Friday, September 19, 2008

Ponter's Last Stand Part II

Continued from part I (link) ...

Before I continue, I should point out that I had mentioned in my last post that "It's not really clear whether Ponter understands what non-speculative hypothetical universalism is." The expression "hypothetical universalism" is a technical term of theology that has itself had a range of meanings. I had suspected that Mr. Ponter had simply borrowed the expression from Muller discussing something written by Jonathan Moore, which was confirmed by Mr. Ponter's brief linking to that article in response to my point (link).

In fact, Mr. Ponter had previously written, "For example, on Contend Earnestly the label of hypothetical universalism or hypothetical atonement has been tabled. The phrase is either so poorly defined or not defined or inaccurately defined." (source)

As I note above, however, the concept has a range of meaning. The concept of "hypothetical universalism" can even include those particularists classified as Infralapsarians.

Picking up with Ponter's last stand, Ponter states:

4) It actually works against his own position. That is, his position becomes self-contradictory and irrational. For when he wants it, he can say here and here they did mean world in an exhaustive sense, either the whole world, or of the elect. Take his citation of Knox. Clearly “whole world” means all mankind, because for some almost magical reason, our opponent is able to say, ‘here Knox means ‘exhaustively’ the whole world.’ However, when it comes to Bullinger’s identical use of the phrase “whole world,” our opponent asserts the contrary.


a) As previously discussed, the irrationality is simply the product of the fact that Mr. Ponter has presented a straw man rather than the actual criticism pressed against his points.

b) It is actually Mr. Ponter who seems to wish to be able to assert that words in old writings mean what he would like them to mean today.

c) Mr. Ponter's quotation is fabricated - it's not drawn from the actual criticism.

d) It is Mr. Ponter who wishes to make identical (at any rate, similar) statements from Bullinger and Knox mean different things - just as he wishes to make the less clear statements of Calvin and Knox before the Arminian controversy means something different from the more clear statements of Turretin after the controversy.

Ponter continues:

5) He has no public rules by which he determines when and where each instance of “world” means all mankind or some non-defined entity. He just picks and chooses at will.


Actually, as noted above, it is Mr. Ponter who picks and chooses the exhaustive sense of the word "world" as the meaning when he thinks it helps his case.

Ponter again:

6) He completely misleads his readers about the fact that Bullinger et al, did in fact go to lengths to define “world” as all mankind, the whole human race etc. As an aside, we see similar explicit attempts by men such as Musculus (click here) and Calvin (click here) where they define their terms like world and human race to mean the whole of it, all of it.


Mr. Ponter's apparent idea that if the word "world" gets defined by someone once in one particular context that it consequently always carries that same weight is a rather droll concept - amusing but not something we can take seriously. Despite Mr. Ponter's false charges, the reader is not mislead by considering the words Bullinger (and the rest - Calvin especially) uses in the context in which they use them, rather than trying to find some place where the word is used in the way one would like, and then apply that specific definition everywhere it seems helpful to one.

Ponter continues:

But now let us grant that our opponent might have a case if Bullinger had merely referenced “the world.” The problem is, though, this is not the case.


Actually, if Mr. Ponter had read the criticism more carefully (so as not to misrepresent with straw men, for example) he would have seen that in fact the criticism accounted for the idea that Bullinger (or Calvin) could mean by "world" what Ponter and his gang mean by the word "world." The result, however, is something not Reformed at all - and not something that Ponter and his gang are willing to endorse openly (as far as I know).

Ponter continues:

Its not rocket science. Its not the fog our opponent wants to bring down over our heads. Bullinger uses many helper terms. I will not multiply the citations here. I have listed dozens of them already: click here. If the reader clicks over to the main file page, he or she will see Bullinger use helper terms such as “all the world” “the whole world,” “all the sins of the world,” even “all the sins of all the world.” What is more, he will use equivalent terms interchangeably, “all men,” “all mankind” “all sinners” “all the sinners of all the world” and “all men of all ages.” At some point, the honest reader has to admit the Bullinger’s true position on the extent of the expiation.


a) No, it's not rocket science - it's the more interesting and difficult science of theology. That's why its important to be clear and not bandy about words that one doesn't understand, simply because one thinks they sound nice next to one's hypothesis (whether that word be "all" or "non-speculative hypothetical universalism").

b) Actually, as observed above, the reason for all those qualifications was to counter the very limited position on the atonement advocated by, for example, the papists who opposed Bullinger and asserted that venial sins were not satisfied-for by the atonement or that only the sins of the Old Testament fathers or only Original Sin was atoned for by Christ. To counter purgatory, indulgences, and penance one may resort to very broad language - and in the absence of the Arminian controversy - who would expect the reader to have an Amyraldian misunderstanding of what is being said?

c) But Ponter is not even willing to be intellectually honest enough to acknowledge the alternative (and true) explanation for the broad terminology employed by Bullinger, which tends to reinforce the theme that Ponter has an axe to grind.

Conclusion

The old adage that "When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail," comes to mind. One can certainly appreciate how Bullinger's comments could initially be taken by someone intent on establishing a hypothesis that the early Reformers were all advocates of Universal Atonement, but when that person tries to shift the burden for his thesis on his critics, refuses to interact with the actual criticism leveled against his theories, and refuses to revise his theories when the context is explained to him, all the while suggesting that everyone who disagrees with him is a fool or a knave, one loses sympathy for that person and his pet project. It is time for Mr. Ponter to move on, and I hope he will.

-TurretinFan

4 comments:

natamllc said...

Of this whole world barage I select one early on in this portion TF to make an assertion:

Ponter:[[b) It is actually Mr. Ponter who seems to wish to be able to assert that words in old writings mean what he would like them to mean today.]]

It seems to me the only straw here is the straw Ponter is standing on. As noted above, this indeed is the only way he would be able to win the debate. Having won, what are we left with but the very straw he uses with his straw man!

Frightening indeed that one such as intelligent as he has such passion for it. My guess he is what Saul was like before being converted by the Real Man, Christ as noted at Acts 9 and the consequence of Saul's errors.

I want Mr. Ponter to know I will be glad and happy to stand with him when he starts standing with Christ in this debate!

Martin said...

I'm not sure I could comment on the details of the points of disagreement here but one thing does concern me. I mean concern in the sense that I long to see Christ exalted and his people built up and rejoicing in Him. I have learnt that we can all too easily forget that our identity is to be found in Christ alone and that we have worth and value only because of what Christ has done for us. When we forget this, we go back to other ways of trying to find our sense of self-worth, satisfying our ever-hungry hearts and so on. Irrespective of whether or not the points you make are correct and successfully refute your opponent, and I may be wrong here, but what I sense is a need to win the debate. Might I be permitted a moment to encourage you and remind you that Christ alone is our all-in-all? Our sinful hearts can all too easily and oh so subtly seek our satisfaction elsewhere. Its probably easier for the Christian who occasionally, in moments of weakness, say, views porn on the internet because, with a little self-examination they should come to see that, at that moment, they were seeking to be satisfied but had forgotten that the only right and true source of satisfaction is Jesus Christ who promises eternal pleasures in His presence and so they can remind themselves that they don't need to seek the pleasures of this world because knowing the Lord Jesus Christ is far greater. But its much harder to spot our sin when it is tied up with something good, related to studying, knowing and following our Lord Jesus. But as Paul said, when we want to do good sin is right there with us. This means, even when discussing the things of our Lord, EVEN if what we are saying is correct, yet our heart can be sinning in its motives and it can be so difficult to detect. Now obviously I can't comment one way or another on your particular motives or examine your own heart for you I'm only saying all this based on my own wrestlings and what I have learnt from the likes of Tim Keller, Paul David Tripp and Jerry Bridges and the impression that was created in my heart as I read this post. Naturally I could be wrong in all this - but I say it only in hope that I might encourage you in the Lord. What I have learnt, amongst other things, is this:
When I am talking or writing to someone, especially to someone with whom I disagree, then if I am not at that very moment satisfied in the all-sufficiency of our Lord Jesus Christ then my ever-hungry heart will find another way to satisfy my needs for meaning, justification, significance and so on. One way this can manifest itself, although we are usually blind to it, is in a need to win or be seen as being right, maintain our reputation and so on. Even harder to detect though is that we can even build a part of our identity on our doctrinal distinctives and the community with which we share them. Thus an attack on what we believe sub-consciously becomes an attack on ourselves. Tim Keller says that when we forget how sinful we are and how much we deserve God’s wrath and that yet God loved us whilst we were His enemies and saved us entirely by grace then we will forget that we are no better than others and will start to think ourselves superior to those outside our group and ultimately start to treat them as enemies. But the gospel reminds us that Christ died for us despite our rebellion and that He has set us free from ALL striving, including striving for significance, etc, and that, as Christ loved me, so should I ‘prefer others in love’. It is only through believing the gospel that we are both transformed and enabled to live godly lives. Love of God to bring glory to God and not to please men (including ourselves) is our only right motivation to anything and this love us stirred in us through meditating on the gospel. It is not enough to try to appear godly on the outside whilst not addressing the secrets of our hearts. Only when we are motivated, indeed enraptured by the love of Christ will we then freely love even our enemies. It is a high and noble calling and that is why it is by faith. It could never be possible through self-discipline or keeping the rules. It takes a relationship borne out of daily feeding on Christ and rejoicing in His presence in which we acknowledge our weakness and constant rebellion and His abundant provision in the riches of His grace and mercy. I hope this is helpful to you and to Christ belong all honor, praise and glory!

Martin

Turretinfan said...

Martin:

Thanks for your thoughts. I think you may enjoy some of my less controversial posts, such as this one (link).

Apologetics/Polemics is an important area, but it is not the only area - and it is important to be reminded of that. Thank you.

-TurretinFan

zog said...

Martin,

Thank you for those word's, they were an encouragement to me and a reminder of how I so easily let other things satisfy me other than the all satisfying Lord Jesus Christ.

Zog