Archive for the ‘Historical Revisionism’ Category

Ponter vs. The Westminster Confession of Faith

October 18, 2008

Ponter writes:

One could say, “But such and such later Reformed confession or theologian denies this theology.” To that we would say, “So what? How does citing a man or confession a century or more later, disprove the historical truth that earlier Reformation theologians held to unlimited expiation and redemption? It doesn’t. In terms of proper historical investigation, citing sources from a century later is irrelevant. Such a strategy is just smoke and mirrors.”

(source) Leaving aside Mr. Ponter’s erroneous interpretation of the works of the early reformers for a moment, this is the sort of concession that I knew would have to come from Ponter eventually. As I had pointed out in an earlier post, Ponter’s hypothesis requires one to imagine that Calvin held not simply to an infralapsarian Calvinistic position, but to a full-blown Amyraldian position: one that contradicts all the major Reformed confessions and which consequently is properly placed outside the bounds of “Reformed” theology, whether or not it was held by earlier theologians.
Ponter’s admission may come as a bit of a surprise to some of his supporters, such as those in the PCA, who do not realize that Ponter’s agenda is aimed at placing the Reformers in conflict with the confessions.
Of course, this sort of deflection with respect pre-WCF reformers doesn’t extend past the 17th century. Even a very deceitful person cannot reasonably hope to fool many people into thinking that Charles Hodge taught universal redemption, contrary to the WCF, for example.
And, as has already been pointed out, quoting loosely worded statements by Reformers from before the Arminian controversy is a recipe for confusion, just as it would be improper to try read the “New Perspective on Paul” controversy back onto Calvin and his contemporaries, it is likewise improper to try to read the Arminian/Amyraldian controversies back into the minds of the pre-controversy Reformers.
There are some quotations, and Ponter’s post provides two examples, that taken out of their historical context and placed into ours sound very Arminian or Amyraldian. Ponter’s argument seems to be: “no one made a fuss about these comments at that time, so when Amyraldians make such arguments today, everyone should just accept them as part of the ‘Reformed’ perspective.” Such an argument is the result of shielding one’s eyes from the value that the Arminian/Amyraldian controversy had in developing and working out clearly the Scriptural doctrine of the Atonement. The debates with Romanists for the most part focused elsewhere.
Ponter’s apparent underlying strategy is to amass as many decontextualized quotations as possible from early Reformers, and then argue that despite the Scriptural resolution of the Arminian/Amyraldian controversies (in favor of TULIP, which Ponter so loathes), such positions (the positions contrary to the Reformed confessions) should still be viewed Reformed.


He Descended Into Hell

June 27, 2008

Recently, an article by Pastor Hyde, published as: “In Defense of the Descendit: A Confessional Response to Contemporary Critics of Christ’s Descent into Hell” (The Confessional Presbyterian 3 (2007) 104–117) has come to my attention. (link to article)

I enjoyed the article, which provides a Reformed rebuttal both to criticisms (from well-meaning but ill-informed Reformed and other Evangelical folks) and abuses (from Romanists and others). It’s a great example of taking back the so-called Apostle’s Creed from historical revisionism.

Although, of course, we do not consider the Apostle’s Creed to be itself apostolic, nor to be authoritative, it is still encouraging to see that it is not something that must be rejected as heterodox.


Athanasius – "Homily of the Papyrus of Turin" – Pseudographic?

May 8, 2008

I’ve noticed that several Roman Catholic apologists have relied on a writing identified by them as “Homily of the Papyrus of Turin” and attributed to Athanasius. I wonder whether this is spuria or genuine. The name of the document is not itself frightfully reassuring. It suggests attribution to Athanasius based on a single copy (probably in Coptic-Sahaddic not Greek) from the 6th century or so. As far as I can tell, it was unknown to the Western church as part of the Athanasian corpus and has become known via the journal Le Muséon in 1958:

Le Muséon année 1958 LXXI 3-4 Revue d’études orientales (A Louvain Chez l’Association Le Muséon, fondé en 1881 par Charles De Harlez 1958, brochée grand in 8 de 190.)

Sommaire: L’homélie de S. Athanase des papyrus de Turin. Un nouveau manuscrit de la Narratio de rebus Armeniae. La vision de S. Sabak en grec. Les questions-réponses du ms. Vat. arabe. Das studium der altgeorgischen sprache in georgien. Les catéchèses de S. Theodore studite. Pseudo-Shenoute ou Christian-Behaviour. Nécrologie de Mgr Joseph Lebon et de Michel tarchnisvili. Bibliographie.

and subsequent citation by popular Roman Catholic apologists (particularly English-speaking apologists), especially because of its discussion of Mary. I’m not sure whether there is any reason to consider it be anything more than the writings of yet another Pseudo-Athanasius.

In fact, David Frankfurter appears to identify it as Pseudo-Athanasius in footnote 82 at page 35 of Pilgrimage and Holy Space in Late Anitique Egypt. (link)

I wonder whether any of the Catholic apologists who have been citing this work (e.g. Steve Ray, Dave Armstrong, Jimmy Akin, and [most recently] Paul Hoffer) have any defense of its authenticity. I’m guessing that each of them got the citation from some secondary source or other (perhaps even tertiary, as Lefort appears to have provided his translation in French), and did not perform any research as to the authenticity of the quotation.

Nevertheless, my guess could be wrong, and I’d be delighted to be mistaken. I don’t mean this article to suggest that I’ve definitively proved the spurious nature of the quotation, but simply given the reader good reason to question its authenticity. If there is another side to the argument, I’d love to hear it.


Response to Armstrong’s Historical Revisionism

May 7, 2008

In a post today, Dave Armstrong claims: “And Protestants continue to argue that folks can disagree on the “secondary” issues and still have unity. Nuh-uh. That ain’t a biblical view. The original Protestants didn’t argue this way at all. They felt that they had spiritual and theological truth and fought for it. It’s only when liberalism came in and continuing Protestant sectarianism, that this other worldview of acceptance of the necessary presence of contradiction and error somewhere, started being accepted.” (source)

I’m not going to sit here and correct his grammar or logic. I am simply going to demonstrate from Calvin (one of the Reformers – and someone indisputably entitled to be one of “the original Protestants” by any typical Roman Catholic Standard – which normally places the start of the Reformation with Luther) that – in fact – the Reformers did believe in liberty in the non-essentials (See as well this earlier post):

Calvin, John – Institutes of the Christian Religion (presented here in Beveridge’s 1599 translation), Book IV, Chapter 1, Section 12.

Heeding the marks guards against capricious separation

When we say that the pure ministry of the word and pure celebration of the sacraments is a fit pledge and earnest, so that we may safely recognise a church in every society in which both exists our meaning is that we are never to discard it so-long as these remain, though it may otherwise teem with numerous faults.

Nay, even in the administration of word and Sacraments defects may creep in which ought not to alienate us from its communion. For all the heads of true doctrine are not in the same position. Some are so necessary to be known, that all must hold them to be fixed and undoubted as the proper essentials of religion: for instance, that God is one, that Christ is God, and the Son of God, that our salvation depends on the mercy of God, and the like. Others, again, which are the subject of controversy among the churches, do not destroy the unity of the faith ; for why should it be regarded as a ground of dissension between churches, if one, without any spirit of contention or perverseness in dogmatising, hold that the soul on quitting the body flies to heaven, and another, without venturing to speak positively as to the abode, holds it for certain that it lives with the Lord? The words of the apostle are, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you,” (Phil. 3: 15.) Does he not sufficiently intimate that a difference of opinion as to these matters which are not absolutely necessary, ought not to be a ground of dissension among Christians? The best thing, indeed, is to be perfectly agreed, but seeing there is no man who is not involved in some mist of ignorance, we must either have no church at all or pardon delusion in those things of which one may be ignorant, without violating the substance of religion and forfeiting salvation.

Here, however, I have no wish to patronise even the minutest errors, as if I thought it right to foster them by flattery or connivance; what I say is, that we are not on account of every minute difference to abandon a church, provided it retain sound and unimpaired that doctrine in which the safety of piety consists, and keep the use of the sacraments instituted by the Lord. Meanwhile, if we strive to reform what is offensive, we act in the discharge of duty. To this effect are the words of Paul, “If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace,” (1 Cor. 14: 30.) From this it is evident that to each member of the Church, according to his measure of grace, the study of public edification has been assigned, provided it be done decently and in order. In other words, we must neither renounce the communion of the Church, nor, continuing in it, disturb peace and discipline when duly arranged.



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