Tag Archives: Faith and Philosophy

Not Penal Substitution But Vicarious Punishment

The following is a summary/notes of Mark Murphy’s article, “Not Penal Substitution but Vicarious Punishment.” (Faith and Philosophy, 26.3, 2009)

Summary: PSA fails for conceptual reasons. Punishment is an expressive action so it is not transferable. A relative of PSA, VP, is conceptually coherent. Under VP, the guilty person’s punishment consists in the suffering of an innocent to whom he or she bears a special relationship. Sinful humanity is punished through the death of Jesus.

Section 1

Human beings on account of their sins deserve to be punished, but that JC was punished in our place so that we no longer bear ill-desert. (253-4)

Ill desert is removed by punishment. Christ is punished for our sins, and thus a necessary condition for unity with God is realized.

There is a conceptual problem w/PSA

Punishment = an authoritative imposition of hard treatment upon one for the failure to adhere to some binding standard.

This definition is not sufficient for punishment. A fourth condition is necessary, namely that punishment expresses condemnation of the wrongdoer.

If this is right then punishment will be non-transferable. Then PSA doesn’t work.

Section 2

What happens in PSA: A deserves to be punished; but B is punished in A’s place; so A no longer deserves to be punished. A’s ill-desert is removed by B’s personally substituting for A.

What happens in VP: A deserves to be punished; B undergoes hard treatment, which constitutes A’s being punished; and so A no longer deserves to be punished. (260)

Example: A criminal has his spouse killed. This deprives him of a significant good, namely having a wife. The hard treatment condition is met, except it is not in propria persona.

Section 3

Is VP morally objectionable? After all it has an innocent party suffering.

Reason why it is not morally objectionable: The suffering is willing.

Obj: It is still cruel to do this.

Resp: Yes, cruel, but not unjust.

Obj: There is injustice b/w the wrongdoer and the innocent sufferer.

Resp: This isn’t a criticism of the view itself, rather, the fact that the wrongdoer committed a bad action.

Retribution= depriving the wrongdoer of a significant human good.

This also deters further wrongdoing.

Section 4

Summary: “We human beings have sinned, having violated the divine law, in egregious ways. We thus merit punishment; and until this ill-desert is requited, there is an obstacle to proper union with God. In order to exact retribution and requite this ill desert, God chose to punish vicariously. Because Christ accepted this scheme freely, and with awareness that he would indeed be called upon to undergo the suffering constitutive of the punishment, it does Jesus neither injustice nor cruelty that he was to suffer in the carrying out the punishment of sinful humanity. So on this view the way that each of us is punished for our transgressions of divine law is that his or her Lord is killed. Each of us, for his or her sins, is subjected to hard treatment of having his or her Lord made to suffer and die. What makes this hard treatment imposed on us sinners is that the relationship of being Lord of is a special relationship that makes the misfortunes of the Lord constitutive of bad for the subject. This is a very hard treatment indeed. (265)

Section 5

It makes sense of biblical language & addresses other puzzles.

Section 6

Is punishment compatible with forgiveness? Yes.

One might compensate for one’s failures but still be at odds with the wronged. Forgiveness brings unity.


[Breaking News] A New Disease Discovered in Dallas, TX

Sort of not really…. I love what Professor William J. Abraham says:

Philosophy is like a sort of disease that you pick up but there is no cure.

That is so true. Anyway here Professor Abraham talk about how the relationship between philosophy and theology, Jonathan Edwards, and teaching classes on evangelism.

On Philosophers and Dieticians

I have been doing a quite of bit of thinking about the relationship between theology and philosophy lately. That was partially spurred on by thoughts of going back to school next fall but also because I have been doing some reading in religious epistemology – I have been making my way through T.F. Torrance’s Reality & Evangelical Theology.

As I have been thinking about this topic I happened to have stumbled across an old copy of Faith and Philosophy, in it there was an article by William Eisenhower titled “Creative Interchange Between Philosophy and Theology: A Call to Dialogue.”

In this article Eisenhower argues that theology and philosophy have been in dialogue for the last 2000 years, however the last 50 or so years have been a period where these two disciplines have been divided. As we enter into this third millennium, philosophers have become interested in religious questions, this should be welcomed by theologians. He believes that both disciplines have much to gain from one another. In one sense he is preaching to the choir, I already believe this (after all I studied philosophy and theology). However, one part of this paper, which I found very interesting was how he defined both of these disciplines.

When we talk about philosophy and theology we tend to assume that we know what we are talking about. To a certain extent we do: philosophy is what philosophers at universities do and theology is what pastors and theologians do at seminary. However Eisenhower seeks to go deeper than these trivial definitions – in doing so he applies an analogy used by Henry Nelson Wieman:

If religion is like eating, then reality which interests the religious person is analogous to food. In that case the theologian is the one who puts this food into such a form that it is palatable and can most readily be eaten. The theologian is a good cook. But the philosophers is a dietician. He does not present God in a form that is digestible to the ordinary religious person. That is not his business… the theologian talks about beefsteak and lettuce. The philosopher talks about starches and calories.

To take this analogy further, theologians eat the meals they prepare. In other words, they are committed to their own work, there is a certain loyalty or faith that is associated with “their” theology – they are committed to the Church and to the Faith. However, like the dietician, the philosopher is not preparing anything for consumption. The philosopher is not required to stand into a personal relationship or a relationship of faith and trust towards her work. A philosopher who analyzes faith does not need to have any sort of commitment to the Church or to faith.

So according to Eisenhower the difference between the Christian theologian and a philosopher is personal commitment to the object of study. But does this really work? What about the Christian philosopher, does the philosopher of religion automatically become a theologian the second she puts her faith in Christ? The Christian philosopher of religion is certainly using philosophical methods (probably analytic philosophy) so does she automatically become an analytic theologian? It seems to me that these sort of questions point out the fact that this “definition” or “analogy” falls apart. At first glance this analogy is attractive, but at the end of the day we cannot delineate between theology and philosophy based upon the criteria of personal commitment to the object of study, or else there would be no such thing as Christian philosophers.