Synergism, in general, may be defined as two or more agents working together to produce a result not obtainable by any of the agents independently. The word synergy or synergism comes from two Greek words: erg meaning "to work", and syn meaning "together"; hence, synergism is a "working together."
In theology, synergism is the position of those who hold that salvation involves some form of cooperation between divine grace and human freedom. It stands opposed to monergism, a doctrine most commonly associated with the Lutheran and Reformed Protestant traditions, whose soteriologies have been strongly influenced by the North African theologian Augustine of Hippo (AD 354 – 430).
-Wikipedia, Synergism (Theology)
Monergism asserts that man in his fallen nature of total depravity is unable to do anything to participate in accepting Christ. Arminians, on the other hand, agree with this but believe that God precedes regeneration (accepting Christ) with grace so that we may partipate by exercising faith and believing. John Wesley expressed this himself, saying, "The will of man is by nature free only to evil. Yet... every man has a measure of free-will restored to him by grace." "Natural free-will in the present state of mankind, I do not understand: I only assert, that there is a measure of free-will supernaturally restored to every man, together with that supernatural light which 'enlightens every man that comes into the world.'"
Please forgive my occasional reference to Wikipedia, but the writers do an excellent job summarizing this:
Arminians, therefore, hold a position which may be summarized in the following way: a human being cannot, on his or her own, turn to God. God grants all sinners prevenient grace (prevenient meaning "coming before"). With this prevenient grace (or with its effects on the fallen human), a person is able to freely choose to place faith in Christ or reject his salvation. If the person accepts it, then God justifies him and continues to give further grace to spiritually heal and sanctify him. In response to Hendryx's question about the two individuals receiving prevenient grace and only one being saved, the Arminian would reply that the one who was saved freely chose faith, but only had the power to choose faith because of the prevenient grace, whereas the one who was not saved had the same assistance from prevenient grace and thus the same ability to choose, but freely chose not to have faith. Whether this is characterized as synergy will depend upon one's definition. It differs, however, from semi-Pelagianism, which maintains that a human being can begin to have faith without the need for grace. In addition, the Arminian might say that the person's decision is not the cause of his salvation or loss, but rather that his free response to prevenient grace forms the grounds for God's free decision; the person's decision does not constrain God, but God takes it into consideration when He decides whether to complete the person's salvation or not. An analogy may be seen in that when Angela offers to pay off a loan for Brian, Angela offers freely. If Brian declines, Angela could still choose to pay off the loan (in theory), and if Brian consents, Angela is still not constrained to pay it off. Rather, Brian's response informs Angela's decision to either settle or not settle the loan. In like manner, God takes the person's response to the gospel, empowered by prevenient grace, into account as relevant information when freely choosing whether or not to save that person. Therefore, the person's choice does not work alongside God. For this reason, many Arminians do not view the term synergism as an accurate description of their theology.
-Wikipedia, Synergism (Theology)
Wikipedia goes on to describe St. John Cassian's position, and I agree with Wesley and Cassian:
This is similar to the position taken in the Conferences of St. John Cassian. In this work, the matter of grace and faith is taken as analogous to that of the invalids that Christ healed. That Christ met the ill persons where they were is likened to prevenient grace because unless Christ went to them, the invalids would have had no opportunity to ask him for help. Likewise, without prevenient grace no sinner would be able to ask God for help. The actual asking for help comes from the free choice of the invalid or person in question. It is made possible by Christ's presence (by prevenient grace), but there is no necessary outcome: Christ's presence (prevenient grace) leaves a person able to ask for help, but also able to refuse to ask for help. Asking, however, does not accomplish anything to actually heal the person; Christ's response to their request is what heals them, not their own choice. Likewise, God saves those who ask Him. However, they are only able to ask because He first comes to them with prevenient grace. Nonetheless, they are free to refuse to ask for His help, just as the invalids were free to not ask Christ for healing. Thus it is concluded, "it belongs to divine grace to give us opportunities of salvation... it is ours to follow up the blessings which God gives us with earnestness or indifference." God is then free to decide how to response to our earnestness or indifference, which make up a part of the data which He considers in His free decision. We know, however, that in love He will respond by completing the salvation of those who respond earnestly, while leaving those who respond with indifference to their own devices.
In the 13th Conference, Cassian also uses the analogy of a farmer. Although the farmer must chose to work the farm, the growth of his crops is entirely due to God. God provides the growth, but He does so only for those who are willing to have that growth and actualize this through their effort.
I like the analogies by St. John Cassian and I describe the synergism as an example of God's justice, where he levels the playing field and rather than create us like robots who automatically follow or unfollow Him, He gives us truly free will where we are free to choose to either believe by faith and have a relationship with Christ, or choose to ignore Christ and not "know" Him (Matthew 7:23). I believe that God's justice neccesitates this, and it is given to everyone. When combined with God's revelation of His attributes and "because what may be known of God is manifest in them" (Romans 1:19-20), everyone is truly without excuse.
It should be no surprise that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches do not hold to the Biblical doctrine of total depravity. They hold that, even after the Fall, man remains free, and human nature, though wounded in the natural powers proper to it, has not been totally corrupted. FOOTNOTES:
1. "Some Remarks on Mr. Hill's Review" by John Wesley
2. "Predestination Calmly Considered" by John Wesley
3. Conferences, John Cassian, 3rd Conference, 19th Chapter
4. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 405
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