Saturday, July 25, 2009

Retribution or remediation?


Further, there is a difference between retribution on the one hand and satisfaction with retribution on the other. We may inflict retribution on a criminal but hope that the retribution also helps in the production of repentance.

You agree that repentance in response to retribution is better than retribution alone, yet you don't think it would be better for God to guarantee that this will be the response to retribution? Why??? If X would be a better result, and God has it in his power to produce X, and God is good, shouldn't we be getting X?

Reppert is building on what he takes to be a point of common ground, but he’s mistaken. His appeal actually draws attention to a fundamental difference in theological method between the two of us.

i) Reppert begins with the premise of universalism: it’s better if everyone were saved. Hence, retribution which motivates repentance is better than retribution alone.

Reppert then makes another adjustments in his theology to realign it with that premise.

ii) That is not how I operate. One way I operate is to reason back from the outcome to the premise. If everyone will not be saved, then it’s not better that everyone be saved. If it were better for everyone to be saved, then God would save everyone. Since he doesn’t, the outcome falsifies the premise.

God controls the outcome. Given the state of the outcome, you can use the actual outcome to ascertain which hypothetical outcome is better.

iii) Also, from what I can tell, the Bible treats retributive punishment as an end in itself, not merely a means to an end. Retribution is an intrinsic value, not merely an instrumental value.

iv) I’d add that this is part of a larger framework. Biblical doctrines like original sin, justification, vicarious atonement, and eschatological judgment are all embedded within a forensic framework.

That is why, if you reject a retributive theory of punishment in favor of a remedial theory of punishment, then that also pushes you to repudiate related doctrines like penal substitution.

v) It’s deceptive for Reppert to speak of retribution which leads to repentance. On that view, retribution has no value in itself. He’s offering a remedial justification for retribution. Retribution is only justifiable if it has a function value in facilitating repentance. So what he’s done is to substitute remedial punishment for retributive punishment while retaining the retributive terminology.

vi) Because Reppert can never bring himself to accept retribution on its own merits, he finds the retributive basis of everlasting punishment counterintuitive. It doesn’t serve any purpose over and above retribution.

Since, however, I don’t share his intuition, I don’t feel the tension that he does.

And even if I did, I wouldn’t rewrite my theology, like a cult leader, to make it square with my finite intuitions.

One reason I don’t do that is that, if you reject the guidance of divine revelation on the nature of the afterlife, then you’re truly at sea, without a map or compass.

It’s futile to reject revelation, then construct your own theory of the afterlife–for there’s no reason to think you what you’re talking about at that point.

At best, you’d resign yourself to utter agnosticism about the nature of the afterlife, assuming there is an afterlife.

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