Saturday, December 20, 2008

Monergism? Thanks but no thanks...

There's a vibrant Presbyterian church in town that has produced some wonderful students at EBC. They all have been fans of monergism, the theological concept, and Monergism, the website.

I am learning a lot from these fellows, but I cannot agree with their interpretation of scripture or church history. I do not think it is possible to hold that the Synod of Orange's condemnation of Pelagianism establishes monergism. For instance, see Peterson and Williams, Why I am not an Arminian. To say that it does is an appeal to ignorance.

I cannot help but remember Dr. Vernon Bourke's comments on Augustine in our class on Medieval Philosophy at St. Louis University. "He wrote a lot, over a long period of time. He wasn't always as consistent as we might have liked." If this is true, then appeals to Augustine, muchless exclusive appeals to Augustine, are a dangerous thing.

Finally, on Abet, Brad offered this response to my question, "Do the Eastern Orthodox hold a concept of 'alien righteousness?' Do they speak of 'monergism?' If so, where?"

The EO are not very monergistic. They would emphasize synergism -- but not in a Pelagian or semi-Pelagian sense. Once you shift through all the language and nuances I think they are similar to the Western Arminianism. Wesley drew heavily on the Church Fathers so he was drinking from the same pool. The EO, however, do not emphasize the radical nature of sin, that is, the consequence of death. Rather they would emphasize the alienation aspects of sin and speak more in terms of sin as disease.

Alien righteousness is a foreign concept -- or rather emphasis -- although they might not disagree with the concept of imputed righteousness--once you shift through all the terminology differences and nuance everything. While Westerners tend to stress what Christ did -- the work of the cross -- the EO would stress (without denying the other) who Christ is -- the Incarnation.
We become participants in the righteousness of Christ through theosis (which in Evangelical lingo is the union with God through sanctification and glorification).

IOW, we tend to emphasize the work of Christ as justification which is worked out in sanctification. The EO tend to think of justification as an aspect of sanctification (theosis). When you work that direction alien righteousness does not play as big of a role. There is in some sense an ontological union -- and since we are one with him we participate in his righteousness.

Of course, the idea of "alien righteousness" was most famously expressed by Martin Luther. There is, however, a school of Lutheran thinking in Finland which argues that when you take Luther in context he was a lot closer to Eastern Orthodoxy in his emphasis on union with Christ. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, who teaches theology at Fuller (and who is actually a Finnish Pentecostal) has written a great book on the topic -- One with God. "

Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

I'm probably unqualified to comment on this in English. Lack of qualification debars use of the English language. Nevertheless, the construct of monergism is so counterintuitive as to seem pointless to me. It seems to say: the appearances are to be discarded -- only the theory is valid, despite all appearances to the contrary.

Acolyte4236 said...

If you reflect on it, Monergism in anthropology is simply the heresy of Monothelitism in Christology, that there is only one will relating the human to the divine or that the divine subordinates the human. Calvinists have a defective soteriology because they have a defective Christology. You can't therefore have both Calvinists soteriology AND Chalcedonian Christology.

wes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wes said...

It is true that monergistic theology can be found in the writings of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. But, that is not the root of this theology. When you deny monergism, you are not only denying the words of these men, but moreso, the words of Paul, John, Moses, and Christ himself. I believe in monergism not because John Calvin or Martin Luther taught it, but because it is clearly taught throughout the whole of scripture.

Beth B said...

Thanks for your comments, Wes; but the point of this blog post was just the opposite: "When you AFFIRM monergism, you are not only affirming the words of these men, but even more, you are DENYING the words of Paul, John, Moses, and Christ himself. I don't believe in monergism, not because John Calvin or Martin Luther taught it, but because it NOT taught throughout the whole of scripture."

Monergism is a theology which arises out of a nominalist hermeutic. Nominalism arrived very late in the history of the church--indeed, in the intellectual history of the West--not until the 13th century. For more on nominalism, search this blog or better yet, read Louis Bouyer's "The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism."

As Acts 26:31 states, we cannot understand scripture unless someone explains it to us. Monergists have had their scripture explained to them by nominalists. Those who are not monergists have had their scripture explained to them by Paul, John, Moses, Christ and Christians of the early church, who had no commitment to, muchless concept of nominalism.