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Beware the Crocodiles!

September 6, 2011

Every now and then, it turns out that some hypercalvinists and some Arminians are reading from the same story-book.

You know the story, there is a crocodile… there are tears… and there are crocodile tears… and  the really bad ending [ooh scary].

Well interestingly enough, Anthony Burgess, the Westminster Divine, was reading from another kind of story-book where the ending is very different.  To read a snippet of that story, go here: Anthony Burgess (d. 1644) on Ezekiel 33:11

Look out for the bit about the crocodiles…

…And they all lived happily ever after.

[at least until the sequel… cant wait for that :-]


When is a conversation about an offer of something, not a conversation about an offer of something?

August 30, 2011

Link History to this thread:
7. Finally an Answer!
6. Restating the Problem
5. Limited Atonement and the Falsification of the Sincere Offer of the Gospel

4. When is a conversation about an offer of something, not a conversation about an offer of something?
3. When is an offer not an offer?
2.God and Green Spotted Unicorns
1. James Anderson’s Argument for a Sincere Offer Based on a Limited Provision

When is a conversation about an offer of something, not a conversation about an offer of something?

When it is a conversation about how the thing offered is received.

The following reply from me to Steve Hays is a friendly attempt to move the conversation along. I have been working on this for a few days now. I have taken the time to put this together because it appears that certain details are causing confusion. While there is a lot I agree with what Steve says below, I just cannot help thinking it all misses the point. We clearly have different concepts of what “offer” is, and what it means to make an offer of something.

What is more, I really think that the attempt to fixate on parsing the word “offer,” to find any and every possible exception really misses the point.

Some introductory thoughts and points:

1) There are two issues. The first issue is basic: Does God make an offer? Does God make a sincere offer? Does God’s offer even need to be sincere? Does God make a well-meaning offer. Does God’s offer even need to be well-meant? When the conversation turns on these sorts of questions, the conversation has gone awry already. It is already turning on Hypercalvinist versus evangelical Calvinist axis points.

The second issue is, on the terms of evangelical Calvinism, can God’s offer of forgiveness to those whom he cannot confer forgiveness be sincere?

Right now, we are bogged down in the first issue. However, I believe that for most folk the issue is pretty straight-forward. That is, it has been our experience that for the most part those who want to challenge the very meaning of constitutes a sincere offer are generally those who have already made a pre-commitment to Hypercalvinist categories, either tentatively or fully. You can tell these people by the way they get all bent out of shape so quickly. :-)

2) For many, the debate will ultimately come down to these pre-commitments:

If one has affirmed already that God does not by revealed will desire the salvation of all men, then one is already in the Hypercalvinist tradition. This has to be so, because one cannot, on the one hand, deny that God by revealed will desires the salvation of all men and then, on the other hand, meaningfully affirm a well-meant offer.

How does that follow? We know that in terms of the secret will, God desires not to save the non-elect. According to evangelical Calvinism, we also know that in terms of the revealed will God desires to save the non-elect.

So, if we deny that by revealed will that God desires to save the non-elect, and this includes the entailment that the Gospel offer does not express God’s desire to save the non-elect hearers, this means that the criteria which sustains a well-meant offer has now been voided. In the Gospel offer, it would then follow that God only desires to not save the non-elect. Thus, when God makes an appearance of seeking someone’s salvation, he is being insincere. Denial of a well-meant offer is the hallmark of hypercalvinism, if anything is.

For my limited understanding of things, either the gospel offer is well-meant or ill-meant. Non-meant? I don’t think so.

So, a well-meant or a sincere offer cannot be sustained on terms which denies that by revealed will God desires the salvation of the non-elect. A person may speak as if they are positing a well-meant offer, but in actuality, they are not. Therefore, any talk about what constitutes a sincere divine offer of the gospel but yet denies a well-meant offer of the gospel just rings hollow and is antithetical to true Calvinism . For example, no one in the John Calvin, John Murray, John Piper tradition of Calvinism should disagree with this.

So keep in mind, our discussion is properly with non-Hypercalvinist evangelical Calvinists. I know that most of what I say will probably fail to convince anyone already committed to Hypercalvinist assumptions.

3) Regarding the meaning of offer, all one needs to do is look up a good dictionary. The OED is one of my favorites.

Here is what appears to be happening. There is a confusion about the offer of the thing, and the mechanism by which the thing offered is obtained. We can see this confusion in Steve’s latest rejoinder:

The conditional nature of the gospel offer isn’t just a point of logic. Rather, that’s how the offer is revealed to us in Scripture. Scripture presents the offer of the gospel in conditional terms.

David: Not exactly. The mechanism as to how one is to be saved is revealed by a simple statement of fact expressed conditionality. For example, if a man asks, “What must I do to be saved?” The answer is: Believe on the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved.

That is, the “thing” being offered is salvation. Conditional statements direct our attention to the mechanism of salvation, i.e., how we obtain the thing that is offered to us, or, generally, how something is accomplished. But they are not properly the offer of the thing itself. This is the circle that Steve and others are running around and around.

Any standard college level dictionary will define the offer as something like this:

‘An offer is a proffer or invitation to give someone something to someone if they are willing to receive it.’

Now keep in mind, the offers of the gospel are not tendered to only the willing, but to all. If I use the word “invitation” this may bring light where there is confusion. The invitation of the gospel goes out to all, the invitation consist of an offer, made to all men, that is, “God is willing and able to forgive you… all of you… but you must come.”

We are directing the focus of our objection to this aspect, to the offer of thing, not to the thing itself, that is, how one obtains what is offered. Simply addressing the mechanism, as if that’s is, only leads to a conversational circle.

The underlying confusion is the attempt to impose upon us the idea that God’s inability to confer what he offers pertains to any inability, metaphysical, theological or otherwise.  This is nothing but a failure to listen to what we are saying. We are talking about an inability inherent to the offer of forgiveness itself. For his part, God is legally unable to impart the very thing he offers to impart: he does not possess a provision to give to those for whom no provision has been made.  This inability is judicial and legal, not metaphysical etc.   However, sincerity of the offer of forgiveness is indexed to the availability to impart forgiveness.  If one does not see the problem in God offering what he, himself, does not have to give, the conversation will not move forward in a constructive manner.

4) We are also saying that in some contexts, simple statements of fact expressed conditionally can be false. This should be obvious.

A man with a minivan which seats 11 people (within the bounds of law and propriety, etc) says to a crowd of 1000, “If all of you were to get into my car, you will find a seat for a ride home.”

We now have a counter-factual state of affairs in relation to what is purportedly offered. The car will only seat 11 (including the driver), saying to 1000 people that “if all of you get in, you will find a ride,” is a false.

There are lots of possible examples where alleged statements of fact expressed in conditional form can be false.

Our objector, for his part, argues that an offer can be reduced to a statement of fact expressed as bare conditionality, he thinks, thereby, he can justify God’s sincerity in the proposition to Judas, “if you believe, you will be saved.”

We are saying two things, 1) that is not an offer, and 2) not all statements of facts in conditional form are true. One may object and say, it is true in this case, because had Judas believed, it would have turned out he was elect and died-for after all. The problem is, that now gives us two Judas,’ firstly the reprobate Judas to whom the offer was made, and elect Judas, to whom the thing offered, salvation, was conferred.

This is self-referentially absurd. And it attempts validate God’s offer to reprobate Judas (Judas1) by the actuality that elect Judas (Judas2) actually receives the thing offered. I have to assume one should be able to see the problem here. Can God’s offer to reprobate Judas be validated on the terms of a reality or world where reprobate Judas lives in? No. For in the world where reprobate Judas lives, his believing all he likes will not make him died-for.  And not being died-for, no forgiveness can be conferred. The conditional statement could only be true if Judas was died-for, AND if he believed. Believing does not make him died-for.

Again, if one does not see the problem that has been created by the above unfortunate attempt to resolve the problem they have created, there is cannot a lot of head-way in this conversation.

Now, if we were to say to Judas, that the mechanism by which you are saved is through belief, then we would begin to have some basis for justly saying to Judas, if you believe you will be saved. I say “begin” because the other mechanism by which any man is saved is the mechanism of the provision of the satisfaction. If there is no provision, addressing the mechanism of “belief” is inadequate.

If any do no understand my points here, all they have to do is ask, with a friendly email or post.

5) There seems to be a lot of confusion regarding a divine offer and a human offer, and apparently with the idea that somehow if one can find exceptions in human scenarios that impacts and adjusts what God, himself, can offer. Simply put, we are not talking about those instances where someone in good faith offers something only to find out that he or she is not able to confer–for whatever reason–what he or she has offered. (More below.) We are talking about instances where a person makes an “offer” of something, knowing that he or she cannot confer or impart what is offered.

Lastly, I may have missed things or forgotten things I had intended to say in the following, but this should be enough. Hopefully, it will at least move the conversation along in the proper manner of Christian and academic discourse. I will tighten up any poor English expression later.

Now to Steve. Steve offers a preamble, and then a number of analogies.


Steve Hays:

Even if (arguendo), the concept of an offer incorporates sincerity or veracity, that doesn’t figure in the meaning of the word itself.

David: To make it very clear, then, a genuine offer presupposes sincerity. A disingenuous offer presupposes insincerity. A genuine offer must be true and sincere. For example, a man who does not have your well-being in mind, but with an unalloyed desire, desires that you do not take up the thing offered, makes no sincere offer.

Of course, if one does not accept that, then the conversation is all about spinning wheels.

If you are committed to affirming that God’s offer to the non-elect is ill-meaning then that is Hypercalvinism. And we will probably never be able to agree on what an offer is, or what criteria there are that validate the sincerity of an offer.

Steve: iii) Ponter’s stipulation apparently includes a tacit proviso: God would never make a false or insincere offer: therefore, a genuine offer is, by definition, sincere or true.

David: That was assumed. God cannot lie. Therefore God can not make a lying offer.

Steve: But even if that’s a correct statement regarding the nature of a divine offer, that is not the nature of an offer, per se. So Ponter can’t extract that additional caveat from the concept of an offer qua offer.

David: The terms of the question were: Can God make a sincere offer of forgiveness to those whom he cannot confer forgiveness. If offer means what offer means, then the answer has to be no. Again, we are not talking about the thing offered, or the mechanism by which it is obtained or received.

Example 1:

Steve: iv) Must an offer be a sincere offer to be a genuine offer?

Let’s distinguish between a “sincere” or “well-meant” offer and a true offer. Take a dilemma. Suppose I’m a high school football coach. One of my players comes to me, telling me he saw the halfback take a laptop from the locker of the running back, and put it in his own locker.

Suppose I confront the halfback. I tell him that if he lets me search his locker, and I don’t find the laptop, then he’s in the clear–but if I do find the laptop, then he’s off the team.

If he’s innocent, then he has nothing to lose by letting me search his locker. But if he’s guilty, then he’s in a bind. If he let’s me search his locker, then that will confirm his guilt. But if he refuses, then I know he has something to hide.

David: We need to be clear here. His innocence is not being offered, nor his guilt. If he is “in the clear,” he is innocent, he was innocent all along. His innocence or guilt is only being exposed. All that one could say is that the mechanism by which his innocence or guilt may discerned is being offered.

Steve: I make the offer knowing that if he’s guilty, he will probably refuse the offer. And I’ll infer his guilt from his refusal.

David: It would be wrong to infer his guilt from any denial to allow you to search his locker: after all even students have legal rights.

Steve: It’s a no-win situation for a guilty player, but that’s the point. If he lets me search his locker, and I don’t find the laptop, then he’s exonerated. If he refuses, then his refusal is the evasive behavior of a guilty man.

David: To be clear, we have here back to statements of facts expressed in simple conditional forms placed back to back:

1) If the locker is empty of laptop, he is innocent.

2) If the locker contains laptop, he is guilty.

The presence or the absence of the locker is the mechanism by which one may discover if he is guilty or innocence. So far so good.

So moving on:

Steve: Yet there’s another sense in which my offer is insincere or ill-meant inasmuch as I know that if he’s culpable, he won’t cooperate. He will spurn the offer. Indeed, I’m banking on that quandary as a pressure tactic to smoke him out.

David: So now we come to motive. The intention is to simply “smoke him out” to make him feel bad. The “offer” was to trap him. Okay. So it is, as you say, ill-meant.

If the singular motive was to entrap the player, most normal people would understand that the offer was not serious or sincere. It was not proposed as a serious well-meaning desire that the player be exonerated. If we transpose that to the gospel offer, then this only sustains a Hypercalvinist concept of the offer. Hypercalvinists often posit that the purpose of the “offer” with regard to the non-elect only is to increase their condemnation and suffering, in hell etc. This, it turns out, exactly mirrors you illustration here.

We are talking about what it means for God to make an offer. An ill-meant offer, to “smoke out” the non-elect is not a well-meant offer by your own concession. This “smoke him out” approach may work under the terms of Hypercalvinism, but in Evangelical Calvinism, God’s offer of salvation to the non-elect is always well-meant. And of course, the non-elect are “smoked out” for rejecting something that was never provided for them or intended for them. That itself is a problem.

So on all counts, I do not believe that the offer to the player was serious, nor was it well-meant, nor was it was sincere, nor is any of this comparable to the issue hand regarding God’s offer. It was just not a real offer, but a disguise for entrapment. Indeed, the legal term is called just that: entrapment.

This is a fundamental point: is the gospel offer with regard to the non-elect well-meant or ill-meant. True Calvinism say that in the terms inherent to the offer and its proper motive, it is always well-meant. It is only upon the supposition of rebellion, that it gives occasion for their increased condemnation. For sure, this occasion was part of the secret intention, but, nonetheless, accidental to the inherent motive and intention in the gospel offer (Calvin). And so it turns out that this is actually not a Calvinist response. Its heterodox in terms of historic Calvinism.

Steve: The same offer functions as an incentive to the innocent, but a disincentive to the guilty.

David: Sure, if the singular motive of the offerer was to entrap the offeree, then the motive is insincere, ill-meaning and not serious. And all this is beside the point.

Again, the coach has offered a procedure by which the player’s innocence or guilt is displayed. However, if the singular motive is to entrap the player, then by all normal ethicist accounts of motive and sincerity, the offer would be classed as insincere and disingenuous, because for most humans, motive, ill or otherwise, is factored in when deciding if an offer of something is sincere or not.

Apart from possible legal considerations regarding the propriety of the coach searching the player’s locker, was there anything which the coach could not impart, according to the respective conditions? No. Thus, in the final analysis, the illustration talks passed us.

Further We can already see that between Steve’s position and my position, wider rifts are appearing which speak to the core of what is a well-meant offer.

Example 2:

Steve: v) Must an offer be true to be genuine?

Suppose a store offers a product on sale to lure customers in. Suppose the store has no intention of honoring the offer. The store made no effort to stock the sales item. That was just a deceptive come-on.

Isn’t that a fraudulent offer? Isn’t the store legally liable for false advertising?

Here’s an offer that’s both false and insincere. If, however, we say that such an offer is not a genuine offer, then the store can’t be fined or sued for fraud. After all, if it never even made an offer (as Ponter defines it), then it can’t be guilty of making a fraudulent offer.

[Underlining mine.]

David: Okay… firstly, a store salesman makes an offer for which knows it cannot back-up, but if it the store salesman declares that it cannot back-up the offer, it’s a sincere false offer. Is that what you are saying, Steve? I have to be honest, all this seems to be pretty banal stuff.

But secondly, and more importantly, if the salesman makes an offer which he knows he cannot back-up and in so doing be deceptive, then God who make a sincere offer knowing that he cannot impart the thing he offers, as just as deceptively, even more so.

So to labor the point:

Suppose we make the product washing machines and also let’s now suppose the salesman, the agent of this deception, were to stand out in the footpath, outside the shop, saying customers passing by:

“Hey sir, you sir, if you come and pay the money, you find a the dandiest most efficient washing machines you will ever find.”

What’s is happening there? The man has tabled a statement of fact in the form of a bare material conditionality.

To short-hand it all: if you pay the money, you will get a washing machine.

The problem is, he won’t. The material conditionality is false. The truth value is false. Not all conditional statements are true.

One cannot shift to another reality and say, “well had the man come in and paid the money, it would have turned out the the salesman had a washing machine after all. And likewise, its self-referentially absurd to say, Had reprobate Judas believed, it would have turned out that he was not reprobate at all but elect. On a few levels this is incoherent.

Example 3:

Steve: vi) Must an offer be true to be sincere or well-meant? Suppose I offer to sell a friend my classic Mustang. He pays me the amount.

When we go to the garage, I discover, to my surprise and consternation (not to mention my friend’s dismay), that the Mustang has been stolen. When I made the offer I was (unwittingly) in no position to make the offer. My offer was sincere, but inadvertently false. I was willing, but unable (unbeknownst to me) to make good on the terms of the offer.

David: Sure, one may not know that one is able to impart the thing offered, and yet the offer be sincere. When the offer tendered his offer, under the assumption that the offerer had the legal ability to sell the car, it indeed was a sincere offer. So far so good. However, one cannot sincerely offer when one knows one has no ability to confer.

For example, in criminal law, one can offer to sell stolen goods. If you know it is stolen, you cannot legally offer it for sale. An you offer of a car known to be stolen would be insincere. So suppose a person, in good faith, offers to sell car, but it is later revealed that the car is stolen. What happens is, is that the offer is rescinded, it is voided, retracted, withdrawn. There can be no true and sincere offer of something wherein one does not have the legal right to impart: other than a lying offer..

Secondly, this example, like a lot we are seeing is fine and dandy, but actually fails to address the point. It fails to address the real issue because the comparison is  not comparable to God: God suffers not from any problem of agnosia, so this analogy has no bearing on the stated problem at hand. It will never turn out that what God offers failed to exist, was stolen property, was destroyed by moth and rust. It will never be the case that God thought he had the thing he was offering, but went looking, only to find he never had it all along.

Example 4:

Steve: vii) Here’s a divine offer:

10Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11?Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.”(Isa 7:10-12)”

There are two parties to this offer: God and Ahaz. God is both able and willing to do it. Indeed, God will make good on the offer–despite the intransigence of Ahaz.

By contrast, Ahaz is unwilling to take God up on the offer. What is more, God foreknew that Ahaz would refuse the offer.

So does Ponter think God is guilty of insincerity? Was this not a bona fide offer?

David: Again, the sincerity of the offer is not indexed to the secret will or secret intention or by divine foreknowledge. Nor is it indexed to the ability or willingness of the offeree. The free offer of the gospel is indexed to the revealed will. Nor is the sincere offer ever invalidated by the secret will, or the secret intention, or by divine foreknowledge. These are basic evangelical Calvinist categories.

Steve: viii) It’s also unclear, on Ponter’s own definition, how the free offer of the gospel can be either universal or well meant. Since Ponter is not a universalist, he must believe that God knowingly makes the offer to many who are unwilling to receive the offer. But in that event, God never even made them the offer (as Ponter defines it).

David: When God made his offer to Ahas was sincere and remains sincere, despite Ahaz’ unwillingness to act upon it. Again, the sincerity is not indexed or underwritten or grounded in or keyed to the willingness or unwillingness of the offeree. Nor is it invalidated by the unwillingness or inability of the offeree. Again this is basic evangelical Calvinism.

To close:

I would say the first example is just off-point, as it only detailed the mechanism by which the coach proposed whereby the innocence or guilt of the player would be discerned and, respectively, rewarded. The second and third example actually support my case. The fourth example, while on point, fails to understand the basic Calvinist understanding as to how matters of the secret will never invalid matters of the revealed will.

And so, all of it just misses the point and skirts around the issue. Parsing the word “offer” may be a fun exercise. The reality is, though, you are just talking passed us: thanks for some of the corrections to our expression, but let us move on. And honestly, it is analysis without imagination. It is as if the forest can’t be seen for the trees.

I am more than willing to be corrected or informed, as generally such corrections work to either cause me to tighten up my argument or even abandon it.

Lastly, given the demeanor of some of the posts I have seen directed to us, I must say it appears to me that a lot of this is nothing more than an Christ-less intellectualism thinly disguised as a sophisticated “analytic.”


When is an offer not an offer?

August 26, 2011

Link History to this thread:
7. Finally an Answer!
6. Restating the Problem
5. Limited Atonement and the Falsification of the Sincere Offer of the Gospel

4. When is a conversation about an offer of something, not a conversation about an offer of something?
3. When is an offer not an offer?
2.God and Green Spotted Unicorns
1. James Anderson’s Argument for a Sincere Offer Based on a Limited Provision

When is an offer not an offer?

When its merely a statement of material conditionality.

Our claim is: Limited Atonement, as defined by John Owen, et al, precludes a sincere offer of forgiveness to the non-elect.

Our argument is: Because God cannot confer forgiveness of sins to the non-elect, he cannot offer forgiveness of sins to the non-elect.

The standard response from some High Calvinists, and/or Hypercalvinists, is to say the offer is sincere, on the basis of the veracity of a simple statement of fact in the form of a bare statement of material conditionality.

The problem is, this misses the point entirely.

So let me try to clarify the issues and arguments.

Background context:

The Arminian posits three objections against Calvinism:

1. Election makes God insincere.
2. Limited atonement makes God insincere
3. Total depravity makes God insincere.

We are saying to the High Calvinist, your answers to the Arminian on points 1 and 3 are sound and good, but the answer on point 2 needs some work because the you have not properly understood the original objection.

From our experience, the standard High Calvinist response to us has been:

I) Just reassert the original confusion that a statement of fact in the form of a statement of simple material conditionality solves the problem for 2.

II) Then just throw at us 1, and 3, as if they have any bearing, or if they are now all up for grabs as well.

I honestly don’t think some of our opponents are aware of what they are doing. As a friend puts it, “They’ve been thinking about it for too long the wrong way… its now impossible for them to think about in any other way.”


For our part, our conversation is only with those Calvinists in the Spurgeonic or M’Cheyen or John Murray tradition. Our conversation is not with those in the Hypercalvinist tradition which denies the basic distinctions between secret will and revealed will in relation the actuality and sincerity of the well-meant offer. We are talking to those Calvinists who give answer to points 1. and 3. on the terms of traditional evangelical Calvinism, aka (for want of a better expression) the Spurgeon to John Murray type of Calvinism.


1) By limited atonement I define as, only the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ when Christ offered himself as a sacrificial victim 2000 years ago.

2) By High Calvinist, I define as those Calvinists, within the historically broad Reformed community, who assert that only the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ on the cross.

3) A simple statement of material conditionality, stated most elementally is an, “if A, then B” relationship.

For example,

If you walk in the rain, you will get wet.
If you drink the water, you will be refreshed
If you take the medicine, you will be healed.
If you believe, you will be saved.

4) An offer is not a simple statement of fact in the form of a bare statement of material conditionality. An offer is by definition (normal standard English usage) this,

I am willing and able to give you this, if you are willing to receive it.

So for comparison:

Simple statement of fact in the form a bare statement of material conditionality:

If you take this medicine, you will be healed of your disease.

Simple statement of an offer:

I am willing and able to give you this medicine to cure your disease if you are willing to take it.

In the case of an offer of something, one is not just making a bare statement of fact in the form of a simple statement of material conditionality. For in that case, the veracity of the statement of fact is not being called into question at all, which misses the point entirely.

What is being called into question is the veracity of the offer of the thing, not the fact of the thing.


Why is it the case that God, in terms of the High Calvinist schema, cannot confer forgiveness of sins to the non-elect. The answer is, because 2000 years, according to the High Calvinist model of expiation and satisfaction only a limited and fixed number of sins were imputed to Christ.

We also know given the very nature of substitutionary atonement, that the following holds for the High Calvinist’s concept of expiation:

Only those sins imputed to Christ are forgivable.
Only the sins of the elect are imputed to Christ.
Therefore: Only the sins of the elect are forgivable.

If one were to say that the sins of the non-elect are forgivable, then it is the case that they are only forgivable on the terms of some other hypothetical reality, because in this reality, God has, as it were, locked himself into the reality of no forgiveness apart from the death of Christ, etc etc.

What is more, there is no forgiveness apart from that death of Christ which happened 2000 years ago, which is now a fixed and accomplished moment in this space-time continuum. It is impossible that since that point, more sin could be imputed to Christ, thereby, supposedly making more sin forgivable.1

Now the problem should be really obvious.

According to the High Calvinist view of limited atonement, God cannot, because of his own self-commitments to this current state of affairs, confer forgiveness to the non-elect. The possibility of forgiveness has already been inexorably fixed and delimited. If he cannot confer forgiveness to the non-elect, he cannot offer to confer forgiveness to the non-elect. If he did, that would be a lie.

Any response that swaps out the actual meaning of “offer,” and in injects in its place a simple statement of fact expressed as a simple statement of material conditionality has missed the point. You have stopped talking to us and have now begun addressing your own theological reflection.

To close.

It’s is just case of, “if you don’t see it, you don’t see it.” If you don’t get it, that’s sort of okay, because you just don’t get it yet. That is, that you may not yet be sensitive to the problem’s core, that’s okay. Perhaps later it may become clear to you. However, until you address the core problem, the conversation is essentially over.



1Likewise, it is impossible that some imputed sin become unimputed.

God and Green Spotted Unicorns

August 25, 2011

Link History to this thread:
7. Finally an Answer!
6. Restating the Problem
5. Limited Atonement and the Falsification of the Sincere Offer of the Gospel

4. When is a conversation about an offer of something, not a conversation about an offer of something?
3. When is an offer not an offer?
2.God and Green Spotted Unicorns
1. James Anderson’s Argument for a Sincere Offer Based on a Limited Provision

God and Green Spotted Unicorns.

Can God offer me a green polka dotted unicorn for my birthday?

If inability to confer what one offers is not a problem for intrinsic sincerity with regard to the offerer and the offer of the thing, God can offer to give me a green spotted unicorn for my birthday, and this offer is sincere as long as I don’t reach out and embrace the offer and so thereby discover that green spotted unicorns don’t exist.

And, as it stands right now, I honestly don’t know that green polka dotted unicorns do not exist.

Let us see how this would pan out in terms of sincerity?

David lives in this world (w1) where green polka dotted unicorns do not exist.

David says to his friend Paddy,

Paddy, if God were to say to me, “David, I want to offer you a green polka dotted unicorn for your next birthday, all you have to do, David, is to believe and embrace my offer, you will get a green-spotted unicorn for your birthday,” God would be thoroughly sincere in this offer.

Paddy, the Irish Leprechaun, says to David,

But that would be impossible David, because everyone knows that green spotted unicorns don’t exist in this world.  God could not sincerely offer to give you something that does not exist.

However, it turns out that David is a Unicornitarian. On the terms of Unicornitarian theology, this offer is to be received as sincere because it is known and believed that were God to regenerate David and ingenerate a true belief in David that green spotted unicorns exist, and cause David to reach out and embrace God’s offer of a green polka dotted unicorn, then it would turn out that green spotted unicorns do, indeed, exist! [even though it would turn out that now we are in (w2)].

It is clear then that any claims of Unicornitarianism regarding divine sincerity could never be falsified. They could never even be evaluated by any public standards of this world. Nor could David’s own personal opinions about what it are the limits of possibility regarding what God can and cannot offer.

For myself, I am leaning to this: the claims of the Unicornitarian should just be ignored as meaningless and unhelpful, and probably much more.

Friendly attempts to falsify the Unicornitarian terms of sincerity at the back of this offer are welcome.


The next day, Paddy wanders into David’s backyard and Paddy and David resume yesterday’s conversation. Paddy is again keen to press the point that God cannot offer David something that does not exist in reality.

After some time of deep conversation, David finally says to Paddy,

Shush on you Paddy, don’t you know that God could easily create a polka dotted unicorn in order to validate the sincerity of his offer to me?

Paddy thinks silently for a moment and then says in reply,

So what you are saying David is that God must chang reality as we know it, in order to validate the sincerity of something he didn’t originally posses, but offered anyway? I don’t have a lot of respect for that idea, David. Would it not be more reasonable to adjust what you think God can offer to conform to the reality which already exists?

David replies,

{sigh} The Irish are not known for their philosophical acument [sic], are they Paddy.

James White on John Calvin and the Extent of the Satisfaction

August 11, 2011

James White on the Dividing Line (08/04/2011) expressed some comments about Calvin and the doctrine of Limited Atonement.

In this post I want to address some of White’s comments and claims.

Before I start, some preliminary remarks.

1) My comments are offered in the desire and spirit that we look at this topic in both an adult and academic manner.

2) I posted on some of this at theology online, here.

3) For the transcript I am relying on the transcription of a friend.1 I have also listened to the audio and Chris has fairly accurately transcribed the section. I think Chris may have mis-heard a mumble here or there. I will tweak his transcription just a little.

Keep in mind, while we accept that this is a verbal and rambling monologue, where White could not adduce all the documentation he should produce, my aim here is to challenge the facts of his assertions. Allowances aside, even without documentation, even though this is a one-sided conversation on his part, it’s the alleged facts asserted and their various entailments that are incorrect and which this essay seeks to counter.

4) A) For the purposes of this essay, I define Limited Atonement as the limited imputation of the sins of the elect, alone, to Christ. Christ only bore the sins of the elect, Christ suffered the wrath of God for and against the sins of the elect only. B) Obviously then, unlimited atonement says that the sins of the whole human race, or all mankind were imputed to Christ, that Christ suffered the wrath of God for and against the sins of all men.

By necessary implication, to affirm A) is to deny B), and conversely, to affirm B) is to deny A). I can’t even begin to imagine how a credible thinker could seek to affirm both.2

5) I will not enter into any discussion regarding Augustine and Prosper. I’ve posted files on these two theologians which show from their own writings their commitment to an unlimited redemption, here.

The Response.

My thesis for this essay: Most of what White presented is historically and methodologically inaccurate.

Let me first get to the historical facts. I will assume that scholars like Richard Muller are more reliable guides than James White, thus, I first offer this secondary source testimony:


The question of the “L” in TULIP, of “limited” versus “universal atonement,” also looms large in the debate over whether or not Calvin was a Calvinist. This question, too, arises out of a series of modern confusions, rooted, it seems to me, in the application of a highly vague and anachronistic language to a sixteenth- and seventeenth-century issue. Simply stated, neither Calvin, nor Beza, nor the Canons of Dort, nor any of the orthodox Reformed thinkers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries mention limited atonement – and insofar as they did not mention it, they hardly could have taught the doctrine. (Atonement, after all is an English term, and nearly all of this older theology was written in Latin.) To make the point a bit less bluntly and with more attention to the historical materials, the question debated in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, concerned the meaning of those biblical passages in which Christ is said to have paid a ransom for all or God is said to will the salvation of all or of the whole world, given the large number of biblical passages that indicate a limitation of salvation to some, namely to the elect or believers. This is an old question, belonging to the patristic and medieval church as well as to the early modern Reformed and, since the time of Peter Lombard, had been discussed in terms of the sufficiency and efficiency of Christ’s satisfaction in relation to the universality of the preaching of redemption. Richard A. Muller, Was Calvin a Calvinist? Or, Did Calvin (or Anyone Else in the Early Modern Era) Plant the “TULIP”? (A Lecture Sponsored by the H. Henry Meeter Center: Oct. 15, 2009), 9.3

Another academic source who also has credibility, Joel Beeke:

Robert Peterson argues that the issue of the extent of the atonement belonged more to the subsequent period of Reformed orthodoxy and was therefore largely anachronistic for Calvin. 21 Pieter Rouwendal shows, however, that the question of the atonement’s extent was dealt with in Calvin’s day, but the way that it was handled by later Reformers was foreign and anachronistic to Calvin. Joel Beeke, “The Extent of the Atonement,” in The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth 17:6 (July/August, 2009), 162.

There are a few things that can be added. Jonathan Rainbow, recall, assumes the denial of the argument White adduces to prove that Calvin held to limited atonement. He claims that Bucer taught and debated limited atonement, and given that Calvin spent three years in Strasbourg with Bucer, he would have been familiar with the debate and question (Rainbow, The Will of God and the Cross, p., 63).

The argument must cut both ways. For example, Peterson, in his Calvin and the Atonement, in the 1999 edition, turns Rainbow’s argument on its head by noting that if Rainbow is correct regarding Calvin’s knowledge of Bucer’s (alleged) position, we should expect to see affirmations of limited atonement in Calvin’s writings. This leads Peterson to say we cannot be conclusive regarding Calvin’s position. From email correspondence with Muller, he takes the same position; Calvin is “indeterminate” on this issue.

White should keep up with more recent scholarship. Rouwendal’s article has been out for some years now: he rejects the sort of reasoning White presents.4 Indeed, in that article, Rouwendal notes that both Helm and Nicole are wrong in their claims that Calvin held to limited atonement.5 And while he does also say Kendall and Clifford are wrong on their side, it must be kept in mind that the thesis attributed to Clifford and Kendall is not the same as our thesis.

Also the more recent article by Kevin D. Kennedy, “Hermeneutical Discontinuity between Calvin and later Calvinism,”6 needs to be read by those who adopt White’s position.

Now to James White. White is responding to the claim that neither Augustine, Prosper or Calvin held to Limited Atoneemnt. The monologue:


Sigh… [laughter] This is called historical anachronism. Limited atonement, quote unquote, was not an issue for either of them.

I find these claims odd and irrelevant.

1) Let’s grant that “Limited Atonement” was not an “issue” for them, an issue of debate or an issue of contention, what does that give us? Not a lot. Let’s agree that “Limited Atonement” was, likewise, not an issue for Luther, the question is, can we still discern his position on the extent of the satisfaction? If White is right, why shouldn’t White’s assertion apply to Luther as well? James Swan has rightly argued that Luther, as Reformer, held to unlimited atonement.7

Likewise, despite protestations to the contrary, we can discern the position of Calvin’s other contemporaries, such as Musculus, Bullinger.

The point is, just because a given author did not engage in literary or oral debate upon a topic, it does not mean they had no firm or definite opinion on the topic. We can take this back to Aquinas, who likewise never engaged in a debate over the extent of the atonement and yet his position regarding its extent is easily discernible.

2) White is stuck in a contradiction. On the one hand he wants to say that putting such questions into the mouth of John Calvin is anachronistic, yet, he, James White, claims to argue that Calvin held to limited atonement. On its face, that’s contradictory.

I think what he should say is, ‘that though the Limited Atonement debate is anachronistic to Calvin, the “doctrine,” materially, was not.’ This in principle is the very thing we say, albeit, the converse of it: the doctrine of unlimited atonement is materially present.

So then, what becomes of this mantra-like charge that Limited Atonement in Calvin is  “anachronistic”? Any value it may have is over-played and in this over-use, is actually debased as a workable help in our investigation. While it may be good to know that the 17thC form of the debate over the extent of the satisfaction was not debated in Aquinas’ time and context, how that helps us to actually and concretely understand Thomas’ doctrine of the nature and extent of the satisfaction is minimal.

3) White’s thesis is falsified by the fact that Musculus, in his Common Places, dedicates an entire chapter arguing for universal redemption. In this chapter, Musculus is clearly aware of some who may find the concept of universal redemption objectionable. Beyond dispute, we can see that while the formal debates over limited atonement arose in the decades after Calvin, the material elements were known and discussed in Calvin’s time and by Calvin’s own friends and co-workers in the Swiss Reformation.


And it seems that Mr. Comis and Dr. Fernandes had come to an agreement beforehand that, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, Calvin didn’t believe in limited atonement.’ Well, hmm. While that was not a primary issue for Calvin in any sense…in the matter…

1) Exactly so. That we see nothing in Calvin affirming limited atonement, or in the extant writings of any Reformer (with the slimmest possible exception of Bucer), tells us that it was not affirmed. The question of the extent of the satisfaction never became a point of contention between the Reformed and the Catholics, or the Reformed and the Lutherans, until later. What came later was a question over the extent of the efficacy of the satisfaction (see Kimedoncius, for example).

This later debate between the Reformed and some Lutherans in the 1580s period was an extension of the earlier debate between the orthodox and the Universalists, and between the orthodox and early Socinians, who claimed that all men would be saved. These men universalized the efficacy of the satisfaction to all mankind, even to demons. We see some of this in Calvin’s debate with Pighius and co. The orthodox (whether Catholic, Lutheran or Reformed) limited the efficacy to the believers.

2) It is out of this question that the Arminian question evolved. The Arminians denied that Christ died for anyone with any effectual intention. The response of Dort was not to deny that Christ died for all as to the sufficiency of the satisfaction, but to affirm that he did, indeed, die for some as to the efficiency of the satisfaction. Dort does not affirm limited atonement as defined by Owen or by White. On this, see the recent articles by Jonathan Moore,8 Lee Gatiss,9 Richard Muller,10 and others.


I think that those…and I know exactly who they are who have been gathering citations from Calvin primarily from the commentaries. Not from the Institutes, but from the commentaries.

1) What lies behind this is White’s assertion that Calvin’s Institutes must regulate all of Calvin’s other writings. This is shallow reasoning in terms of historical analysis. Calvin scholars like Muller have noted that we cannot take Calvin’s comment regarding the priority of the Institutes absolutely.

What is more, there is nothing in the Institutes that regulates or qualifies or expands upon the topic of the extent of the satisfaction, or anything which limits it, apart from the statements which limit the efficacy of the satisfaction to the believer. Indeed, Calvin in his Last Will and Testament expressly states that he has sought to present biblical truth in his sermons, commentaries and tracts: Calvin himself did not imagine his other works to be inferior or uncertain testimonies of his theology.

2) What is profoundly ironic and academically hypocritical in White’s claim is that while White and co., will play up the idea that we should be deriving our theology of Calvin’s doctrine of the extent of the satisfaction (primarily?) from the Institutes, however, the critical go-to comments they cite to argue that Calvin held to limited atonement are from his commentaries and from a tract, not from the Institutes. White does not even apply his own hermeneutic which he tries to thrust upon and demand of others.

So, again I think, the ‘Institutes have priority’ line is hollow and unproductive.


And there are other quotes to be drawn from the commentaries that [mumbling?] just the opposite…

If he could present some of these, that would be good. White is just uninformed regarding the overwhelming evidence in Calvin’s writings which speak to unlimited expiation and redemption. I have to think that this ignorance is willful: that is, he chooses to remain uninformed and academically outdated, and he chooses to just deny the evidential value of Calvin’s own statements.


might be interpreting Calvin in the same way they…because they tend to be hypo-Calvinists, really the squishy kind that…’well yeah I believe in election’ but when you really push ’em…ehhh, you know they’re not really overly strong on it.

At this point White engages in an ad hominem (to the man) remark11 which has no bearing on the issues regarding Calvin on the extent of the satisfaction. The one remark that is assessable is his reference to some being “hypo”-Calvinists, that is, sub-Calvinists, on the extent of the atonement (I assume). That label begs the question and contradicts White’s own claim that we can’t inject the “extent ” debate and “issue”  into Calvin. How can he know someone is beneath Calvin?


Uhh, I have a feeling they’re interpreting even brother Calvin in the same way that they would interpret numerous Biblical texts as well. Be that as it may, to just simply state this…this was not…there is no place in John Calvin where he says the doctrine of limited atonement is false.

What force does that have? If White is right, that Limited Atonement was not an issue (of debate?), why should one look for evidence for express denial of limited atonement? But again, that Calvin may not have expressly denied “limited atonement” formally, he could still have denied it materially.

For example, and Kennedy brings this out in his most recent article (above), that in terms of The Many passages, Calvin goes out of his way to note that “the many” means not a part of the human race, but all of the human race, not some men, but all men, etc, etc.12


And it’s interesting, the men who knew him the best were very clear on the subject and you’d just simply have to accuse them of being…well, those second generation…they always go against the…go farther than the originals, etc., etc.

1) This is more of the same. White demonstrates an ignorance of the historical facts. The ‘men who knew him best’? Do any of them document Calvin’s commitment to limited atonement? No. Did any of them document a commitment, on their own part, to unlimited redemption? Yes, Musculus, Bullinger and others. Indeed, some of the earliest extant secondary source comments on Calvin on the extent question affirm that Calvin held to an unlimited satisfaction, not a limited satisfaction. None of these secondary source affirmations were ever challenged by contemporaries, to my knowledge.

We can’t even say that limited atonement just appeared after Calvin’s death, because we know that there were many proponents of unlimited satisfaction in the 1580s and beyond, such as, Paraeus, Ursinus, Kimedoncius. Limited Atonement as expressed in Owen’s Death of Death, for example, was a product of theological evolution and mutation over many years.

2) A good question which should be put to White is this: Does he concede that any of the original Reformers held to unlimited expiation?

If he can concede this, say Luther, then one might begin to have a platform by which one could examine his methodology and criteria by which he grounds his historical claims regarding Calvin. However, until we get a commitment from White on something like this, I cannot foresee any possibility of meaningful dialogue.


I think there’s much to be said about a consistency on Calvin’s part that goes beyond this, but the point is that was not one of his debates, so to read back into either Augustine or Calvin conclusions…that’d be like saying, ‘well you know Calvin was really against Federal Visionism’…that’s a modern thing, that’s not something that…you’d…the only meaningful type of argument you could make would be:

Exactly so. While Calvin did not formally debate or deny “Limited Atonement,” however, in terms of his own positive theological propositions respecting the nature and extent of the satisfaction, he denied it. What is more, he affirmed the critical points which limited atonement denies. To invert Helm’s argument, it is clear that Calvin was committed to an unlimited atonement.


Well, I find in Calvin certain teachings that would be inconsistent with a modern Federal Visionist understanding or something like that. That’s the only fair thing you can say. But to read something back into history like this and make this kind of just blanket statement, I think is just utterly unwarranted

Exactly right. For this same reason, though, we can identify statements and propositions and ideas in Calvin’s writing which preclude a commitment to limited atonement.13

To conclude.

While we cannot say that Calvin denied “Limited Atonement” we can say that he denied limited atonement, materially, as a doctrine, and he did this by denying the proposition(s) that Christ suffered only for some men, some part of the race, and not all of the race, and by his positive assertions that Christ suffered for all men, that he redeemed the world, that men whom he has redeemed are finally cast into hell.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that interacting with White and Turretfan seems pretty much pointless. They have an ability to stare down in complete denial any evidence (primary or secondary) which contradicts them. It’s a form of extreme investigative fideism, the sort that characterizes the evolutionist. No matter what evidence is adduced from any Reformer, Turretinfan, for example, will foolishly insist that he did not teach that, or, that we, for our part, are taking the given Reformer out of context. For his part, White defaults to Nicole’s outdated claims regarding Calvin, or to his anonymous “Calvin scholar” and to Calvin’s famous statement to Heshusius.14 In terms of academic investigation and interaction, after a while these sorts of evasions can only produce a meaningless one-sided monologue.

Unless White wants to engage in specific citations from Calvin’s writings, and while he avoids documenting a specific workable methodology, and while he chooses to only argue along broad generalizations (which are unprovable for the most part), interaction and dialogue are pretty much pointless.  Having said that,  I do readily invite any calm adult and academic discussion of the historical facts of the matter.

David Ponter


1Chris Duncan.

2Granted that a credible thinker may actually entail himself in a contradiction, but that’s not what I find incredible in the manner described above.

3Thanks to Tony Byrne for collating this material.

4Pieter, L. Rouwendal, “Calvin’s Forgotten Classical Position on the Extent of the Atonement.” Westminster Theological Journal 17 (2008): 317-335.

5As defined by them, and which is the same as the definition of limited atonement supplied in my preamble.

6Kevin D. Kennedy, “Hermeneutical Discontinuity between Calvin and later Calvinism,” Scottish Journal of theology 64 (2011): 299-312.


8See Moore’s article in the newly published work, Drawn into Controversie, ed., by Michael A.G. Haykin, and Mark Jones. Moore argues, along with Muller and Gatiss, that neither Dort nor the Westminster Confession preclude the sort of hypothetical universalism advocated by Davenant and Calamy. Moore’s article is a good rebuttal of the theses advocated by White and Turretinfan, and others.

9Gatiss, Lee, Shades of opinion within a generic Calvinism: The Particular Redemption Debate at the Westminster Assembly.


11To state this in the most charitable manner I can, this is a sort of “attack the credibility of the messenger” argument.


13Keep in mind, limited atonement as defined in the preamble.

14 A number of times in the past, White has uncritically referred to Calvin’s remark to Heshusius. For academic rebuttal see, Rouwendal; and more generally, Calvin and Heshusius. I should note, too, that White may reply to me that I should go and read his remarks in his Potter’s Freedom regarding Calvin on the extent of the atonement. I have read it, but the problem is, it’s just a regurgitation of Roger Nicole’s outdated article, which scholars like Pieter Rouwendal have already debunked. And Nicole himself easily assumed that one could discern the doctrine of Limited Atonement in Calvin’s theology, even though the doctrine was never formally debated.  White, himself, has not set out a proper methodology wherein his assertions regarding the alleged anachronisticity of attempts to retroject the later Limited Atonement debate into Calvin can be tested and evaluated; or even just more generally, how we should evaluate the specific data (even the so-called conflicting data) found in Calvin regarding the extent of the satisfaction.