"One Can't Believe Impossible Things": A New Defence of Penal Substitutionary Atonement in Light of the Legal Concepts of Vicarious Liability and Respondeat Superior

Bibliographic Information: 

Christopher Woznicki, "'One Can't Believe Impossible Things': A New Defence of Penal Substitutionary Atonement in Light of the Legal Concepts of Vicarious Liability and Respondeat Superior" Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 37.1 (2019): 64-80.

Description

Some philosophers of religion have argued that by definition penal substitution is impossible. In this essay I attempt to address one version of this objection raised by Brent Kyle in ‘Punishing and Atoning: A New Critique of Penal Substitution.’

The essay proceeds as follows. In part one I define penal substitutionary atonement and distinguish between two versions of the doctrine: Penal Substitution Simpliciter and the Penal Consequences View of Atonement. With this distinction in place, part two examines Kyle’s argument which states that a necessary condition for punishment is that the person inflicting the punishment must believe that the person receiving the punishment is in some way responsible for the offence. I argue against this condition by appealing to the legal concept of vicarious liability. This concept serves as a counterexample to Kyle’s proposed condition for punishment, thereby undercutting his argument. In part three I argue that the concept vicarious liability can serve as more than a counter-example to Kyle’s proposed criteria for punishment. I make the case that vicarious liability along with the legal doctrine of respondeat superior provides a novel and helpful way for thinking about the theological doctrine of penal substitution. I motivate this claim by showing how being made in the image of God and being united to Christ can ground an appeal to these legal doctrines in a defence of penal substitutionary atonement.

Publisher: 
Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology
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