Synergism = Jesus will save you IF you first believe in Him

One site that has blessed me over the years is John Hendryx, the site’s founder I believe, also has a FaceBook page for Monergism Books on which he posts a lot of inspiring, albeit controversial, little status updates. Over the last 24 hours, I have particularly enjoyed a handful of posts following the format, “Synergists say… but the Bible says…”.

Now in Christian theology, “synergism” is, in short, the belief that salvation is a cooperative work between the believer and God. “Monergism” is the belief that salvation is God’s work alone, by which the sinner becomes a “born again” believer and follower of Christ. If this stuff is new to you, by now you probably see that this is fairly close to one of the central debates between Calvinism (holding a monergistic view of salvation) and Arminianism (holding a synergistic view of salvation). That’s true, but the monergism/synergism debate is much wider than Calvinism/Arminianism. For example, Luther (who of course was not a Calvinist!) held a monergistic position with which he opposed the synergistic teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

Synergists often argue that Monergists must be wrong about their view of God’s exclusive work in saving sinners because otherwise the Bible would not contain verses like Mark 8:35, which reads,  " For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it." (Mar 8:35 KJV) That “whosoever will” part, say the synergists, implies both that anyone can come to Christ if they so choose and that whoever does not come to Christ, does not come because he did not want (“will”) to come. Monergists, on the other hand, do not need to redact all the “whoseover will” passages (actually there are only a handful of them—12 uses of “whosever will” in the whole King James Bible) in order to hang on to their God-alone-saves-sinners theology: they find a glorious harmony between the many passages which teach salvation is exclusively the work of God and the moral responsibility of all people to worship God.

I know a pastor—he shall remain nameless!—who struggles with a particular, related doctrine (he is a Calvinist mostly and has a thriving ministry). At the same time, this pastor holds to a complementarian view of male headship in marriage, family and church for the basic reason that the Bible is very clear about that. He has told me before that the debate over gender roles really comes down to how we interpret Scripture. And he’s right! The same might be said of the question of Creation, whether God created the world in 6 days or in 4.5 million years. The same might also be said of the debate over whether homosexuality is a sin. To avoid the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality, Creation, male headship or monergistic salvation requires one to force Scripture to mean something different than what the writers of Scripture meant to say. I’m not a Young-Earth Creationist / complementarian / Calvinist because it’s easier! On the contrary: it would be far easier to go with the flow and hold those views which breed less controversy. But I cannot do so because the Bible will not let me. And I am bound by the authority of Scripture. So is my pastor-friend. I one time asked him, without being too impertinent (since he is older than me), how he deals with ________ (a particular passage of the Bible dealing with the doctrine in question). And he answered that it does give him some difficulty. Here’s my point: synergists say, “Whosoever will…”, but the Bible says, “Whosoever will…” cannot, unless God first wills. In putting the priority on the work of God, monergists do not avoid the “whosoever will” passages—we embrace them! But we show, by the many other passages which plainly teach that salvation depends on what God wills, that “we will” because God first willed: 

  • "We love because he first loved us." (1Jo 4:19 ESV)
  • "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." (Rom 9:16 ESV) 
  • "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,  13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."  (Joh 1:12-13 ESV)

The monergism/synergism debate in soteriology, then, like several other doctrinal controversies, is really about the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. If we love the inerrant and authoritative Word of God, we will not rest until we deal with the passages which confront what we would like to believe. We will not rest until we see harmony in our understanding of the Scripture. For we cannot pit one verse against another in order to hold on to our pet beliefs! Every verse is inspired by the Spirit of God and therefore inerrant and authoritative. We must be instructed by the whole counsel of God, not only by those parts which are easy for us to accept.

I’m posting this today not because I want to stir up the debate (as someone accused John Hendryx of doing on FaceBook), but because, like him, I hope that some of you who have never put much thought into how God–and only God–is glorified when people get saved in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, will be spurred to think this matter through and let the Bible shape your thinking. The Westminster Catechism asks the question, “What is the chief end of man?” In other words, “What is the meaning of life? What am I here for?” And the answer provided by Westminster is this: “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Therefore, even though many people get offended by monergistic doctrine and by being forced to actually think about what the Bible really teaches on this subject, my aim in talking about this here is to help some people to enjoy God more by glorifying Him more, as He deserves, for the very fact of salvation. To God alone be the glory.

Here is an excerpt from John Hendryx’s little post in which he collected all of the “Synergists teach… but the Bible says…” sayings on FaceBook from the last little while. Enjoy!

Synergists teach ‘… and as many as believed were ordained to eternal life.’ but The Bible teaches ‘AND AS MANY AS WERE ORDAINED TO ETERNAL LIFE BELIEVED.’ (Acts 13:48)

Synergists teach that ‘salvation depends on human will’, but the Bible teaches that ‘it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." (Rom 9:16)

Synergists teach ‘…’no one knows the Father except those who choose the Son.’ But the Bible teaches that ‘no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him’ (Matt 11:27) They are the ones who ‘choose’ the Son.

Synergists teach that ‘All can come to Christ of their own free will’, but Jesus teaches that ‘no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’ (John 6:65) and all whom He grants will come (John 6:37) Free Will Synergism Vs. Free Grace Monergism

Synergists teach that ‘you are not Christ’s sheep because you do not believe’, but Jesus teaches that ‘you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.’ (John 10:26)

Synergists teach that ‘the reason you are not of God is because you are unwilling to hear and believe God’s
words.’ Jesus, on the other hand, taught, ‘The reason why you do not hear [God’s words] is that you are not of God." (John 8:47)

Synergists teach that ‘salvation is so easy a cave man can do it" but the Bible teaches that "What is impossible with man is possible with God." (Luke 18:27)

[Source: John Hendryx,, reposted from this page.]