Monday, June 18, 2007

Caught in the Toils of Synergism

I'm going to continue today with one more lengthy quotation from Packer's 1958 introduction to John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. In this passage Packer further explains his critique of the contemporary church (ca. 1958). As I said yesterday, it's remarkably relevant to our situation today. This is a longish quote, but stay with it, because Packer is saying something quite important here.
We said earlier that modern evangelicalism, by and large, has ceased to preach the gospel in the old way, and we frankly admit that the new gospel, insofar as it deviates from the old, seems to us a distortion of the biblical message. And we can now see what has gone wrong. Our theological currency has been debased. Our minds have been conditioned to think of the cross as a redemption which does less than redeem, and of Christ as a Savior who does less than save, and of God's love as a weak affection which cannot keep anyone from hell without help, and of faith as the human help which God needs for this purpose. As a result, we are no longer free either to believe the biblical gospel or to preach it. We cannot believe it, because our thoughts are caught in the toils of synergism. We are haunted by the Arminian idea that if faith and unbelief are to be responsible acts, they must be independent acts; hence we are not free to believe that we are saved entirely by divine grace through a faith which is itself God's gift and flows to us from Calvary. Instead, we involve ourselves in a bewildering kind of double-think about salvation, telling ourselves one moment that it all depends on God and next moment that it all depends on us. The resultant mental muddle deprives God of much of the glory that we should give him as author and finisher of salvation, and ourselves of much of the comfort we might draw from knowing that God is for us.

And when we come to preach the gospel, our false preconceptions make us say just the opposite of what we intend. We want (rightly) to proclaim Christ as Savior; yet we end up saying that Christ, having made salvation possible, has left us to become our own saviors. It comes about in this way. We want to magnify the saving grace of God and the saving power of Christ. So we declare that God's redeeming love extends to everyone, and that Christ has died to save everyone, and we proclaim that the glory of divine mercy is to be measured by these facts. And then, in order to avoid universalism, we have to depreciate all that we were previously extolling, and to explain that, after all, nothing that God and Christ have done can save us unless we add something to it; the decisive factor which actually saves us is our own believing. What we say comes to this - that Christ saves us with our help; and what that means, when one thinks it out, is this - that we save ourselves with Christ's help. This is a hollow anticlimax. But if we start by affirming that God has a saving love for all, and Christ died a saving death for all, and yet balk at becoming universalists, there is nothing else that we can say. And let us be clear on what we have done when we have put the matter in this fashion. We have not exalted grace and the cross; we have limited the atonement far more drastically than Calvinism does, for whereas Calvinism asserts that Christ's death, as such, saves all whom it was meant to save, we have denied that Christ's death, as such, is sufficient to save any of them. We have flattered impenitent sinners by assuring them that it is in their power to repent and believe, though God cannot make them do it. Perhaps we have also trivialized faith to make this assurance plausible ('it's very simple - just open your heart to the Lord . . .'). Certainly, we have effectively denied God's sovereignty, and undermined the basic conviction of true religion - that man is always in God's hands. In truth, we have lost a great deal. And it is, perhaps, no wonder that our preaching begets so little reverence and humility, and our professed converts are so self-confident and so deficient in self-knowledge and in the good works which Scripture regards as the fruit of true repentance.

5 comments:

NaNcY said...

i read this twice
and have say, at the risk of sounding very stupid, i really do not understand what he is actually saying.

Bob said...

I'm kind of amazed that you read it twice! Oh well, not everything reaches everyone. What floats my boat may sink yours, strange as it may seem! Viva la difference!

NaNcY said...

no, really...i do not know if it floats my boat or sinks it...i truly did not understand it. i do not know what it is saying. i just can not get it. like math...my daughter is a physics major and i can not get math at all...i probably ate too much lead as a child or fell off the swing set one too many times. with some things i need plain and simple language. what in the world is this saying?!

Bob said...

Hmmm, well, I guess what I meant was, don't sweat it! It's the kind of thing I talk about a lot here and will probably do so again, so if you stick around you'll probably run into these ideas again, stated in a way that you will understand. In the meantime, know that you haven't missed anything all that crucial!

NaNcY said...

hey you made it through the fog this time! congratulations.
thanks for hanging in there.