Thursday, September 01, 2011

Come, sinners to the gospel feast


To his credit, David Ponter has now attempted a fairly serious, systematic response to my post:


Let’s see how well he does this time around.

“What is more, I really think that the attempt to fixate on parsing the word “offer,” to find any and every possible exception really misses the point.”

i) It’s critics of special redemption like Ponter who fixate on the meaning of the word “offer.” Manata and I are simply responding in kind.

ii) Manata and I aren’t looking for “exceptions” to the concept of an “offer.” Rather, the question is whether Ponter’s basic definition is too broad or two narrow. The function of counterexamples is to challenge the adequacy of his definition–not to grant the general definition, but find exceptions.

“There are two issues. The first issue is basic: Does God make an offer? Does God make a sincere offer? Does God’s offer even need to be sincere? Does God make a well-meaning offer. Does God’s offer even need to be well-meant? When the conversation turns on these sorts of questions, the conversation has gone awry already. It is already turning on Hypercalvinist versus evangelical Calvinist axis points.”

i) No, the problem is that Ponter conflates three different issues: (a) the generic concept of an offer; (b) the specific concept of a divine offer, and (c) the specific concept of a sincere offer.

He oscillates between these three different concepts as if they’re synonymous. That’s a semantic fallacy.

ii) Moreover, even if we waive the semantic fallacy, importing divine qualifications into the definition of an offer is counterproductive to Ponter’s position, for we’d have to then consider the logical relationship between reprobation and the gospel offer.

“It has been our experience that for the most part those who want to challenge the very meaning of constitutes a sincere offer are generally those who have already made a pre-commitment to Hypercalvinist categories, either tentatively or fully.”

That’s just an exercise in poisoning the well.

“For many, the debate will ultimately come down to these pre-commitments.”

My precommitments are irrelevant to this debate. I’m merely assessing Ponter’s argument on its own terms. I could do that whether I’m a 5-point Calvinist or Tibetan Buddhist.

“If one has affirmed already that God does not by revealed will desire the salvation of all men, then one is already in the Hypercalvinist tradition. This has to be so, because one cannot, on the one hand, deny that God by revealed will desires the salvation of all men and then, on the other hand, meaningfully affirm a well-meant offer.”

Not only does that beg the question what of constitutes a “well-meant” offer, but it also stipulates an essentially Arminian interpretation of Bible verses which employ adjectives like “all” or “world.”

It’s ironic for Ponter to define true Calvinism according to Arminian hermeneutics.

“How does that follow? We know that in terms of the secret will, God desires not to save the non-elect. According to evangelical Calvinism, we also know that in terms of the revealed will God desires to save the non-elect.”

I don’t concede that dichotomy. That turns on a typically Arminian misinterpretation of the prooftexts.

“So, if we deny that by revealed will that God desires to save the non-elect, and this includes the entailment that the Gospel offer does not express God’s desire to save the non-elect hearers, this means that the criteria which sustains a well-meant offer has now been voided. In the Gospel offer, it would then follow that God only desires to not save the non-elect. Thus, when God makes an appearance of seeking someone’s salvation, he is being insincere. Denial of a well-meant offer is the hallmark of hypercalvinism, if anything is.”

He keeps paraphrasing the same question-begging assertions. That does nothing to advance the argument.

“So, a well-meant or a sincere offer cannot be sustained on terms which denies that by revealed will God desires the salvation of the non-elect. A person may speak as if they are positing a well-meant offer, but in actuality, they are not.”

An evangelist isn’t responsible for what lies behind the offer. He’s simply transmitting a divine directive. An evangelist doesn’t have to have any particular theory regarding the underpinnings of the offer. What ultimately matters is not what the evangelist intended, but what God intended.

“For example, no one in the John Calvin, John Murray, John Piper tradition of Calvinism should disagree with this.”

i) What about someone in the John Owen, Francis Turretin, William Young, Paul Helm tradition of Calvinism?

ii) BTW, I’m not defending Calvinism in my response to Ponter. I’m merely evaluating the logic of his argument on its own terms.

The fundamental question at issue is not who represents “true Calvinism,” but which side has the better of the argument. The point is not to defend Calvinism, but to defend truth. If Calvinism is true, then so much the better. The important issue is not what Calvinism selects for, but what the truth selects for.

Of course, I think the truth selects for Calvinism, but I’m not beginning with Calvinism. That has it backwards.

iii) I don’t concede Ponter’s claim to have Calvin in his corner. But that’s a debate for another day.

iv) If you want a representative exposition of the traditional Reformed position on God’s will regarding the reprobate, a good place to start would be the section on reprobation (subsections  16-17), of Turretin’s Institutes, vol. 1 (Dennison, ed.).

Because Ponter knows that his own position reflects a dissenting position within Reformed tradition, he tries to drape himself in the mantle of Calvinism and put the rest of us on the defensive by pretending that he’s speaking for mainstream historical Calvinism. 

“Regarding the meaning of offer, all one needs to do is look up a good dictionary. The OED is one of my favorites.”

Yet, oddly enough, Ponter doesn’t quote from the OED. It gives several definitions, some of which are irrelevant. Of the two most germane to the issue at hand, it says:

To present or tender for acceptance or refusal; to hold out (a thing) for a person to take if he will.

To propose, or express one’s readiness (to do something), conditionally on the assent of the person addressed.

How is that inconsistent with how Manata and I have defined an “offer”?



“There is a confusion about the offer of the thing, and the mechanism by which the thing offered is obtained.”

Not at all. Both Manata and I define the gospel offer in both logical and substantive terms. Here’s an example:

If you repent of your sins and trust in Jesus as your Savior, then you will receive forgiveness, justification, and adoption.

That statement of the gospel offer incorporates both what is offered as well as the means of appropriating the offer.

“This is the circle that Steve and others are running around and around.”

As I just demonstrated, there’s no circularity in my definition.

“Any standard college level dictionary will define the offer as something like this: ‘An offer is a proffer or invitation to give someone something to someone if they are willing to receive it.’”

Notice that this definition says nothing about the intent of the party making the offer. So Ponter just cut the nerve of his own argument.

“Now keep in mind, the offers of the gospel are not tendered to only the willing, but to all.”

That’s ambiguous. Many people live and die outside the pale of the gospel. So God never tendered the gospel to them. 

“For his part, God is legally unable to impart the very thing he offers to impart: he does not possess a provision to give to those for whom no provision has been made.  This inability is judicial and legal, not metaphysical etc.   However, sincerity of the offer of forgiveness is indexed to the availability to impart forgiveness.”

i) There is adequate provision for all who accept the offer. Forgiveness is available to all who meet the terms of the offer.

Since the offer is conditional, there is no discrepancy. There would only be a discrepancy in case provision was insufficient for all who accept the offer. There would only be a discrepancy in case forgiveness is unavailable to all who meet the terms of the offer.

ii) Ponter is also assuming that the offer can only be “sincere” if God only has a single-minded purpose in offering the gospel. But God can have more than one purpose for what he commands. For instance, he can offer the gospel to the elect with the intention of saving them while he offers the gospel to the reprobate with the intention of aggravating their guilt.

“The problem is, that now gives us two Judas,’ firstly the reprobate Judas to whom the offer was made, and elect Judas, to whom the thing offered, salvation, was conferred.”

You mean like:

1"And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God…15But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you” (Deut 28:1-2,15).

There’s an example of a divine offer expressed in counterfactual terms. Does that give us two Israels–faithful and faithless Israel? Obedient Israel #1 over against disobedient Israel #2? If so, how is that a problem?

What about this:

“18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already (Jn 3:18).”

Any conditional offer has an implicit (sometimes explicit) counterfactual form. And it’s easy to quote Biblical examples.

“This is self-referentially absurd.”

Is the Deuteronomic counterfactual offer self-referentially absurd?

“And it attempts validate God’s offer to reprobate Judas (Judas1) by the actuality that elect Judas (Judas2) actually receives the thing offered. I have to assume one should be able to see the problem here. Can God’s offer to reprobate Judas be validated on the terms of a reality or world where reprobate Judas lives in? No. For in the world where reprobate Judas lives, his believing all he likes will not make him died-for.  And not being died-for, no forgiveness can be conferred. The conditional statement could only be true if Judas was died-for, AND if he believed. Believing does not make him died-for.”

That’s no more problematic than the differing background conditions which underlie the alternate hypothetical scenarios adumbrated in Jn 3:18.

“Again, if one does not see the problem that has been created by the above unfortunate attempt to resolve the problem they have created, there is cannot a lot of head-way in this conversation.”

Given Ponter’s arbitrariness, we may well be at an impasse.

“Now, if we were to say to Judas, that the mechanism by which you are saved is through belief, then we would begin to have some basis for justly saying to Judas, if you believe you will be saved. I say ‘begin’ because the other mechanism by which any man is saved is the mechanism of the provision of the satisfaction. If there is no provision, addressing the mechanism of 'belief' is inadequate.”

Ponter’s position suffers from internal tensions since a necessary provision to be saved includes election as well as redemption. Universal atonement, absent conterminous election, is not sufficient provision to make the offer  “available” to everyone.

“There seems to be a lot of confusion regarding a divine offer and a human offer, and apparently with the idea that somehow if one can find exceptions in human scenarios that impacts and adjusts what God, himself, can offer. Simply put, we are not talking about those instances where someone in good faith offers something only to find out that he or she is not able to confer–for whatever reason–what he or she has offered. (More below.) We are talking about instances where a person makes an ‘offer’ of something, knowing that he or she cannot confer or impart what is offered.”

The confusion is entirely Ponter’s. Ponter keeps oscillating between the meaning of an offer qua offer–which is how the dictionary defines an “offer”–and his theological caveats, which don’t figure in the definition of an “offer.”

“To make it very clear, then, a genuine offer presupposes sincerity. A disingenuous offer presupposes insincerity. A genuine offer must be true and sincere. For example, a man who does not have your well-being in mind, but with an unalloyed desire, desires that you do not take up the thing offered, makes no sincere offer. Of course, if one does not accept that, then the conversation is all about spinning wheels.”

He’s right. I don’t accept that. For one thing, he didn’t get that from the OED or any “college level dictionary.” So Ponter’s appeal to “normal standard English usage” is just an exercise in misdirection. His operational definition isn’t derived from the meaning(s) which the dictionary assigns to the word “offer.” Indeed, his operational definition departs from standard usage.

So why should I accept that when he refuses to play by his own rules?

“If you are committed to affirming that God’s offer to the non-elect is ill-meaning then that is Hypercalvinism.”

i) Notice how he props up one tendentious definition with another tendentious definition.

ii) In addition, I’m not interested in classifying positions as “true Calvinism,” “Hypercalvinism,” etc.

a) I’m dealing with the logic of Ponter’s argument.

b) I also take my cue from how God actually deals with the lost in Scripture, as well as the revelation of God’s ulterior intentions.

I don’t begin with pigeonholes, then try to force the discussion into one or another pigeonhole.

“That was assumed. God cannot lie. Therefore God can not make a lying offer.”

But, of course, that’s not a dictionary definition of the word “offer.” The dictionary doesn’t have an entry for a divine offer. So that’s not how the dictionary defines a “genuine offer.” Rather, that’s Ponter’s ad hoc definition.

“Can God make a sincere offer of forgiveness to those whom he cannot confer forgiveness. If offer means what offer means, then the answer has to be no.”

That’s a classic semantic fallacy: the illicit totality transfer. The divine attributes don’t figure in the definition of an “offer.” The OED doesn’t qualify a “genuine offer” by reference to the divine attributes.

“We need to be clear here. His innocence is not being offered, nor his guilt.”

A red herring. The question is not whether the player’s innocence (or guilt) is being offered, but whether the coach is making an offer to the player. Ponter is confused.

“It would be wrong to infer his guilt from any denial to allow you to search his locker: after all even students have legal rights.”

The legality of an offer is irrelevant to the genuineness of an offer. A seller on the black market may make an offer. A buyer on the black market may make a counteroffer. Both the offer and the counteroffer are illegal, but they can still be genuine offers. Ponter is confused.

“The presence or the absence of the locker is the mechanism by which one may discover if he is guilty or innocence.”

No, that’s not just the “mechanism.” Rather, those are the terms of the coach’s offer.

“So now we come to motive. The intention is to simply ‘smoke him out’ to make him feel bad. The ‘offer’ was to trap him. Okay. So it is, as you say, ill-meant. If the singular motive was to entrap the player, most normal people would understand that the offer was not serious or sincere.”

i) For some reason, Ponter is unable to follow the argument. The question at issue is what makes an offer an offer. Even if the coach’s offer is “ill-meant,” it’s still a genuine offer: take it or leave it.

Consider the OED definitions I quoted–at Ponter’s instigation. By that definition, the coach’s offer is a genuine offer.

ii) BTW, Ponter is not entitled to say what “most normal people” would understand. He has no polling data. And his operational definition is at odds with standard usage.

iii) As far as that goes, do “most normal people” object to “entrapping” criminals? Or would that like to see criminals caught in the act?

“It was not proposed as a serious well-meaning desire that the player be exonerated.”

That’s simplistic. It depends on the guilt or innocence of the player. If the player is innocent, then accepting the offer will exonerate the player.

“If we transpose that to the gospel offer, then this only sustains a Hypercalvinist concept of the offer. Hypercalvinists often posit that the purpose of the ‘offer’ with regard to the non-elect only is to increase their condemnation and suffering, in hell etc. This, it turns out, exactly mirrors you illustration here.”

Slapping a prejudicial label on the transaction is irrelevant to whether or not it’s a genuine offer. Ponter keeps playing this shell game.

“We are talking about what it means for God to make an offer. An ill-meant offer, to ‘smoke out’ the non-elect is not a well-meant offer by your own concession.”

i) Whether or not the gospel offer is ill-meant or well-meant isn’t something I’ve been discussing. Rather, I’m discussing what constitutes a genuine offer.

ii) And I didn’t say the coach’s offer was analogous to God’s offer. Rather, the stated purpose of the illustration was to clarify the meaning of an offer.

Why is Ponter chronically confused about the state of the argument?

“This is a fundamental point: is the gospel offer with regard to the non-elect well-meant or ill-meant.”

Why should I accept Ponter’s stipulation? As far as I’m concerned, the fundamental point is whether the gospel offer to the reprobate is still a genuine offer.

“It is only upon the supposition of rebellion, that it gives occasion for their increased condemnation. For sure, this occasion was part of the secret intention, but, nonetheless, accidental to the inherent motive and intention in the gospel offer.”

If God foreknows that offering the gospel to the reprobate will aggravate their guilt, then what reason is there to think that outcome is merely incidental to his primary intent? Indeed, since the refusal of the reprobate is inevitable, what other motive could God conceivably have? Intending the save the reprobate can’t be what motivates God to offer them the gospel. So, by process of elimination, what’s left?

“However, if the singular motive is to entrap the player…”

Why must a genuine offer be motivated by a singular intent? Why not multiple motives for multiple outcomes?

“Then by all normal ethicist accounts of motive and sincerity, the offer would be classed as insincere and disingenuous, because for most humans, motive, ill or otherwise, is factored in when deciding if an offer of something is sincere or not.”

If the FBI used an “ill-meant” offer to “entrap “a terrorist who was planning to contaminate the water supply of Philadelphia, I don’t most residents would suffer from Ponter’s compunctions.

“Okay… firstly, a store salesman makes an offer for which knows it cannot back-up, but if it the store salesman declares that it cannot back-up the offer, it’s a sincere false offer. Is that what you are saying, Steve? I have to be honest, all this seems to be pretty banal stuff.”

Did I draw that distinction? No.

“But secondly, and more importantly, if the salesman makes an offer which he knows he cannot back-up and in so doing be deceptive, then God who make a sincere offer knowing that he cannot impart the thing he offers, as just as deceptively, even more so.”

I think one source of Ponter’s incorrigible confusions is his assumption that my examples are meant to be analogies for the gospel offer. But as I’ve made clear all along, that’s not their function. Rather, their function is to delineate the nature of a genuine offer qua offer.

Since Ponter’s comments on my example miss the point, he’s done nothing to refute my example.

“However, one cannot sincerely offer when one knows one has no ability to confer.”

Which is yet another one of Ponter’s off-target responses. The point of the example was to clarify the nature of a genuine offer. Ponter’s comments do nothing to overturn my point.

“Secondly, this example, like a lot we are seeing is fine and dandy, but actually fails to address the point. It fails to address the real issue because the comparison is not comparable to God.”

Which is irrelevant to the dictionary definition of an offer. Ponter appeals to dictionaries, then disregards their definitions.

“Again, the sincerity of the offer is not indexed to the secret will or secret intention or by divine foreknowledge. Nor is it indexed to the ability or willingness of the offeree. The free offer of the gospel is indexed to the revealed will. Nor is the sincere offer ever invalidated by the secret will, or the secret intention, or by divine foreknowledge.”

i) Notice how Ponter arbitrarily compartmentalizes the issue. But this isn’t even consistent with his own position.

He keeps casting the issue in terms of sincerity. Well, sincerity is indexed to the motives or intentions of the party making the offer. Indeed, Ponter himself constantly makes that very connection. For instance, Ponter considers the divine will to be necessary condition of a genuine offer, viz. I am willing and able to give you this, if you are willing to receive it.

So he himself is going behind the revealed will of God to ground the offer in God’s ulterior will. But in that case, we can also take reprobation into account. Reprobation is, itself, a direct expression of God’s will with respect to the reprobate. That’s what dooms the reprobate. Indeed, foredooms the reprobate.

ii) Moreover, this goes to the other problem with Ponter’s definition offer. There’s the semantic fallacy, in which he imports the nature of a divine offer into the definition of an offer qua offer.

iii) But there’s the additional problem that when he qualifies the meaning of an offer by introducing divine attributes, that hurts his position rather than helps his position. For that qualified definition includes divine foreknowledge and foreordination. So we have to modify the gospel offer accordingly.

“When God made his offer to Ahas was sincere and remains sincere, despite Ahaz’ unwillingness to act upon it. Again, the sincerity is not indexed or underwritten or grounded in or keyed to the willingness or unwillingness of the offeree.”

i) Suppose a businessman is sued for false advertising. He defends himself by saying you can’t index the sincerity of the ad to the ulterior intentions of the businessman.

Keep in mind that the businessman could have enough product in stock to honor the ad, but simply refuses to honor the ad. He had no intention of every honoring the ad.

“As to how matters of the secret will never invalid matters of the revealed will.”

i) Of course, that objection is reversible. 4-point Calvinists like Ponter deploy their interpretation of the revealed will to invalidate the secret will.

ii) And it begs the question to say 5-point Calvinists like me use the secret will to invalidate the revealed will. That only follows from Ponter’s Arminian interpretation of his prooftexts.

“And so, all of it just misses the point and skirts around the issue. Parsing the word ‘offer’ may be a fun exercise.”

That’s duplicitous on Ponter’s part. He’s the one who appeals to dictionaries. He’s the one who accuses us of ignoring “normal standard English usage.” He’s the one who framed the issue in terms of what makes an offer a real, honest-to-goodness offer.

So, no, this isn’t just a fun exercise. Rather, this is holding him to his own terms. Measuring his position by his chosen yardstick.

2 comments:

  1. For those who don't realise it, Steve titled this blog with the name of a hymn written by Arminian hymn writer Charles Wesley

    http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/c/o/comsinrs.htm

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  2. I just wanted to drop by and say thanks for posting this article. Honestly, Steve, this kind of writing is worth its weight in gold. I really appreciate you posting your thoughts and points and arguments for all to see. It's a model for how to go about thinking about theological issues, how to approach them, and how to critically respond to them.

    Just wanted to say that. :) Keep up the good work!

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