Very simply, then, monergism is the doctrine that our new birth (or "quickening") is the work of God, the Holy Spirit alone, with no contribution and without the cooperation of fallen man, since the natural man, of himself, has no desire for God and cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor 2:14, Rom 3:11,12; Rom 8:7; John 3:19, 20). Man remains resistant to all outward callings of the gospel until the Spirit comes to disarm us, call us inwardly and implant in us new holy affections for God. Our faith comes about only as the immediate result of the Spirit working faith in us in the hearing of the proclamation of the word. But just as God does not force us to see against our will when He gives us physical eyes, so God does not force us to believe against our will when giving us spiritual eyes. God gives the gift of sight and we willingly exercise it.
This means that regeneration/the new birth precedes faith. God must make us willing to believe in Christ's work on the cross for us and implant a desire in our hearts to be saved from sin and live for Him (which is repentance) if anyone is going to repent and believe in Christ. That of course inevitably leads to the doctrine of election, that God has chosen whom He will save from their sins, whom He will regenerate/give the new birth to, and those whom He will not regenerate/give the new birth to. Now those who are not Monergists, and thus are not Calvinists either, say that man is capable of producing saving faith before and without the need of the new birth/regeneration of the heart (the name for this is Synergism). In other words, Synergists believe that man is not so sinful and fallen that he cannot incline himself to want to be saved from sin and live for Christ. That is contrary to Scripture, however, as the verses in the quote above will testify, along with many others. To want to be saved from sin and live as we were created to live is to possess faith and repentance. If you want that, you have faith and repentance, because that is what faith and repentance is. But Scripture is clear that one must be born again/regenerated by the work of the Holy Spirit before one will want to repent and place saving faith in Christ's saving work for us.
So then it is certainly true that monergistic regeneration is crucial to Calvinism, and thus to all of reformed theology. I would be a fool to deny that. What I want to argue, however, is that we have an incomplete, inadequate view and understanding of monergistic regeneration and of the doctrines of election and predestination, and ultimately the sovereignty of God, when we don't follow through on the logic and realize that this means that God fore-ordained sin, that He chose that not only Lucifer would sin and fall to become the devil, but that man would fall and become children of the devil too. I am saying that if your monergistic soteriology (your understanding of the doctrine of salvation) doesn't lead you to the conclusion that God predestined and in some sense willed the fall of man, then you have a faulty view of monergism, of salvation, and are not even a Calvinist, much less reformed. And I think it is possible and is happening much more than one might initially think.
Let me give just two examples. First, Mark Driscoll. In his message "Four Points of the Movement" of the New Calvinism, he states that the New Calvinism in regards to reformed theology is,
Particularly reformed soteriology and the doctrine of salvation... About the character of God and the way that God saves sinners.
Essentially Driscoll is restricting the main thrust and uniting bonds of "New" Calvinists to mongergistic soteriology. He even somewhat de-emphasizes the five points of Calvinism! Now I am not saying that Driscoll is not a Calvinist. And much to his credit, like the second example I am going to give, he does say in the same video that reformed theology is about giving God the glory in all that we do. And ultimately that is what I want to hit on- giving God the glory in everything. But my great fear is that many self-professing Calvinists, and even those who call themselves reformed, do not know how to do this, or fully know what it means to give God the glory in all that we do. We know Scripture teaches is, but how do we do it? What does it mean, what does it look like? I remember at the non-Calvinist Christian high school that I went to, how they would have us on the sports teams, if we were interviewed by the local tv station or newspaper, to say "Praise God, we give him the glory" or something to that effect. But why? It was never explained why we were doing that, or what that meant.
My second example is one of my favorite preachers and theologians of all time, if not my favorite- John Piper. At both Passion conferences that I have seen him speak at in the last two years, speaking to a largely non-Calvinist crowd, he gave messages on salvation. The first year was on what is at the bottom of our joy in God. What was our root motivation for loving Jesus. Was it because we think in Christ dying for us He is making much of us, or do we desire salvation and Christ because salvation enables us to make much of Him for what He did on the cross and for all that He does? Very good stuff. Then at the most recent Passion conference he talked about how the gospel sets us free from slavery to sin and makes us slaves of Christ, slaves of righteousness, slaves to do good. He even told everyone that free will was a lie. Again, very nice.
But is this full-fledged Calvinism, is this Reformed theology? Not fully. Certainly all that Piper said is in line with Calvinism, but my concern is that many who are self-identifying as "New Calvinists" never get much beyond this point in their thinking. It's the first step in the right direction, but in the end will prove little more than that if everything else in their theology, in their understanding of themselves, Christ, and especially God the Father, is not reoriented around it.
Here's why this is so. In the same way that one can wrongfully conclude that man has free will, chooses Christ, chooses salvation, and that that is somehow NOT doing a good work in order to earn salvation, one can even conclude that man DOES NOT have free will, CANNOT choose Christ and salvation, MUST be born again/regenerated by God in order to be able and willing to trust in Christ for salvation, and yet still conclude that before the Fall of man, man had free will and chose against God's will to fall into sin. Does this matter? You better believe it. A person who thinks man had free will before the fall and that God thus did not predestine the fall but lost his free will only after the fall still believes that God's sovereign salvation of man is plan B. They still believe that things are not going according to God's plan, and that He is just trying to make the most out of a bad situation that Adam and Eve royally foiled in the Garden of Eden. And isn't it quite conceivable that one coming from a non-reformed, non-Calvinistic perspective, that only heard that one Driscoll message, or only heard Piper's messages at Passion, could be told by others that Piper and Driscoll are a Calvinist and what they just preached was full-fledged Calvinism, and then the person who believes what Piper and Driscoll had said there concludes that they are now Calvinists too? Yet, they still think that man had free will before the fall, that God's predestining those to salvation did not include predestining others to damnation, and that ultimately God's sovereignty, His predestined will, did not include predestining the fall of man.
Here's the clincher. The person who hears the one Piper message, is shaken by it yet believes it's true, and then thinks from that alone that he is a Calvinist- and because he buys Piper's book Desiring God in the bookstore afterwards, reads it, and discovers from it that "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him" and that our delighting in His righteousness is obedience and the way in which we glorify God- still has one very, very serious problem. The Garden. The Fall. Why? For this guy, it's still an accident, it's still something that didn't go according to plan for God. It's something that God may have perhaps foreseen but certainly did not want. And now, God is trying to magnify His glory by salvaging the wreckage that the Fall, that the curse of sin, has left us with. God tries to make a good thing out of a bad thing.
But here are some truths, some quotes, and some Scripture, that the guy that only heard Piper at Passion needs to now hear, first from R.C. Sproul Sr.:
Since God is both omnipotent and good, we must conclude that in His omnipotence and goodness there must be a place for the existence of evil. We know that God Himself never does that which is evil. Nevertheless, He also ordains whatsoever comes to pass. Though He does not do evil and does not create evil, He does ordain that evil exists. If it does exist, and if God is sovereign, then obviously He must have been able to prevent its existence. If He allowed evil to enter into this universe, it could only be by His sovereign decision. Since His sovereign decisions always follow the perfection of His being, we must conclude that His decision to allow evil to exist is a good decision.
The next from my classmate Stephen Adams:
Judas's sovereignly ordained betrayal began Jesus's sovereignly ordained sacrifice which allowed my sovereignly ordained redemption.
That is much in accord with Acts 4:
24 So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the mouth of Your servant David[b] have said:
‘Why did the nations rage,
And the people plot vain things?
26 The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His Christ.’[c]
And the people plot vain things?
26 The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His Christ.’[c]
27 “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.
And Proverbs 16:4
4 The Lord has made all for Himself,
Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.
From all this we see several things. That for God to be all powerful and wholly sovereign, and wholly good, He had to predestine the Fall of man, He had to predestine evil, because evil exists. Further, the existence of evil must be a good thing, because God ordained for it to be. Thus, though God hates sin and sinners (see Psalm 5:5), He has made them, even the wicked, even the sinners, even those who will be doomed in hell forever, for Himself.
Which is to say, God has predestined the fall, and sin, and those who go to hell, for His glory. Now we see why the guy who heard Piper's message at Passion said he became a Calvinist, when in reality he is not. He does not know how to fully glorify God, because He doesn't understand that God has made all for Himself, and has done all things, including predestining the Fall, for his glory. This guy still thinks that God is trying to salvage a little glory from out of the wreckage of this fallen, sinful world, when in reality this fallen, sinful world is the perfect world for God to demonstrate all His glory! And the best of all possible worlds isn't the world that is free from human pain and suffering, but rather, the best of all possible worlds is the world that enables God to fully demonstrate His glory. And it is in this fallen world, on planet earth, over 2,000 years ago, that God sent His Son Jesus Christ to live and die for sinners, so that His glorious attributes of justice and grace, wrath and mercy, hate and love, could meet and be gloriously displayed at the cross!
But to experience grace, we must be sinners; to experience mercy, there must be wrath from which we are spared; to experience the sacrificial, saving love of Christ on the cross so that we could be set free from sin and spiritually married and united to Him, there had to be those in need of salvation. Which is to say, there had to be sinners, there had to be the Fall, there had to be man doing wicked, horrible, awful things in rebellion to God. In order for Jesus to come back as the conquering warrior on His white horse there has to be those who rejected Him, rejected His salvation; for God's perfect, righteous, holy wrath to eternally be displayed, so that we Christians can praise Him for it forever, there has to be those who are burning in hell, whose smoke rises up in their torment so that we in heaven can see it and rejoice in it like we rejoiced when we caught Bin Laden, or when the world was told of Hitler's death. When justice is served here on earth, we take satisfaction in it, we rejoice, and rightly so. Hell is but the perfect expression of justice. And sinners receiving Christ as Lord and Savior and entering heaven is the perfect expression of grace, mercy, and love.
So, does it make any sense, in light of all this, for God to not have predestined the Fall? For as much good stuff as C.S. Lewis said in his lifetime, he was sadly not a Calvinist. But was his answer for the fall of man as good, or even better, than the Calvinists? No, it was far worse in fact. It was complete ignorance:
Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk.
That is seriously a quote by C.S. Lewis, out of his book Mere Christianity. Check it in context if you think I am misrepresenting his views. Regarding the fall of man, C.S. Lewis shrugs his shoulders and says apparently God thought it was worth the risk, and I would like to point out that if God is indeed all-knowing, God would not merely know what would happen if man failed to use their freedom the wrong way, but indeed, God would know that Adam and Eve would use their freedom the wrong way! So God was either (if He isn't all knowing) taking a chance, a huge gamble, crossing his fingers as it were, when He planted the forbidden fruit tree in the Garden of Eden, or He was planting the fruit tree in the Garden of Eden to merely set up a test for Adam and Eve that He already knew they would fail to pass. But why? Non-Calvinists will say to protect man's freedom. But what about God's? Doesn't He have freedom to do what He wants with His creation? Why yes he does in fact, He says so Himself in Romans 9:
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” 20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
Now if you want, look at that whole chapter in context. But from just these verses alone, is it not clear that Scripture tells us why God predestined the Fall, why some go to heaven and others to hell? Is it not because God wanted to make His wrath and power known on the vessels of wrath that He had PREpared for destruction, and thus then make known His glory on the vessels of mercy which He likewise PREpared beforehand to be saved?
It is this passage in Romans 9 that made me a Calvinist. Not simply that God chose to save me, but this full-fledged, big picture that every single thing that is happening and occurring is part of God's plan, that it is simply His story, His book, His movie, playing out, unfolding. From the Fall of man to my F on the quiz to the death of my dog on the one hand, and from the redemption I received in Christ and the A on the exam and the health of my loved ones, all of it, all of it, is part of God's plan, and all of it displays His glory.
And our life, dear Christian, is simply this- to uncover, to discover, more and more, how every single thing that happens not merely happens for some abstract reason, but specifically happens according to the sovereign, predestined plan of God in order to display how glorious, how beautiful, how brilliant and good and wonderful in all His doings He actually is.
God says to us, "Discover my glory in all the things that is unfolding in My universe, in My story, then give me the glory by loving and enjoying all the goodness that you see, and living for the goodness you have uncovered."
That answers the "how to" of the question earlier from my high school days, when we were instructed to tell others we were giving God the glory in our sports competitions. And that is what a true Calvinist, and a true Christian, is called by God to do with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is full-orbed Calvinism, and being reformed is the process of conforming your life to this truth, using the truth of Calvinism as your foundation, your building block. But in order to see that, you must see the absolute sovereignty of God, that even the Fall was predestined, for God's glory and His people's good. That is why God's story, which is all that happens, which is all that is, is the greatest story ever told. But the greatest story ever told hinges on whether or not the Fall of man was part of God's plan or not. If it wasn't, then this is not a good story at all, but a story where the bad guys beat the good guys and now God is just trying to save a few people's lives before the world is destroyed and many are sent to hell. But if this is all part of His perfect plan, to display His glory and power, His grace, mercy and love as well as His justice, displeasure and wrath, then we can truly know and believe that everything that happens works together for the glory of God and the joy of His people.
To close, I want to make the contrast as clear and sharp as possible, so that you can see that I am not picking at nits but pointing out something very important. The guy that only hears the Piper sermon at Passion and thinks he is a Calvinist is still, in part at least, man-centered, rather than God-centered, because he thinks the fall of man wasn't part of God's plan, but an accident that God is now trying to fix. He may hear all that I have just said, and object by saying "How could God predestine the Fall and still be called good and loving?" To answer that, I want to quote reformed Christian rapper Shai Linne,
They say, “If God is love, what’s eternal torment for?”
Well, He loves the world for sure, but He loves His glory more!
Here is the test to see how biblical you are, how man-centered versus God centered you are. Can you agree with that last statement, that God loves the world for sure, but He loves His glory more? If I asked you what do you love most, I would hope you say God. But then what would you say if I asked you what God loves most? If you said God loves His people most, then shouldn't we love ourselves most, even more than God, since God loves us more than His own glory, more than Himself? But if God loves Himself, His own glory, His own goodness most, and we claim to love God, then shouldn't we love God's glory more than we love ourselves? And once you get that far, you realize that there is nothing "unloving" or "unfair" or "wicked and evil" about God predestining the Fall of man and sending some to hell forever. Why? One because He did so in such a way where Adam and Eve were responsible for their disobedience and rebellion, and so are we. But also, and perhaps more importantly, because this fallen world is the world in which God's glory is able to shine the brightest. True, because we are sinners His glory is veiled and we have to search it out, but nonetheless, without the Fall, we would never know God's love, mercy, kindness, or grace, let alone His wrath, righteous anger, and justice, which are things He should be praised for just as much as His love, because they are equally glorious and good.
So I leave with that. To be reformed is to have this worldview. To have the proper, biblical, Christian worldview, is to have this worldview. The question is not a matter of God being good or not, but a matter of you desiring God's glory in all things or not. And if you do not, just how much do you really love Jesus?