In a previous post on Romans 8, I presented what I believed to be a synergistic understanding of Paul’s understanding of Christian freedom. I said the following:
The point is this: Paul’s paradigm of transformation is synergistic. The new reality of Christians who are located in Christ by the Holy Spirit by God’s sending, which Paul refers to as justification, sets up the conditions for transformational action to take place. This new ontological reality is what enables Christian freedom by impacting how we relate to God’s instruction, doing the actions God desires for with the right focus that the Spirit leads into. Thus, for Paul pedagogy takes on a different direction when one is walking by the Spirit. In this way, Paul outlines a positive form of freedom, that takes the glory of God made known in Jesus Christ, as expressed in 2 Corinthians 3:17-4:6, as the goal that can be realized. It highlights the necessary act of God to make this goal possible, which then makes right behaviors with the right focus to be conditionally sufficent3 for accomplishing this goal of transformation.
My end sentence outlined a logical relationship between God’s action to produce a new ontological reality with human action and transformation. In a more formal logical form, what is said above can be translated as follows:
G = God’s saving action; H = Human action; T = Transformation1
(1) iff G then (1)
(2) if H then T
“iff” is logical notation for a necessary and sufficient condition. So, (2) is true only if (1) is true. G does not determine whether H will be true, therefore making T true. In other words, G only makes it such that if H is true, then T will be true. But G can be true without H being true, meaning T will not be true. Furthermore, if G is not true, then H being true will not lead to T being true. Put in more colloquial language: if God acts, then human action will lead to transformation, but a lack of human action will not lead to transformation. If God does not act, the human action will NOT lead to transformation. This is a synergistic soteriology in logical notation.
Monergistic soteriologies will typically take a different form:
(3) iff G then (4)
(4) H and T
(5) if T then G
Here, the difference is that G is the necessary and sufficient condition for both H and T being true. This means that there if there is a specific relationship between H and T, it will always be true if G is true. There doesn’t have to be a relationship between H and T, however. If G is true, then both H and T will be true, regardless of any other relationship. Put more simply, if God acts to save, then humans will act accordingly and they will be transformed.
(5) is important to suggest that T only happen if G acts; transformation will never happen if God does not act to save. This is necessary because H and T are taken to be true together in the first monergistic statement; with this second statement, then it is presumable that only one of either H or T are true without G being true. In other words, a person will not be transformed without God’s action. A person still might act in a certain way without God’s action, however, but it will not be joined with a transformation of the person.
There are a few notable distinctions when one compares these two systems. They all contain the there same conditions, God’s saving action, human action, and transformation. They also both have God’s action as a necessary and sufficient condition. The difference, however, is whether there is another condition for transformation to occur or not. In a monergistic soteriology, if God acts, then transformation will occur, without question. However, in a synergistic soteriology, if God acts, then transformation may not necessarily occur. Synergistic soteriology thus is a bit more complex, by adding a second condition for transformation to occur, whereas a monergistic soteriology has only one condition.
Now, if we were to posit a stereotypical Pelagian soteriology, it would probably look like (2), where human action leads to transformation, but regardless of whether God acts or not. This explains why synergistic soteriologies get labeled as Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian, because (2) is also a part of a synergistic system, but only in conjunction with (1). However monergistic soteriologies do not typically contain (2), although it is technically possible as it would not change the truth values. There is a basic resemblance between Pelagian and synergistic soteriologies that monergistic soteriologies do not share.
Now, in attempting to formally express a synergistic soteriology and a monergistic soteriology, the task of exegesis has a clearer target to determine which is true. Does the Bible express God’s action enabling a specific process of human action as represented by (2) to occur without making that process happen?
- I am defining salvation as transformation because I think that is part of Paul’s soteriology. however, if one wants to substitute a different condition for transformation to describe salvation, then the logical forms would stay the same although they may not be well-grounded by failing to represent Paul’s soteriology.