What is synergism in relationship to salvation?

synergism and salvation
Question: "What is synergism in relationship to salvation?"

Answer:
Synergism comes from a combination of the Greek terms for “cooperating” and “energy.” Put together, they mean “a combined force.” When applied to salvation, the term synergism implies that salvation is accomplished through the combined act of God and man. This contrasts with the term monergism, which comes from Greek terms for “one” and “energy” and means “a single force.” Monergism suggests God is entirely, completely, and solely responsible for any person’s salvation.

In the most general sense, synergism does not describe salvation as accurately as monergism does. However, that does not mean either should be carelessly accepted, rejected, or applied.

Of course, some theological ideas are closer to the truth than others. What’s important is to recognize the value in an idea and the truths contained in an idea without carrying it further than it’s meant to go. In evaluating the idea of syngergism, we note how the weight of Scripture leans against it while acknowledging aspects of the Bible that seem to support it.

Synergism can be inferred from several passages in Scripture. Of particular importance are statements such as Matthew 23:37 and John 5:39–40. These are clear indications by Jesus Christ that there is some sense in which a person can be held responsible for resisting the Holy Spirit or refusing salvation. Looking at these verses—and only these verses—it would seem clear that salvation is accomplished by a combined force: a syn-ergon. God and man, it follows, must harmonize in order for one to be saved.

Likewise, 1 Timothy 2:3–4 and 2 Peter 3:9 would seem to indicate that God at least “allows” some to be lost, despite His desire that “all” be saved. The idea of an invitation—something to be accepted or rejected—is prevalent in the New Testament, including verses such as Revelation 22:17, John 4:10, John 6:44, 1 Peter 2:7, and Matthew 22:1–14.

Given those Scriptures, it is clear the idea of human culpability in salvation cannot be entirely dismissed.

And yet, this does not mean synergism is the “best” explanation for what we read in the Bible. While the Bible’s discussion of human choice might be more frequent, it is not given as much force as statements about God’s ultimate and inevitable power over salvation. Key examples of this are Ephesians 1:4–5 and Romans 9:16. Such passages indicate that God, prior to creation and independent of human merit, sovereignly chose some for salvation. Titus 3:5, Ephesians 2:8–9, 1 John 3:14, and other passages give no indication that human desire, effort, or preference can control election or salvation.

This means, on balance, that Scripture presents a view of salvation better described by the idea of monergism than by synergism. That does not mean that one is a perfect, all-encompassing description and the other is an entirely false and worthless concept. Rather, the fact that there is “balance” to be discussed should result in a moderated approach. The Bible irrefutably states that God is solely responsible for salvation and entirely sovereign in His election. So much as a single idea can attempt to describe salvation, monergism is the only biblically viable option. Yet synergism, while perhaps not “as correct,” is not entirely wrong in every facet.

Recommended Resource: Chosen But Free, revised edition: A Balanced View of God's Sovereignty and Free Will by Norm Geisler and The Potter's Freedom by James White

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