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Saving Oneself: The Monergist Objection


Often times the charge from Calvinists, and those of the monergistic bent, is to claim that if we have free will in terms of UR, ultimate responsibility, then we are indeed saving ourselves. As such, we are robbing glory from God. Much of this however depends on the very nature of salvation and human nature itself. I would argue that the charge is due firstly  to a particular understanding of the nature of humanity which we reject. And secondly a misunderstanding of Libertarian Free Will (LFW)

Picture a man who is starving to death, and is found by a person with plenty of food. The starving man receives the food gratefully, consuming every last bite. What saved him? Was it the fact that he was given food in his dying moments, or that fact that he ate it? Well in a sense, both acts saved them man. But it would be odd for the starving man to call himself his own saviour. So too would it be strange to say that the glory of the generous benefactor is detracted by the fact that the man wouldn’t have lived had he chosen not to eat.

I suspect those claims are intuitively wrong to many of us, even if we couldn’t pin down why. However I’d like to give one particular reason, which hearkens back to the idea of human nature. That is; restoring something to do what it does naturally, but couldn’t have without your act of restoring it, is to save it.

If its nature after being restored, no longer requires that you to act singlehandedly, this doesn’t make your act of restoration any less salvific. It would be odd to say that its entire well being must even then, depend on you alone completely, before you can be said to have saved it. First of all it posits an unnecessary notion of salvation. One that ignores the necessary and first act of restoration. Second it requires that one of two things be done:

a) That object in question is such a thing that cannot act but can only be acted upon.

b) It no longer acts according to nature.

The first isn’t really a problem. Since if such is the case, then its salvation does indeed depend on you completely without any input which must come of itself. This would be akin to inanimate objects. Take for example a car. If it ever breaks down, it is 100% dependent on humans in order to be restored and saved from the junk heap. Even then, it still depends on them completely for maintenance.

The second however is a problem, since to ignore the nature of a thing is to destroy it. Even if it becomes something else. This would be like a dying plant which won’t be saved without you watering it. Once nursed back to health, the plant begins its natural process which make it grow and flourish. Imagine however you had a device that had absolute control of the plant even on the molecular level. Unless you were to press certain keys, photosynthesis and the rest of the natural processes wouldn’t work.

This plant now becomes completely dependent on you for its restoration and ongoing health, its salvation. You argue that unless the plant is dependent on you completely like the car, that you haven’t saved it. 

The objection to this would be that first of all you are assuming that the plant functions like a car, but it does not. It is not a car. Second of all, the plant’s nature is now destroyed. Its existence may be preserved, but it can’t be really be said to be “saved”. If saved, healing and being made whole, are interchangeable, and they imply a restoration of nature.
It should be somewhat clearer how this understanding of nature and healing helps answer the objection from Monergists. Remember I said that one of the two issues was an assumption about human nature which is rejected. If LFW is natural to human nature, then the human person must be the ultimate-determiner (but not the only factor) for how their character ends up, in order for it to be truly their own. It follows that they must also be ultimate  in determining whether their end is salvation or damnation. That is simply what having LFW by nature means. To say that one can’t be the determining factor, in order for God to be the saviour, is like in Option A, to assume that to be human is to be the kind of creature that doesn’t have LFW. That human will is completely passive to the divine will. However we can see from Christology that this isn’t the case. As I argued in another post:

“The passive/determined will is ruled out by proper Christology which says there is only one subject or person at the incarnation. Since persons are the subject of the wills, a passive/determined human will to the divine will (ergo a passive and determined person) at the incarnation would mean that the *person* of the Logos would have to have something *behind* him; the divine will. But if the Logos is a divine *person*, it means the divine will is His and cannot be behind him. Since He is the subject, not the object.

So a passive human will means that either the Logos is a creature (Arianism), or that there are two subjects in Christ, but the human subject is passive to the divine subject (Nestorianism). Whereas per Orthodox Christology, salvation is accomplished by one subject who brought his free human will into synergy with the divine will. 

It was the synergy of the human and divine energy in the one subject which accomplished salvation. The basis of our own human free will is rooted in the free will of the Logos who took on human nature formed after his own image, and is the *examplar* of proper humanity. It would be to divorce humanity & Christology to posit a free human will in Christ, but a determined one for all the rest. The only other options seem to be to claim either that the will is hypostatic, Arianism or Nestorianism.”

The second thing I said was at issue, is a misunderstanding of LFW. Some on the Reformed side assume that LFW is implicitly Pelagian, since it should imply that one doesn’t actually need grace in order to be saved. Rather if humans really had LFW, they could choose Christ without the work of the Holy Spirit, as such, LFW is Pelagian. But the problem is that LFW isn’t a sufficient condition for salvation. This is because given the nature/person distinction, nature circumscribes the person, outlines the possibilities and range of its choices. LFW just requires having more than one option, and that the person isn’t determined. It does not say what those options have to be per se.

This means that fallen man can have all the LFW in the world and still without the grace of God would never be saved. Why? Since nature without the illumination of the Spirit does not allow the option. It is not a possibility without grace, to will properly and fully according to the image of God. This is the person in the flesh, that is without the Spirit. Grace however empowers the individual, and restores them to proper function. If people were like cars, then salvation would look monergistic. But since people are not like cars, what does salvation of a being with LFW look like? It looks like restoring, healing, saving them to a position where they are able to once again will the options that are proper to their nature prior to corruption and to will or not will such options in a Libertarian manner. In other words, it means making a human, more human. And all that this entails. Which is ultimately to be like God. To actualize the divine image, which is best exemplified in the divinized humanity of the incarnate Logos. Who Himself in His humanity free.

The two options then as before still apply. To say then that a non deterministic view of salvation, means humans save themselves, to the detraction of God’s glory is either to say

a) humans are not the kinds of things which can be none deterministic

b) that God can only get full glory if humans stop being what they are by their essential nature

Of course if determinism were true, then for a human to be the determining factor in choice, would be to say that they have acquired a power only God possess, thus robbing God of His Glory. But of course if the LFW is true, then salvation, being the restoration to the divine image, wouldn’t be a detraction from the Glory of God, since the restoration is God being glorified.

Another common objection against LFW is that the human sans grace is said to be *dead* in sin. So that salvation must be monergistic. Since dead people don’t do anything at all. The first thing is that this deadness is not inactivity, since these people dead in sin, well… sin. Death is separation, they are separated from God, divine grace and as such are in the flesh. Which is to be spiritually dead. As I’ve argued above, this on its own does not rule out LFW. The only way this passage could be formulated as an argument against LFW would be to say that before the fall, humanity had LFW, but after the fall, they didn’t. This deadness/separation also entailed the loss of this power. 

But not only is it moot to want to argue this since LFW isn’t a sufficient condition for salvation on its own anyways. But I would argue that LFW is the kind of thing which is just as essential to the divine image as the human intellect. Just as a lack of the intellect would mean a non-human entity, so too such a loss would entail the same.
However, let’s say I conceded the idea. Let’s say that human beings are dead in sin, and in sin have no LFW. First of all, if grace and salvation at very least means restoration, then wouldn’t it just mean upon illumination that they get their LFW back and are once again in a non-deterministic situation which the Calvinist is trying to avoid? Secondly, if salvation means not a return of their original power of LFW, but rather being now determined by grace as opposed to sin, how are they still human if that power is lost? This situation is akin to option B where the plant is preserved but is no longer operating according to nature, as isn’t really “saved”. Rather their nature is destroyed. Also, the notion that humans had LFW before the fall, lost it and then never get it back, implies not only that things were not deterministic in the Calvinistic sense from the beginning. But if LFW is meant to be Pelagian, then that means that the pre-lapsarian nature of Adam was Pelagian. In fact it could be argued that per Reformed theology, this is indeed the case. For more on that see here, here and here.

So to finalize if salvation at very least means the restoration of nature, then the idea that God not deterministically bringing about salvation robs Him of His Glory, assumes that a deterministic relation of the human and divine will is the norm. Otherwise, a restoration of a non-deterministic nature is just as much salvation. Imposing a deterministic notion of salvation to a non-deterministic nature confuses the issue. And saying only a determistic view glorifies God maximally, is akin to requiring that a non-occasionalist deterministic view of salvation, meet the occasionalist standard in order for God to be truly God, sovereign, saviour and glorious.  At the end of the day, I think that Theistic Determinism is out of sync with proper Christology, and that a view of salvation which says the only options are 100% human effort and works or 100% Grace, that is, saying the choices are human or divine monergism, that such a view is Pelagian in its assumptions. If this is true, then not only is Theistic Determinism not true, but salvation as described by the synergist, doesn’t rob God of His Glory. Since it is the only form of salvation possible.


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This entry was posted on November 22, 2016 by in Theology and tagged , , , , , , .
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