Evangelical synergism

I know, big words.  Synergism is a theological term that describes an understand of cooperation in the process of regeneration and salvation.  The idea that man’s holy inclination and God’s grace must cooperate to accomplish salvation.  This is a traditional Catholic and Eastern Orthodox view, but among Protestants is not generally accepted.

The argument against synergism for sola gratia, by grace alone, can be framed as a logical question, posed by John Hendryx.  If two persons receive grace and only one believes the gospel, why does one believe in Christ and not the other?  What makes the two persons to differ?  Jesus Christ or something else?  If it was the human response that determines the difference, than salvation required the cooperation of both man and God.

We “reformed” people get this concept.  We understand Ephesians 2:8-9, and state it clearly as doctrine and dogma.  But do we live it?  Do we preach it?  Is it practical?

Michael Horton says that “grace is primarily seen by evangelicals as much as by the medieval church as divine assistance for the process of moral transformation rather than as a one-sided divine rescue.”  We preach grace more as a means of lifestyle modification than of rescue from utter darkness.

“If we are merely wayward, we only need direction; merely sick, we need medicine; merely weak, we need strength.  Radical grace, on the other hand, answers to radical sinfulness — not simply to moral mistakes, lack of zeal, or spiritual lethargy, but to the condition that the Bible defines as nothing less than condemned, ‘children of wrath,’ ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Eph. 2:1, 3).”

How we approach this subject has strong impact on how we view the world and God’s work in our lives.  If there is nothing that man can do to raise the dead, we must rely entirely on the Spirit of God working through the gospel.  We pray more, we wrestle more with God, we trust in his timing and his plans.  Sanctification becomes a constant dying to self, and surrender to his will.

If we adopt the ideas of synergism, the conversion of the lost becomes a personal burden, one that we can effect with our methods and convincing words, communication skills, and carefully planned altar calls.  Revival focuses on emotional manipulation rather than on the true moving of God’s Spirit.

Synergism says that my problems with addiction, depression, and dryness are because I’m not doing something right.  I need to find a new method of transformation, a new way of thinking so that I can receive God’s grace better.  La noche oscura del alma (the dark night of the soul) becomes something which we need to work our own way out of, rather than finally letting self die and Christ live within us.

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