Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Top Three (Bad) Arguments against Objective Justification

A few nights ago I received a comment from one Mr. Ron Smith on my post on the Rydecki situation.  Mr. Smith used three main arguments that are typically used by anti-OJ proponents.  And in my opinion, these arguments are not very good.  As a response to Mr. Smith, I would like to show how the arguments he offers are problematic.  In debating Rev. Rydecki in the future (among other people) I think this can be a helpful model for those who wish to uphold the biblical and confessional doctrine of objective justification.  It should be born in mind, that when dealing with Rev. Rydecki, he generally is only guilty of using aspects of the second and third arguments and I greatly respect him for not using the first argument.  Despite the fact that I disagree with his theology, he behaves in an honorable manner to his opponents.

1. Personal attacks, insults, and "poisoning the well.": 

Mr. Smith writes of my previous post: "Come on Kilcrease!! [Your] Defense of UOJ reads like a college freshman’s term paper."  A similar argument was made by another opponent, namely that I argue like a "high school student." Both opponents were unclear about what exactly in my writing resembles that of a high school or college student.

Generally this form of argumentation is referred to in logic text books as "ad homien arguments." They not only fallacious, but reveal how weak the counter-argument is.  If a person needs to attack his or her opponent's character, then they can't have much of an argument.  The another argument (identical with the fallacy "poisoning the well") that pops up against me is that because I work at institutions with Roman Catholics and former ELCA folks, that I must secretly be either Roman Catholic or ELCA, and consequently I'm not worthy of listening to.  Again, very fallacious.  A person's character or belief system tells us nothing about the quality of their argument.  Moreover, even if it was the case that I was secretly Catholic or ELCA (which I am quite clearly not), this does not mean that I cannot correctly explain Lutheran doctrine.  I explain different theological systems than my own all the time in my world religions course- I talk about Islam and Judaism and correctly explain their theology without believing in it myself.

2. Justification always means to communicate forgiveness and salvation.  Consequently, OJ is either universalism or, (if you also emphasize SJ) contradictory- i.e., if you're already justified through OJ, why do you need SJ?

Mr. Smith writes:

"What the pro-UOJ perspective forgets is that it is not possible for a guilty person to be in God’s presence for all eternity just as it is not possible for an innocent man to be separated from God for all eternity. So, the problem UOJ proponents run into is defending the notion that “all” have been absolved of sin, declared righteous, etc. and yet come up with a Scriptural reason for Hell’s existence."

Again, we've dealt with this before.  The argument only works if you assume that the word "justify" always means the same thing in every context.  Words don't function this way-that's simply a fact.  In theology, when we apply the word "person" to an human being and to the three persons of the Trinity, we don't exactly mean the same thing (independent center of identity vs. subsisting relation). Moreover, that these words are functioning differently is indicated by the adjective affixed to them (objective/subjective).  Everyone knows, that OJ simply means for God to give a verdict of grace.  SJ means for human beings to receive it by faith.  Very simple stuff and very easy to understand.

Some of the anti-OJ folks claim that this is simply arbitrarily making up the meanings of words as we go along.  But again, this makes little sense.  These words have historically been understood by German and then American Lutherans in roughly the same way for about 200 years.  And so, they themselves are the ones making up new meanings for words, since, in order for their argument to work, they have to claim that the word "justify" means to communicate salvation and forgiveness in every context, without exception.  In other words, to win, they must define terms in a way that their opponents do not and never have.

Of course, for many laypeople unfamiliar with how the terms were used historically, this comes off initially as a slam dunk argument.  I can't tell you how many times I've read in reaction to the theological phrase "objective justification": "Well that doesn't make sense.  If everyone is forgiven, why do you need to have faith?  How come people can be eternally lost?"  Again, this isn't a real argument.  It's merely a misunderstanding of words.  When you have to rely on your audience's unfamiliarity with theological terminology to win the argument, it means that you don't really have one.

3. Ron ended his diatribe against me by posting all of Romans 10.  I think his intention was to show that Scripture says that salvation comes through faith and that (as he put it) all my fancy "jargon" laden arguments couldn't stand up against the simple words of the Bible.

Indeed, the Scriptures and the Confessions (I would also mention an Ecumenical councils) are authoritative for theology.  I would never dispute that.  Nonetheless, I would make a number of points about how one appropriately uses Scripture and secondary creeds and confessions.

A. Doctrines are concepts.  Concepts are different than words.  Many different words can be used to express the same concepts.  Neither the Bible, nor the Confessions, nor the Ecumenical councils use language in a consistent and uniform manner.  If you want to see what I'm talking about, I've already provided many, many examples of this in earlier posts.  So, appealing to certain language as authoritative for all time is arbitrary and historically incoherent.

B.  Quoting passages about subjective justification does not exclude the reality of objective justification.  In fact, passages about SJ presuppose OJ.  Saying that one has been touched by sun light (SJ) presupposes that there is a sun (OJ).  Opponents of OJ frequently compile long lists of quotations from Scripture, the Confessions, or the Lutheran scholastics about SJ and think that this excludes OJ.  This is of course false- saying one reality exists does not exclude another.  Better yet: positing that one reality exists (SJ), when it is know to be dependent on another reality (OJ), proves the existence of that other reality (OJ).  Athanasius used a similar argument against the Arians: If the Father is eternally the Father, he must eternally have a Son.

Moreover, this argument assumes the earlier false premise- namely, that the word "justify" always means the same thing in every context.  So, anti-OJ folks assume if they show that justification is received by faith, then their opponents must be wrong that there is an OJ- which they identify with a kind of universal communication of justification apart from faith.  But of course no one teaches this and therefore the argument utterly falls apart when the terminology is understood correctly.

C.  The Scriptures and the Confessions are complex documents that need to be closely analyzed before making theological judgments.  Hence listing off Bible verses or passages from the Confessions isn't very helpful unless you explain their meaning in its historical context and the overall pattern of meaning found in the documents themselves.  For that reason, I personally tend to argue about the complexity of meaning in these sources of the faith and its implications.  I do not simply list off verses or passages.  I consider to be theologically inept and dishonest- it is an abuse of these documents, not their use!

Many opponents accuse me of Rationalism and then appeal to Luther's statements about "whore reason."  Again, I would encourage them to read the modern Luther scholarship to get a better perspective on what Luther meant by this.  Luther did not mean that you should not use your brain in analyzing biblical or church-historical texts.  Rather, his statements to this effect are usually against his Reformed opponents who opposed the sacraments on rationalisic grounds.  Luther says that human reason is meant for dealing with the law and the problems of this world.  God's grace and promises can't be limited by human reason since they are beyond the law and the kingdom of the world.  So, in effect, my opponents are misusing Luther in order to promote their own abuse of scriptural and confessional texts.

Hopefully this list will help others in the future cut through some of the more incoherent arguments against OJ.  In making this list, it is my utmost hope that I can in the future help as many people as possible appreciate the objectivity and unconditionality of God's grace in Christ.


  1. Of course not, Dr. Jackson. I don't see how you are argue with any of these points. Glad we're clear about that.

  2. Objective justification has nothing to do with faith. Man is justified without faith, by Christ's work on the cross.

    Where's faith in Romans 5:18? Nowhere to be found. Justification of life came to all men, and yet not all men have faith! So there you have it, those that believe God requires faith to justify don't have the biblical text on their side. The guy that was talking about faith and Romans 10 has no clue what he's talking about, because objective justification requires no faith, only Christ's atoning work is sufficient for objective justification (unlike subjective justification which is tied to faith). Can it not be more clear than Romans 5:18 or 2 Corinthians 5:19 or 1 Timothy 4:10

    Romans 5 verse 18
    “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”