In the 1970s, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s controversy over the historicity of certain biblical accounts was prominent in the press. Just when things were getting back to normal, a new controversy over objective justification has broken out.

The terms objective and subjective justification are rarely used outside Missouri Synod circles and few others are aware of what they mean. The terms refer not to two justifications, but to only one act viewed from divine and human perspectives. Objective justification is that one-time judicial and forensic act of God by which he pronounces, declares, and regards all men as righteous in his sight. The doctrine was never intended to teach that all men, even unbelievers, are in themselves righteous. This pronouncement of justification of all men is founded in Christ’s universal atonement by his death for all sins, and in his resurrection. The doctrine is thus also known as universal justification.

God has put away his wrath in the atoning death of Christ and views all men in Christ’s resurrection as acceptable to him. Objective indicates that it is God’s act alone, which he accomplished in and through Christ, and is prior to faith. Universal is used because all men are embraced. Objective justification is no mere theological abstraction, but the overarching reality that gives substance to the gospel preaching.

Parallel to objective justification is God’s universal condemnation of the world in Adam and because of him. Though “objective condemnation” is not used, all men are condemned because they have sinned in Adam even though they have not individually and personally committed sins. Objective justification follows the universal condemnation of the world as the new overarching reality ...

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