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02 July, 2007 / theexpositor

Bob DeWaay-Recovering Reformation Theology

Rejecting Synergism and Returning to Monergism

”For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8, 9)

A key idea in the contemporary evangelical movement is that revival can be engineered. The Purpose Driven Web site says, “Peter Drucker called him [Warren] ‘the inventor of perpetual revival’ and Forbes magazine has written, ‘If Warren’s church was a business it would be compared with Dell, Google or Starbucks.’”1 The Purpose Driven movement can cite this business management guru approvingly only because they have a faulty theology of human ability. For example, Rick Warren says, “It is my deep conviction that anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart. . . . It may take some time to identify it. But the most likely place to start is with the person’s felt needs.”2 If this were true one could use modern marketing principles to sell people on their need for Christian religion and convince them to convert in order to find satisfaction of their felt needs. But it is not true.

Furthermore, it might surprise many people that this idea is not new. Charles Finney first proposed it one hundred fifty years ago. Finney wrote, “A revival is not a miracle according to another definition of the term ‘miracle’ — something above the powers of nature. There is nothing in religion beyond the ordinary powers of nature. It consists entirely in the right exercise of the powers of nature. It is just that, and nothing else.”3 Finney wrote more: “A revival is not a miracle, nor dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means — as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means.”4 Finney’s position that there is some innate power in man that can be motivated by some discoverable process makes an engineered revival plausible.

So how does one create a revival by the right use of means? Finney tells us: “There must be excitement sufficient to wake up the dormant moral powers, and roll back the tide of degradation and sin.”5 Finney and Rick Warren claim that revival can be engineered by human efforts. This belief is grounded on the idea of human ability. It is plausible to them only because Finney and Warren believe that there is some principle, be it a “dormant moral power” or “felt need,” that can be excited into action to cause people to become Christians and live godly lives. Neither Finney nor Warren would deny that the Holy Spirit’s work is necessary. But in their theology, the Holy Spirit is always everywhere doing His part. It becomes our business to find the key to unlock something in sinners to get them to do their part.

This theological perspective is fully at odds with the doctrines of the Reformation. The Reformers taught human inability and bondage to sin. They taught monergism (that salvation is fully an act of God) not synergism (that salvation is a cooperative effort between man and God). They taught that only a sovereign work of grace (grace alone) brought salvation. The ideas of Finney and Warren suggest that man has some innate principle or ability that could be stirred up by the revivalist with the right method, and thus anyone could be saved. In this article we will discuss this belief system and suggest a return to the doctrines of the Reformation.


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