Monday, September 16, 2013

Monergism vs. Synergism - Part 3

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Preaching and Evangelism

In the first article of this series, I defined and illustrated Monergism and Synergism. In the second article, I looked at the Apostle John's affirmation of Monergism in his Gospel. In this article, I will show how each view approaches preaching and evangelism.

As a prelude to the discussion, we must first explain the doctrine of election, as it directly affects our topic.

Theopedia states that election "refers to God's choosing of individuals or peoples to be the objects of his grace or to otherwise fulfill his purposes." In the Old Testament, the nation that descended from Abraham physically was that people. In Deuteronomy 7:6-8 we find the reason God gives for the electing of that nation.

For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

When we come to the New Testament, we note that the elect are a "spiritual house" (1 Peter 2:5) and are described by Peter as:
…a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Both Monergists and Synergists affirm the doctrine of election, but there are differing views as to how God elects. Monergism views God's electing choice as unconditional, while Synergism views it as either conditional or corporate. A discussion of the differences is beyond the scope of this article, but the Theopedia entry (referenced above) explains the dissimilarity between the views.

No matter which position one may take with regard to election, each view must necessarily affirm that the elect (whoever they may be) will not fail to come to faith, and that the non-elect will not come to faith. In light of that, each view must necessarily answer this question: Why preach and evangelize?

The simple answer to the question is that the Scriptures command it. Matthew ends his gospel with the words of Jesus:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.
(Matthew 28:18-20)

Luke, in both his writings, notes:
…repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:47)

…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

There can be no question that believers have been given the task of proclaiming the Gospel with the intent of making disciples. But again, in light of God's electing choice, I must ask why. Scripture provides the answer; it is the means God uses to accomplish that which He has purposed to accomplish.

In Romans 10:13-15, Paul shows the process that God uses to bring the elect to faith.
For "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved." How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!"

Preachers (the people of the beautiful feet) are sent to speak the Gospel; it is heard and believed; the elect call on God and are saved. Luke, in his Gospel, notes that "…there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents…" (Luke 15:7).

Paul continues, in 1 Corinthians 1:21-24, to show that the power of the Gospel is only effective for the elect. To the non-elect it is a stumbling block and foolishness.
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Then, in 1 Corinthians 3:5-7, Paul explains that the preacher is responsible for the planting and watering, and the Holy Spirit is responsible for the harvest.
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.

The result, of this planting and watering on the part of the preacher, and the Holy Spirit's use of such to reap a harvest, is given to us in Revelation 5:9:
And they sang a new song, saying: "You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation…

There is not a tribe, tongue, people, or nation that does not have representation in the elect people of God. In a sense it can be said that the entire world will be saved, as no people group is left out. It is exciting to realize that, as we observe the command to go into all the world our success is guaranteed, as God's elect people are drawn from every people group.

Having established that preaching and evangelism have a purpose, our focus now moves to which approach (Synergism or Monergism), in practice, most consistently follows the Scripture. While both views will heartily affirm the purpose, we will see that Monergism most consistently follows the purpose.

Monergism, as we have established in the previous articles of this series, insists that unregenerate man is naturally incapable of obeying the Scripture's command to repent, while Synergism insists that the command implies natural ability. Two American evangelists of the early 19th century represent the divergent views: Charles Finney represents Synergism, while Asahel Nettleton represents Monergism.

William Farley writes about each man in separate articles. On Finney:
One historian sums up Finney's theology: "The whole idea that an unregenerate man was governed by a fallen nature was all wrong. …A decision of the will, not a change of nature, was all that was required to be converted."

On Nettleton he writes:
Convinced that man was dead in sin, he believed that conversion was the work of God, not man. To Nettleton, new birth was a radical change that produced repentance and a life of growing holiness. In his final analysis, this transformation was the ultimate proof of salvation.

The study of a sermon each man preached puts the difference between the two views in stark contrast.

In Finney's sermon, titled Sinners Bound to Change Their Own Hearts he states:
As, therefore, God requires men to make to themselves a new heart, on pain of eternal death, it is the strongest possible evidence that they are able to do it. To say that he has commanded them to do it, without telling them they are able, is consummate trifling. Their ability is implied as strongly as it can be, in the command itself.

In Nettleton's sermon, titled Regeneration he states:
That the Holy Spirit makes use of the word and many other instruments to bring sinners to Christ, I have no doubt. But that men are naturally so inclined, as to approve of and obey the precepts of the gospel, unless some peculiar course of sin or prejudice prevent them, contradicts the whole tenor of the gospel, in which it is a fundamental principle, that by nature we are children of wrath, and that we are at enmity with God and blinded to the light of his truth and dead in trespasses and sins.

Since Synergism affirms that man has the natural ability to choose Christ, preaching and evangelism is tasked with convincing man to do that which he has the ability to do. Synergism is focused on the response, and the success of evangelistic enterprises is determined by the quantity of respondents. As such, synergistic preaching and evangelism tends to manipulate (on a scale from soft to hard) in order to secure decisions. On the soft end of the scale, preaching and evangelism attempt to remove the offense of the Gospel, in order to make it more palatable to the unregenerate. At the hard end of the scale is the "hell-fire and brimstone" style of preaching that uses guilt to coerce decisions. All synergistic preaching and evangelism will fall between these extremes, as it not only seeks to plant and water, but also to produce the increase, which (as we have previously noted) is reserved for God (1 Corinthians 3). At both ends it will be short on exegesis of the biblical text and long on stories and illustrations.

I recently had occasion to listen to the first in a sermon series by a fairly well-known pastor in a large city. The recording was just shy of an hour long, and it wasn't until close to the 45 minute mark that the speaker referenced the text of scripture. He told a story from the Old Testament but provided no information that would identify the book in which the story was recorded. He followed that up in the closing minutes of the sermon by referencing a New Testament passage, informing the listener of the book in which it was found, but not the chapter or verse.

A bi-weekly Christian newspaper recently advertised a conference and included short biographies of the speakers. One of the speakers was shown to have well over 1 million professions of faith in his church over an almost 40 year ministry. It further stated that the average attendance in the church over those same years was slightly above 2,000.

One website reported on a missionary who reported hundreds of decisions on his field of service, while also reporting a baptism rate of less than 5%. Another website reported on a ministry that had a program of beach evangelism. This ministry used a formulaic approach, whereby they asked questions designed to solicit positive responses and then led the respondents in a prayer of decision. Their own follow-up showed that significantly less than 5% of those who made decisions showed any interest in the things of God.

What is clear about the disparity in the above numbers is that the preaching and evangelism in each case was tremendously successful in securing professions but was a colossal failure in carrying out the great commission command to make disciples.

During my college years, the church I attended had regular weekly visitation. We, too, had been trained in a formulaic system designed to secure professions of faith. On one evening's excursion, I was partnered with a very personable young man; in a few hours we visited seven apartments and he lead seven people to profess faith. What was tragically missing from our training was any kind of follow-up discipleship program.

On a recent trip to my hometown with my parents, I met a man who had been in youth group with me. For most of the past 40 years he has lived a life that provides no evidence of new creaturely-ness, yet he believes his profession of faith and subsequent baptism by my father has secured his salvation. Since synergism is very successful in convincing unregenerate men that they have the ability to "change their own hearts" by making a decision, there are countless hundreds, maybe thousands, like this man.

James Adams, in his article titled Decisional Regeneration, says that such doctrine "…sees the new birth as the result of a mechanical process that can be performed by man", and shows that one's view of man's spiritual condition determines the evangelistic approach.
Can a man be born again by answering "yes" to a certain group of questions? Can a man be born from "above" by walking to the front of a building? Can a man become a true Christian by responding to an invitation as a result of being "crept up on" unawares? Your answers to these questions will be determined by your view of man's spiritual condition.

In contrast to Synergism and recognizing man's natural inability, Monergism (in affirmation of 1 Corinthians 1:24), focuses on the clear and passionate presentation of the text of scripture. Success is determined by how accurately the text of scripture is presented; response is left to the Holy Spirit.

In his "Introductory Essay" for John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ1, J.I. Packer writes:
[Monergism] presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind—election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit—as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly. [4]

Packer also notes:
…the message to be delivered is simply this-that Christ Jesus, the sovereign Lord, who died for sinners, now invites sinners freely to Himself. God commands all to repent and believe; Christ promises life and peace to all who do so. [18]

Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon titled Sinners Bound with the Cords of Sin, shows that man will not come to Christ unless he is drawn:
Here, then, stands the riddle, that man is so set against God and His Christ that he never will accept eternal salvation until the Holy Spirit, by a supernatural work, overcomes his will and turns the current of his affections. And why is this? The answer lies in the text-because his own iniquities have taken him, and he is held with the cords of his sin. For this reason he will not come to Christ that he may have life. For this reason he cannot come, except the Father which has sent Christ draw him.

Arthur Custance, in The Sovereignty of Grace2, notes:
The message that will in the end bring life is not man's rationalization as exhibited in his theology, nor his intuitive understanding as set forth in his poetry, nor even the persuasive power of the eloquence by which he succeeds in captivating his hearers. The message is the Word of God, the "seed" (Luke 8:11). [281]

Thomas Boston, in his work Human Nature In Its Fourfold State, writes:
…seeing the elect are not to be known and distinguished from others before conversion, as the sun shines on the blind man's face, and the rain falls on the rocks as well as on the fruitful plains, so we preach Christ to all, and shoot the arrow at a venture, which God Himself directs as He sees fit.

As the Gospel is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit opens the heart of the elect (Acts 16:14), replaces their stony heart with a fleshly heart (Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26), gives the gift of repentance (Acts 11:18) and faith (Ephesians 2:8) and enables them to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.

We noted above that preaching is the means by which God accomplishes His purpose of saving the elect. Prayer for the lost can also be considered as a means. Spurgeon referred to prayer for the lost as "awaken[ing] the Almighty Arm." A synergist, when asked why one person believes the Gospel and another does not, responded by noting that "God… has or will grant sufficient grace to everyone to make such a decision." In the synergistic view, God is not permitted to do more for a single individual, as what He does for one he must do for all. A prayer for any individual though is a specific request for God to do something more for that individual. The monergist, on the other hand cannot know whether or not his prayer will be used by God in the salvation of the one he prays for. Therefore, any prayer for the lost is effectively a monergistic prayer.

Not What My Hands Have Done
George William Martin / Horatius Bonar © Public Domain

Not what my hands have done
Can save my guilty soul
Not what my toiling flesh has borne
Can make my spirit whole
Not what I feel or do
Can give me peace with God
Not all my prayers and sighs
And tears can bear my awful load

Your voice alone, O Lord
Can speak to me of grace
Your pow'r alone, O Son of God
Can all my sin erase
No other work but Yours
No other blood will do
No strength but that which is divine
Can bear me safely thro'

I praise the Christ of God
I rest on love divine
And with unfalt'ring lip and heart
I call this Savior mine
My Lord has saved my life
And freely pardon gives
I love because He first loved me
I live because He lives

1 John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust).
2 Arthur Custance. The Sovereignty of Grace. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1979).

Scripture taken from the New King James Version.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Links in this article are provided solely for information purposes,
and do not in any way imply full and complete endorsement.


J. Brian McKillop said...

I have linked to this article on Sharper Iron, so that you may follow the discussion there:

J. Brian McKillop said...

Kevin Bauder explains the different election views in this article:

Calvinism, Arminianism, Biblicism

J. Brian McKillop said...

Regarding monergistic prayer, Robert Bernecker writes:

"Most Christians today are confident when they are engaged in the act of prayer that God can answer that prayer. However, do they realize that such an answer often involves God interfering with human free will?"

The Illusion of a Gentleman God

J. Brian McKillop said...

Colin Maxwell asks the question Why Bother [evangelize]?

J. Brian McKillop said...

Jeff Peterson points out the fact that The Doctrine Of Predestination Does Not Hinder Effectual Evangelization, But In Fact Guarantees It