Friday, September 30, 2011

Talking sense to nonsense

Ponter has posted his final response to me:

When I started this project of engaging well-meant offer Calvinists on the topic of limited satisfaction in relation to the free offer, my original parameters for conversation were that I wanted to engage true evangelical Calvinists. Part of my desire was that I was looking for any defeaters to my argument. When Hays picked up on my project and began to respond, I replied on the supposition that he was not a hypercalvinist. I admit I had my suspicions and concerns, but I had hoped for the best. It is clear now that my suspicions are being confirmed.
There are 3 core parts to Hays’ reply to Tony Byrne and myself. Let’s track through them just enough to make the points. The question I want to tackle today takes us beyond simple theology to the more important issue of whether or not Steve Hays is even Reformed in his understanding of the doctrines of the Free Offer, of the Revealed Will, and of Reprobation. For my part, the more I read of him, the more I come to believe he has moved outside the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy on these points.

Putting aside his tendentious characterization, this does, indeed, reflect a fundamental difference between his theological orientation and mine. I never begin by asking what’s “Reformed”? Rather, I begin by asking what’s “true.”

If Reformed theology is true, then it has nothing to fear from that starting-point.

Likewise, the issue which ought to concern Christians is not whether we have “moved outside the bounds of” what’s Reformed, but whether we have moved outside the bounds of what’s godly. Scriptural. Biblical. 

Are we faithful to God? Do our beliefs line up with God’s revelation?

Unfortunately, Ponter has reduced theology to a little game, where what matters is winning the game rather than fidelity to God. Where you win by planning by the rules. The way you play by the rules is to quote snippets from your favorite theologians. An internal game in which you assume the role of a player. In the meantime, God recedes into the background.

That doesn’t interest me. When I’m on my deathbed, all that matters is whether I was faithful to God. Did I believe what God revealed, and did I live in accordance with God’s revelation. How well I gamed the system won’t prepare me for death–or eternity. God is not impressed by what theologians we can quote. What counts is whether you and I were faithful to his word.

Firstly, I would like to reference this: Regarding Hays’ claim that God ensures that Pharaoh would refuse the command of God by hardening his heart, how would Hays propose to extricate himself from the charge by Dort that such ideas are to be deemed detestable by the Reformed?

See what I mean? I quoted two passages from Exodus (Exod 4:21-23; 7:2-5). I drew two logical inferences from what I quoted:

Does God’s command or proposal have Pharaoh’s well-being in view? No. Is God well-disposed to Pharaoh? No. Does God desire Pharaoh’s compliance? No.
God wants Pharaoh to refuse the command or proposal. For the refusal is a means to an end. It would thwart God’s long-range plan if Pharaoh accepted the proposal or obey the command.
And not only does God want Pharaoh to refuse the command or proposal, but God ensures the refusal by hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Under those circumstances, it isn’t even possible for Pharaoh to accept the proposal or obey the command.

Now, ask yourself–what’s the appropriate response for Ponter to make? Remember who the speaker is. This is God talking.  This is God telling Moses what to say to Pharaoh. And this is God revealing his ulterior intentions to Moses. God is interpreting his own commands.

Why did I cite this? As a biblical counterexample to Ponter’s preconceived definition of a divine “offer” or command. As a biblical counterexample to Ponter’s stimulations regarding the necessary preconditions of a divine “offer” or command.

 If we’re going to discuss the nature of divine offers, promises, commands, and so on, shouldn’t we begin with some Biblical examples? See if our definition squares with God’s actual practice?

So how does Ponter respond? Does he show that I misinterpreted the passages I cite? Does he show that I drew a fallacious inference from the passages I cite? No. He completely bypasses that issue, and instead asks how I’d extricate myself from the charge of Dordt.

How is Ponter’s reply accountable to the word of God? Isn’t the only important question whether Ponter’s definition is consistent with what God himself is telling us in this passage?

How can Ponter maneuver himself into a position where he doesn’t even care? This is the problem with people who get so swept up in play-acting that they completely lose sight of reality.

Ponter suggests my statement would be “be deemed detestable by the Reformed” I don’t think that’s the case (see below), but even if we grant his allegation for the sake of argument, which is the more important question to ask ourselves: Is my position detestable to the Reformed, or is Ponter’s position detestable to God?

I quoted to passages from Exodus to challenge Ponter’s preconceived definition of a divine “offer.”  Ponter doesn’t show that my inference was invalid. Ponter doesn’t present an alternative interpretation. Why does Ponter think he has a right to snub God?

Secondly, the problem is that in standard hypercalvinist fashion, Hays has disconnected the divine desire for compliance to his commands from the command itself. Thus, God can command a man do something, but in no way desire that the man comply with the command. Indeed, it is God’s unalloyed desire that the man not comply with the command. If Hays were to say this scenario only applies to Pharaoh and not to the non-elect as a class, that would be absurd. For clearly, all that Hays charges on the point of Pharaoh must be equally applicable to the circumstances of the non-elect in relation to God’s decree. Hays has, as a hypercalvinist, thrown the revealed will under the bus.

i) Once again, how does that even begin to refute what I said about the passages in Exodus? I’m quoting the “revealed will” of God from the very lips of God.

Not only do these passages give us God’s revealed will, but they also give us God’s own interpretation of his revealed will. They give us God’s command, but what is more, God also tells Moses what lies behind the command, what God intends to accomplish by his command.

I’m not the one who “disconnected the divine desire for compliance to his commands from the command itself.” Go back and read the text. That God desired noncompliance is demonstrable in two respects, either one of which would be sufficient:

i) Pharaoh’s refusal is instrumental to God’s overarching objective. That’s explicit in the text itself.

By contrast, Ponter would have us believe that God wanted Pharaoh to thwart God’s plan. Does that make sense of the text?

ii) In addition, the text says God will harden Pharaoh to guarantee noncompliance. I didn’t make that up. I didn’t draw that connection. That’s right there in the text.

By contrast, Ponter would have us believe that God desired Pharaoh’s compliance even though God told Moses that God was going to render compliance impossible by hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Once again, how does Ponter’s position make any sense of the sacred text?

And what’s worse is that Ponter doesn’t even a feel duty to engage the text and square his position with the word of God.

In orthodox Reformed theology, God desires that men comply with the divine commands. As soon as Hays goes down the road of denying that God desires compliance to his commands, he has exited Reformed orthodoxy on these points.

Even if we grant that claim for the sake of argument, how is that responsive to the passages in Exodus? Ponter has exited the word of God. Ponter has exited the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

I prefer the road I’m going down to the road Ponter is going down.

Firstly, Romans 10:9 is not a command.

Irrelevant. The question is what God “offers” in the gospel. Rom 10:9 is one example. It gives the content of the gospel offer. The divine promise of salvation. Both what is offered, and how it’s offered.

Thirdly, Hays reduces both the commands to repent and the offer of salvation to nothing but good advice presented as a statement for their consideration, and this to two non-specific people-groups.

i) You sometimes wonder if Ponter even knows how to think. Let’s take a comparison. Take 1 Timothy. Who is that to? Wh is Paul writing to? Who is the immediate recipient? Paul wrote that to Timothy. He didn’t write that to David Ponter.

On the other hand, God also inspired and preserved 1 Timothy for posterity. For the benefit of the church.

Likewise, the gospel of the offer isn’t personally addressed to you and me. The offer of the gospel doesn’t name David Ponter. It doesn’t specify David Ponter as the offeree.

No, the gospel offer is a general proposal or command. BTW, I use the word “proposal” because that’s a synonym for “offer,” and Ponter himself directed the reader to that definition (among others), when he linked to the Free Dictionary.

ii) Moreover, why does Ponter make a big deal about the word “consideration”? Look at how Ponter himself defines an offer:

To present something to someone for their acceptance or rejection.

Well, isn’t that presenting something to someone for their consideration?

Ponter imagines that he’s ridiculing what I said when, in fact, he’s ridiculing his own position. Ponter is so caught up in the polemical momentum that he can’t think straight.

Fourthly, as God now only offers statements, so faith can only be assent to such statements. We are right back into Sandemanianism. And so even here, Hays has departed from Reformed orthodoxy.

Ponter really needs to sober up. He’s just making a public fool of himself at this juncture.

A “statement” can be a command, promise, threat, assertion, offer, and so on. How is that Sandemanian?

Now to the first part. Hays has asserted that God is not making an offer anyone in particular. Hays’ counter here is patently absurd. This is just an embarrassment. This is so absurd that he has reached a new level that I have never seen any hypercalvinist reach to in all my years of interaction with hypercalvinists.1 God issues forth a conditional statement to two amorphous people-groups, but to no one in particular, offering to these two undifferentiated masses conditional statements, for them to consider! This has to be a joke?

I’m afraid Ponter is a joke. A bad joke.

Let’s go back to Rom 10:9. Is that addressed to any specific individual? Does that single out David Ponter? No. It’s a hypothetical syllogism. In Scripture, the offer of the gospel typically takes that form. That’s what makes it generally applicable.

Perhaps Bnonn can take Ponter aside and talk some sense into him.

There is just so much more I could present to Hays. The idea that God does offers salvation to no one in particular should be seen by all impartial parties as self-evidently absurd. I cannot believe that reasonable well-meant offer and orthodox Calvinists will buy into this absurdity.

Does Ponter even know how to define a hypothetical syllogism? Does Ponter even know how to recognize its frequent occurrence in Scripture? At this point he’s degenerated into spouting emotional blather.

I didn’t invent this. It’s easy to find examples in Scripture, including the offer of the gospel.

Finally, let’s circle back to the secondary issue of whether my position has departed from the Reformed faith:

It is very evident that our conduct, in preaching the gospel, and in addressing our fellow-men with a view to their salvation, should not be regulated by any inferences of our own about the nature, extent and sufficiency of the provision actually made for saving them, but solely by the directions and instructions which God has given us, by precept or example, to guide us in the matter–unless, indeed we venture to act upon the principle of refusing to obey God’s commands, until we fully understand all the grounds and reasons of them.
God’s revealed will is the only rule, and ought to be held to be the sufficient warrant for all that we do in this matter,­–in deciding what is our duty,–in making known to our fellow-men what are their privileges and obligations,–and in setting before them reasons and motives for improving the one and discharging the other. And though this revelation does not warrant us in telling them that Christ died for all and each of the human race,–a mode of preaching the gospel never adopted by our Lord and His Apostles,–yet it does authorize and enable us to lay before men views and considerations, facts and arguments, which, in right reason, should warrant and persuade all to whom they are addressed, to lay hold of the hope set before them…
The position of our opponents is, in substance, this,–that it was not possible for God, because not consistent with integrity and uprightness, to address such offers and invitations to men indiscriminately, unless an atonement, which is indispensable to salvation, and been presented and accepted on behalf of all men,–of each individual of the human race. Now, this position bears very manifestly the character of unwarranted presumption, and assumes our capacity of fully comprehending and estimating the eternal purposes of the divine mind,–the inmost grounds and reasons of the divine procedure. It cannot be proved,–because there is really not any clear and certain medium of probation,–that God, by offering to men indiscriminately, without distinction or exception, through Christ, pardon and acceptance, contradicts the doctrine which He has revealed to us in His own word, as to a limitation, not in the intrinsic sufficiency, but in the intended destination of the atonement.
When we carefully analyze all that is really implied in what God says and does, or authorizes and requires us to say and do in this matter, we can find much that is fitted to show that God does not, in offering pardon and acceptance to men indiscriminately, act inconsistently or deceptively, though it is not true that the atonement was universal. And it is easy to prove that He does no injustice to anyone; since all who believe what He has revealed to them, and who do what He has given them sufficient motives or reasons for doing, will certainly obtain salvation.
In regard to the allegation often made by orthodox divines, that this act of God is warranted by, and is based upon, the infinite intrinsic sufficiency of Christ’s atonement, we would only remark,–for we cannot enter into the discussion,–that we are not aware of any Scripture evidence that these two things,–namely, the universal intrinsic sufficiency and the unlimited offers,–are connected in this way,–that we have never been able to see how the assertion of this connection removed or solved the difficulty, or threw any additional light on the subject.
So far as the objection of opponents is concerned…it cannot be proved that there is any inconsistency or insincerity, that there is any injustice or deception, on God’s part, in anything which He says or does in this matter, even though the intended destination of the atonement was to effect and secure the forgiveness and salvation of the elect only, even though He did not design or purpose, by sending His Son into the world, to save any but those who are saved.

W. Cunningham, Historical Theology (Banner of Truth 1969), 2:345-48. 

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