Yesterday in our circuit Winkel, we were discussing the difference between seminary and pastoral practice. Specifically, the conversation turned to the tendency in seminary to denigrate recent teachers in the church (Walther, Pieper, Kretzmann). And yet, those same men become some of the most useful to the pastor when he arrives in the parish.
In discussing the rationale behind it, a brother pastor mentioned that Pieper was described as “Woodenly Dogmatic” And then he followed up with “But look at the name of the text”. (Christian Dogmatics, vols. 1-3)
Of course, Dogmatics need not be woodenly dogmatical. One hopes that any theological writing is filled with the lively hope of the Gospel. Certainly a dogmatics text will be a bit more formal, and perhaps less filled with outright songs of praise. In any dogmatics text, you must proceed systematically from topic to topic, explain the correct teaching, show why it is correct, and defend against false teachings. Peiper does this. And he does it well.
There is a new two-volume dogmatic, available after nearly forty years of work. Hopefully, the new book is not “Woodenly dogmatic”. Although, given the time in which it was produced, I would be more concerned that it ends up being a bit more squishy than one would like to see in a dogmatics text. CTCR documents from the same period certainly turned that direction. Early in its history, the CTCR produced concise statements (like “Gospel and Scripture: Interrelationship of Material & Formal Principles in Lutheran Theology” or “The Inspiration of Scripture”). But at a certain point, things changed. In more recent years, the CTCR has produced statements that recommended against using scriptural language, (“Defending Pre-Implantation Human Life in the Public Square”), statements that disagreed with themselves (“Guidelines for Participation in Civic Events”) and statement that are long (and I mean LOOOOOOONG) on virtue signaling, but short on any practical theology (“Immigrants Among Us: A Lutheran Framework for Addressing Immigration Issues” and “Together With All Creatures: Caring for God’s Living Earth”).
The pastoral theology text from the same period was also… weak. The pastoral approach recommended in that book is largely, “Be nice to everyone, don’t be too concerned about what God says in His Holy Word, and hopefully everyone will like us.” Faithful pastoral practice takes a decided backseat to the synod’s struggle with self esteem in the wake of the seminex era.
I don’t know that the new Dogmatics text does any of the things I’ve mentioned above. But it is telling that early reviews I’ve read have already said, “It would be nice if it went into more detail than it does, like Pieper did.”
For now, I’ll stick with Pieper. It was a masterwork. Only one theologian in the last century could even make a claim to match Pieper’s stature as a theologian. (Robert Preus). But he was humble enough that he would never make such a claim. And those who did all of the planning for the new text were absolutely united in one unshakable dogmatic conviction: They hated Robert Preus. They were theological gnats who could not handle the greatness of his conviction or the clarity of his confession. The one advantage they had over him was that they knew how to play the political game. With his death at their hands, now more than twenty years ago, any thought of producing a dogmatics text that was comparable to Pieper’s has long since disappeared. To be honest, I’m not sure a new one is needed. The doctrine has not changed. The application of it – that is explaining it against the backdrop of our own cultural milieu and refuting current errors – certainly may call for occasional revision. But until God raises up a theologian that has Pieper’s or Preus’s insight into and love for the orthodox theology given in Holy Scripture, we will not see a book that can match the depth or breadth of Pieper.
We may mock him, we may think he is outdated, or too stark in his presentation. But Pieper does correctly lay out the theology of scripture – in a detailed and systematic way unmatched by any other available text in English. He also warns against false teaching – in a way that is winsome but never yields. And if you’re looking for a text that does that – as faithful pastors must do – it’s still the best out there. I would recommend it to any seminarian or young pastor. And I hope the seminaries continue to require it, even if they say mean things about it.
If you like Pieper, you may like this little biography of Luther. Short, clear, and with a great explanation of the place of the Gospel in the life of the church, it really is a Reformation 500 classic!