We will now turn to a brief assessment of Forde’s teaching from a confessional Lutheran perspective. The first and most important issue to be tackled in this evaluation is the nature of atonement and its inner relationship to the article of justification. What Forde’s interpretation of the doctrine of atonement makes clear is that there is a necessary relationship between the article of the work of Christ and that of justification. In other words, if one rejects the notion of Christ’s vicarious satisfaction of the law (both actively and passively) the entire soteriological apple cart is, so to speak, upset and the forensic nature of justification is lost. Put succinctly: If Christ does not fulfill the law on our behalf, then someone else must, and that someone is necessarily us. This is evidenced by the fact that without fail those who reject vicarious satisfaction (for example, the aforementioned Abelard and Socinians) posit the fulfillment of the law by believers in some sort of watered-down form. In Forde’s case, the believer does not fulfill the law by his or her own efforts per se, but is rather recreated by God’s effective address as one who has fulfilled the law by faith. Thereby God is “satisfied” and his wrath is silenced.
Nevertheless, beyond the brunt fact that this description of justification is in total disagreement with the confessional and biblical authorities, Forde’s description of justification lacks coherence with his own theological presuppositions in at least two ways. First, in his discussion of penal substitution, Forde endlessly complains that to believe that God needs bloody sacrifice order to save makes him into a cosmic ogre. Ultimately though within Forde’s own doctrine of atonement, God does apparently need the law to be fulfilled or divine wrath will never cease. The redemptive fulfillment of the law is simply moved from external location (in Christ) to internal one (within the believer). Moreover, despite Forde’s attacks on the Lutheran scholastic doctrine of atonement, the structure of the fulfillment of the law in his theology and theirs remains roughly the same. For Forde, the law is fulfilled by the old, unbelieving creature being killed by the law (this corresponding to the Lutheran scholastic concept of passive righteousness), and then being raised up into the power of the new creation by the gospel (corresponding to the concept of active righteousness).
Though we cannot explore the sources of Forde’s thought within this context, perhaps it is not too bold to suggest that we detect here a lingering Kantian preference (endemic for so much of post-Enlightenment Protestant dogamtics) for the phenomenal over the noumenal. Just as for Kant one cannot know the “ding an sich,” so too Forde considers the idea of an objective lex aeterna to be an abstraction and therefore must focus on the existential impact of the law alone. Correspondingly, he considers the idea of vicarious satisfaction to represent a mere “abstract payment,” rather than the more concrete fulfillment of the law actualized internally through the existential impact of the cross on the consciousness of the believer.