Does Penal Substitutionary Theory Make Sense?

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 17, 2010 in Christian Theology,Guest Post

christ of st john of the cross

Common Sense Atheism welcomes another guest blogger: Ken Pulliam of Former Fundy! Benefiting from his Ph.D. in Christian theology, Ken will discuss the coherence and plausibility of specific Christian doctrines.

cloud_break

I am honored that Luke has invited me to contribute posts to his blog.

I am a former evangelical Christian Pastor and Bible college Professor. I deconverted from Christianity in 1996 because of inconsistencies within Christian doctrine.

One of those inconsistent doctrines lies at the core of Christian belief: namely, that Jesus Christ died for sinners. Typically, in evangelical circles this is understood in terms of Jesus bearing the punishment in place of the sinners who deserved it. This is called the Penal Substitutionary Theory of the Atonement, hereafter PST. This idea is succinctly stated by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The PST states that Jesus, who was innocent of sin, took the punishment that was deserved by sinners, so that God could be just in forgiving sinners. Several points within this view are inconsistent with the rest of evangelical Christian doctrine.

One problem has to do with the injustice of punishing an innocent person in place of the guilty. Our moral intuitions tell us that it is never right to inflict punishment on an innocent individual. According to Christian theology, our moral intuitions come as a result of being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Paul says that even the heathen have a proper sense of what is right and wrong (Romans 2:14-15), presumably because of the imago Dei. Thus, it seems that there is a contradiction between the sense of right and wrong implanted in man via the imago Dei and the revealed teaching of Scripture that God was just in accepting the punishment of his innocent Son in the place of guilty sinners.

Evangelical theologians have attempted to explain this contradiction in several ways, none of which I find satisfying. One is to say that because Jesus volunteered to die as a substitute, then God is just in accepting his punishment in place of sinners. This explanation, however is a non sequitur. The conclusion that God was right in accepting the punishment does not follow from the premise that Jesus volunteered for the suffering. Yes, it is a noble thing if one lays down his life for the sake of others, as in a soldier falling on a grenade to protect his comrades, but that is not what we have in the atonement. In the PST, we have God accepting the voluntary death of Jesus as sufficient punishment deserved by sinners for their sin.

Another explanation offered by evangelicals is that it is permissible for a person to pay a fine that has been judicially imposed upon another person. If, for example, one incurs a fine of $200 for speeding, the court does not care if someone else pays the fine for the convicted. This explanation, however, is a red herring. It introduces a topic irrelevant to the problem at hand. It confuses a monetary debt with a moral debt. A pecuniary debt can be transferred but the penalty for a moral crime cannot. While a court would allow a substitute to pay the fine imposed on someone convicted of a crime, it would not allow a substitute to be incarcerated or executed for the crime. And even when paying a fine, the benefactor would have to give the money to the convicted and the convicted would still pay the fine. So you still have the fine being paid by the one who is guilty of the crime.

A third attempt to justify the PST is to say that God imputes the sin of man to Jesus so that he is viewed by God as in fact being guilty. This is the Christian doctrine of imputation. The doctrine is derived from the Greek word λογίζομαι (logidzomai), which occurs 49 times in the Greek New Testament. The KJV translates it: to reckon, to count, to impute. It is a term that was used in accounting to refer to placing something on one’s account.

While the word is not used here, the idea is found in Philemon 1:18, where Paul tells Philemon in regard to Onesimus (a runaway slave): “But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account.”

There are three elements to the Christian doctrine of imputation. (1) God put Adam’s sin on his posterity’s account; (2) God put man’s sins on Jesus’ account, and Jesus paid the debit on the cross, with the result that (3) God puts Christ’s righteousness (as a credit) on the believer’s account.

What is wrong with this explanation? Legally, imputation of guilt is only justified if the person to whom the imputation is made is in some way complicit in the crime. For example, as Norman McIlwain points out:

The owners of a company are responsible for actions that happen within the company rules and consent of management. Corporate manslaughter is a good example. However, the company would need to be involved in the action. One employee murdering another in a fit of temper, for example, would not make the owners of the company guilty for the crime. It would have happened without their consent and certainly against company rules. However, drugs manufactured that later are found to cause death would make the company and its owners liable. Guilt would rightly be imputed – because of the company’s consent to the manufacture.1

In the above example, the owners of the pharmaceutical company would be complicit in the crime because they either knew or should have known the dangers associated with the drugs they were manufacturing. Thus, they can legitimately be held culpable. But theologians do not believe Jesus was complicit in the crimes of humanity.

Another problem with the doctrine of imputation is that if the sins of mankind were somehow imputed to Jesus, then he in real terms became a sinner. Thus, he was not truly an innocent. So either way, there is a problem for Christian doctrine. You have a sinful Savior or an unjust Father.

The fourth explanation is the one that evangelicals use when everything fails; they say it is a mystery. As the argument goes, God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9) and one cannot expect to be able to explain the ways of God in human terms. Besides the fact that this is really not an answer, it also has other problems. First, if we can’t trust our moral intuitions when it comes to punishing an innocent, then how do we know that we can trust any of our moral intuitions? Second, if God’s ways are beyond our comprehension, how can we say anything definitively about God? It seems that one has just thrown out the whole enterprise of Christian theology.

In conclusion, therefore, the central doctrine of evangelical theology – that Jesus died in the place of sinners – is fatally flawed and must be rejected. It is true that a minority of evangelicals have offered alternative theories of the atonement but they have been roundly criticized as unbiblical by the overwhelming majority of the movement.2

- Ken Pulliam

  1. McIlwain, The Biblical Revelation of the Cross. []
  2. For example, see Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, and Andrew Sach, Piereced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution. Evangelicals as a whole will never give up the PST and therefore evangelical Christianity must be rejected. For many additional problems with the PST, see my blog. []

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 81 comments… read them below or add one }

Reginald Selkirk April 17, 2010 at 6:27 am

There are three elements to the Christian doctrine of imputation. (1) God put Adam’s sin on his posterity’s account; (2) God put man’s sins on Jesus’ account, and Jesus paid the debit on the cross, with the result that (3) God puts Christ’s righteousness (as a credit) on the believer’s account.
What is wrong with this explanation?

There is more wrong with this than you point out. Accounts to be paid, punishment to be meted out – apparently Yahweh is merely an accountant, forced to follow some rules handed down from above Him. I want to know: who makes these rules that God must follow?

  (Quote)

cartesian April 17, 2010 at 6:41 am

>>Our moral intuitions tell us that it is never right to inflict punishment on an innocent individual.>>

No they don’t. We all believe in penal substitution at least sometimes, as no less than David Lewis pointed out (in “Do we believe in penal substitution?”). For example, we think that sometimes fines are an appropriate punishment for crimes, and we think it sometimes morally permissible (and even praiseworthy) for an innocent someone to pay a guilty someone else’s fine. You seem to be aware of this, but you dismiss it as irrelevant. Well, it’s not irrelevant. It’s entirely pertinent. If it’s true, a major premise in your argument is false.

You also say “A pecuniary debt can be transferred but the penalty for a moral crime cannot.” I don’t really get this distinction. When I’m fined for littering, haven’t I incurred both a moral debt and a monetary debt? Why impose the monetary debt if there were no moral debt? And when the monetary debt is paid, we consider the moral debt to society absolved. And, as we’ve noticed, an innocent person could pay my monetary debt in this case, bearing my punishment in my place, and thereby absolving my moral debt. Nothing wrong with that (at least sometimes, which is all this objection needs).

You also say this: “And even when paying a fine, the benefactor would have to give the money to the convicted and the convicted would still pay the fine. So you still have the fine being paid by the one who is guilty of the crime.” I think that’s a pretty uncomfortable stretch (wouldn’t the innocent still be bearing the punishment? but that’s all we were talking about!), but alright. In that case, just suppose this is what’s happening in penal substitution as well, and your problem dissolves. Jesus isn’t paying our debt, he’s earning some moral merit that he’ll then transfer to us so that we can pay our own debt. That was almost Anselm’s view, though not quite. In any event, it avoids the contradiction you allege exists.

So the alleged contradiction in Christian theology dissolves. However, I don’t think this would even have been, as you say, a contradiction *within* Christian theology. You pointed out an alleged inconsistency between ONE theory of the atonement–there are others to choose from!–and a moral intuition. In any event, though the moral intuition you point to doesn’t exist. So back to the drawing board.

To put it a little more clearly, your argument seemed to go like this:
(1) Christian theology teaches penal substitution, i.e. that Jesus (an innocent person) was punished for our sake, and that this wasn’t morally wrong.
(2) Intuitively, it’s always morally wrong to punish innocent people.
(3) Therefore, there’s a contradiction within Christian theology.
(4) Therefore, Christianity is false.

What I’m saying is that (1) is false, (2) is false, and the move from (1)&(2) to (3) is fallacious. (1) is false because penal substitution is just one theory of the atonement among many, and it is not essential to Christian theology. (2) is false because we do think it sometimes permissible for the innocent to bear the punishment of the guilty. (1) and (2) don’t entail (3) because neither (1) nor (2) is essential to Christian theology, so neither is part of Christian theology per se. So, there are lots of very plausible ways for the Christian to avoid your argument.

I hope this wasn’t what deconverted you! It would be an awful shame to be deconverted on the grounds of a bad argument. (I’m inclined to believe, though, that it’s never really arguments all by themselves that convert or deconvert people.)

  (Quote)

cartesian April 17, 2010 at 6:45 am

Another problem with the doctrine of imputation is that if the sins of mankind were somehow imputed to Jesus, then he in real terms became a sinner. Thus, he was not truly an innocent. So either way, there is a problem for Christian doctrine.

Why think it would be problematic for the Christian to say that Jesus became “in real terms” a sinner? The Bible seems to teach exactly that:

1 Cor 5:21 — “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

So there’s another way for the Christian to sidestep your argument.

  (Quote)

cartesian April 17, 2010 at 7:00 am

Reginald,

Accounts to be paid, punishment to be meted out – apparently Yahweh is merely an accountant, forced to follow some rules handed down from above Him. I want to know: who makes these rules that God must follow?

You seem to infer from the fact that God pays accounts and metes out punishments that he’s *merely* an accountant. Even supposing that accountants are in the business of meting out punishments, why think it follows that if God has some accounting jobs that he’s *merely* an accountant? That doesn’t follow. I just did my taxes; that’s my job in the family, and it involves accounting. But surely it doesn’t follow that I’m merely an accountant. So that inference is bad. You also make this fallacious inference from a false premise, since surely accountants aren’t in the business of meting out punishments. Strike two! ;-)

Also, you ask “who makes these rules that God must follow?” Why suppose anyone did? Perhaps they’re like the rules of mathematics, which I take it nobody made. Or, alternatively, perhaps God made these rules. What’s the problem? (And no, it doesn’t follow from the fact that God made them that they could have been otherwise.)

  (Quote)

anon April 17, 2010 at 7:31 am

Hey Ken,

I have some thoughts/questions not about the penal substitution stuff specifically but about things you say about moral intuitions.

“Our moral intuitions tell us that it is never right to inflict punishment on an innocent individual. According to Christian theology, our moral intuitions come as a result of being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Paul says that even the heathen have a proper sense of what is right and wrong (Romans 2:14-15), presumably because of the imago Dei.”

“First, if we can’t trust our moral intuitions when it comes to punishing an innocent, then how do we know that we can trust any of our moral intuitions?”

If I understand you right, you are saying something like this: Consider two theories about moral epistemology:

Theory 1: Our moral intuitions are veridical. If we have the intuition that some moral proposition is true (false), then its true (false).

Theory 2: Our moral intuitions are completely unreliable. If we have the intuition that some moral proposition is true (false), then that counts as no evidence that its true (false) at all.

Then I take you to be saying that if we give up on Theory 1, then we have to go with Theory 2. Those are the only options. But Theory 2 really sucks. So we had better stick with Theory 1.

I wonder about this. To me it seems like there is more wiggle room here. I think you could have a theory like this:

Theory 1.5: Our moral intuitions are reliable but not perfect. If we have the intuition that some moral proposition is true (false), then that is evidence that its true (false). But we have to allow for revisionism. Intuitions get first pass. They’re innocent until proven guilty. But they can be overridden by defeaters.

So for any moral proposition that seems intuitively true to me, my intuition counts as evidence in favor of it but it is revisable.

So here are my questions: Do you think Theory 1.5 is reasonable? If so, how does that apply to your reflections about Penal Substitution? If not, why not?

  (Quote)

Tom Molloy April 17, 2010 at 7:37 am

Yeah this is a weak post on PST. PST is falling out of favor with theologians for better reasons than these. I, for one, don’t see contradictions with my intuitions.

I agree that we have the intuition that it is wrong to punish an innocent person for a guilty person. But that is from the perspective of a judge inflicting punishment on a 3rd party who is in no way responsible for the crimes of the guilty person. If Jesus is truly God then the picture is different–it is the judge volunteering to pay the punishment on behalf of the guilty. But even this is misleading because judges typically have no personal investment in whether or not the punishment is paid.

Rather, a better analogy would be like a murder case wherein the victim’s family freely chooses pay the punishment incurred by the murderer for the sake of showing their love and compassion for the murderer as well as providing an opportunity for the murderer’s reform. I have the intuition that this is the moral right of the family; we would obviously not demand it of them but I see no moral problem with their freely choosing to do this. In fact, it seems to be a praiseworthy thing; they have done something painful for the sake of helping some other person. You can make the punishment incurred as strong as you want–even death–it does not change the fact that paying the punishment is a prerogative of the family as it is they who are owed the debt. With relation to God and the punishment due sin, God is owed the debt and thus has some say in how it is paid, including volunteering to do it himself. His choosing to take the punishment upon himself is not only morally neutral; it seems to be morally admirable.

If there is any moral outrage it would be in the murderer’s accepting the payment for their murder–allowing an innocent person to pay a price on their behalf. This should trigger a realization of one’s own sinfulness in contrast to the love of the family as well as gratitude and a changed lifestyle. This is exactly the situation we find ourselves in with relation to God.

So rather than seeing conflicting moral intuitions I see my moral intuitions about the above example perfectly played out in how PST actually works in Christian religion and I see this as good inductive evidence for the truthfulness of PST in particular and Christian religion in general.

  (Quote)

phyzics April 17, 2010 at 7:38 am

Although I’m no theist, Cartesian is right that PST isn’t the only way to view the crucifixion. For instance, the eastern churches see Christ as restoring an ontological relationship with God where the individual can then begin to work out their salvation through faith and works. So even if one were to actually disprove PST, it would not entail that Christianity is false.

  (Quote)

Charles April 17, 2010 at 7:44 am

This seems like one of those “Not My Theology” replies.

  (Quote)

humbly April 17, 2010 at 8:04 am

cartesian is right on many levels, and the original argument seems more “i don’t like PST” than “PST is inconsistent”. the author would do well to consider how the doctrine of the Trinity impacts on PST.

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 17, 2010 at 8:12 am

Cartesian,

Thank you for your thoughtful reply. You refer to David Lewis’ article, “Do We Believe in Penal Substitution.” Yes, I have read Lewis’ very brief article on Penal Substitution. He carefully nuances his position. He asks if a person guilty of a burglary could have his punishment paid by a substitute. He says : Mostly we think not . He also references A. M. Quinton’s contention that its logically impossible to “punish an innocent” because of the definition of the word “punish.” Concerning Quinton’s contention, Lewis says: Maybe so but for the sake of easier communication he will use the terminology. I actually think Quinton’s argument is unassailable. Punishment, based on the retributive theory of justice, which is the theory taught in the Bible, can only be inflicted on the guilty. One might inflict harm on an innocent but its not rightly called “punishment.” Lewis goes on to argue that it might be that we allow a substitute to pay a monetary fine because we have no practical way to prevent it . Even if we required the criminal to pay the fine out of his own bank account, it would be practically impossible to prevent someone else from giving the criminal the money to deposit in his account.

You say: When I’m fined for littering, haven’t I incurred both a moral debt and a monetary debt? Why impose the monetary debt if there were no moral debt?. Good point but if one takes the Bible seriously, the description of sin is not a par with littering or some other very minor offense that our courts only impose fines on. In the Scripture, its a capital offense. Paul says that the penalty is death. We know that it would never be right to allow a substitute for a capital offense.

Yes, I know there are other theories of the atonement but the PST is more than a theory for the overwhelming number of evangelicals–it is the teaching of Scripture. For example, Roger Nicole, of Reformed Theological Seminary, is representative of the majority when he says: Atonement is the central doctrine of the Christian faith, and penal substitution is the heart of this doctrine..

You say: Why think it would be problematic for the Christian to say that Jesus became “in real terms” a sinner? Because if that is true, then Jesus is not the perfect sacrifice that is required.

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 17, 2010 at 8:16 am

Anon,

thanks for your question. I would personally hold Theory 1.5. However, it seems to me that in evangelical theology Theory 1 is held because of passages like Rom. 2:14-15. Remember that I am arguing that within evangelical theology, the PST is inconsistent.

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 17, 2010 at 8:26 am

Tom,
Thanks. You are right that the PST is being questioned as never before in evangelical Christianity but the great majority are rising up to defend itand to maintain that its at the very heart and core of the Christian faith.

You say: Rather, a better analogy would be like a murder case wherein the victim’s family freely chooses pay the punishment incurred by the murderer for the sake of showing their love and compassion for the murderer as well as providing an opportunity for the murderer’s reform.
I see two problems here: 1) What is the need for the punishment of a substitute in this case? If the family agrees to forgive the criminal, why must someone still die? 2) The Bible at least according to the evangelical interpretation teaches the retributive theory of justice. That is why it is necessary for someone to die but it has to be the person guilty of the crime. As C.S. Lewis pointed out in his article: “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” The Humanitarian theory removes from Punishment the concept of Desert. But the concept of Desert is the only connecting link between punishment and justice . It is only as deserved or undeserved that a sentence can be just or unjust. I do not here contend that the question ‘Is it deserved?’ is the only one we can reasonably ask about a punishment. We may very properly ask whether it is likely to deter others and to reform the criminal. But neither of these two last questions is a question about justice.

  (Quote)

anon April 17, 2010 at 8:28 am

Anon,thanks for your question. I would personally hold Theory 1.5. However, it seems to me that in evangelical theology Theory 1 is held because of passages like Rom. 2:14-15. Remember that I am arguing that within evangelical theology, the PST is inconsistent.  

OK. But I guess I think that its a bit of a stretch to extract Theory 1 out of any passage having to do with being made in the image of God. After all, you’ve got the doctrine of the Fall. Our image was corrupted and deformed in various ways because of sin. So we’ve still got the image of God in us and its still a guide to truth. But given that its corrupted, it is imperfect. All of this, including Theory 1.5, seems to fit within evangelical theology as I understand it. But maybe I’m wrong.

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 17, 2010 at 8:32 am

Humbly,

thanks. I have thought of how the PST impacts on the doctrine of the Trinity and that is a whole additional set of problems. See The PST and the Trinity

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 17, 2010 at 8:35 am

Anon,

Rom. 2:14-15 is talking about man after the fall. While evangelicals would say that the fall did damage to the image of God in man, it did not destroy it and at least according to Paul, it did not distort man’ innate sense of right and wrong. Paul argues also in Rom. 1 that man’s problem is not that he doesn’t know whats right and wrong but that he suppresses the truth and rebels against it.

  (Quote)

anon April 17, 2010 at 8:54 am

Romans 2:14-15

“For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things in the Law, these, not having the Law are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing them or else defending them”

I don’t get it. How do you get Theory 1 out of this rather than Theory 1.5? To me the relevant passage seems compatible with either.

  (Quote)

Steven April 17, 2010 at 8:58 am

I don’t understand the significance of the “our moral intuitions tell us” move. Why not just suppose our moral intuitions are in error, like Paul the apostle claimed of the Jews and the Greeks?

What do your moral intuitions count for or matter, anyway?

  (Quote)

Mark April 17, 2010 at 8:59 am

For example, we think that sometimes fines are an appropriate punishment for crimes, and we think it sometimes morally permissible (and even praiseworthy) for an innocent someone to pay a guilty someone else’s fine.

But that’s pretty obviously disanalogous. In that case, the thief deprived me of resources I have a right to, and the third party is restoring to me an equivalent amount of resources under the condition that I not pursue the thief any further. In Christianity, however, human sinfulness isn’t really depriving God of anything. At least, it’s not depriving God of anything whose value is freely exchangeable with human suffering, bizarrely construed as some fungible resource.

  (Quote)

drj April 17, 2010 at 9:28 am

If there is any moral outrage it would be in the murderer’s accepting the payment for their murder–allowing an innocent person to pay a price on their behalf. This should trigger a realization of one’s own sinfulness in contrast to the love of the family as well as gratitude and a changed lifestyle. This is exactly the situation we find ourselves in with relation to God.

So if we should have moral outrage at a murderers acceptance of “salvation”, should we not then have moral outrage at those who accept Christ’s offer of salvation?

  (Quote)

Mark April 17, 2010 at 9:33 am

I don’t understand the significance of the “our moral intuitions tell us” move. Why not just suppose our moral intuitions are in error, like Paul the apostle claimed of the Jews and the Greeks?

What do your moral intuitions count for or matter, anyway?

It’s much easier to read the Bible as a man-made document if it reflects some odd moral conceptions that we’ve long abandoned but which were still prevalent at the time of its writing. Most Westerners today would find it rather ridiculous if you told them they needed to sacrifice goats in order to appease the divine.

  (Quote)

End of Daze April 17, 2010 at 9:40 am

No they don’t. We all believe in penal substitution at least sometimes….For example, we think that sometimes fines are an appropriate punishment for crimes, and we think it sometimes morally permissible (and even praiseworthy) for an innocent someone to pay a guilty someone else’s fine.

I find this argument a bit weak. People are willing to allow someone else to pay a fine for minor violations as Ken Pulliam clearly noted. We do not allow substitution for major violations.

No one is willing to allow Bernie Madoff, Sadam Hussein, Timothy McVeigh off the hook with substitution or even your garden variety murderer or rapist. That would be a moral outrage.

The substitution for all of mankind’s sins is rather major. Not a case of littering.

This is only part of a much larger argument against the Jesus story. As such, the argument has merit when added with all the other considerations which are inconsistent such as Tom’s having God punish himself for the sins of mankind.

When taken together, the story just doesn’t hold water without a whole lot of rationalizing.

  (Quote)

Briang April 17, 2010 at 10:00 am

I’m not an expert on various theories of atonement. It’s my understanding that the Catholic approach is somewhat different from the punishment view.
In my own thinking, I approach the subject from a different angle. It seems to me an act of love to willingly sacrifice oneself for another person. Take the story of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. When he was in a concentration camp, the Nazis were going to execute a prisoner by starvation. Kolbe voluntarily asked to take the man’s place and the Nazis agreed. Can there be any doubt that Kolbe performed a supreme act of love and kindness towards his fellow man?
But he also suffered injustice at the same time. The injustice was not on Kolbe’s part, but on the part of the Nazis. So the question is is God more like Kolbe or the Nazis. I think it’s obvious that God was more like Kolbe. (or perhaps I should say that Kolbe’s action was godly). Jesus’ willing death on the cross was a profound act of kindness, even though he also suffered injustice. The romans and the Jewish leaders did commit wrong in condemning an innocent person. But how is God blameworthy for that injustice? That would be like saying that Saint Maximilian Kolbe was blameworthy, because he allowed himself to be unjustly punished by the Nazis.
You might say, since God is all powerful and all good, he should never allow any injustice to occur, but this would then be just a restatement of the problem of evil and wouldn’t be a unique problem for the atonement.

  (Quote)

lukeprog April 17, 2010 at 10:11 am

Ken,

Thanks for adding your replies to your thoughtful objectors. This is an interesting discussion, and one I am not qualified to engage in – which is why I invited Ken! :)

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 17, 2010 at 10:15 am

Briang,

RC theologians seem to be mostly divided between Anselm’s satisfaction theory (the conservatives) or Abelard’s moral influence theory (the liberals) but there is no official church position.

Keep in mind that I am arguing against evangelical Christianity using their own assumptions and doctrine. I am looking at it as an insider not an outsider. Evangelicals are for the most part adamant that the PST is more than a theory–it is the teaching of Scripture.

As for your analogy, you are right that it is very noble for someone to volunteer to suffer in another’s place. No one would dispute that. The issue is how is justice served through it. If justice is based on the retributive theory, which I think in the Bible it clearly is ( lex talonis ), then true justice can only be accomplished by punishing the guilty. As I mentioned earlier, in reality, you can’t punish an innocent–it’s logically impossible. To inflict harm on an innocent person and call it punishment is itself a miscarriage of justice.

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 17, 2010 at 10:20 am

BTW, the only evangelical philosopher that I am aware of that has tried to defend the justice of the PST is Steven Porter of BIOLA. He earned his Ph.D. in philosophy under Dallas Willard (an evangelical) at USC. Two of Porter’s articles are available on-line, here and here. I have prepared a critique of his position which I hope to have published in Philosophia Christi in the near future.

I should mention that Richard Swinburne has also written on the atonement but he does not defend the PST view.

  (Quote)

Tom Molloy April 17, 2010 at 11:58 am

Ken–I’m glad I read all the way to your last comment because I was just about to link Porter’s articles. For those that don’t know–his theory that PST is actually a good and that though God could have freely chosen to forgive sinners there are great goods accomplished by the punishment of Christ on the cross that warrant PST. Whether or not you agree with that assessment you have to admit that it offers a way to justify PST for the Christian. I, for one, find some of his arguments cogent.

As for your question about the need for punishment–there are obviously many ways to address that. One could take an Augustinian (On Free Choice of the Will) perspective and see punishment for sin as not something that’s necessarily inflicted by God but which is inflicted by the act of sin itself. Sin just, by its nature, brings just punishment to the sinner. Think of Plato’s justification of morality–being moral IS advantageous because being immoral -just is- a lack of harmony and order in the person in that they confuse the dominance of the mind, emotions and body and elevate one of the later 2 over the earlier 2. There is no extrinsic punishment needed for immorality (although it is not excluded); immorality is its own punishment in that it is a breaking down of what it means to be human. If sin is viewed this way we see humans stuck in a sin-filled world, mastered by sin and thus full of intrinsic punishment already–needing to be rescued. Jesus is able to take the compulsiveness of sin away through his suffering the punishment. This is still PST as Jesus is paying the penalty of sin as a substitute for another even though it’s not necessarily as a appeasement to the Father.

One could also view the punishment (in traditional appeasement terms) as not solely owed by individual humans (although it is certainly this) but also owed by humanity as a whole and thus payable by a representative human. This is, I think, the thinking behind the whole “Only man should pay the penalty; only God could pay the penalty.” Thus one could hold to a retributive theory of justice in that mankind owed a debt while still holding to the justice of Christ paying that debt in that he paid it as a man.

It’s important to note that the Christian can answer objections by either 1) Denying that God -required- a satisfaction for sin and the cross is a good, or 2) Acknowledging that God required a satisfaction for sin and provide an answer for your question as to why. Porter does number one and many others are trying to do number 2.

I, for one, am halfway between thinking that God -could- freely forgive all sins without a satisfaction and thinking that he could not. My reasons for thinking that he -could- are that he does this numerous times in the prophets–he says that he freely forgives Israel not on the merits of their obedience to him but out of respect of his own character. One could explain this in terms of Romans 3:25-26 though which is why I say I’m only halfway there. So I’m basically halfway satisfied by the types of reasons Porter offers while also trying to find reasons that satisfy number 2 above. If it turns out number 1 is the true way to view the Atonement, that’s fine with me. But I’m not convinced number 2 is a failed endeavor.

Interested in hearing your thoughts.

  (Quote)

Mark April 17, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Rather, a better analogy would be like a murder case wherein the victim’s family freely chooses pay the punishment incurred by the murderer for the sake of showing their love and compassion for the murderer as well as providing an opportunity for the murderer’s reform. … In fact, it seems to be a praiseworthy thing.

Huh? That strikes me as crazy. If the family wanted to provide the murderer an opportunity for reform, why would they have to additionally incarcerate themselves? Retribution isn’t some wild animal that demands to be fed, no matter by whom.

  (Quote)

cartesian April 17, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Hi Ken,
I thought you might have read that Lewis article, since you seemed acquainted with the general thought therein.

[Lewis] asks if a person guilty of a burglary could have his punishment paid by a substitute. He says : Mostly we think not.

I think he’s right, but that’s enough to challenge that main premise in your argument, namely “intuitively, it’s *never* morally permissible to punish the innocent.”

Punishment, based on the retributive theory of justice, which is the theory taught in the Bible, can only be inflicted on the guilty. One might inflict harm on an innocent but its not rightly called “punishment.”

Maybe, but then I suppose we should distinguish *being punished* from *bearing a punishment*. No innocent person can be punished (according to you), but surely innocent people can bear a punishment. Presumably that’s what happens in the legal system when innocent people are sentenced to some punishment. I suppose you’d say (unnaturally, if you ask me) that they’re not being (wrongly) punished, but rather they’re bearing a punishment they don’t deserve. And I suppose this is the way we should describe a case in which an innocent someone pays a guilty someone else’s fine: the innocent someone wasn’t punished, but he did bear a punishment, namely the fine.

But with that distinction in hand, it’s open to the penal substitutionary theorists to say that, strictly speaking (in terms Ken Pulliam prefers), Jesus wasn’t punished, but he did bear our punishment. However Ken Pulliam prefers to describe the case of an innocent paying a guilty’s fine, that’s how we’d like to describe the case of Jesus and us. Since surely you must find some way consistent with your linguistic scruples concerning “punishment” to describe the fine case, surely the PSTheorist has a way out here.

Also, if we take that 2 Cor. verse I quoted last time seriously, it may be that Jesus *was* guilty when he was punished. If he really “became sin” for our sake, then God could justly punish him, even on your understanding of “punishment.”

Lewis goes on to argue that it might be that we allow a substitute to pay a monetary fine because we have no practical way to prevent it . Even if we required the criminal to pay the fine out of his own bank account, it would be practically impossible to prevent someone else from giving the criminal the money to deposit in his account.

Maybe. But surely there are times when we think it entirely morally permissible and even praiseworthy for an innocent someone to pay a guilty someone else’s fine. And that’s all your opponent needs here to resist your argument.

We know that it would never be right to allow a substitute for a capital offense.

How do we know that? Intuition again? I’m a big fan of intuition, but personally I don’t have that particular intuition.

It’s worth pointing out here that you’re modifying your original argument. Originally, you claimed it’s NEVER ok for an innocent person to bear the punishment of a guilty person. I think that’s pretty clearly false. Now you seem to be backing off to the claim that, in certain kinds of cases (capital offenses), it’s not ok for an innocent person to bear the punishment of a guilty person.

Yes, I know there are other theories of the atonement but the PST is more than a theory for the overwhelming number of evangelicals

OK, but then your conclusion should be that SOME FORMS of Christianity are false. At certain points in your post, it seemed clear that you were only going after some Evangelicals. But elsewhere in your post, you were clear that your target was Christianity itself. The argument you give fails to disprove Christianity. At most, it disproves certain species of Evangelicalism. (But I don’t think your argument even succeeds at that.)

Why think it would be problematic for the Christian to say that Jesus became “in real terms” a sinner? Because if that is true, then Jesus is not the perfect sacrifice that is required

I doubt either of us competently grasps all the concepts relevant to full-blown sacrificial religious systems (it’s just too foreign to us), but I’m pretty sure that in order for something to be a perfect sacrifice, it just has to approach the altar unblemished. What happens in (at least some) sacrifices is that the sin/guilt of the sacrificer is transferred to the *previously* unblemished, perfect sacrifice. That’s what happened with that scapegoat in Lev. 16, right? And I suppose that’s why they go on to kill the thing, when they go on to kill the thing. (Though occasionally they don’t go on to kill the thing, which I think happens with that scapegoat for some reason.)

  (Quote)

Tom Molloy April 17, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Huh? That strikes me as crazy. If the family wanted to provide the murderer an opportunity for reform, why would they have to additionally incarcerate themselves? Retribution isn’t some wild animal that demands to be fed, no matter by whom.

That just is the thing being debated Mark. :) PST is traditionally upheld in virtue of the fact that justice -demands- satisfaction. If this were not the case, as Dr. Pulliam points out, God could simply have freely forgiven sin.

With the above analogy, the family cannot just freely forgive the murderer and at the same time remove them from the bonds of their incarceration; the murderer still has a prison term to fulfill. So the family can go a step further and take this prison term upon themselves out of love for the murderer.

This is what God does according to PST–there is an objective demand that justice be met and this demand is paid by God on behalf of humanity. If there is no demand then it just is not PST–this is, for example, what Dr. Porter proposes. I’m okay with that conclusion but it just is not PST. However, I still think there is something to said on behalf of PST which is why I am offering some of the reasons that I am.

  (Quote)

Tom Molloy April 17, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Also, if I’m not mistaken, Porter is not offering a justification of PST; he is offering a justification of the cross. He rejects that justice -need- be served; he sees the cross as a free-will good that is enacted by God.

In light of that, my first paragraph of my second post is confusing because I portray Porter’s article as justifying PST. I meant, rather, that he is attempting to justify the cross–not PST. The punishment of Christ on the cross was a -good- thing and this is why God did it; he did not have any objective demands of justice to meet.

  (Quote)

Mark April 17, 2010 at 1:04 pm

That just is the thing being debated Mark. :) PST is traditionally upheld in virtue of the fact that justice -demands- satisfaction.

I understand. But I’m arguing that we have no intuition supporting this outside of the theological case. Most people in our society would call a parent who incarcerated himself in his son’s murderer’s stead crazy, not noble or praiseworthy, at least when no one need be incarcerated. (Indeed, he would even be blameworthy if in incarcerating himself he neglected his other children.) This is particularly striking because they would consider a parent who simply forgave his son’s murderer to be noble. The best explanation of these facts is that people consider entitlements to others’ suffering as something that can be waived, but not something that can be transferred. (Of course, entitlements to mere remuneration, as in theft, can be both waived and transferred.) In other words, people don’t consider the vicarious application of punishment upon an innocent, even if consensual, to count as a satisfaction of justice.

  (Quote)

Tom Molloy April 17, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Mark–you have no intuition that justice demands satisfaction of wrongs outside of theological cases? I have a strong intuition that justice does demand punishment and I think that is evidenced by our legal code and common beliefs.

I would agree that incarcerating yourself in another’s stead -when no punishment is necessary- is crazy. But that’s the debate: is a punishment necessary? My intuition that a parent who takes the necessary punishment upon themselves in order to free their children is doing a praiseworthy thing. Even if the child misuses this freedom and uses it as an excuse to keep committing crimes this does not subtract from the praiseworthiness (I think) of the parent’s action.

You’re right to bring up the forgiveness as noble. This is I think a source of huge confusion in the entire debate. We look at ourselves and think freely forgiving sin is a noble thing. We then ask why God can’t do the same; if freely forgiving sin absent just satisfaction is a morally good thing why doesn’t God do it? Here is the confusion, I think: freely forgiving sin is a moral good -for us- because we are assured that the demands of justice will ultimately be met -by God-. Herein is the dilemma; if the demands of justice rise an fall on God’s actions then it is truly an evil if he freely forgives sin without retribution (if the demands of justice truly require satisfaction). The Bible’s talk of demanding forgiveness of us is always couched in a promise that ultimate satisfaction lie in God’s hands. This explains why our moral intuitions regarding forgiveness are correct when explaining -our actions- but fall short of explaining God’s actions.

As an analogy: consider a judge. He is the final arbiter of justice in our courts. As we already mentioned we think it admirable if the family freely forgives the murderer. But we see it (I think) as a gross miscarriage of justice of the judge simply lets the criminal walk.

We have to be careful with analogies here because this analogy, by its nature, omits an important point that my analogy of the family included: in the previous analogy the family was the one bearing the right of justice wherein here it is the judge. I used the family analogy to bring out the intuition that we do not think of vicarious punishment as immoral when the one holding the rights of justice undergoes the punishment of their own volition. This undercuts the objection that punishing an innocent person for the crimes of the guilty is immoral–our intuition here is correct when speaking of punishing some uninvolved, innocent third person. But this is dis-analogous with the situation at hand; the person being suffered is not an innocent third person but the very one with the right to demand justice! My intuition in that case is that the one with the right to demand justice can freely choose to pay that right in a substitutionary way that still fulfills the demands of justice, is not immoral, and is in fact a great good. This is what God is doing.

The analogy of the judge artificially separates the one holding the right to justice from the one who is the final arbiter of justice. In the actual situation of God and PST God is both the final arbiter of justice as well as the one with the legitimate grievance of injustice. Thus justice -must- be paid because he is the final arbiter of justice and to freely forgive without satisfaction would be unjust. But, further, he may freely choose to pay the penalty himself because he is the one against whom the grievance was committed. Thus, he is both the judge and the family. This, to me, is the proper combination of analogies.

Thus, I would hold to the retributive theory of punishment ultimately while also allowing for us, as humans, to be in a position where, for us, we should follow a corrective theory of punishment or some other thing. Why is this? Because we are not the final arbiters of justice. God must ultimately punish sin because the demands of justice (which, by the way is not an abstract concept but part of his character) demand it. But we are not in the same position as him–we may freely forgive and indeed this free forgiveness is a moral good. But this is only because we may rest that God will still ultimately satisfy the demands of justice.

This puts me at odds with Porter because Porter (I believe) denies the retributive theory of justice and seeks to justify the Atonement on other grounds–the cross was a great good. It is important to distinguish things here; the theory of Atonement is not in danger because the PST is in danger. There are other ways to justify the Atonement.

PST is being attacked because people object to 1) Innocent people being punished in place of guilty people, 2) The requirement of the retributive theory of justice that all sin must be ultimately punished, or 3) Some other thing. I object to 1 on grounds of the moral intuitions brought up by the family analogy. I object to 2 on grounds of the moral intuitions brought up by the judge analogy. You may have different moral intuitions in these cases but I am confident that the majority of people agree that 1) Justice demands satisfaction, and 2) Although it is morally abhorrent to punish an innocent, uninvolved third person, the one who holds the grievance may choose to undergo the punishment themselves on behalf of another. This is further apparent in the case of God; God just is justice so all debts of sin/injustice are owed to him.

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 17, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Tom,

Thanks for the helpful feedback. I desire to sharpen and refine my thinking on this point. I have looked for good responses in the literature and frankly there is not much. Theologians mostly don’t deal with the subject and very few philosophers have as well. I would be happy to send you the rough draft of my article on Porter’s view if you have time to read it. My email address is pulliam at mail dot com.

Now to your reply. First, since the PST is a dominant view among those who take the Bible as their authority, I think that philosophers have to be careful to understand the teaching in light of the relevant scriptural texts. To me it seems clear, that the biblical writers held to the retributive theory of punishment. Second, in light of that, I think Augustine’s position is somewhat at odds with that theory. The Bible seems to make it clear that God is angry about sin and therefore needs to be propitiated (I know there is debate over the meaning of that word but I am understanding it in the way advocated by Leon Morris, namely that it refers to “satisfaction” or “quenching” of wrath. Augustine seems to say that the punishment is just a necessary consequence of the sin. While this is punishment in some sense, it is not really the type of punishment that one envisions in the retributive theory. Third, I believe the most likely way that Paul and other biblical writers thought of the atonement was as you suggest in terms of Jesus being the representative of the race, in the same way that Adam was the representative when he sinned. This raises the whole issue of how it can be just for the descendants of Adam to be held culpable for what they did not do even as it raises the issue of how man can benefit from what they did not do, i.e., suffer punishment for their own sins. I think for the ancient mind, this was not problematic because they held to a concept of collective culpability. I think that is why Joshua saw no ethical problem with executing all of Achan’s family for the individual sin of Achan or why Samuel saw no problem with executing all of the Amalekites for what their ancestors did 400 years prior. To the ancient, this made sense. To man today, it does not. I have read some of the philosophical literature on this that sprang up after WWII when the question was raised as to whether the whole German nation should be held culpable for the holocaust and other atrocities. The consensus seems to be that it would be unjust to hold every person within a group responsible for what some or even the majority within the group did.

You say: I, for one, am halfway between thinking that God -could- freely forgive all sins without a satisfaction and thinking that he could not. My reasons for thinking that he -could- are that he does this numerous times in the prophets–he says that he freely forgives Israel not on the merits of their obedience to him but out of respect of his own character.
This also seems to be the teaching of Jesus. He freely forgives and he offers parables of persons freely forgiving to illustrate the kingdom of heaven. It seems to me, using my moral intuitions again, that this is actually a more noble and virtuous act on the part of the one offended. And in reality, if God cannot forgive until punishment has been rendered, then is that in any real sense forgiveness? If the crime has been “paid for”, what is there left to forgive?

  (Quote)

Mark April 17, 2010 at 2:36 pm

My intuition that a parent who takes the necessary punishment upon themselves in order to free their children is doing a praiseworthy thing.

Of course we agree that sacrifice for others’ benefit is/can be praiseworthy. But I don’t think that’s what’s at issue. Rather, it’s whether it makes sense (outside a theological context) for an injustice to be discharged by a non-compensatory punishment to someone besides the wrongdoer. And I apologize, but I don’t see how anything you wrote there addresses this question rather than reiterating your answer to it.

I have a strong intuition that justice does demand punishment and I think that is evidenced by our legal code and common beliefs.

This is ambiguous. Let’s be more precise in our analogies, because I think there may be a confusion here. There are two distinct situations.

Situation 1. Bob’s son is murdered. A judge convicts the murderer to life in prison. According to his society’s legal system, however, Bob has the right to waive the sentence if he chooses. In the end, Bob forgives the murderer and lets him go free. Bob resumes his normal life.

Situation 2. Bob’s son is murdered, and a judge again convicts the murderer to life in prison. Bob doesn’t have a say in this, but he nevertheless disguises himself as the murderer so that he, and not the murderer, will receive the prison sentence. The murderer goes free.

You say that situation 1. constitutes a miscarriage of justice. For in that case, the act of injustice (the murder) is not discharged on a punishment. And indeed, our own legal code conforms to this thinking, since we don’t actually let murderer’s go just because the right person forgives them. Yet you appear to say that justice has been done in the second situation, simply because the crime did result in a punishment. But nowadays virtually no one who agrees with you about the first situation is going to agree with you about the second. Those who say that justice must be discharged on a punishment (no getting off easy just because you’re forgiven!) aren’t going to say it can be discharged on just any old punishment. It has to be discharged on the right punishment, i.e., an appropriate punishment to the offender. That’s why we also wouldn’t let a murderer go just because his victim’s family signed up for the death penalty.

  (Quote)

Mark April 17, 2010 at 2:50 pm

That’s why we also wouldn’t let a murderer go just because his victim’s family signed up for the death penalty.

I meant to add: Or if the judge signs up for the death penalty, for that matter.

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 17, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Cartesian,
thanks for your feedback. I do appreciate the dialogue as I am looking to sharpen my thinking on this subject.
Lewis says: Mostly we think not, with regard to a substitute paying the penalty for a burglar but the only illustration that he gives relates to someone paying a fine. I agree that does not seem to be as counter-intuitive as does a person suffering incarceration or execution as a substitute. There is just something about that which seems clearly wrong to me and I think the great majority of human beings. Again, if evangelicalism is correct, this moral intuition is derived from being made in the image of God, so presumably it ought to be thought unjust by God as well.

You say: I suppose we should distinguish *being punished* from *bearing a punishment*. No innocent person can be punished (according to you), but surely innocent people can bear a punishment. Presumably that’s what happens in the legal system when innocent people are sentenced to some punishment. I don’t see that this change of terminology makes any significant difference. An innocent cannot justly bear the punishment or suffer the punishment that was intended for the guilty. The same type of harm can be inflicted on the substitute that would have been inflicted on the guilty but it is not really punishment (as the definition of the word includes the concept of guilt or desert). As a matter of fact, in my opinion, it would be a miscarriage of justice. Why it doesn’t seem to bother us as much when its a monetary fine, I am not completely certain but I think it may have something to do with what Lewis said about the impracticality of forbidding it. Let me suggest another possibility, very tentatively. Could it be that if one had a benefactor, who loved and cared for the guilty person enough to pay the fine, that it might be possible that benefactor would either give the same amount of money to the individual anyway over the course of their friendship (perhaps in gifts and meals and so on) but as a result of this payment, the benefactor would not be able to be as generous. Thus, in a sense the guilty person is suffering a loss of otherwise they would have had? I realize that would only apply if the benefactor had limited resources which all human beings do.

With regard to 2 Cor. 5:21, there are two legitimate ways to translate the verse. It could be rendered became sin or became a sin offering . There are good arguments on both sides so the verse itself is not going to be determinative here. I think most evangelicals are going to be reticent to say that Jesus in any real sense became a sinner because of the problems that would create not only for the fact that he would not be a perfect sacrifice but also for the fact that now you would have the problem of the God-man being a sinner. BTW, a related problem here that I have not yet addressed is why does the Bible present only the Father as needing to be propitiated if the Son is equally God?

You say that it is not morally repulsive to you for an innocent to be substituted in the place of the guilty for a capital offense. Okay, but I think you are in the very extreme minority. The mere fact that it is not allowed in any human jurisprudence system that I know of and also not argued for in any of the philosophical literature dealing with the theories of punishment and justice, makes me think that your intuition is not correct.

I should have been clearer in my article that I am arguing against the dominant form of evangelical Christianity not all the various forms of Christianity. As a matter of fact at least one sect of Christianity has an answer for this dilemma although it creates other problems. The traditional Seventh Day Adventists teach that Jesus inherited fallen humanity in the incarnation and even though he never committed an individual sin, he still had the same sinful nature that all human beings have and therefore could justly suffer the punishment due. Most evangelicals I know would not accept that solution.

  (Quote)

Mark April 17, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Why it doesn’t seem to bother us as much when its a monetary fine, I am not completely certain but I think it may have something to do with what Lewis said about the impracticality of forbidding it.

Don’t forget that we can draw a distinction between (true, retributive) punishment and compensation. Compensation for an unjust act like theft is simply restoring to me the resources/well-being I had before the act and which I am now entitled to have back. Anyone can physically restore it to me on behalf of anyone else. But retributive punishment is the infliction of suffering or penalty to someone for the injustice’s own sake, without regard to its impact on anyone else’s well-being and not replacing what the victim of the injustice lost. So while it’s intuitive to talk about owing me a “debt” of X for taking away my X, it’s much less intuitive to talk about non-compensatory punishment in terms of debt. So I don’t think we can use the metaphor of paying someone else’s debt to illuminate the Christian doctrine of vicarious atonement.

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 18, 2010 at 1:59 am

Mark,

I think you make a good point. Restitution is not really punishment and in the example of one who steals something, he needs to make restitution as well as be punished for the crime itself.

However, in a scenario where a person’s punishment for a crime is only a monetary fine, we do allow others to pay it and it doesn’t necessarily seem to violate our moral intuitions. There is something different, though, in the case of a person being physically punished. That never seems right to our moral intuitions. So, that is why I maintain that Lewis’ article really doesn’t answer the problem.

  (Quote)

rvkevin April 18, 2010 at 3:06 am

However, in a scenario where a person’s punishment for a crime is only a monetary fine, we do allow others to pay it and it doesn’t necessarily seem to violate our moral intuitions.

Care to give an example? The situations I think of where I am indifferent usually involve someone who is unable to pay and opts for a different form of punishment.

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 18, 2010 at 3:47 am

RV,

Thanks. What I should have said is that it does not always violate our moral intuitions. Sometimes it does and sometimes it does not. I am trying to understand why it doesn’t always violate them. It may have something to do with the severity of the offense. A speeding ticket or a littering fine, doesn’t seem to be too big of a deal and therefore we don’t care? However, maybe we should care because if the purpose of the fine is to punish the individual for his offense (retributive theory), then that goal is thwarted by someone else paying it. It might be what Lewis suggested, i.e., its just too impractical to try to prevent it.

  (Quote)

rvkevin April 18, 2010 at 4:32 am

Are there examples of people paying stranger’s speeding tickets? If someone puts another person’s life in danger either by excessive speeding or more serious offenses (DUI), and someone else bears that burden by paying the fine, I can’t say I’m indifferent. I can see why some people would be indifferent to some of the lesser offenses, but only if they deem no crime had taken place and therefore the application of law was not warranted (i.e. minor speeding, loitering, victimless crimes).

  (Quote)

Neil Robinson April 18, 2010 at 4:37 am

As a newcomer to the site, I can’t believe you guys are discussing this as if it’s somehow real! What next – how Santa’s sled really takes to the air?

  (Quote)

Mark April 18, 2010 at 6:35 am

However, in a scenario where a person’s punishment for a crime is only a monetary fine, we do allow others to pay it and it doesn’t necessarily seem to violate our moral intuitions.

It would be easy to argue that penalties for misdemeanors like the fine for littering are simply socially agreed upon disincentives rather than retribution or “justice” or whatever. But it’s also not difficult to argue that such examples are to a great extent compensatory. The state has to pay for the service of removing litter. It also has to pay for the machinery of state that goes into charging people and enforcing fines. Those things have a monetary value which can be made up for.

As a newcomer to the site, I can’t believe you guys are discussing this as if it’s somehow real! What next – how Santa’s sled really takes to the air?

Oh man, you may be in for some shocks if you stay longer!

  (Quote)

lukeprog April 18, 2010 at 7:50 am

Neil,

You should listen to my interview with Thomas Crisp on Biblical inspiration. :)

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 18, 2010 at 8:54 am

mark,

thanks. your insights are helpful.

Neil,

I know that to many it seems like a waste of time to explore these issues but it was significant for me to see the internal problems in order to deconvert from the faith. There are plenty of intelligent people, many with Ph.D. degrees in philosophy or theology or other disciplines who put together some very sophisticated arguments for evangelical Christianity. I am not aware of any such arguments for Santa Claus or his flying sled.

  (Quote)

TaiChi April 18, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Ken,
Perhaps we do not care because we think that the individual now owes a debt to the benefactor? That justice will be served because, having taken on the penalty of the transgressor, the benefactor is now in a position to rightfully request recompense from the transgressor, and we expect him to make that request?

In the case of monetary penalties, justice can easily be served because we understand that the money can be paid back, or that services can be rendered, etc.. But with serious transgressions, the punishment may be such that we doubt the ability of the transgressor to repay the favor (and so to finally take on the punishment which is his due). If one person takes the death sentence handed out to another, then obviously the debt cannot be repaid to the benefactor, and so this would explain why intuitions are particularly strong here that it’s unjust to punish the benefactor in the place of the transgressor. Another worry is that it is hard to believe the transgressor will be punished to the degree required – a benefactor would only sacrifice his life for the transgressor’s own, but there seems to be no equivalent punishment to death that would see justice served.
This doubt too underlies intuitions regarding substitution for physical punishment: what could be required of the transgressor by the benefactor which would be equivalent punishment to thirty lashes? Is there some other non-physical punishment that serve justice, or is physical pain incomparable to non-physical punishments? If not, can we expect that the transgressor will be punished to the degree justice requires? Showing that justice is served here will involve showing that there can be an equivalency, and so that, after all, a proper punishment of the transgressor could occur.

If that’s the right view, then perhaps there’s hope for the doctrine of atonement after all. Perhaps Jesus suffers in our place, and though he is capitally punished, justice can still be served because he continues to exist beyond physical death*. But lest I be too charitable, there are still problems with the idea, for (i) it seems that the obligation we owe to Jesus is exactly the same as what we owed to God (good deeds and faith), so the substitution effectively changes nothing; and (ii), God and Jesus are the same being, so it doesn’t look as though the obligation transfers from one sentencer to another.

* Everyone survives bodily death on the Christian view. Perhaps that’s why Cartesian doesn’t share your intuition about substitution in the case of capital punishment. If that’s right, then perhaps asking after such intuitions could serve as a subtle psychological test of what people really believe. That’d be interesting.

  (Quote)

ThePowerofMeow April 18, 2010 at 8:49 pm

I have thoroughly enjoyed this exchange. And it is very relevant, whether one is theist or atheist. It’s deeper than whether one believes the specific situation is factual or not. It’s about how we think, how we judge what is right. Good stuff!

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk April 19, 2010 at 5:08 am

Also, you ask “who makes these rules that God must follow?” Why suppose anyone did? Perhaps they’re like the rules of mathematics, which I take it nobody made. Or, alternatively, perhaps God made these rules. What’s the problem? (And no, it doesn’t follow from the fact that God made them that they could have been otherwise.)

The problem is that you run straight into the arms of the Euthyphro dilemma. And arbitrarily declaring that the rules could not have been otherwise just doesn’t cut it.

But obviously the rules should have been otherwise. The morality of the biblical Yahweh is terrible. That people would support the morality of the biblical Yahweh either a) because they truly believe him or b) because they are dishonestly defending what they know to be wrong in order to protect their theism is evidence of the harm done by religion.

  (Quote)

tony April 19, 2010 at 10:17 am

maybe jesus was punished because we were his idea, like the owner of a dog is required to pay for any damage done by his pet.
we’re not responsible because “we know not what we do.”
god the son should have known better – because we’re a big responsiblility.

  (Quote)

J. K. Jones April 19, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Back to the original post:
“Another problem with the doctrine of imputation is that if the sins of mankind were somehow imputed to Jesus, then he in real terms became a sinner. Thus, he was not truly an innocent. So either way, there is a problem for Christian doctrine. You have a sinful Savior or an unjust Father.”

Now you seem to be getting it. Jesus was not innocent when the sins of the world were credited to Him. He was guilty as sin. God did not punish an innocent man. He punished a sinner.

His righteous life is credited to those who place true faith in Him. Our sin is credited to Him. He suffers the wrath He now richly deserves.

See “The Reason for God” by Tim Keller for a better explanation of the attonement than I can give here.

  (Quote)

J. K. Jones April 19, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Reginald Selkirk,

“The problem is that you run straight into the arms of the Euthyphro dilemma. And arbitrarily declaring that the rules could not have been otherwise just doesn’t cut it.”

This is not a dilemma. God does what He does because He wants to, and He always wants to do the right thing because He is good. He is bound by His own nature. He cannot deny Himself.

There are all kinds of things He can’t do. Make a rock to heavy for Him to lift. Tell a lie. Break a promise. He can’t do these things because He doesn’t want to, and He will never want to.

“But obviously the rules should have been otherwise. The morality of the biblical Yahweh is terrible. That people would support the morality of the biblical Yahweh either a) because they truly believe him or b) because they are dishonestly defending what they know to be wrong in order to protect their theism is evidence of the harm done by religion.”

These issues have been answered at length elsewhere. Try http://www.4truth.net.

JK

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 19, 2010 at 12:53 pm

J.K.,

Thanks for your reply. Yes, you are right. The doctrine of imputation is the explanation given by the ones who formulated the doctrine of penal substitution. I think it is problematic though.

As I mentioned in the opening post, imputation is only legitimate if one is somehow complicit in the crime. I don’t think you want to say that Jesus is complicit. If he is not, then it is a “legal fiction.” In other words, God is considering something to be true which is not true. How can a God of truth do this?

John Nevin, a 19th century Reformed theologian, and graduate of Princeton Seminary, said the following:


The judgment of God must ever be according to truth. He cannot reckon to anyone an attribute or quality that does not belong to him in fact. He cannot declare him to be in a relation or state that is not actually his own, but the position merely of another. A simply external imputation here, the pleasure and purpose of God to place to the account of one what has been done by another, will not answer. Nor is the case helped in the least by the hypothesis of what is called a legal federal union between the parties, in the case of whom such a transfer is supposed to be made; so long as the law is thought of in the same outward way, as a mere arbitrary arrangement or constitution for the accomplishment of the end in question. The law in this view would be itself a fiction only, and not the expression of a fact. But no such fiction, whether under the name of law or without it, can lie at the ground of a judgment entertained or pronounced by God
. (The Mystical Presence and Other Writings on the Eucharist, pp. 190-91).

  (Quote)

Tom Molloy April 19, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Dr. Pulliam–thanks for your responses. I’d love to read your article. I don’t know if you can get my email through Luke or not as I have entered it into this comments box. I’d rather not share it in the actual comments for obvious spam reasons. :)

I may or may not respond further. I was able to respond because it was a weekend and I was just enjoying a day off but with the pressures of grad school I may not get back to this. I am archiving the objections on my Facebook page for my own future reference as I continue to think through PST but I doubt I will respond here in a public way. To be honest, I’d rather engage the arguments in the literature which is why I’d love to read your article. I would love to do some philosophical and theological work on PST/Retributive theory of justice and some other of the issues raised in this discussion. And between this discussion and the William Lane Craig quote on your page I’ve come to think that engaging this type of work is important. I don’t find the arguments against PST compelling and I long for research time to be able to clarify my views in writing.

I think some of the issues that you’ve raised are the true issues to raise with PST. I’m glad that they are brought out into the open because I think they’re stronger than what is contained in this article (although the purpose of this article is different). They’re not cogent to me for various reasons I need to unpack–although most likely not here and not right now.

Thanks for your time Dr. Pulliam.

  (Quote)

lukeprog April 19, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Tom, you want me to send Ken your email? Confirm and I will do so.

  (Quote)

john April 19, 2010 at 6:01 pm

sorry but I don’t see any problem with PST. None!!!

  (Quote)

nate April 19, 2010 at 6:21 pm

//Now you seem to be getting it. Jesus was not innocent when the sins of the world were credited to Him. He was guilty as sin. God did not punish an innocent man. He punished a sinner.//

It’s not logically possible for a holy being to be unholy.

  (Quote)

Joshua Allen April 19, 2010 at 7:16 pm

I’m puzzled by your claim that the Bible endorses our innate “moral intuitions”. Do any Christians really believe that? Doesn’t the Bible teach, and Christians profess, exactly the opposite?

Genesis 6:5 – “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time

Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure”

Christianity is nothing if not an ad hominem argument. Paul’s comments were an extension of this ad hominem argument, and a condemnation of the pagans, not flattery of their “moral intuitions”.

  (Quote)

ThePowerofMeow April 19, 2010 at 7:19 pm

Isn’t there a problem with imputation since, in Christian theology, God raised Jesus from the dead? If God did see Jesus as sinful, then at what point did it wear off so that he could exalt him and give him “the name that is above every name”?

  (Quote)

lukeprog April 19, 2010 at 7:36 pm

Joshua,

Thanks for reminding me of those. It is interesting to contrast those with the usual doctrine that God has written his moral law on our hearts.

  (Quote)

Joshua Allen April 19, 2010 at 7:59 pm

@luke, I guess I’ve never realized that that was “usual doctrine”. I’ve never seen a Christian claim that our “innate moral intuition” makes us competent to stand in judgment of God, as Ken is arguing.

Paul very clearly says that man’s innate knowledge of God is the proof of mankind’s condemnation; not proof of our competence to judge God:

Romans 1:18-23: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”

I just find it astonishing that someone could take such a strong condemnation, and use it as Biblical evidence that mankind’s moral intuitions prove that God is immoral.

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 20, 2010 at 1:19 am

Tom,

Thanks and I look forward to further dialogue with you. I will connect with you through Luke.

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 20, 2010 at 1:24 am

Joshua,

I think you are confusing my point. My point is that according to evangelicalism and especially Reformed theology which is the framework in which the PST was originally developed, man is made in the image of God and one of the results of that is a sense of right and wrong. Man innately believes its wrong to punish an innocent in place of the guilty and yet this is what God does. Thus, within Reformed theology its a contradiction.

As far as the other references you mention, yes Reformed theology also teaches that man is in rebellion against God. Its not that man does not know God or does not know right from wrong but he stubbornly refuses to acknowledge God or to obey him.

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 20, 2010 at 1:27 am

Power of Meow,

What evangelicals would say is that when Jesus paid the penalty for man’s sin, it was erased or expiated. Thus, when Jesus cried, “It is finished” from the cross, the punishment was over and the sin had been expiated.

  (Quote)

Hermes April 20, 2010 at 5:34 am

maybe jesus was punished because we were his idea, like the owner of a dog is required to pay for any damage done by his pet.
we’re not responsible because “we know not what we do.”
god the son should have known better – because we’re a big responsiblility.

Zeus: Bad Jesus! Bad bad! Hey, Yahoova or whatever your name is — I *know* you can hear me, so don’t pull that shade — care to curb your pet here?

It seems like he’s made a mess again with all his litter running around, mucking up the place. This place is so dirty that it’s a bit annoying whenever I go out for a simple manifestation. Haven’t you heard of plastic bags?

[ message delivered ]

  (Quote)

ThePowerofMeow April 20, 2010 at 6:00 am

Ken,

Yes, that sort of makes sense, but my question is – when was the penalty paid? When Jesus died? Then why 3 days in the grave? After 3 days? What was he doing? Was it the Harrowing of Hell or was he spending time in Hell or was God allowing him to “prove” he actually died by waiting?

Interesting thoughts – thanks!

  (Quote)

Joshua Allen April 20, 2010 at 11:10 am

@Ken – I totally understand your rejection of PST, and why you find it to be morally repugnant. I’m not arguing with that point.

I just think that your portrayal of reformed theology is not accurate, would not be shared by any reformed theologians, and is unnecessary to your argument.

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 20, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Power of Meow,

The standard teaching is that the penalty for sin was completed when Jesus cried “it is finished” on the cross and then “gave up the ghost.” Christians are divided on what happened next. Yes, some believe in a harrowing of hell, i.e., that Jesus descended into Hades and preached to those there–either giving them a second chance or just proclaiming that redemption was accomplished. He then led the redeemed ones to heaven. Others would say that he went straight to heaven based on his final words: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Some Christian sects have even said that Jesus went and suffered in hell as part of the redemption process and then was born-again on Easter morning (Kenneth Hagin).

All of this illustrates again how Christians cannot agree on the details of their belief system

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 20, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Joshua,

I would be interested in how you think I am misrepresenting Reformed theology.

  (Quote)

Joshua Allen April 20, 2010 at 2:57 pm

@Ken – You said, “within Reformed theology its a contradiction.” Please show me any reformed theologians who would agree that they believe a contradiction on this matter. What you really should have said is that you think it’s a contradiction, and cannot understand why reformed theologians believe otherwise.

Such claims are no different from the Arminians who string together some syllables and then triumphantly declare, “so Calvinists obviously believe that God is the devil!”. Or the Calvinists who string together syllables and triumphantly conclude that “Arminians believe that God is subordinate to human will!” Such portrayals are childish sophistry that only reveal a person to be argumentative and ignorant about the other’s position.

As I already pointed out, your biggest mistake is in claiming that Christianity endorses our “innate moral intuitions” as a legitimate route to judging God. Christians, and reformed theologians especially, believe exactly the opposite. I’ve already supplied 3 scripture passages (Genesis 6:5, Jeremiah 17:9, and Romans 1:18-23). In addition to his assertion that men “suppress truth”, Paul goes on in v25 to say that men willfully “exchange the truth for a lie”. These are all statements about man’s trustworthiness in making arguments from “innate morals”, these are not statements about disobedience.

There is simply no basis in the Bible for trusting the “innate goodness” or “innate truthfulness” of an unbeliever about his innate moral intuitions. Such thinking has been condemned as heresy (Pelagianism) since the earliest days of the Christian Church. To assert otherwise demonstrates either ignorance of basic Christian doctrine, or else a lack of sincerity.

It’s pretty simple. You want to hold up Paul’s statement about Pagan moral culpability, but you want to ignore the rest of his exposition, where he explains that — even though they know what is evil in their hearts, they will inevitably lie about it. Man is totally depraved.

You cannot have your cake and eat it too. If you expect us to believe that you have some moral intuitions stamped on your heart, “because the Bible says so”, you need to accept that the Bible says that you are bound to lie about those moral intuitions and that you will twist them around to “suppress truth” and “exchange truth for a lie”. The two are inseparably connected in the Bible and in theology.

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 20, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Joshua,

No less a Reformed scholar that Alvin Plantinga says that our moral intuitions are against the PST but he thinks our moral intuitions may be wrong here. J. I. Packer admits that the PST is against our moral intuitions but he says it a mystery.

I used to be a Calvinist. I know what Calvinism teaches. The fact is that virtually all men whether Christian or not have a moral intuition that punishing an innocent in place of the guilty is wrong. Christians say that man’s moral intuitions come as a result of being made in the image of God.

Yes, Calvinists believe that man is totally depraved but that depravity does not keep man from knowing what is right and wrong, it keeps him from doing right. All the verses you reference talk about man’s actions and his rebellion. They do not say that he doesn’t understand what is right and wrong.

I am not sure why you are taking a condescending attitude about this matter. If you disagree, fine but you don’t need to use personal insults.

BTW, Pelagianism is much different than what you imply. It said that Adam’s fall merely set a bad example for man and that some men are able to live without ever falling into sin. That is not even remotely close to what I have been saying.

  (Quote)

Joshua Allen April 20, 2010 at 5:47 pm

@Ken – Thanks very much for the response, and apologies if I come across as being condescending or insulting. As I said earlier, I believe that Christianity at its core is an ad hominem argument, though, so it’s impossible to stay within the bounds of conventional Christianity if the ground rules are that one must assume that the unbeliever is sincere and capable of expressing truthful moral proclamations in discussions about God.

For example, you said that “First, if we can’t trust our moral intuitions when it comes to punishing an innocent, then how do we know that we can trust any of our moral intuitions? Second, if God’s ways are beyond our comprehension, how can we say anything definitively about God?” Your clear assumption is that a sincere unbeliever ought to be able to use his innate moral intuitions and his own understanding to arrive at a reliable knowledge of God. Based on your background, you undoubtedly know that this is not an accurate representation of any mainstream Christian theology throughout history. Christians have never believed that unbelievers can use innate moral intuitions and sincere application of human understanding to come to truthful judgments about God. Of course, you’re welcome to argue that the Christian insistence on revelation and other extraneous factors is unjust, but you’re not welcome to claim that Christianity agrees with your assumptions about the innate ability of man to proclaim truthful judgments about God.

Regarding Pelagianism, you’re correct that semi-Pelagianism is more accurate, and has also been deemed heretical. And Arminians believe in a form of total depravity which is every bit as strong as Calvinists. It’s the one thing that both agree most strenuously on.

As you say, Plantinga finds the cross to be offensive to our innate moral intuitions. But he doesn’t deem this to be a fatal contradiction, as you have tried to argue, and neither do any other theologians. In fact, you need look no further than Luther, and his Heidelburg Disputation, to find a great reformed theologian acknowledging the sheer offensiveness of the cross. Since you have a Ph.D in theology, I am sure that you’re aware that the moral repugnance of the cross is central to Christian theology, and has never been considered a weakness.

This is very basic Christian theology, and I am sure that you’re not ignorant of the theological positions of the Church, so I can only conclude that you’re being uncharitable and refusing to acknowledge that Christians don’t really believe what you claim we believe. That’s my only complaint about your approach — I feel that you harm your credibility by misrepresenting what Christians believe, especially when it’s unnecessary to your basic argument.

  (Quote)

ThePowerofMeow April 20, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Ken,

Thanks for your points on this. Very interesting stuff.

I think another way to approach this is to ask what the purpose of “Justice” is? You referenced the CS Lewis article on Humanitarian Theory which I think is full of things to criticize. Can justice really be seen as an end in itself? Doesn’t it serve a greater end – community, relationships, etc.? Lewis argues that viewing punishment as rehabilitation or as deterrent is folly. He argues for retribution, stating that this is treating a guilty party fairly as a human – not as a sick person, etc. (these are broad strokes I am laying out).

I don’t think punishment is logically coherent unless it deters, rehabilitates or physically makes amends in some real way (paying back money you stole, etc.).

Imagine that a man commits murder. Although this is impossible, imagine that we KNOW he is totally reformed. He will never commit murder again, and he feels total remorse (we can’t argue that remorse is itself the punishment, because Christians are expected to feel remorse without it being the thing that satisfies justice). What purpose does it serve to put the person in prison or to kill him? Doesn’t it rob society of another productive member?

Lewis argues that attempts at rehabilitation or deterrence will go too far. Surely this makes no sense. Does he think that retribution can not go too far?

I love those Narnia books though!

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 21, 2010 at 12:57 am

Joshua,

Thanks and sorry if I was a little irritable in my last post. I think I understand where the confusion lies now. You said: Your clear assumption is that a sincere unbeliever ought to be able to use his innate moral intuitions and his own understanding to arrive at a reliable knowledge of God.

No, that is not what I meant. What I meant was that according to Evangelical theology, unbelievers have an innate sense of morality or of right and wrong. They do not have a reliable knowledge of God; they are supposed to have (according to Paul) a reliable moral compass. The fact that they willfully disobey that compass is what constitutes sin.

When I said: if God’s ways are beyond our comprehension, how can we say anything definitively about God?, I was referring to believers like J. I. Packer who explain the PST on this basis. If he is correct, then within evangelicalism there is a problem–God’s ways are so different than man’s, how can man ever describe God in any meaningful way?

Also, I recognize that evangelicals for the most part do not recognize a problem here. And the few that do see it, such as Plantinga and Packer don’t find it a fatal flaw. I think they should find it a fatal flaw, however, and that is the point of my article. I find their answers to the dilemma inadequate. Most evangelicals, however, have not even thought about it.

As for the fact that Christians going back to Paul who called the preaching of the cross “foolishness”, I think the folly of it in their mind was not the innocent dying for the guilty but the shame associated with crucifixion and the concept that God would come to earth and submit to death for the benefit of man–that is what seemed so crazy to the Gentiles. I don’t see any discussion in the early church fathers about a problem associated with the innocent dying for the guilty (of course they had a different theory of the atonement).

BTW, there is at least one evangelical, Greg Boyd, who sees the PST as fatally flawed. He rejects it in favor of the Christus Victor theory. One reason is: *Are sin and guilt the sorts of things that can be literally transferred from one party to another? Related to this, how are we to conceive of the Father being angry towards Jesus and justly punishing him when he of course knew Jesus never did anything wrong?

Again, thanks for the dialogue and forcing me to clarify my position.

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 21, 2010 at 1:07 am

Joshua,

Another thought. Evangelicals like to argue that only a belief in God allows for absolute morals. They tend to think that morality is absolute much like the laws of logic and that both are absolute because they derive from God. Thus they will argue vociferously that there cannot be any logical contradiction within their theology. I maintain that this is a logical contradiction.

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 21, 2010 at 1:09 am

Power of Meow,

Yes I agree that the retributive theory of punishment as advocated by Lewis is inferior to other utilitarian theories of punishment but the point is that the Bible teaches the retributive theory and thus, evangelicals such as Lewis are forced to defend it.

  (Quote)

ThePowerofMeow April 21, 2010 at 6:50 am

Ken,

Yes, that makes sense, however I don’t think we need to argue within the mindset of the Bible to point out problems with PST. But this starts bringing us around to what our points of references are and you are discussing that elsewhere on this thread.

Thanks again for all of your points and for your clear, careful approach!

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 21, 2010 at 8:09 am

PoM,

yes but you have to keep in mind that I am arguing that it is an internal inconsistency for evangelical theology. I am coming at it from the viewpoint of a former insider.

  (Quote)

Joshua Allen April 21, 2010 at 8:14 am

@Ken – Thanks very much for the clarification; that helps a lot. I still object to the insinuation that Christians sweep this issue under the rug or ignore it, but that’s a legitimate topic of discussion, rather than a simple matter of fact, so it’s cool.

I’m sure you know that Luther used the “folly of the cross” as the central point in his theology. In other words, the very repugnance and offensiveness of Christ’s death on the cross is the essential nucleus of the reformation. Luther didn’t think that the “folly” was constrained to just the great condescension, and he didn’t think that Paul did, either. Given the reams of context within Paul about “the law”, I’m inclined to agree with Luther, but I would also add that the pagans were correct to see the great condescension as a folly, too. People today, especially in Western democracies, don’t see this as a great moral folly. If one were inclined to reply directly to your objection of PST, this might be one starting point. But the important point is that the reformation is absolutely dependent on the folly and repugnance of the cross. So it’s not really fair, IMO, to say that it’s an issue that is swept under the rug or ignored.

Luther faced and dealt with the same objection many times, and argued that people who are most versed in theology and full of “wisdom” will be the ones who find the cross to be the most repugnant. He has very convincing arguments for why this is so, and why this is necessary. Again, it’s not my point to argue through all of these, but it should suffice to say that this is the central fact of his theology.

Furthermore, the fact that Luther didn’t develop a detailed version of PST should not be taken as evidence that he was ignorant of its repugnance. To the contrary, he would most likely have seen detailed expositions of things like penal substitution and unconditional election as being puffed up glory-based attempts to neutralize and mollify the sheer terribleness of the cross. Even if we find penal substitution to be offensive, in the very act of explaining away the cross as being “merely” penal substitution, we shield ourselves from the rest of the offense of the cross. And in any case, it is safe to say that Luther’s theology is based purely on the sheer offensiveness of the cross. Luther obviously didn’t think that a legitimate way to judge the cross was to say, “it offends my innate moral intuitions”.

Again, I’m not challenging your use of your innate moral intuitions; I am only challenging the idea that Christianity supports this approach, or that the reformation swept the issue under the rug. It’s the foundational issue of the reformation.

Besides, the issue existed in Jewish ethics before Christ. As one commenter here already pointed out, the story of Abraham and Isaac is a great example.

To your other point, it seems like you’re saying, “if we can’t know everything, how can we know anything?” Perhaps Paul should have said, “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then we might even find out that God was a sock-puppet of Satan all these years”. I spent years arguing as an atheist against Christians, so I am quite familiar with all of these lines of arguments. I don’t think I have a great response for it.

And to your other comment about how Christians argue that belief in God is necessary for objective morals, I actually agree with you. It always seemed like a silly, utilitarian line of reasoning to me. I think you are right.

  (Quote)

Ken Pulliam April 21, 2010 at 8:37 am

The point that I was attempting to make relative to the claim of some that God’s justice in the PST is beyond our understanding, i.e., a mystery is expressed perfectly in the paper of Scott Sehon, “The Problem of Evil: Skeptical Theism Leads to Moral Paralysis,” which Luke links to in today’s episode from the pale blue dot.

Sehon writes:

But if God is a genuine moral agent, then we need to ask why his actions are outside the scope of common sense morality. It cannot simply be that different moral standards apply to God, for to say that would be to equivocate on our use of moral terms. If the goodness of God is to be judged by different, and unknown, standards, then the word “good” no longer has its ordinary meaning when applied to God, and theists should stop using it.

  (Quote)

ThePowerofMeow April 21, 2010 at 9:58 am

Ken: “yes but you have to keep in mind that I am arguing that it is an internal inconsistency for evangelical theology. I am coming at it from the viewpoint of a former insider”

I completely appreciate your attempt at this. It is exactly what is needed. However, I fear that it is difficult to completely argue from within the framework of OT retributive justice without incorporating some modern legal theory, etc. But perhaps I am wrong.

Retribution for a wrong implies that either 1. something was taken from someone (a family member killed, something stolen, etc.) or someone was assaulted and made to feel some sort of physical, emotional pain. (are there other possibilities here?)

So the retribution is supposed to create repayment for the missing item, or to cause the offender to feel the same violation that the victim experienced (of course, what purpose the latter serves without referencing deterrence seems incoherent, as we have net GAIN in pain and suffering here. A deficit cannot be repaid with a deficit.)

Does a God who can have something taken from Him, or a God who can be emotionally or physically violated fit with classical theism?

  (Quote)

Fully May 2, 2010 at 7:26 pm

It’s fun to point out logical fallacies in the bible, but why bother. The entire thing is invalid simply due to god and religion being created by man. God does not exist. Period. The religious are misguided and have been for as long as they have existed.

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment