Monday, May 24, 2010

A Dialogue with Dr. Gregory Jackson: Let's talk about Universal Objective Justification.

Dr. Gregory Jackson's is a pretty remarkable fellow. He has degrees from Yale and Notre Dame and has been a pastor in the LCA, LCMS, WELS, and some other Lutheran denominations (I think). Some of you might find this jumping around a bit odd, but one of course must follow their conscience.

You can read his blog here:

On his blog, he has criticized a doctrine he refers to with the letters UOJ or "Universal Objective Justification." What he means by this is the idea that the whole world has been forgiven by the objective work of atonement. Subsequently, people receive this forgivenness by faith and therefore are subjectively justified. All this Dr. Jackson describes as a "second justification."

So, sound OK to most of you, right? Here's a brief summary of the reasons that Dr. Jackson has problems with this concept. I will make a running commentary. Obviously these are merely talking points and therefore these are only my preliminary response to his arguments. They should therefore only be construed that way. Also, I should say that I greatly respect his learning and critique his position in the most humble way.

Jackson writes:

"This is a brief summary explaining why Universal Objective Justification is anti-Scriptural, anti-Confessional, and anti-Christian.

UOJ teaches that the entire world has been forgiven of sin, without the Holy Spirit working through the Word (Objective Justification) and that people must believe this weird idea in order to be really forgiven. Those who deny this are not forgiven."

OK. I'm not following.

Christ's work is objectively true whether or not I believe in it. It is received by faith. Now, I will grant that talking about the world being "forgiven," but not really, really forgiven until they receive it is a awkward way of speaking- but Christ's sacrifice is something real and complete. John tells us that Christ died not only for our sins, but the sins of the whole world. Luther was insistent that Christ was the "only sin and only righteousness." Both of these statements make clear that because Christ has born all sin, redemption and forgiveness are something already actualized before we receive it.

"Some obvious Biblical errors are:
Abraham was justified by faith. Was he again justified universally? Ditto for all the Old Testament figures who believed in Christ and it was counted as righteousness."

No- Abraham received Christ's universal work of redemption which had occurred in the future. From God's perspective it had already happened "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" and all that.

"No account in the Bible reveals that God declared the entire world forgiven the moment Christ died or the moment He rose from the dead. UOJ contradicts itself on that point, which should be so clear."

I refer you to the statements referring to Christ's universal work of redemption. Yes, you've made your point, it's an awkward way of speaking. Obviously people who don't receive the world of Christ by faith remain in their sins and God still judges them. That's what Walther, Pieper, Hoenecke, and everyone else who uses the language of universal forgiveness means by this. You've admitted that this isn't universalism by stating those who don't receive it by faith aren't forgiven.

"Jesus said the Holy Spirit would convict people of their sin – their sin of unbelief. UOJ convicts people against faith. They fall all over themselves condemning faith."

Not following. Are you suggesting that faith is precluded by UOJ? But you've admitted that that's not the conclusion that proponents of the this way of speaking draw from UOJ. So, whom are you criticizing? A misreading of Barth?

"The relationship between Law and Gospel is erased with UOJ."

But not really, because when people say "God forgave the whole world" what they in fact mean is that in Christ God's redemptive work is complete and wholly fulfilled- Christ has born the whole price and paid for every sin. You can enter into Christ by faith and become, (to use one description of Luther's teaching on justification) "a single subject with Christ" or remain in the old creation under wrath. If you deny that Christ as a redemptive agent has not brought about redemption as something full and complete, then you end up saying that the gospel is only potentially saving and therefore our preaching would de-evolve into "if you believe, then you will be forgiven and redeemed" (which is preaching the gospel as law!) opposed to "you are redeemed."

"The sacraments are meaningless with UOJ."

I refer you to the last observation.

"Confession and absolution are turned into – “You were forgiven before you walked in the door” counseling. I am not kidding."

Or if you don't use this language, one ends if saying "God forgives you, if you believe" rather than "you are forgiven for the sake of Jesus."

"All the terms—General Justification, Objective Justification, Universal Objective Justification—are modern, post-BOC, the earliest example coming from the era of Pietism. The term justification, whether in the Bible or BOC, always means justification by faith."

This very well may be true. This question is of purely historical interest- I would like to investigate it more. In any case, the Confessions and Creeds of the ancient Church use theological terminology in various ways and often add terminology not found in the Bible (for example the Confessions use the term "Gospel" more losely in the AC than in the FC- Trinity or homousia is not in the Bible). This is not really a problem if the same conceptuality is there. Frankly, I don't see how you can argue that this is an idea that arose in the era of Pietism just because certain Pietists authors used the terms this way.

"Dr. Robert Preus stated this with great clarity in the last book, Justification and Rome, in spite of his sons having a role in editing it posthumously."

I'd need to re-read the book in question to respond. I don't remember anything about this in that book.

"UOJ comes from the era of Pietism and was promoted by Pietists."

Again, a historical question that I'm not competant to respond to as of now.

"UOJ comes from Pietism using the Calvinistic concept of salvation first, apart from the Means of Grace, so UOJ is pure Enthusiasm."

But salvation happens in the concrete medium of the flesh of Christ and then is channeled through the Word and sacraments. All the authors you're talking about would admit that. I'm failing to see how you get here. Furthermore, we should also always be careful about claiming historical influence. It is one of the most difficult things to demonstrate by carefully use of historical investigation.

"Woods’ translation of Knapp established the double-justification scheme before the Missouri Synod pioneers landed in America. Knapp was a famous Halle University professor, and Woods was a non-Lutheran theological celebrity in America. The text had widespread use in German and English throughout the 19th century."

Interesting- but again, I have no basis upon which to judge this claim.

"The double-justification wording did not establish itself at once in the Synodical Conference. Missouri did not have it in its German language 1905 catechism."

OK. Perhaps- I have no idea. But that the work of Christ is a done deal prior to it's proclamation to me in Word and sacrament is both biblical and confessional, and has always been taught in the orthodox Lutheran Church.

My summary judgment is as follows: What it sounds like has gone on is this. In order to express the biblical and confessional concept that God in Christ has actualized redemption before we receive it by faith, some confessional theologians in Germany and the US in the 19th century starting using the language of universal, objective justification. They would say things like "God has already forgiven the whole world" by which they meant that God in Christ had made a sacrifice for everyone's sins and that he bore everyone's sins and that all of this is a done deal. They didn't mean that God would overlook sin if someone did not receive Jesus' redemption through faith or that people who received Christ by faith in the OT were not saved or something. Rather they just meant that our sins are paid for on the cross prior to us receiving such redemption by faith. They got this terminology from the Pietists and it was a kind of awkward way of talking, since obvious people could still go to hell- but it safe guarded talk of justification by faith from the equally problematic misunderstanding that faith was a work.

Enter Dr. Jackson, who correctly observes the awkwardness of this way of speaking and then draws out the weird implications this way of talking if we take the statement "God in Christ forgives the whole world on the cross and the empty tomb" in certain ways. Of course, the whole critique comes off as a little bit strange because he of course admits that the people he's critiquing aren't taking the words to mean what he finds conceptually objectionable.

With all due respect, my initial judgment is that this is a bit of a straw man.

Perhaps I'm wrong though. I invite Dr. Jackson or anyone else to challenge my critique. Also, feel free to give your two cents about any of my points.


  1. He doesn't seem to understand, or finds unbiblical, the distinction between purchasing, or winning, forgiveness, and distributing, or receiving forgiveness.

    These same arguments Dr. Jackson puts forth are found in Luther's debates with the Zwinglians over the Lord's Supper.

  2. I tried to read Dr. Jackson's blog, but unfortunately I found it unreadable. I don't have the patience for his writing style, perhaps.

    Anyhow, I think that a major purpose of theology is to help the Church determine good ways to speak the faith. As we know, there are lots of possible meanings for the same sentence. "Christ is present in the sacrament of the altar" means about 10 different things depending on who you ask.

    On this subject, I think the main issue is whether it's proper to say that God "justified" the whole world. If it is, then objective justification goes with Unlimited atonement. If it isn't, then objective justification goes with universalism. The details will fall into place accordingly as regards the sacraments, faith, etc.

    So, I always think about Romans 3:24 (all have sinned, all are justified) and Romans 4:25 (Jesus delivered for our trespasses, raised for our justification). If the "all" and the "our" respectively don't refer to the all people, then neither sentence really makes sense. This is the heart of objective justification.

    Add on Romans 5 (the superabundance of grace over all sins of all times) and I think you can make a good case that Paul spoke of objective justification and it is a good way to speak the faith.


  3. George- I'm totally with you. Granted his blog tends toward Herman Otten style yellow church journalism and he has strange obsessions with certain theological issues (UOJ being the chief one- he has also bizarrely chosen to create his own "language" of theology and he for whatever reason uses pictures of babies and animals near the tagline of his post), but I also admire his integrity and his learning. Again, I think that the verses of Scripture which you mention are a death blow to his attacks. I would also agree that one can misunderstand "all are forgiven" or "all are justified." But again, it doesn't seem that anyone has really ever taken things the way he says they have in confessional Lutheranism (others, such as Barth have done so, but that's another story.)

  4. Marquart has a nice essay in the Preus festschrift, "A Lively Legacy", titled "The Reformation Roots of 'Objective' Justification" in which he points to the nature of absolution as the starting point of controversy in the 19th c. Tom Hardt also has a good essay in the same volume, which I think is on sale through CPH.

  5. What do you think of Dr. Jackson's idea that the imputation of our sin to Christ and the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us are historically separated? The former happens on the cross and the latter happens when we believe.

  6. Dr. Jack Kilcrease, I read your offer to discuss Universal Objective Justification (UOJ) on Ichabod and would like to engage you on that subject. In this post you covered many different aspects of the doctrine and so I would ask that you choose a starting point and we can begin. It will help if we can both agree that Scripture is the norm and the Lutheran Confessions are the ruled norm. I confess a quia subscription to the BOC.

  7. Brett-mystery man- Meyer, Yes, of course. I of course I accept those terms. Biblical inerrancy and a quia subscription. There's really no question about that.

    Just respond to my points.

    What am I missing here? I don't see the point to whole debate. People are just using different words for the same concepts. No one disagrees about the need to have faith. The whole question comes down, it seems to me, to use of the word "justification" which the Lutheran Symbols themselves use in different ways (the Apology uses it to mean justification and sanctification; the FC uses it to mean just justification).

    So, let's get to it- what's the deal?

  8. Brett- I'm going to start a new post devoted to that so that people can know that we're talking about this and can join in. Put your next response there.