Saturday, 15 November 2008

Synergy and Prevenient Grace

This title might prove the proverbial 'red rag to a bull'. The word 'synergy' is used often in contrast to 'monergy' in discussions relating to the general Calvinist positions. Monergy means 'only one works' and for the Calvinist this is God. Synergy means 'co-working' and points to the 'less than Calvinist' notion that God requires human co-operation in the work of salvation. Let me say at the outset that as regards these things and the doctrine of 'prevenient grace' I am a five-point Wesleyan!

John Wesley taught four areas of grace; prevenient, convicting, justifying and sanctifying. It was his, and my, conviction that the whole process 'starts' with God. Prevenient grace is the grace that prepares us for the greater grace which is on its way. It is the old English use of the word 'prevent' which originally meant to 'precede'. There is, taught Wesely, incremental grace which enables the receiver to respond to God's offer of greater grace. To my way of thinking the teaching gives appropriate balance to the sovereign workings of God and human accountability.

How did we get onto this topic? Well, I am reading the chapters in Exodus which record the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle. The overall responsibility is given to Moses as the mediator of the Covenant. Moses must build the Tabernacle as Christ would later build His church.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2 See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: 3 And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, 4 To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, 5 And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship. 6 And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan: and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee; Ex 31:1-6 KJVS
It was the last phrase that caught my attention, "I have put... that they may make all that I have commanded." Bezaleel and Aholiab were supernaturally endowed, not naturally talented. They were 'enabled' to do the will of God and then commanded to do it. That's as good an illustration of synergy and prevenient grace as I know. God empowered them to do his will, but their "responsibility" was to 'respond to his abilty and enabling'. As Paul wrote so many centuries later... out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Phil 2:12-13 NKJV
God holds us responsible for for working out what He has placed within... synergy. Both the desire and the dynamic are God's work, the doing is ours.


KingJimmy said...

One scholar summarized Wesley's view of previenent grace saying that it gave man "response-ability" towards God. I personally believe that previenent grace accompanies the proclaimed word.

For the word of God is "powerful" and "active," sharper than any two-edged sword. It's a "creative" word that contains the power to create the thing that is spoken. God's word does not return void, it "accomplishes" what it is sent out to do. For by the word of the Lord the heavens were created, He spoke and it came into being. Therefore, when God commands a man to repent, he actually can do such, for God's creative and powerful word enables him to do respond to the proclaimed word.

All of this, contrary to the claims of Calvinism, I believe can still properly be called monergism, instead of synergism. For all of it is still of God. For it is His word alone that enables a man to have faith in the God who saves. Therefore, faith cannot be said to be a "work" of man which saves him. It's still of God. Hab 2:4 says "the righteous shall live by his faith." So, while faith is his (the individual's), it is ultimately of Him (God).

Ron Bailey said...

Wesley however regarded the conscience as an element of prevenient grace and did not like to regard the conscience as a natural gift but part of the prevening grace given to all.

Monergism really means it is all of God... alone. I am not sure that Wesley would have used the word monergism if he had heard it.