Some Informal Comments on Matthew Pinson’s Denial that Arminianism is Synergistic

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by Brian Abasciano

Here are some (now) edited and expanded comments I made in SEA’s private discussion group on Dr. J. Matthew Pinson’s article, “Are Arminians Necessarily Synergists?”, which argues that Arminianism is not really synergistic, but should be thought of as articulating conditional monergism:

Dr. Pinson wants to speak about conditional monergism. I can see the point, but it seems a little too technical of a distinction. He seems to be defining synergism as involving meritorious work or at least God and man working together for salvation. But it seems like it is quite reasonable to use the term of cooperative action. And certainly faith is an action and the means by which we are saved by God. But faith itself is not monergistic. It is not the action of God alone. And it is not the action of man alone in that man needs God’s supernatural enabling power to believe. But man is the main actor with respect to faith. God does not believe for man. And faith is a human act. God enables, but man actually does the believing. But faith is also not actually part of salvation itself, but the means by which salvation is given/received. Salvation is monergistic in that God alone accomplishes it in response to man’s faith. But faith is synergistic in that it involves both the action of God and man. But it is not synergistic in the sense that man’s action in it is meritorious. So it seems to me that there is some sort of synergism involved in the process of salvation insofar as faith is part of the process of salvation even though it is not part of salvation (i.e., not something salvation bestows on us once saved). So I agree with Dr. Pinson to a degree and believe that Arminianism can be thought of in terms of conditional monergism. But if so, it must also be kept in mind that faith is synergistic and that the monergistic work of God is conditional on the synergistic action of faith.

Let me add that I am also a bit skeptical of the approach that characterizes our response to God as merely not resisting. While that sounds noble and God glorifying because it seems to minimize our role and exalt God’s role, it does not seem to match the biblical picture of faith in my opinion. Biblical faith is not merely not resisting God but it is actively trusting in him. Faith itself is not meritorious for various reasons. Just one of those reasons is that it cannot be exercised without God’s help (grace). But I don’t think it can be characterized as mere non-resistance. But one might argue that the idea is that not resisting God’s draw to faith is what the idea is about, and so our active faith/trust in God will happen unless we resist God. But I don’t particularly see that in the Bible. At the very least, the Bible does not make a point of that idea. It seems to involve more of an influence and response model more than an action and non-resistance model.

In my opinion, this type of distinction gets away from biblical categories and delves too deeply into philosophical consideration. Let me quickly say that getting away from biblical categories is not necessarily bad. We live in a different context and often operate with different categories, and it is not necessarily bad to attempt to translate biblical truth into our categories. In fact, it is very often good and important to do. I also do not denigrate philosophy. It is the handmaiden of theology and regularly used and even necessary in formulating theology. It is also a fine and good thing to discuss philosophical matters in and of themselves. What I am saying here is that it seems to me that a particular desired conclusion—minimizing human effort as much as possible in the salvation process—is being addressed philosophically without taking much account of the biblical data. I suppose that it could be said that the reasoning is taking its lead from the Bible’s stress on God’s activity in our salvation and human inability apart from grace. But to me, it seems too general and abstract away from the particulars of the biblical data to warrant insisting on this type of formulation (human response as mere non-resistance) in the process of salvation.

But I think a number of Arminians like this type of approach. I understand it and see the impulse. I just don’t think it necessary or the most accurate perspective.