Saturday, September 1, 2012

Samuel Huber: The Red Herring in the Objective Justification Debate

Over the last few months those in the Lutheran blogsphere who reject the orthodox Lutheran teaching regarding objective justification have been going nuts over the publication of a translation of a series of theses by a third generation Lutheran theologian named Aegidius Hunnius against a Swiss heretic named Samuel Huber.  For a quick summary: Samuel Huber was a Reformed pastor who deeply disliked Theodore Beza's hardening of Calvin's doctrine of double predestination and therefore came to agree with the Lutherans regarding the objectivity and universality of God grace.  He was invited to come to Wittenberg, where he was supposed to help the faculty there fight Calvinism.  Unfortunately, trying to avoid the ditch of double predestination, he went in the other direction and claimed that election and justification were universal.  Being universal, election and justification were communicated to all human beings.  Huber never really went all the way though and said that all were going to be saved.  In fact, he taught that people could (using their own free will) reject this universal justification and election.

The anti-OJ forces on the Internet take early Lutheranism's rejection of his heresy has sign that they would have also rejected the later 19th century Lutheran distinction between objective and subjective justification.  There are a couple of problems with this claim: 1. Walther in the Baier compendium specifically rejects Huber's doctrine (in fact he has a whole section on it!).  2. Huber did talk about a universal justification, but his heresy was more about and a reaction to the doctrine of election.  Advocates of OJ such as Walther always taught particular election.  3. Moreover, since Huber claimed that justification was not merely pronounced to all (objective justification), but communicated to all (functional universalism), he has virtually no place for subjective justification.  This would pretty much destroy the entire point of the distinction between objective and subjective justification.

The main problem with Huber and the entire discussion as it has gone on the Internet up to now is this:  Huber was a speculative theologian, rather than a practical one.  As a number of Church historians have pointed out, he was a fairly bad one at that.  Therefore, when considering this debate the following is important to recognize: The objectivity of justification is not a speculative or abstract claim about the relationship of the Triune God to the world, but rather A. A recognition of redemption as an inter-Trinitarian event (In reaction to the universal atonement brought about by the Son, the Father has a reaction of the declaration of universal grace, wherein he send the Spirit to mediate such universal grace through the means of grace). B. A rule of preaching, whereby the Church is authorized to speak the words of grace as something already accomplished- “Your sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus.” The difficulty with Huber’s position is not only did it claim a universal election (which Lutherans deny) and free will (which Lutherans also deny), but it created a situation wherein preaching the gospel as an unconditional word “your sins are forgiven, etc.” is not possible. In such an event the gospel becomes law. Logically one would have to say “you are redeemed, if you accept universal election, etc.” or perhaps "you are redeemed if you don't reject universal election." Again, what’s the irony here: As much as the anti-OJ folks rage against Huber, they logically must have the same position. They must say “your sins are forgiven, if you have faith and repent.” Why have they taken this position? Because they have not theologized from the perspective of a bound will. They think if faith is not emphasized, then people will some how not use their free will to have faith or perhaps they will forget to have faith.  This is absurd.  Once you understand the will is bound, the you’ll stop worrying about giving people too much grace. God is the one who causes faith, so you don’t have to worry that people won’t have faith unless you tell them to. In fact, there is a belief among many of the Anti-OJ folks that because there is too much grace in the ELS, WELS, and the LCMS there are higher rates of immoral behavior.  This is uber-Pietistic- which is ironic in light of fact that they accuse us of Pietism!  It was such impulses that led Spener to start Pietism. He thought there was too much grace being preached and so people were becoming immoral.


  1. Sounds much like the reaction against Beza pushed him into a sort of Lutheran version of the Arminian problem.

    On the one hand, you have the thoroughgoing Calvinist particularism, which says that there is no conflict between atonement and election because both are coincident divine acts over which we have no influence, and they happen to be limited in scope. And on the other, you have an insistence on universalism of atonement, but an ongoing belief in damnation that mandates some level of particularism. And in a perverse solafidianism, the Arminians choose to keep double-predestination and make election conditional on not screwing up the reception of faith.

    And what you describe here suggests that Huber goes for a universalism predicated on not failing—which means that like the Arminians, he asserts the real possibility of a fall from grace by human will and action.

    It seems to me that if you're going to go universalist, you cannot stop midway, or you wind up with some positive or negative version of synergism. (Antergism?) The Calvinist position chooses, in double-predestinarian fashion, to go whole-hog particularist to fix this problem, and assign everything to the divine will and nothing to Man (besides Adam and Christ).

    Objective and subjective justification walk a fine line in not falling into the same trap. And perhaps it's odd that I should find Barth a better exemplar of this position than many of us! In saying that faith matters, we do say something like what the Arminian position of 1610 attempts to—that it is faith that saves, and that faith is a God-given grace, and not our doing. But instead of speaking about faith, we speak about Christ as the objective reality of God's act, and the Spirit as the subjective reality of God's act. And we refuse, by and large, to talk about damnation as though it had a reality, because human failure is not in any way determinant of human destiny.

    Jack, even if Huber did it wrong, what keeps us from functional universalism, and how do we walk that line without believing in damnation and attributing it to the divine will?

  2. By describing "damnation" as an attribute of the divine will, I assume you are referring to a predestination to damnation. In regards to getting people damned, God obviously does will those who reject divine grace to be damned.

    Overall, I take your question to be: How to we overcome the aporia between the reality of the universality of grace and the particularity of election.

    My response would be: We don't. The Bible says both things and so, therefore, although we cannot resolve it, we must accept that both are a reality. Why, although God wills the salvation of all, he only predestines a specific number is a great mystery. We'll find out in heaven. For now, it is our duty to proclaim the gospel to all without distinction and also to give those who have faith the assurance of their predestination. Trying to resolve things either way would send people back to works. Either 1. By saying the difference between elected and damned is that they did the good work of making their decision for Jesus. 2. Or by saying that becuase they have the signs of election, they can rest assured that they are among the elect- i.e., Calvinism's practical synergism.

  3. Not exactly. Predestination comes a good distance down the logic chain. The assignment in God's antecedent will is simply a way of dealing with the notion that damnation remains real even after salvation in Christ becomes real. You've assigned it equally to God's will—though you assign it to God's consequent will, and assign to human volition a respect from God that I don't see in evidence. Certainly we reject grace, but if God damned all those who reject grace there would be no salvation whatever, because we have no natural power to accept grace or receive it. But neither do we have any natural power to reject grace and make it stick. My point about damnation was that accepting human cooperation there is just letting original human capability in the back door instead of the front. (Which you've also just done.) Which is why Dort slams both doors shut, hard.

    The problem with Huber isn't his universalism. That's not what turns gospel into law—you can proclaim gospel as an unconditional word, and it remains God's grace, with no conditions whatsoever, and cannot thereby become law. The point at which it becomes law, as in Huber, is the point at which you suggest that we have the capacity to reject grace and merit damnation (as Huber did, and as you just did). At which point you must actively accept (i.e. not reject) in order to receive the gospel. Which puts law and therefore works as the gate to grace.

    A true unconditional divine universality is the only alternative I can see to a true unconditional divine particularism (as Dort articulates). Or else you must assert that God is contrary by proclaiming one universal action and another limited one. Or you must allow merit in as a basis for the limitation, even if it is demerit, in order for God to be consistent. There must be a reason, beyond the simple divine will, for God to will both universality and limitation. Can you show me a true alternative beyond these?

  4. More to the point, I was asking a Lutheran instructor with Lutheran bona fides for a Lutheran answer, and you gave me the predestination of a number, and the suggestion that damnation is consistent with the gospel, and you gave me a god who wills universal salvation but settles for limited election, and handwaved "eschatological mystery" in place of logic. Could you try and do better, specifically as a Lutheran responsible to the confessions?

    So, why aren't we universalists, if we believe there can be no human limitation on grace, and we do not believe in human capability as something relevant to God's action for us in Christ? Can you justify the aporia as genuinely God's doing, and not an artifact of bad theology? How does it square with the gospel?


  5. Matthew,

    First of all, I was in fact giving the Lutheran answer to you. I was giving you the answer that I find in Luther's Bondage of the Will and in the Formula of Concord.

    Secondly, I think you've misunderstood me with regard to the rejection of divine grace comment. I'm not really saying humans have the capacity not to reject God's grace. Humans are damned because they reject God's grace, but that that's much of an explanation. The fact that God by his grace overcomes the resistance of those whom he predestines and yet allows others to continue to resist is a great mystery. I don't know why he does it. As the Augsburg Confession states, he creates faith through the means of grace when and where he will. Why? Luther states that we do not know. The Formula of Concord also points out that damnation is part of God's consequent will, namely, God damns those who resist his grace. But must not all necessarily do this (in light of Original Sin), and why does God overcome the resistance is some but not others? Well, Chemnitz says in his private writings: God could give Judas repentance and faith, but he doesn't. Nevertheless, Judas is responsible for his own sinful will and resistance to grace, even though he can't do otherwise.

    Now, the particularity of election and predestination, with a universality of grace is consistent with what I would call the phenomenonology of the Word. When we are talking about God's grace and about God's election, we're not talking about abtract concepts (such as the order of decrees or the coordination of different divine attributes- as with the Reformed tradition, in its modern version in Barth). Rather, we are talking about something that God is doing in his Word.

    What God does in his Word has both universal and particular dimensions. The Word of the gospel is something universal and already accomplished. The Word is proclaimed to all. One does not say to a room of people "Christ has forgiven your sins! Except those of Earl!"

    On the other hand, it is also a word pro me. Baptism is my baptism, so is my reception of the Lord's Supper. When I hear the Word, God in his providence is causing me to here the Word in my particular place in creation and time. He has also caused me in particular to respond to it. Everyone at once doesn't hear the Word- nor does everyone respond to it (for some reason!), rather I am elected through the Word in my particularity.

    Hence, the universality of divine grace and the particularity of election describes what the divine Word is (absolute, universal, and unconditional, prior to our response: "Your sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus") and it's particular in its application through Word and sacrament.

    Again, dealing with this from the perspective of the Reformed tradition leads us to thinking about what God is doing above his Word- where human reason is not competent to go. This is the great weakness of Barth's system. He makes the divine being completely transparent. He feelings he can think into revelation and therefore overcome God's hiddenness through a theory about the temporal echoing of God's decrees in the life Jesus. Hence, he destroys the law and the gospel in the process. Everything is collapsed into God's own revelation in Jesus and unity covenant of love that he manifests. Hence, everything again turns into law (i.e. responding the the covenant of love in Jesus) and the gospel only empowers us to obey the law. With this, the preaching of law and gospel (the aim of all true theology) is destroyed.

  6. Dr. Kilcrease,

    Good post! I enjoyed reading it.

    Huber's universal justification/election turned the means of grace into mere information. I found what Tom Hard explained to be helpful (Justification and Easter, A Lively Legacy. 67): "Huber's one act emptied the means of grace; Walther's fills them with the power that entitles the confessor in the confessional to ask the penitent in the confessional the question found in Luther's small catechism: 'Do you believe that my forgiveness is God's forgiveness?'"

  7. Andrew- Good point.

    I would argue with Gerhard Forde that the problem with positions like Huber or that of Barth is that preaching doesn't actually change anything. For them, God's universal grace is considered in an abstract generalized sense, rather than a description of what God present in his Word is promising: "Your sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus."

    This is one of the reasons why, paradoxical though it may sound, one must maintain the distinction between the hidden and revealed God in order for the distinction between law and gospel to work. God as he is present in the word of the law can never be reconciled to the sinner, whereas in the word of gospel he already is. The preaching of gospel makes the God who has already reconciled the world present. With this, the sinner moves from relating to God one way to another.

    One of the most profound difficulties arguing with the Anti-OJ crowd is that they have no understanding of this dialectic (I've treid to discuss Bondage of the Will with them, and none of them have read or have any appreciation for its content). When you start as they do with the idea of OJ as a generalized abstract relationship that God has with the world, rather than who God is and what he has done in means of grace(as opposed to the God of the law or the hidden God) then obvious the assertion of OJ is going to sound very odd indeed.

  8. Dr. Kilcrease,

    You have no idea how beautiful this explanation is. I'm an ex-calvinist turned LCMS Lutheran and went through all the despair that goes with that (long story short), and this is shear genius and a Gospel delight!

    “They must say “your sins are forgiven, if you have faith and repent.” Why have they taken this position? Because they have not theologized from the perspective of a bound will. They think if faith is not emphasized, then people will some how not use their free will to have faith or perhaps they will forget to have faith. This is absurd. Once you understand the will is bound, then you’ll stop worrying about giving people too much grace. God is the one who causes faith, so you don’t have to worry that people won’t have faith unless you tell them to.”

    That may be the best single statement I’ve ever heard on that issue.

    I even heard many guest Calvinist on I & E in answering the question how one knows one is elect, with a, “if you believe these things, then you are elect”. What is not seen in that is the practical synergism of the statement position. The real bondage of the will, or original sin is not understood. In fact a step further is that such does not understand how faith is given from God in the “your sins are forgiven”, likewise in the sacraments “shed for the forgiveness of your sins”, etc… how faith is given in these words only. It reminds me of what Luther said in his HD that “arrogance cannot be avoided nor true hope present unless damnation is not feared in every work”, and that is meant for the Christian post conversion too. Similarly to fail this is to surrender the fear of God. Thus, if in every work this must be feared, then no works, not even faith as in “I believe” can be evidence of election or salvation. One is forced to the Word only, “your sins are forgiven”, “this baptism saves you”, “be baptized…for the forgiveness of your sins”, etc. All these absolution, baptism and the Lord’s Supper where “you are forgiven” is spoken, there is given forgiveness and literally faith itself is given wrapped up in those words. Perhaps one could even say faith is given “in, with and under” these words. Anything beyond this is to speculate about God beyond the Word, literally beyond Jesus. This highlights the constant prayer of Luther and subsequent Lutheran writings of “keep us steadfast in Thy Word”. In this sense, all theological speculation about God are forced to end at the Cross and no answers are given to idle curiosity beyond that.

    Even Luther’s famous how one knows in trial and temptation that one is elect, “I am baptized” is shear gospel. It’s totally passive and receptive language, the purest Gospel that can only be Gospel. God did/does it, the point of the passive “am”. This is in opposition to in answering the same question the way one would attempt to answer how one knows with, “I believe”, which is active on the person’s part, its active verbage as opposed to passive verbage, the person acting rather than God.

    This sounds negative toward even faith, but its not. Luther was right true hope only arises when every work is feared, including the work/effort of “faith”. Once one hears “I am forgiven” this is a blessed true faith and hope arising!


  9. Larry, I am pleased that you enjoyed my explanation. Many blessing!

  10. I don't agree with those that think that universal election is not in the lutheran confessions. Universal election is a biblical doctrine tied to objective justification, just like particular election is a biblical doctrined tied to justification by grace through faith. Not sure what the problem is with universal election, this universal election still needs to be realized by the individual, we are not talking here about universal salvation (everybody will go to heaven). All this teaching refers to is Romans 5 where in Adam the whole human race is condemned, but in Christ God elected the whole human grace to salvation. I believe that if we do not teach universal election, objective jusrtification will suffer. Karl Barth was able to teach universal election without teaching that everybody will be saved in the end, so I don't get it what the issue is with lutherans. Every man is elected in Christ to salvation, however when man rejects the gospel call, he rejects this election and pretty much elects himself into condemnation. So it is man's fault that he is condemened, and not due to God's election, where every man is elected unto life.

    I'd like to know what's the problem with this teaching? It's nothing else that recognizing the universality of the atonement and objective justification.

  11. Further to what I just wrote earler today. By the way I am not a Barthian, however I believe that Karl Barth got universal election right, just like he got universal justification right. I repeat this does not mean universalism (everybody goes to heaven).

    I'm afraid that if we lutherans reject universal election that took place with Christ work on the cross, we are destroying the doctrine of universal justification. Just like in Adam through one sin death entered the world, in Christ grace and eternal life entered the world. This happened at the atonement level, and it absolutely includes universal election.

    With that said I'm not disagreeing with all the criticisms of Barth that others put forward. Neither am I denying like Huber that there is a special election, and the bible refers many times to the elect as those that are justified by grace through faith.

    If we want our theology to make any progress we have to acknowledge the biblical teaching of universal election.

    If somebody can refute what I just wrote I will welcome his / her differing biblical interpretation.

  12. And one last thing to mention without universal election there is no universsal grace. So universal election is of necessity tautght in the lutheran confessions. Otherwise we would all be calvinists. Augustine defined the difference between predestination and grace as follows in chapter 19 of his anti-pelagian letter on the Predestination of the Saints entitled In What Respects Predestination and Grace Differ. n

    "Further, between grace and predestination there is only this difference, that predestination is the preparation for grace, while grace is the donation itself."

    So let me say this if we deny universal predestination we have just denied universal grace. Let's all become calvinists and be merry. Because let us be clear if there is no universal election there can not exist universal gracce. And this is contrary to the teachings not only of Martin Luther, but all the lutheran confessions as well.