Mystery & Atonement

I’ve been thinking the last day or two about the synergism-monergism debate within more conservative american protestant thought, spurred on by McLaren’s recent book on spiritual formation.  So, here are some off-the-wall reflections:

Here is how I often hear/read the debate being framed: synergists insist that God is offering them a gift, the “package of salvation,” and they are merely taking it.  Monergists protest that if humans contribute at all, even just 1%, then the grace of God has been abjured.

Obviously, there is a limited view of the atonement at work here.  The failings of a merely forensic, penal model of atonement have been well-documented.  One such failing is the need to “quantify” the relationship between God and man in salvation.  This is harmful i think, b/c not only is such abstract calculus impossible, it undermines the role of mystery in salvation.  If both sides assert that God is the primary agent of salvation, then we have to assume some level of, to steal a phrase from a professor at Bethel Seminary, “epistemological humility” in our models. 

This is not relativism; scripture indicates that we can know we are saved.  What i am saying is that given both the complexities inherent in all relationships and the fact that we are not in a position of authority, we have to incorporate mystery in how we understand the atonement.  Models are useful, but when they get parsed down into percentages or packages they become destructive to understanding.


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