being a person, God could not create a person who was not free to choose." (p 21)
(2)"We are dead in sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1) we are not dead in will." (p.40)
(3)"If enslavement to sin is a constitutional fault in our makeup, if one's will is incapable of choosing good, he could lay the blame on his designer....and he would be absolutely correct." (p.40)
This is just a sample of what runs throughout the entirety of Pearl's little book, the emphasis upon choice and will in man and it necessity for personhood is extremely strong.

To all of this emphasis on the the need of free will to be a bonefide person I again have to press the issue, and simply ask where did that standard come from? Is it written the word of God that free will is essential to being a person without which we would lack full personhood? No, not at all, the scriptures say nothing about the dire need of free will to meet the qualifications for personhood. One of the things that grieved me the most when I read Pearl's book was the gross lack of scriptural support for his views of human personhood and free will. I literally would read pages without seeing any scriptural citation and when scripture would be cited it was done poorly as (2) above, this is in contrast to the puritans, who upon reading I feel as though I might as well be reading the Bible itself due to the vast amount of bible quotes. The premise from Pearl's statement in (1) is unsupported and arbitrary. Again, where did this standard come from that human autonomy is necessary for personhood?

To bring up the "Dead in sin issue" this really is another sore thumb for synergists, they have to define dead in sins as having no real effect upon human nature to preserve the notion of free will which again is essential to personhood. What does it even mean to the Arminian to be dead in sins? I hear them always say clearly what it does not mean, but never clearly what it is. Does it simply mean we are guilty before God? If so why didn't Paul speak in a judiciary manner but rather speaks metaphysically? Or have we become lovers of sin and now dead in desire to what is good (God)? I think because everywhere in the New Testament we see that where redemption is being applied it is God who is driving the verb, it is safe to say man is passive. In Eph 2 Paul says "And you He made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked according to the course of the world according to the prince of the power of the air...." The deadness Paul speaks of results in walking according to the course of the world and therefore must effect the faculty of will, for one wills how one walks.

More clearly speaking of the human will in repentance 2 Tim 2:25-26 "...if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive to do his will"
Here not only do we see that repentance is a work which God does in the sinner but also knowing the truth, thus we see all are incompetent in reality to grasp the gospel apart from God's grace, being dead in sins. Also we see that men are taken captive to do the will of the devil, I ask if this verse is true how much freedom of will can man really have? Both here and Eph 2 we see men's wills are enslaved to their master Satan, yet it is God in both cases who frees men and makes the dead alive.

Yet it is this very act of taking dead men, who have no desire for the good only their filthy self serving lusts, and making them alive that they might see the beauty of Christ and thus choose Him realizing what fools they had been to love sin above that which is infinitely lovely. Like Esau the natural man would rather eat a bowl of cereal because he has no idea of what value Christ is(Heb 12:16). It is this act that is called by both Pearl and Geisler "Divine rape", God has no right to do such a thing. Again I ask where are they getting this standard from of what God can and can not do? Last I read the bible it said nothing about "Divine rape". This is a philosophical argument but I doubt either of these men have carried the premise to the conclusion it would look like this:
1)It is wrong for God to interfere with human wills to do so is "Divine Rape"
2)God is bound by this standard
*3)Therefore there is a standard which is outside of God governing God

One could say that no this is necessitated by His character and thus the standard is God Himself, however any such statements must be based upon revelation which the above are not. They are simply man centered philosophies being imposed on the free will of God exalting the free will of man above God's own free will. Now I plan to post specifically on the issue of free will in coming weeks, but to put a cap on this lets go to scripture. An example of God overriding man's will in His sovereignty is not hard to find, however the incident with Abraham and Sarah and Abimelech sticks out to me because of its clarity. Abraham tells the king Sarah is his sister to save his own skin. Abimelech takes Sarah into his harem, but God came to Abimelech in a dream and threatened him, to which Abimelech says he genuinely did not know Sarah was married and God says:
"Yet, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her."(Gen20:6)
The point is that Abimelech had set in his heart that he would sleep with Sarah yet God overrided his will with His own and kept him from sinning, this is strong evidence for the sovereignty of God over human choices. If God can keep Abimelech from sleeping with Sarah He can keep anybody from sleeping with anybody. God Is sovereign over the human will.

To briefly address Pearl's point in quote (3), after reading his book "By Divine Design" I would say that Pearl's theology is as semi-Pelagian as one can get and still be called a christian. Pelagius believed that man had the power in and of himself to live righteously as God demands and thus save ones own self, Jesus in Pelagian theology was simply an example of how a righteous life is to be lived. Grace to the Pelagian was not an enabling power bestowed on sinners by God, rather grace was a moral code such as "Do unto others...." commands of God and the example of Christ was the Pelagian view of grace. Thus you can see that common Pelagian thought would be identicle to those which Pearl expresses in (3). To quote R.C. Sproul on this issue (link at the bottom):
"The controversy began when the British monk, Pelagius, opposed at Rome Augustine's famous prayer: "Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire." Pelagius recoiled in horror at the idea that a divine gift (grace) is necessary to perform what God commands. For Pelagius and his followers responsibility always implies ability. If man has the moral responsibility to obey the law of God, he must also have the moral ability to do it. "
One can see the striking similarities between Pelagius' ideas of God's justice and Pearl's, note that the vast majority of Arminians teach "preveniant grace", a grace given by God to draw the sinner to Himself (the success of this drawing depends of the sinners response), while Pelagians deny this altogether in favor of a view of inate ability in man.

d) Scripture

So I guess I am going to briefly address the Calvinist/Arminian debate more head on, oh well it's my blog I can do as I please, to deny me that right is to forfeit my personhood. I want to assert here that the synergist imposes his view upon scripture, the synergist would say the same of me so we are even. To give a an example of how inconsistency arises take (Rom 8:30) which reads "Those whom He predestined, these He also called, whom He called these He justified, and whom He justified these He also glorified."
Seems pretty clear to me, though at one time it didn't because I was an Arminian by default. But the synergist has a problem to deal with and I don't think they can come out without a self refuting conclusion. Many will say predestination is simply God's foreknowledge of those who would choose Christ. The next step from being predestined is being called, yet the Synergist says that the call goes out to all, it is not a discriminate inward call. The next step is that those called are justified, at this point the Arminian is in knots, because it is perfectly obvious that not everybody who hears the call (by their definition) responds to be justified. And not only that but the next step is equally confusing because in the Arminian framework not all who are justified are glorified, one can choose to reject Christ after becoming His and forfeit salvation.

Lets look again at the passage and I will emphasize some key linking words in Paul's logic:
"Those whom He predestined, these He also called, whom He called these He justified, and whom He justified these He also glorified."
The links are clear if you're part of the predestined you are part of the called, you can not be called and not be predestined for being called in contingent upon being predestined, therefore the call is not a general gospel proclamation call but different and specific to the predestined. Likewise the justified are one in the same as the called. And those who are justified are one in the same with the glorified, you can not have one without the other. Paul's purpose speaking the truth like this is to instill hope in the believers, hope and trust that God has accomplished their salvation in Christ (note that all are in past tense) and it is only a matter of time until the finished work is fully applied (see v31).

e) conclusion
To again address the statements of "irresistible grace is divine rape" again this is arbitrary, all these men are saying is that if God does X then God is evil. This is a logical fallacy and ad homonym at best, all it is is a statement without any support. I can do that all day, "If you believe in free choice then you rape God." sounds good to me, however, the conclusion of believing in free choice and thus being a God raper simply is unwarranted. This is my point when you get away from all the analogies of half drown men, men tied to trees, life preservers, and bank account transactions, and become silent before the Almighty you realize that I am but a beggar. The heart of the quibbles against God's rights to act on men is rooted in the autonomy embedded in us from the fall. The real issue is not questions like, "Is it fair for God to choose to act savingly on some and pass over others?" When we realize that we have rejected that which is infinitely precious, trampled on that which is infinitely glorious, and overall treated God like dirt, we stop asking questions like is it fair for God to save some and not others, rather we ask the questions that are God centered like "Is it fair for God to save anybody at all?"!

I addressed these few theological problems that are created by synergist theology, A common theme that I think we see running through them is their complete absence of scriptural support (views of personhood, age of accountability, the unreached). Frankly this does not invalidate Synergism or Arminianism as theologically true, I haven't done that yet, but it does show that their presuppositions about free will choosing to be justified cause problems which call for extrabiblical answers found in free will. Next I will take up the practical aspect of synergism such as evangelistic techniques, and the church growth craze. After this I hope to define the biblical nature of free will, this I think will put a nail in the coffin of synergism.

Here is a link to an article by R.C. Sproul defining the differences between Augustine and Pelagius, the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius shows us a stark contrast in the twos views on salvation :

1 comment:

LB said...

Good post. Laurie Bluedorn