Tag Archives: moral responsibility

Do We Believe in Consequences? Revisiting the “Incoherence Objection” to Penal Substitution

An article I wrote defending a version of penal substitutionary atonement just came out in “Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie.” It’s a constructive model I call the “penal-consequence view.” It’s not necessarily the view I hold to but it’s a view that I think might be helpful to some who want to defend Penal Substitution. You can check it out here:


(P.S. I say it’s not my personal view because even though I develop it in this paper I’m currently working on another defense which comes closer to affirming all the things I want to affirm.)

Below is an abstract of the essay:

Summary: Among recent assessments of penal substitutionary accounts of atonement
one significant critique is Mark Murphy’s “incoherence objection.” In this
essay I express general agreement with Murphy’s critique of penal substitution,
yet I suggest that there is a way to reconceive the doctrine of atonement such that
it is conceptually coherent, is commensurate with scripture, and is a version of
penal substitution. I call this view: The Penal-Consequence View of Atonement.
This is a view of atonement that makes use of a distinction between what I call
“penal consequences” and “mere consequences.” The view is defended with
special reference to the topics of corporate moral responsibility and union with
Keywords: Atonement, Consequences, Penal Substitution, Punishment, Union
with Christ


Predestination (Uh Oh!)

Without a doubt, predestination is one of the most argued about doctrine. This is partially due to the fact that predestination seems to challenge a key concept that most people deem necessary for moral responsibility, namely the principle of alternate possibilities (PAP). The PAP, which states that one must have alternate possibilities in order for one to be morally responsible, seems incompatible with the doctrine of predestination. Since the PAP, which seems intuitive to most, seems to be incompatible with moral responsibility, some argue that this doctrine is unjust. Some believe that it is unjust for God to make demands on people without those people having alternate possibilities as to whether to accept or reject those demands. Over the next few days I’m going to try to show why Calvin thinks that predestination is not unjust. Tomorrow I will begin by explaining what predestination is according to Calvin. I will conclude by explaining why Calvin thinks that this doctrine is actually beneficial. I will end this short series by outlining some of the benefits of the doctrine.

Book Review – The Soul by J.P. Moreland

It seems as though believing in the soul is out of fashion now a days, even among evangelicals. But J.P. Moreland, an evangelical philosopher, has stood up to defend the traditional Christian belief in the soul in his new book The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why it Matters.

According to Moreland, there are four reasons why its worth spending time thinking about the existence of the soul:

  1. First, the Bible seems to teach that consciousness and the soul are immaterial and we need to regard this teaching as genuine knowledge and not as faith commitments that we merely hope are true. (12)
  2. Second, the reality of the soul is important to various ethical issues that crucially involve an understanding of human persons. (15)
  3. Third, the loss of belief in life after death is related to a commitment to the authority of science above theology. But belief in the soul is being scientifically discredited. (17)
  4. Fourth, understanding the immaterial nature of the human spirit is crucial to grasping the essence of spiritual growth. (17)

Building upon these convictions J.P. Moreland attempts to make a case for the immaterial nature of consciousness and the soul without using the Bible, instead he makes a case for the soul through philosophical arguments.


The book is broken up into five chapters. In the first chapter, Moreland lays some philosophical foundations for discussing the soul. For instance he introduces Leibniz’s law of the indiscernability of identicals, and he introduces the reader into discussions about neuroscience and philosophy. In chapter two, he summarizes what he takes to be key Old and New Testament passages that illustrate the mind/body dualism taught in scripture. This chapter doesn’t exactly argue for substance dualism, but it does argue that this is the biblical position. Chapter three makes a case for property dualism, while defending the position against several objections including the problem of other minds and the problems brought about by a Darwinistic conception of evolution. Moreland also devotes some space to arguing against physicalist accounts of property dualism. Chapter four is the core of the book. In this chapter he makes a case for substance dualism and the immaterial nature of the self. Moreland offers five arguments for the belief in substance dualism. Having established that substance dualism is the correct position regarding the existence of the soul, he makes some philosophical observations regarding what the nature of the soul might be like. He concludes the book with some philosophical thoughts on what the future of human beings might look like if they are in fact souls.


1-The Soul is a very clear introduction to the topic of dualism. Moreland’s clarity in presenting difficult philosophical positions is probably this book’s greatest strength. At the end of each chapter he provides a summary outlining what his points were and breaking down each argument into its individual parts. Because he does this it will be very easy for those seeking to use this book for apologetic purposes to learn these arguments and/or be ready to respond when people challenge their beliefs.

2-Although his discussion about the state of the soul after death seems a bit out of place, it was one of the most interesting sections in the book. How he handles the doctrine of Hell is philosophically sophisticated (he relies heavily upon Swinburne’s argument for Hell). This section will certainly help readers as they think about the spiritual implications of belief in the soul.


I believe in substance dualism. In fact I hold to a Cartesian account of substance dualism much like Moreland does. However I think that several of his arguments for this position are actually pretty weak. For instance, he makes an argument for the soul based upon belief in Free Will, Morality, Responsibility, and Punishment. Essentially he argues that if physicalism is true then human free will does not exist – thus determinism is true. If determinism is true then there is no such thing as moral obligation and determinism. This seems to be blatantly false to me. He argues as though the belief that determinism and moral responsibility are incompatible is blatantly obvious. The problem is though that it is not blatantly obvious. Any compatibilist will tell you that determinism and moral responsibility are compatible. Also he makes an argument for the soul based upon the idea that for agency to be meaningful identity has to persist over time, but if we are purely physical then agency is meaningless. Once again, it doesn’t seem so obvious to me that this point is correct. In fact, Jonathan Edwards seems to argue that identity does not persist over time, yet he holds to a strong notion of agency and moral responsibility. All this to say that even though I believe that Moreland is arguing for the correct position, I believe that many of his arguments in this book are quite flawed.


Should you read this book? Yes. If you are looking for some basic arguments for why it is rational to belief in the soul then this book is for you. The book essentially shows that belief in the soul is not irrational and he gives you some good reasons why this is so. However if you are looking for a book that establishes a strong case for the existence of the soul, then I would look elsewhere. There is quite a difference between arguing that a belief is rational and arguing that a belief is rational and correct. This book does the former. So if you are okay with that then pick up this book.

Book Review – Visions of Vocation by Steven Garber

What the heck am I supposed to be doing with my life?

Working with college students I hear that question all the time. It seems like it is a perpetual mystery among college age/post-college age adults. To be honest it seems to be a perpetual mystery for myself as well.

In recent years we have seen a sort of resurgence among books, sermons, and blogs about Christian visions of vocations. What is a vocation? Is a career the same thing as a vocation? What does faith have to do with work? How do our vocations contrSteven Garberibute to the missio dei? Tim Keller and the people over at The Center for Faith and Work have done a lot to help Christians answer those questions. Another person who has been contributing answers to these sorts of questions for many years now has been Steven Garber. He heads up the Washington Institute – an institute which exists to help people pursue “a vision of vocation that is fully engaged with the realities of life in the 21st century.” This book, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common God, is birthed out of Garber’s many years of reflection upon the topics of vocation and social engagement.


Vocation is an ethereal concept – invoking images of a divine calling or a sort of mystical experience where one is called into one’s destiny, a destiny that has been set out for you since before the foundations of the earth. But are we complicating the concept of vocation by making them, for lack of a better word, so epic? Garber seems to think so. According to Garber – our vocations boil down to the different ways “wVisions of Vocatione are responsible, for love’s sake, for the way the world is and ought to be. We are called to be common grace for the common good.” (18) As Christians we are called to many levels of responsibility – we are responsible for our own relationships with God, we are responsible for other’s flourishing as human beings, and we are responsible for the flourishing of creation – these three things are part of the cultural mandate which God gave Adam and Eve in the Garden. All that we do, or don’t do, contributes or detracts from our ability to fulfill those responsibilities.

Sadly though the world is broken, and for most seeing brokenness leads to apathy or stoicism – yet the challenge, as Garber points out, is to live a life of engagement, choosing to step into the mess of the world, understanding it and choosing to serve it.

If we have eyes to see we are forced to make a decision. Will we serve the world or serve ourselves? This is the central theme of Garber’s book – it’s a sort of existential crisis, that shapes one’s entire life:

Knowing what I know what will I do?

Having read the things I have read, having seen the things I have seen, having heard the things I have heard, having met the people I have met, what will I do about those things? Will I choose to grow numb, as our westernized – hyper connected culture has chosen to do, or will we love this world and contribute to the common good? This does not necessarily mean we will be idealistic about the possibilities, this does not mean we should pretend that perfect justice is possible – yet we should aim for proximate justice. Given the fact that we live in a now/not yet reality of the Kingdom we cannot expect the world to be “fixed” by us, nevertheless we have a responsibility to contribute to the common good.

The choice is ours, will we chose to serve the world we live in – using our talents, passions, experiences, resources – or will we choose to settle for lives that revolve around ourselves? To do the first, to step into the frailty and brokenness of the world is what vocation is all about. Some people will choose to serve others through education or agriculture. Some will shoes to do the same through the world so business and law, or healthcare and the arts, or butchering, baking, and candlestick making. Some will even choose to serve the world by blogging about books. All these sorts of vocations are answers to the question, “knowing what I know, what will I do?”


This book was timely for me; recently I have been asking a lot of questions about vocation and calling. I have read plenty of books about the integration of faith and work (both for the college students I work with and for myself). I have found myself in a position stuck between two seemingly opposing trajectories – academia and ministry. In fact I was reading this book while sitting on a plane to Fort Worth to deliver a paper at the Evangelical Theological Society regional conference. As I read the book, and thought about my own future – whether I would be spending the rest of my days sitting on planes going to deliver papers or whether I would spend the rest of my days equipping the church for the works of the missio dei – one question kept haunting me:

Knowing what you know, what will you do?

There are a few things I know, and I am responsible to my fellow man and more importantly to God to do something about those things. As Garber says “knowledge means responsibility and responsibility means care.” (221)

That question – Knowing what you know, what will you do? – Is an extremely powerful question. It’s a question that forces you to make a decision. Everybody knows certain things about the world, everybody has certain conceptions of what the world ought to be like – that question forces everybody who hears it into a point of decision – will I do something about it or will I withdraw? After hearing that question over and over how could I withdraw? How could I fail to step forward into answering the call?


At times the way Garber talks about vocation seems to privilege “world shaping” vocations – educators, teachers, politicians, artists – and seems to neglect more typical vocations – retail worker, mid-level management, service industry workers, homemakers – so I wonder what he thinks about those sorts of callings. Nevertheless, Garber sets out a clear vision of what vocation is – its your answer to the question “knowing what you know, what will you do?” Whatever answer you give to that question will contribute to the common good.

Weaving together personal stories, literature, film, music, and scripture to show us what vocations are all about, Garber has written a book that will certainly inspire you to see your place in the world a bit differently. He not only aims at our heads, he aims at our hearts, drawing us into the story of what God is doing in this world. He invites us into the critical task of coming alongside of God as God himself give grace to a world that is broken and falling apart. Answering that invitation is what vocations are all about.

As a side note – I know its early in the year, but this book is so well written, so theologically powerful, and packs such a powerful devotional punch that it is definitely a frontrunner for my book of the year award.

(Note: I recieved this book courtesy of IVP in exchange for an impartial review.)

Creation and Providence (Pt. 3)

The relationship between creation and providence is not one that is often considered. Usually when we talk about creation we think about the “7 day” or the creation/evolution debate. When we talk about providence we usually speak of God’s providence in “helping me get that job” or “keeping me from getting in that car accident.” In this blog we will be talking about creation and providence in ways that we don’t usually think about.



Compatibilism is the view that an action is free when an action a person performs is the action that that person wanted to perform, not when a person has alternate possibilities. In other words to say that an agents’ action is free is to say that the action is spontaneous, it flows from who or what that agent is. As an example of a compatibilist free action consider two drug addicts. Drug addict 1 loves and enjoys the fact that he does drugs, drug addict 2 hates drugs and wants to stop. Both drug addicts will end up doing drugs because they are addicted; they have no alternate possibilities. It seems right to say that drug addict 1 was free because she did what she desired, while drug addict two was not free because her action was not in line with her will. Both were determined to act in a particular way but drug addict one was free even though she did not have alternate possibilities.

The advantage of the compatibilist view is that it is compatible with a view of God’s providence that says that God determines the actions of his creation, and thus does not take risks. So if one is a compatibilist one can say that humans and God achieve their ends freely.

However there is a problem with compatibilism, namely that it seems as though for agents to be morally responsible, the agent must have alternatives to their actions. This notion has been called the principle of alternative possibilities. According to Harry Frankfurt this principle states that a person is morally responsible for what she has done only if she could have done otherwise.  In other words a person is morally responsible only in situations where this person has alternatives as to what she can do. So if we keep the notion that God determines agents’ actions, it seems as though we lose the grounding for moral responsibility.

So in order for compatibilism to be a viable option, we must somehow maintain the notion of moral responsibility while affirming that God does not take risks and that humans are free agents. Is this possible? I believe that it is. Harry Frankfurt’s article “Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility”[1] shows us how. In it he comes up with the following thought experiment: Suppose a man named Black wants a man named Jones to kill the mayor.  Also suppose that Jones wants to kill the mayor for reasons independent of Black’s reasons.  Black is willing to do anything so that Jones will kill the mayor, but Black prefers that Jones does not come to know this so Black makes it the case that Jones does not even know he exists. When an opportunity arises for the assassination to occur Black waits until Jones makes up his mind as to whether or not he will follow through with it.  However if Black suspects that Jones will not kill the mayor Black takes steps to ensure that Jones kills the mayor.  Jones would do this by expelling some chemical into the air that will make Jones kill the mayor.  So it is the case that regardless of what Jones had decided to do before the assassination Black will have his way. In other words, there are no alternate possibilities, Jones will kill the mayor. Since Jones kills the mayor it seems as though Jones did not have alternate possibilities but Jones was still morally responsible for the assassination. Thus Frankfurt shows that the principle of alternate possibilities is false, and moral responsibility is compatible with determinism. Because he shows this, a major objection to compatibilism is deflected. Having defeated a major objection to compatibilism, we can go on to affirm that God does not take risks when it comes to his providential purposes and that humans are free agents.

[1] Harry Frankfurt, “Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility,” The Journal of Philosophy 66, no. 23 (December 1969): 829-839.