What Is Synergism in Theology?


Quick Answer

Theologically, synergism is the belief that salvation requires a combination of divine grace and conscious human agency. Synergism is a characteristic of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic religious traditions. Synergism is espoused in Arminian Protestant theology.

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Synergism contrasts with monergism, which holds that humans are spiritually saved by God, whether or not they choose to cooperate. Within Protestantism, synergism is associated with Methodism and Pentacostalism. Monergism is linked with Lutheranism.

In the course of teaching synergism, Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians reject the idea that human nature is totally depraved. Though fallen, humans are nevertheless able to exercise willpower and actively accept divine grace. Catholics teach that when people accept divine grace, this acceptance itself is a product of grace.

A theologian important to the early development of Methodism and Pentecostalism, John Wesley taught a version of synergism. Synergism is similar but not identical to semi-Pelagianism, a philosophy broadly rejected by mainstream Christianity. Semi-Pelagianism holds that humans can initially demonstrate faith in God without any need for divine grace. Semi-Pelagianism and synergism stand directly opposed to the teachings of St. Augustine of Hippo, an early Church father from North Africa. Proponents of synergism often cite Revelation to support their positions.

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