Please refer to my last post to gain insight on the issues I am dealing with in this post (follow this link).
In the second proposition of the Calvinist, non-Calvinist (Arminian) debate that just took place in Chicago under the watchful moderating eye of Christianity Today’s, Mark Galli (who is CT’s editor, and someone I have known for a few years, electronically), the debaters, this time around discussed the pressing issue of monergism and synergism. Monergism and Synergism are basically the ideas that God’s grace is given to the elect unilaterally by God, and once given the elect will respond in faith and receive the salvation that God has won for them through the payment of the cross of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, Synergism is the idea that God’s grace is available to everyone, and that appropriating salvation is a bilateral affair wherein the respondent or non-respondent can freely and deliberatively choose whether or not they want to receive salvation or not (the emphasis in this scheme is placed upon the person’s choice to receive salvation or not).
What I want to do at this point is to describe further how grace was conceived of in this debate, and what its historical antecedents are in the Protestant Reformed history. [a side note here: it is important to remember that this whole Calvinist, Arminian/non-Calvinist debate is being informed and shaped by certain historical realities and conceptualities. Both the Calvinist side and the Arminian side both work from a view of grace and human 'will' that come from what is called substance metaphysics. While this is the reality, not once in this debate did I hear any mention of this; and so it becomes unsurprising that there really isn't any headway made in debates like this] Grace in this debate was talked about as someTHING, as if it is something that God gives to us, ‘creates’ in us, and thus something that we can manipulate for our good in appropriating eternal life and salvation (and this is true for both the Calvinist side or Arminian side). In order to illustrate what I mean, let me quote famed Calvin and Calvinist scholar, Richard Muller. In the following quote from Muller he is giving a definition of different senses of grace in the Protestant Reformation, and I submit to you that these senses were both appealed to and informing the discussion being had by these gentlemen (in the debate) on grace, monergism and synergism. Here is how Muller defines grace in the Protestant conception of things:
gratia: grace; in Greek, χάρις; the gracious or benevolent disposition of God toward sinful mankind and, therefore, the divine operation by which the sinful heart and mind are regenerated and the continuing divine power or operation that cleanses, strengthens, and sanctifies the regenerate. The Protestant scholastics distinguish five actus gratiae, or actualizations of grace. (1) Gratia praeveniens, or prevenient grace, is the grace of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon sinners in and through the Word; it must precede repentance. (2) Gratia praeparens is the preparing grace, according to which the Spirit instills in the repentant sinner a full knowledge of his inability and also his desire to accept the promises of the gospel. This is the stage of the life of the sinners that can be termed thepraeparatio ad conversionem (q.v.) and that the Lutheran orthodox characterize as a time of terrores conscientiae (q.v.). Both this preparation for conversion and the terrors of conscience draw directly upon the second use of the law, the usus paedagogicus (see usus legis). (3) Gratia operans, or operating grace, is the effective grace of conversion, according to which the Spirit regenerates the will, illuminates the mind, and imparts faith. Operating grace is, therefore, the grace of justification insofar as it creates in man the means, or medium, faith, through which we are justified by grace…. (4) Gratia cooperans, or cooperating grace, is the continuing grace of the Spirit, also termed gratia inhabitans, indwelling grace, which cooperates with and reinforces the regenerate will and intellect in sanctification. Gratia cooperans is the ground of all works and, insofar as it is a new capacity in the believer for the good, it can be called the habitus gratiae, or disposition of grace. Finally, some of the scholastics make a distinction between gratia cooperans and (5) gratia conservans, or conserving, preserving grace, according to which the Spirit enables the believer to persevere in faith. This latter distinction arises most probably out of the distinction betweensanctificatio (q.v.) and perseverantia (q.v.) in the scholastic ordo salutis(q.v.), or order of salvation…. [Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastics Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985), 129-30.]
As you read along, you can see how grace is a ‘thing’. And I will submit to you that this is always a problem, theologically. Even if God initiates salvation, even if it is unilaterally (monergistically) or bilaterally (synergistically) conceived the person appropriating salvation is cooperating with God in his/her salvation. It is only if grace is understand as a person wherein salvation ceases to come off as a cooperative thing that we work with God in, and where the Triune participatory relationship can happen. And it is this view of grace that we hold to and articulate in Evangelical Calvinism.
Let me close with how we as Evangelical Calvinists understand God’s grace in salvation through a quote:
To sum up: Grace in the New Testament is the basic and the most characteristic element of the Christian Gospel. It is the breaking into the world of the ineffable love of God in a deed of absolutely decisive significance which cuts across the whole of human life and sets it on a new basis. That is actualized in the person of Jesus Christ, with which grace is inseparably associated, and supremely exhibited on the Cross by which the believer is once and for all put in the right with God. This intervention of God in the world and its sin, out of sheer love, and His personal presence to men through Jesus Christ are held together in the one thought of grace. As such grace is the all-comprehensive and constant presupposition of faith, which, while giving rise to an intensely personal life in the Spirit, necessarily assumes a charismatic and eschatological character. Under the gracious impingement of Christ through the Spirit there is a glad spontaneity about the New Testament believer. He is not really concerned to ask questions about ethical practice. He acts before questions can be asked. He is caught up in the overwhelming love of Christ, and is concerned only about doing His will. There is no anxious concern about the past. It is Christ that died! There is no anxious striving toward an ideal. It is Christ that rose again! In Him all the Christian’s hopes are centred. His life is hid with Christ in God. In Him a new order of things has come into being, by which the old is set aside. Everything therefore is seen in Christ, in the light of the end, toward which the whole creation groaneth and travaileth waiting for redemption. The great act of salvation has already taken place in Christ, and has become an eternal indicative. The other side of faith is grace, the immediate act of God in Christ, and because He is the persistent Subject of all Christian life and thought, faith stands necessarily on the threshold of the new world, with the intense consciousness of the advent of Christ. The charismatic and the eschatological aspects of faith are really one. In Christ the Eternal God has entered into this present evil world which shall in due course pass away before the full unveiling of the glory of God. That is the reason for the double consciousness of faith in the New Testament. By the Cross the believer has been put in the right with God once for all—Christ is his righteousness. He is already in Christ what he will be—to that no striving will add one iota. But faith is conscious of the essential imminence of that day, because of the intense nearness of Christ, when it shall know even as it is known, when it shall be what it already is. And so what fills the forward view is not some ideal yet to be attained, but the Christian’s position already attained in Christ and about to be revealed. The pressure of this imminence may be so great upon the mind as to turn the thin veil of sense and time into apocalyptic imagery behind which faith sees the consummation of all things. Throughout all this the predominating thought is grace, the presence of the amazing love of God in Christ, which has unaccountably overtaken the believer and set him in a completely new world which is also the eternal Kingdom of God. [Thomas F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers, 34-5.]
When grace is understood in personalizing terms we are able to move away from discussions like monergism and synergism, which prove to be unhelpful; especially when grace becomes a thing, for once it becomes a thing (a quality), it places the emphasis upon us, and what we do with this thing (whether the broader framework be Calvinist or Arminian). Once grace is understand as God in Christ himself, come with the Holy Spirit, the emphasis in salvation can be placed where it ought to be, upon the Triune life of God. We no longer have to be concerned about what we do in appropriating salvation, but in what God has done as salvation, as grace; and the focus becomes one of participation (even theosis) in God’s life rather than persevering in God’s life (which both classical Calvinism and Arminianism emphasize).