Saturday, September 24, 2011

Playing with fire

David Ponter has attempted a lengthy reply to 5-point Calvinists. It’s not clear who, exactly, he’s responding to. Anderson? Manata? Me?

A basic problem with his latest reply is that it’s largely an amplified repetition of what he’s been saying all along. So he frequently rehashes the same objections without bothering to update his argument in light of what I and others have said by way of rebuttal. This suggests he has nothing in reserve. He has no comeback. All he can do is repeat himself, paraphrasing the same arguments.

Originally, I had proposed an argument that God cannot offer to forgive the non-died-for (NDF)

This is a minor semantic point, but I’m puzzled by why he resorts to this clumsy circumlocution. Why not simply say the “unredeemed” (in contrast to the “redeemed”) rather than the “not-died-for”?

Any English dictionary will give the same basic meaning, such as, “an offer is a willingness to give something to someone, if they are willing.”

And that’s entirely consistent with limited atonement. God will save whoever accepts the gospel. Only the redeemed accept the gospel.

 My argument is that given the proper and true definition of ‘offer,’2 God cannot sincerely, well-meaningly, genuinely, and legitimately offer to forgive a person for whom there is no basis of forgiveness available for that person.

i) I already did a post in which I illustrated the ambiguities of the usage. So Ponter’s argument is fatally equivocal. And he simply ignores the problem.

ii) Moreover, an “offer” isn’t defined by the adjectives. The OED has no entry for the “well-meant offer.” Qualifications like “sincere,” “well-meant,” and so on don’t figure in the definition of the term.

God would just be mocking Harry. God would be playing with him. God would [be] tantalizing him with a lie.

Ponter is lighting a match in a gas station. For Arminians level the same charge against reprobation. Ponter is so fanatical about his position that he’s prepared to blaspheme God.

The assumption throughout this paper is that an ill-meant offer is by definition insincere and a lying offer. This is obvious as the biblical offer, on its face, implies a willingness and a desire that the offeree take up the thing offered in order to be benefitted. Normal people reject the hypercalvinist notion that an offer to inflict suffering or to bring about affliction is not sincere and not well-meant. For this converts God into a monster, and such ideas are antithetical to mainstream Calvinism of both the standard high and classic-moderate wings.

i) Once again, Ponter is playing with matches in a gas station. To suggest that limited atonement (in conjunction with the gospel offer) makes God a “monster” resorts to the same sacrilegious rhetoric as John Wesley, Roger Olson, and other scorched-earth anti-Calvinist crusaders.

ii) Moreover, Ponter is exposing his own flank to the same charge, for anti-Calvinists won’t hesitate to level the very same charge against Ponter’s 4-point Calvinism.

iii) And his allegation is predicated on his equivocal use of terminology, which I already illustrated. It’s a pity that Ponter is impervious to correction.

iv) As to his populist appeal, I doubt “normal” people would say a God who predestined the damned to their hellish fate is willing or desirous to see them saved. For if that were the case, when doesn’t he save them–since it lies within his power to do so?

v) Finally, Ponter’s double negation seems to say the opposite of what he intended.

The first thesis of this paper is this: it is dishonest to claim that a bare statement of fact in conditional form constitutes an offer.

i) That’s a strawman since no one I know of in this debate suggested that all conditional statements are offers.

ii) Since, however, Ponter brings it up, we can indeed discuss what is being offered. What’s the content of the offer? In 4-point Calvinism, Christ dies for the saints and the damned alike. So what does a gospel offer underwritten by unlimited atonement amount to? And how does that compare to limited atonement?

Unlimited atonement doesn’t do anything more for the reprobate than limited atonement. It does, however, do considerably less for the elect.

Unlimited atonement doesn’t ensure the salvation of anyone. Indeed, it creates no presumption that anyone is saved. 

An offer is not a naked statement of a causal relationship, such as: “If P, then Q.”

Ponter is confusing logical relations with causal relations.

It is not that such a “definition” or meaning of “offer” is idiosyncratic, but that it’s just a falsehood.

Once again, no one suggested that a conditional statement defines an offer. Rather, we can distinguish between conditional and unconditional offers. Ponter is confused. Likewise, not every conditional statement is an offer. So what?

An act of offering, a holding forth, or presenting for acceptance; an expression of intention or willingness or to give or do something conditionally on the assent on the part of the person address; a proposal [emphasis mine]

Notice that Ponter himself just defined an offer in conditional terms. How does that bolters his argument? Doesn’t that undercut his argument?

I cannot think of an example where an offer of something is such that nothing is actually proffered to be given, or to be extended, or to be handed over, or imparted, and so forth.

Well, f that’s what your asking for, then it’s easy to come up with examples. A carjacker offers to help a stranded motorist change a flat tire. A kidnapper offers to help a tourist with her luggage.

I proposed that “offer” means “an offering to give something to someone if they are willing,” and that this offer is tendered to all, not just to the “willing.”

Doesn’t the second clause directly contradict the first clause?

Ponter has been debating his position for years, yet after all that time and experience he still ties himself up in knots when he tries to define his key category.

Throughout this brief essay, my assumption is that whenever I speak of an offer, I am not speaking of any human offers,9 but only of the divine offer to humans. This removes all the pretended confusion.

But as I pointed out in a previous post, there’s no dictionary definition of a divine offer. You can’t define an offer by adding qualifications about the nature of the offeror. The definition of an offer is the same, whether the offeror is God, man, or devil.

For example, as God suffers from no epistemological problems, human offers which rely on epistemological problems are not applicable analogies of a divine offer.

That restriction, even if semantically sound (which it’s not), undermines Ponter’s argument. For if we qualify the “well-meant offer” by adding divine qualifications, then that includes divine foreknowledge and divine foreordination. For instance, a human offeror might desire that the offeree accept the offer, even if the offeree is unwilling to accept the offer. But since the divine offeror is ultimately responsible for the unwillingness of the unreceptive offeree, it’s hard to see how “sincerely” desirous he can be.

The underlying assumption of this paper is that while possible worlds logic is interesting and helpful in many cases, the reality is, we live in this world. If a proposition cannot be validated on the terms of the actual world in which we live in, and in which God deals with us as men, then it is functionally false.

As I pointed out in another post, Scripture itself contains various hypothetical and counterfactual statements. Both alternatives can’t be true statements about the real world, for both alternatives don’t play out in the real world. So in a counterfactual statement, at least one alternative must correspond to an unexemplified possible world. But what Pointer can’t deal with, he simply ignores.

God himself does not have recourse to possible worlds in order to validate his alleged sincerity or insincerity or truthfulness or untruthfulness in this world.

I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean. God has recourse to possible worlds because possible worlds reflect his omnipotence.

If the offer of salvation to a NDF person cannot be validated on the terms of this actual world, then recoursing to possible worlds is meaningless and nothing but a speculative enterprise of a human mind already bent to rationalism.

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

i) In other words: if you believe in Jesus, you will not be condemned–but if you don’t believe in Jesus, you stand condemned. Yet both alternatives can’t refer to the same world, for only one takes place in the real world. They describe alternate outcomes. The hypothetical is true because one prong has a real world counterpart while the other prong has a possible world counterpart.

That’s not speculative or rationalistic: that’s Scriptural.

ii) And the possibility in view has reference to what’s possible for God to bring about. God can bring about the individual’s salvation or damnation.

What God knows, God can do; what God can do, God knows.

…the standard Reformed teaching (contra hypercalvinism) that the secret will never falsifies the revealed will.

i) That begs the question. I don’t cite God’s decretive will to “falsify” his revealed will.

ii) In addition, Ponter’s 4-point Calvinism uses Lutheran theological method:

The folly of Calvinism…consists in the futile endeavor to change the hidden will of God into a revealed will.
That is indeed the mistake of Calvinism, which reasons: “The result is the interpretation of God’s purposes.” From the fact that not all men are saved or that not all nations enjoy the blessings of the Gospel, Calvinism infers that God does not desire them.

J. Mueller, Christian Dogmatics (Concordia 1955), 254,609.

Back to Ponter:

 “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’”
Here Jesus invites all, saying if you believe in me, you shall receive living water.

Actually, he doesn’t invite “all.” He invites the “thirsty.” Same thing with the passage in Revelation (“And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost”).

What is more, the biblical offers direct the offeree to place his faith directly upon Christ, and not upon a proposition.

Wrong. In this life we know Christ by description, not acquaintance. The way you “place faith” in Christ is to believe certain propositions about Christ.

The big problem is, there is only this world in actuality. And given that we only have this world, normal and intelligent people would reason in the other direction, the right direction.

“Normal, intelligent people” frequently use hypothetical statements, viz., “If I’m not home by 5 o’clock, start dinner without me.”

The only way to avoid the self-referential absurdity is to posit two Harries, one reprobate and one elect: Harry1 and Harry2.

What about the “sincerity” of the Deuteronomic benedictions and maledictions? If Israel obeys, she will be blessed–but if Israel disobeys, she will be cursed. Yet the same Israel won’t simultaneously obey and disobey. Is that a “shell game”?

I raised this counterexample to Ponter in another post. As usual, Ponter recycles the same stale objections as if nothing was said by way of rebuttal.

In the case of Judas, when we ask the question, “What if Judas had believed?” we are asking about the necessary preconditions that would go into making the “if-then” statement a true one. If Judas had believed, what preconditions would be necessary for Judas to be saved? As I see it, the death of Christ for Judas is a necessary precondition to making the “if-then” statement a true one. In order for Judas to be saved if he had believed, it would have been necessary that Christ had died for him as a precondition to his salvation.

Which is perfectly consistent with special redemption, given the conditionality of the offer.

The next problem is this: What does it mean for one assert “if Harry believes…? Believes what? What is God asking Harry to believe in or upon?

What about:

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:14).


“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6).

Further, if these objections are true, they would prove too much.

Ponter doesn’t grasp the nature of a tu quoque argument. The 5-pointer doesn’t think reprobation renders the offer insincere. Rather, he’s constructing a parallel objection for the sake of argument. It is only insincere given 4-pointers assumptions.

However, the counter negates the important distinction between natural ability and moral unwillingness.

Irrelevant. The distinction between natural and moral ability does nothing to render the offer “sincere.” If it’s not possible for the unredeemed to accept the offer, then, by the same token, it’s not possible for the unregenerate or unelect to accept the gospel. It matters not what makes that impossible.

His ability and his willingness are different things, perfectly distinct.

That distinction collapses if we push it back a step, for the unregenerate are unable to be willing.

The particularism entailed in a limited satisfaction is of a different kind, such that it of necessity precludes a sincere offer, but election and reprobation do not...Election and preterition do not put up road blocks, preventing belief, with regard to the NDF, whereas a limited satisfaction for the sins of the elect alone leaves an inexorable wall and barrier, thereby absolutely precluding any just means whereby God, for his part, may save the NDF, yet it is the very possibility of salvation which he purports to offer to them…Preterition is not an active work of God whereby he makes the innocent guilty, or the sinner more guilty, or prevents them from believing.

These distinctions are irrelevant. All that matters, as Ponter himself chose to cast the issue, is the “sincerity” of the offer. What conditions must be in place for the offer to be “sincere.” And Ponter defines that in terms of what’s “possible,” or what God “desires.”

And so, the sincerity and truthfulness of the offer and command to believe is indexed to the revealed will not to the secret will. However, the atonement is itself part of the revealed will in that it is a public satisfaction for sin, to which the offer is directly indexed.

i) To say the sincerity and truthfulness of the offer is indexed to the revealed will rather than the secret will is just an arbitrary stipulation on Ponter’s part. It isn’t even consistent with his overall position.

Ponter attacks limited atonement because, to his way of thinking, it removes the possibility of a well-meant offer. It removes a necessary precondition.

But even if we grant that contention for the sake of argument, he is now going behind the revealed will of God to the metaphysical underpinnings of the gospel offer. And if he can do that, then the 5-point Calvinist can also go behind the offer to consider the implications of reprobation.

ii) Likewise, as I noted in a prior reply to Ponter, he doesn’t confine himself to the revealed will of God. He doesn’t confine himself to the offer itself. Rather, he goes behind the offer to ground the offer in God’s ulterior desire.

But as usual, Ponter raises objections, then ignores the replies.

Ponter also has a footnote in which he appeals to the warning passages in Hebrews. I’d simply note that I discussed those passages in my online RTS thesis. 

While this essay does not deal with every counter-objection, it does assume that a counter argument which seeks to shift the problem to another issue or contention without dealing with the issue at hand is an evasion. It is not enough to counter, ‘but you have the same sort of problem over here.’ Directing our attention to a second problem will not make the first one go away. Nor will it be allowed that any aspect of the secret will can falsify the sincerity or truthfulness of the revealed will.

The “evasion” cuts both ways. Trying to disprove 5-point Calvinism doesn’t thereby prove 4-point Calvinism. The 4-pointer must still address objections to his own position.

1 comment:

  1. Ponter is simply blinded by tradition. Seen it a thousand times.

    Too bad.

    In Christ,