Monergism and synergism have been debated within the church for centuries. It is no exaggeration to say that this debate concerns the very heart of the gospel. First, let us define the two terms. Discussions about monergism vs. synergism are, theologically speaking, about who brings about our salvation. Monergism is the view that God alone effects our salvation. This view is usually associated with Calvinistic and Reformed traditions. Synergism is the view that God works together with us in some way to effect salvation.
The term monergism comes from a compound Greek word meaning “to work alone”; synergism is from another compound Greek word meaning “to work together.” As mentioned, monergism is often associated with Calvinism. Calvinists often accuse Arminians of holding to synergism; however, many, if not most, Arminians would deny the accusation and place themselves in the monergism camp.
Monergism says that God does the work of salvation, and the elect are the beneficiaries of that work. Even the faith needed to receive God’s salvation is a gift from God (see Ephesians 2:8–9). Synergism says that God does part of the work of salvation, but mankind must still do something to reap the benefits: muster faith, be baptized, continue in good works, etc. Defined this way, synergism is clearly unbiblical. No human work or merit can be added to God’s grace without destroying grace (Romans 11:6).
Calvinists typically associate the term monergism with Calvinism: if you believe in monergism, you must be a Calvinist. It’s true that Calvinism is monergistic, but there are also many Arminians who consider their system of theology monergistic, in this way: faith must be present to receive God’s grace, but faith itself is not meritorious. Faith receives grace, but it does not cause grace. In fact, classical Arminianism teaches that the faith needed to receive divine grace is a response to God’s prevenient grace. So, God still does the work of salvation, even though an act of human will (enabled by God) is seen as a necessary requirement to receive it.
The essence of the monergistic argument is that God is in the business of actually saving people and not merely making them “savable.” Monergism starts with an enemy of God, seemingly unsavable, and, by the grace of God, brings that spiritually dead person into saving faith and union with Christ. Synergism, in all its forms (including Pelagianism), starts with a person who has at least a spark of spiritual life. This person has the natural ability to take a step toward God apart from grace and thus meet God in the middle. God may do most of the saving work, but He must somehow also depend on the work of the individual being saved.
Monergism claims that God all that is necessary for our salvation and that He is sufficient to save; synergism claims that God is necessary but insufficient. The synergistic system ultimately places the responsibility for salvation on us. Monergism places the responsibility for our salvation wholly on God. It is God who has “predestined . . . called . . . justified . . . glorified” us in Christ (Romans 8:30). It is He who began and will complete the work of salvation in us (Philippians 1:6). It is He who keeps the sheep secure in His hand (John 10:27–30).
In conclusion, the weight of the biblical evidence clearly supports the monergistic view of salvation—Jesus is the author and perfector of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2). There is no room for us to boast, and all the glory goes to God our Savior!