Archive for the ‘Bullinger’ Category

Ponter’s Last Stand Part II

September 19, 2008

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.


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.


Ponter’s Last Stand

September 17, 2008

Ponter seems to be unable to justify his position with respect to Bullinger and has reduced himself to simply insulting those with whom he disagrees. (link to insult-riddled post)
Leaving aside the barrage of insults, I’ll summarize his points (implicit and explicit), and explain why they don’t avail him any support.

1) Mischaracterization of the Criticism

Ponter asserts that: “Our opponent has made a claim that comes to this, when Bullinger, for example, uses the term ‘world’ he does not literally mean world.” That is not, of course, the criticism. The criticism is that Ponter puerilely assumes that “world” means something like “each and every person who has ever lived, is now living, or will live” whenever it suits his agenda. It’s the same “WORLD MEANS WORLD” argument that we are used to seeing from novice Arminian debaters who haven’t figured out that “world” has a broad semantic range.

Ponter cannot plead the excuse of inexperience, so Ponter’s mischaracterization of the criticism must be attributed to something other than ignorance.

2) A Second mischaracterization, and a Bit of Silliness

Ponter continues by stating, “His arguments for this naked assertion in essence, come down to this: ….” Before we get to the rest of his description it’s worth noting that poor Ponter cannot decide for himself whether the supposed position of his critic is a “naked assertion” or an assertion supported by “His arguments.”

Ponter characterizes the arguments this way: “Because the Arminian (1620s) and Amyraldian (1640s) debates had not occurred yet, the early Reformed felt no need to be careful about their terms, and so we cannot assume that by their language they literally meant all the world.” (emphasis omitted) Of course, again, Ponter has thrown in his false definition of the issue already address in (1). Furthermore, Mr. Ponter has made the argument more extreme than it is. Instead of saying that “the early Reformed felt no need to be careful about their terms,” the argument was more narrowly focused on the lack of need to be wary of an Arminian or Amyraldian misunderstanding of the Biblical terms.

Ponter then argues that, “This of course presupposes the claim that they were somehow unable to state or have an opinion on the extent of the expiation as per its substitution and sin-bearing,” but Ponter is wrong. At least, if the characterization he presents presupposes what he claims, it is only because he has chosen to attack a straw man. In fact, there is no presupposition that the Arminian or Amyraldian controversies were necessary to in order for one to have an opinion regarding the extent of the expiation Christ made (with or without the further detail of substitution and/or sin-bearing) or in order for one to state an opinion in that regard. In fact, I myself illustrated Knox (or at least his adversary) speaking to the issue before those controversies.

Ponter than argues that: “Our opponent therefore claims we must assume that by “world” they meant it in a non-exhaustive sense,” but again Ponter is wrong. Ponter’s invalid induction is premised on his multiple straw men. Furthermore, it’s not my intent to suggest that one must “assume” anything. Instead, one must not read the Arminian and Amyraldian controversies into earlier writers. One can readily establish that the word “world” had a broad semantic domain not only in Scripture but in the writings of the Reformers. With that in mind, to make an infantile assumption that a given usage of the word happens to carry the precise meaning helpful to one’s case is to engage in what can only be pleasantly described as wishful thinking.

Ponter than continues with his rebuttal of his caricature of the criticism placed against his position. He states, by way of preface, “Well, firstly, it is nonsense. The discussion now has well and truly gone into twilight mode. Let me posit a few common sense rejoinders.” Only the straw men, however, are nonsense.

Ponter claims, “1) Just because a topic was not debated, does not mean a given person could not have had an opinion on a given subject. Or that they could not have explicitly meant what they quite apparently said.” The first of these two points is – of course – fully acceptable, since Reformers (such as Knox) did have an opinion and did express their opinion. They didn’t have an opinion on the controversies per se, and of course they couldn’t have – without the gift of prophecy. The second of these two points just begs the question. It is only “quite apparently” the case that they said what Mr. Ponter would like to imagine they said, because Mr. Ponter has an axe to grind. In fact, (at least in some of the instances we’ve explored) they simply used a word that has a wide semantic domain, and Mr. Ponter has made the common lexical error of just picking a definition that suits him.

Ponter next asserts, “2) However, we do know the topic of limited atonement was debated in Bullinger’s time. It was clarified by Prosper in the 5thC. It was debated again by Gottschalk in the 9thC. It was settled and clarified again by Lombard in the 12thC. Lombard’s synthesis was reaffirmed by Thomas in the 13thC. We know that Bucer debated it in the 16thC, in some form or another. We know that Trent condemned limited atonement in the 16thC. So the issue was known to the Reformers.” This is, perhaps, the most bizarre of Mr. Ponter’s claims.

The Council of Trent, one may recall, stated their doctrine of “universal atonement” in terminology that would be more amenable to a hypothetical sense than to an actual sense,

Him God hath proposed as a propitiator, through faith in his blood, for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for those of the whole world. [Chapter III] But, though He died for all, yet do not all receive the benefit of His death, but those only unto whom the merit of His passion is communicated. For as in truth men, if they were not born propagated of the seed of Adam, would not be born unjust, – seeing that, by that propagation, they contract through him, when they are conceived, injustice as their own, – so, if they were not born again in Christ, they never would be justified; seeing that, in that new birth, there is bestowed upon them, through the merit of His passion, the grace whereby they are made just. For this benefit the apostle exhorts us, evermore to give thanks to the Father, who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light, and hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love, in whom we have redemption, and remission of sins.

Note especially the term “proposed” and the clear acknowledgment of the fact that “not all receive the benefit of His death.” In fact, if we dig deeper into Trent, we discover not only that it does not affirm a universal redemption of mankind, it in fact opposes the Reformed doctrine of complete redemption of the elect, for it canonizes: “CANON XIV.–If any one saith, that the satisfaction, by which penitents redeem their sins through Jesus Christ, are not a worship of God, but traditions of men, which obscure the doctrine of grace, and the true worship of God, and the benefit itself of the death of Christ; let him be anathema.”

And again, the unlimited satisfaction for the sins of the elect is opposed by Rome who states, “CANON XIII.–If any one saith, that satisfaction for sins, as to their temporal punishment, is nowise made to God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, by the punishments inflicted by Him, and patiently borne, or by those enjoined by the priest, nor even by those voluntarily undertaken, as by fastings, prayers, almsdeeds, or by other works also of piety; and that, therefore, the best penance is merely a new life; let him be anathema.”

These absurdities are – of course – the very things opposed by the Reformers (Bullinger and others). Thus, Trent hardened itself not into an Arminian or Amyraldian view (per se) but into an anti-Reformed view in particular with respect to the scope of the redemption and satisfaction made by Christ for the very elect. In point of fact, the original Arminians and Amyraldians would certainly have agreed with the Reformers (and against the unscriptural Tridentine notions) that Christ’s redemption and satisfaction for the elect were universal and complete – leaving no sin to be satisfied through penance, indulgences, or Purgatory.

Ponter continues with more of the same, “We also know unlimited expiation was being defended in the 1570s by Kimedoncius no less: against the Socinians and Universalists. That indicates the issue was already getting attention before then, in order to warrant Kimedoncius’ dedication of an entire book to the defense of the doctrine. We know that Ursinus is defending, what Richard Muller calls a non-speculative hypothetical universalism against the Socinians (recall Richard Muller identifies Ursinus, along with Bullinger and Musclus as holding to this form of non-speculative hypothetical universalism).”

It’s not really clear whether Ponter understands what non-speculative hypothetical universalism is.

Mr. Ponter continues: “3) Our opponent has assumed the onus or burden of proof here, as he must show that they never could have spoken of the extent of the expiation in literal or actual universal terms, denoting all mankind literally. Of course, his problem is, if just one example of an exhaustive use of “world” could be found, his whole thesis is imploded. That is why he has got to such absurdities.” Of course, this criticism only applies to the caricature, not to the actual argument. In fact, the opposite is the case. The onus is on Mr. Ponter to prove his thesis that Bullinger taught Universal Atonement – not on his critic to rebut him.

To be continued …

%d bloggers like this: