Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Defending Dordt

Part I

Late last week, I received an e-mail containing a link to an article “refuting” Calvinism by King James Only advocate David Cloud. The person who sent me the link, not a Calvinist herself, knows that I am a Calvinist, and wanted my opinion on the article. While I had heard the name in regards to King James Onlyism, I had never read any of Mr. Cloud’s writings before. I was most pleased to see that Mr. Cloud’s writings were, in contrast to the abundant vitriol of many in the King James Only camp, reasonable in tone & less of an “attack piece” then I had expected.

Unfortunately for Mr. Cloud, poor arguments and incorrect conclusions, however well written they are, are still poor arguments and incorrect conclusions.

I’ve given a lot of thought to how best to respond to Mr. Cloud’s position. I could go through Cloud’s arguments, and answer each in turn, but that has already been done, and done well, here. My apologetic methodology has always been to basically just tell people what I believe, and why I believe it, and let them do with that information what they will. So I’ve decided, instead, to present a positive defense of what is known as the 5 Points of Calvinism. For, if I can show that the doctrines that we collectively know as Calvinism are Biblical, then Mr. Cloud will stand refuted.

But, throughout my positive defense of Calvinism, I will address certain of Mr. Clouds errors along the way.

Before we begin: some preliminaries. I am a Calvinist. What does that mean? When I say that I am a Calvinist, I mean that I hold to the 5 Solas of the reformation (Sola Fide - by faith alone; Sola Scriptura - by Scripture alone; Solus Christus - by Christ alone; Sola gratia - by grace alone; Soli Deo gloria - glory to God alone,) and to the 5 points as codified at the Synod of Dordt in 1618-1619, and that is all I mean. I’m not an expert on Calvin, his life or his theology. I know that my theology differs from his on a few points, including baptism and eschatology. While I do own a copy of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, I have not read it cover-to-cover, nor studied it in depth. (I do intend to at some point. I even downloaded a lecture series on Calvin’s Institutes from Covenant Theological Seminary, but I haven’t listened to it yet.)

Also, I am not an expert on Church History. In fact, I’m not an accomplished scholar in any field. I’m just a humble country preacher who’s trying to do the best that he can. So, if you’re expecting some doctrinal dissertation, you’re in the wrong place. Just so you know.

It is my intention to break this into several parts. We’ll just stick with the TULIP order, for convenience and familiarity, if for no other reason. Today, I’ll introduce our subject.

Introduction: Why 5 points?

John Calvin never reduced his theology to five points, and the 5 points do not encapsulated Calvin’s entire theology, but deal only with the questions of “Who does God save?” and “How does God save them?” Calvin died in 1564, but the “5 points” didn’t come to be until 1618-19, during the Synod of Dordt, which was held in Dordrecht, Holland, in response to the teachings of Jacob Arminius and his followers, who published the 5 Articles of Remonstrance (re•mon•strance noun 1: an earnest presentation of reasons for opposition or grievance [Webster’s]) in 1610, the year after Arminius died.

It was 8 years later, during the winter of 1618-1619, that the Synod of Dordt met to address the Remonstrants’ articles. They met in session 154 times, from November 13th, 1618 to May 9th, 1619. The results of their deliberations were published as The Decision of the Synod of Dort on the Five Main Points of Doctrine in Dispute in the Netherlands, commonly known as the Canons of Dordt. The Canons were never intended to be a comprehensive or exhaustive treatment of Calvinist theology, but were narrowly focused on the issues brought up by the Remonstrants. The point being that it was the Arminian Remonstrants, not the Calvinists, who first developed 5 points, which are the polar opposites of the Calvinist’s TULIP.

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

Cloud is correct when he says that the TULIP acronym did not appear until the 1700's, and was developed as a memory aid. A brief web search does not reveal exactly when, where, or by whom the TULIP was planted.

Mr. Cloud made a point of saying that, while he is certainly not a Calvinist, he is also not an Arminian. And I understand that. There are people who sit somewhere between 5-point Calvinists and 5-point Arminians, so that is not really an issue. But Cloud takes issue with Calvinists’ “black and white thinking.” Well, the real heart of the issue is Monergism vs. Synergism, and that is a black or white issue.

Monergism (“mono” - one + “erg” - work - the work of one, or working alone) is the doctrine that salvation is entirely God’s work from start to finish. He begins it and He accomplishes it. Man adds nothing to his salvation, and can take absolutely no credit for any part of it. It is all God’s doing, and to Him belongs all the glory.

Synergism (“syn” - together or with + “erg” - work - to work together, cooperate) is the doctrine that salvation is a cooperative effort between God and man. In order for a person to be saved, God has done His part, but the individual must do his. Synergism says that the human will and the divine Spirit work together in the act of regeneration.

That is the heart of the issue; Those are the two sides of this debate. I hope, by the time we’re done, that you will have gotten a good understanding of both sides.

post signature


Craig and Heather said...

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

So far so good!


Jennie said...

Hi Squirrel,
I'm not really sure if the choice is between monergism and synergism. I wouldn't call Rev. Cloud a synergist, nor myself. I believe salvation is all of God, and all that we can do is either respond in faith, or refuse. But faith is not a work, or an act of the will. It's more like submission, which is the only reasonable thing we can do once we see our sin and God's goodness.

I read Colin Maxwell's critique of Rev. Cloud. I think I need to go back and read it again when I'm not sleepy, but I could not figure out what Maxwell was saying about limited atonement. Maybe you can explain it as you understand it.

The Squirrel said...

I plan on giving each doctrine a good going over, Jennie.

Of course faith is not a work. I agree. But if man has the ability in and of himself to accept or reject God's offer of salvation, then synergism is the correct term.

If man is unable to seek after God on his own, and God must draw him and give him faith, then monergism is the correct term.



Craig and Heather said...

One of the elders of our church was in a discussion with a very staunch calvinist who was part of our church. (they have since moved out of the area). The calvinist asked teh elder if he was calvinist. He said no. He asked if he was arminian. He said no. After some discussion, the exasperated calvinist exclaimed, "Ray, you have to chose!" Ray smiled back at him until he realized the irony of what he had just said.

Not exactly on topic, just thought I would throw that in.


The Squirrel said...


Oh, that's funny! LOL!

Of course, Calvinist believe that we must choose, it is just that the natural man will always choose to reject God, and that it is only through God's grace that any are able to choose God. (short version, long version later)


Craig and Heather said...

I have to learn to proof my comments. The last one was pretty pathetic.

The one that I struggled with was Limited Atonement. That is until I studied the definition of atonement. I do think Jesus died for all of the world. Not just mankind, but all of creation. However, in order for it to be atonement it has to be effective. If someone winds up in hell, then atonement must in some way be limited.

Other than that, I must say I come down on the TULIP side.


Lockheed said...

I wouldn't call Rev. Cloud a synergist

If he believes man cooperates with God to become saved (which he does) he is in fact a synergist.

The Gospel, however states that while we were yet enemies Christ died for us. This is the miraculous Gospel, that God saves sinners not because they earned it, or did anything to deserve it, but because He is merciful and gracious.

Jennie... since you have heard the same gospel as many others... why did YOU believe where so many others don't? What was it about you?

Jennie said...


Rev. Cloud is not a synergist. He is a believer who loves the Lord and preaches the gospel that Christ died for the sins of the world, and that if we believe on Him we will be saved.

.Jennie... since you have heard the same gospel as many others... why did YOU believe where so many others don't? What was it about you?

Read Romans 10.
3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

I by God's grace submitted to the righteousness of God by faith.

9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”

I heard the gospel, believed it, called upon Him, and confessed it.

16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “LORD, who has believed our report?” 17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

I heard the word of God, and by grace through faith, I submitted in obedience to the gospel.

God's grace offered it in His word. I heard it by His grace. I believed it by His grace. I am saved by His grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Jennie said...

And with the Word, the Spirit breathes upon my heart, so that I believe Martin Luther

Jennie said...

Oops. Should be a period between 'believe' and 'Luther':)

Paul said...

Jennie said:
"Rev. Cloud is not a synergist. He is a believer who loves the Lord and preaches the gospel that Christ died for the sins of the world, and that if we believe on Him we will be saved."

Monergism (Greek mono meaning "one" and erg meaning "work") is a term for the belief that the Holy Spirit is the only agent who effects regeneration of Christians. This view, held by Reformed and Calvinistic groups, sees salvation as the work of God alone, from first to last. He has chosen in eternity past whom He will save out of lost humanity (often referred to as the elect), and in His timing He will bring the elect to faith through the work of the Spirit for the sake of the Son, and save them forever to the praise of His glorious grace (Romans 8:29f). This is opposed to the synergistic view as held by Arminianism and its theological predecessor Semi-Pelagianism where salvation is seen as a cooperative effort between God and man.

Synergism, in general, may be defined as two or more agents working together to produce a result not obtainable by any of the agents independently. The word synergy or synergism comes from two Greek words, erg meaning to work and syn meaning together, hence synergism is a "working together."

Regarding the doctrine of salvation, this is essentially the view that God and humanity work together, each contributing their part to accomplish salvation in and for the individual. This is the view of salvation found in Arminianism and its theological predecessor Semi-Pelagianism. John Hendryx has stated it this way. Synergism is "...the doctrine that there are two efficient agents in regeneration, namely the human will and the divine Spirit, which, in the strict sense of the term, cooperate. This theory accordingly holds that the soul has not lost in the fall all inclination toward holiness, nor all power to seek for it under the influence of ordinary motives."

Jennie said...

To me, it seems like someone made up an artificial dychotomy (monergism vs. synergism) based on their own doctrines and then tried to squeeze everybody into this framework in order to make their doctrine appear to be the true one.
I don't have to fit into the man-made framework of either 'monergism and synergism' or 'Calvinism vs. Arminianism' just because Calvinists feel the need to categorize everybody, including faithful fellow Christians. Maybe if Calvinists would stop calling themselves by a man's name, they would also stop trying to stick names on everyone else.
1 Corinthians 1:
10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

1 Corinthians 3:
1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?

5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

Paul said...

Jennie said:

To me, it seems like someone made up an artificial dychotomy (monergism vs. synergism) based on their own doctrines and then tried to squeeze everybody into this framework in order to make their doctrine appear to be the true one."
Jennie, is this not what we have been doing with your Roman Catholic visitors? Is this what the Reformers (Not Only Calvin) did in promoting the Five Solas? Did they "squeeze" everybody into two categories? No. They approached Holy Scripture very soberly and reverently. There were not only two categories, there were at least three. The third one was called Pelagianism.

"I don't have to fit into the man-made framework of either 'monergism and synergism' or 'Calvinism vs. Arminianism' just because Calvinists feel the need to categorize everybody, including faithful fellow Christians."

It's not just Calvinists that do this. And categories are very helpful. It is near impossible to write/study Systematic Theology without categories.

Paul said...

I believe that you consider Pastor Bob DeWaay to be a fair theologian.
Here is an article he wrote on this topic.

A Biblically based commentary on current issues that impact you

Recovering Reformation Theology

Rejecting Synergism and Returning to Monergism

by Bob DeWaay

Lockheed said...

Paul's definition leaves little in doubt. Regardless of your opinion of Mr. Cloud, he is indeed a synergist...

Please keep in mind Jennie, as it seems you're very interested in the truth and learning about the faith and denominational differences, these terms have historical definitions. These definitions aren't something we can (though post-moderns often try) redefine without doing violence to the historical record.

That said... all Arminians and those who accept the positions of thereof are in fact, synergists.

Calvinists do not call themselves Calvin because they "follow Calvin" or any such nonsense, any more than Arminians follow Arminius. But both systems are more easily expressed by the labels we use to define them, rather than attempting to say "those who believe in the absolute sovereignty of God in all matters particularly in regards to human salvation...", as you can see it gets wordy pretty quick.

The problem in Corinth, in the passage that you cited, is not the same as the issue we're dealing with here, after all Paul notes that some said: “I am of Christ.”

Surely you'd not find anything wrong with that... in fact isn't that what you're attempting to suggest we do? The problem in fact is that people were suggesting that these folks (Paul, Apollos and Christ) taught diversely different doctrines and therein was the problem

Synergism and monergism are not artificial dichotomies but accurate expressions of the views of Arminians (and other Pelagian and semi-Pelagian groups) [yes, I know.. more labels, but how will you tell the ketchup from the mustard if both are in similar bottles?] and Calvinists (and many Lutherans and other Reform-related denoms.)

You write: "I don't have to fit into the man-made framework of either 'monergism and synergism'"

But the fact is that everyone's belief system, even non-Christian ones, fit in one of those two categories. These are simply short-hand for saying that either God and you cooperate to obtain and/or secure your salvation, or it is solely a work of God who sovereignly saves undeserving sinners.

I hope you'll try to understand what's being said here and not take an anti-intellectual approach to these matters. There is much here worthy of your time and study, no matter what ultimately you believe.

Jennie said...

I actually already read that article by Bob DeWaay a few weeks ago. His perspective was mainly that the Catholic doctrine is 'synergism' as opposed to the reformed doctrine which is 'monergism'. I agreed with that definition at the time, but was not really familiar with the terms, and had not heard them used to describe other believers.

Certainly categories are helpful, but they have to be accurate. Everybody does not fit into those two categories. Even Arminius may not have been a synergist. I'm not clear yet what he really believed as I've seen several conflicting reports.

Jennie said...

I and Rev. Cloud are apparently not Monergists OR Synergists. We can't be Monergists because we don't believe Jesus died only for the elect (as Paul's definition states) even though that has nothing to do with whether salvation is all of God; and we can't be synergists because we believe faith is not a work but is submission to God's command to repent and believe and is enabled by god's grace. The catholics are true synergists and are outside of the true gospel. We are not.

Ken Cook said...


I don't think that it is reasonable for you to say that Monergism and Synergism are a "Artificial Dichotomy." While I agree that the terms are indeed man-made, so are terms that you no doubt accept such as the trinity, and moreover, the english you are reading right now. The question is not are they man-made, but rather are they correct. You seem to be shying away from that, and I don't understand why. Moreover, when you claim that you don't fit into either of the categories, the other option is mainly that God does not save; thus assuming that you believe that God does in fact have mercy upon us, you must by definition fit into one camp or the other.

Jennie said...

I have already shown that in my opinion they are incorrect because they artificially separate true believers. The monergist term is designed to only include Calvinists, and the synergist term does not fit true believers, who believe by grace alone.