The Problem with Poo-Pooing Pieper
Sadly, it is somewhat “fashionable” to “poo-poo” Francis Pieper and his work on Christian doctrine Christian Dogmatics. Francis Pieper was the Missouri Synod’s greatest systematician, serving as successor of Dr. C.F.W. Walther as president of Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis. He also served as president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. To this day, his work on Lutheran doctrine remains influential and for most LCMS pastors, key to their formation as pastors, since it gives them a good, solid grounding in classical Lutheran confessional orthodoxy.
As time went by, and the influence of modernist theology was felt in The LCMS, it became increasingly popular to poke fun of, and dismiss, the great work of Dr. Pieper. Sadly, this continues to this day in some circles.
I am not a person to look down on, dismiss or otherwise put myself in the position of “knowing better than Pieper.” Why? Because I’ve read too much bad theology to do that, and I’ve read too much good theology not to appreciate Dr. Pieper’s fine work.
Francis Pieper is the person most responsible for me being a Lutheran theologian, to this day. I was required to read Pieper’s dogmatics, very, very carefully, for a good number of years at the seminary. I was quizzed over each of my readings for every class I had with Professor Kurt Marquart. I was required to memorize the various Latin terms and phrases Dr. Pieper uses in his work to teach Lutheran theology. And not only to memorize them, but to be able to explain what they mean and why they were important. Doing so equipped me with a helpful “shorthand” for making clear, what are clearly complex concepts. But when you are able to define them and explain them using the classic Latin phrases and terms used for them, they stick with you.
Francis Pieper’s three volume work on Lutheran doctrine is still the best available complete Lutheran dogmatics in English. It was translated from the original German, and in spite of the faults and failings of that translation, and I will the first to acknowledge they are there, it remains to this day the finest work of Lutheran theology for American Lutherans available. Why do I say this?
Francis Pieper was well aware of the advent of higher criticism and the “subjective” theology that has now thoroughly overwhelmed all of modern Christianity. He provides the student of Lutheran theology with a very solid grounding in classic Lutheran theology, and by use of many Latin terms and phrases, he provides the seminarian and future pastor with a vocabulary to understand very complex and highly important theological concepts. If you understand the Latin words and phrases, properly, you will understand the theology faithfully. And, frankly, there is really nothing new under the sun when it comes to heretical opinions. If you understand the doctrine set forth by Dr. Pieper, you are equipped to handle whatever comes down the pike.
I grow increasingly concerned when I hear about seminarians not being required to read and study Pieper, but instead use more modern Lutheran theological works. The precision of the classic Lutheran orthodoxy represented so well by Pieper is not available elsewhere. The other aspect of Dr. Pieper’s work is the wealth of Luther quotes he provides, along with other classic orthodox Lutheran theologians. Neglecting to study, very carefully, the work of Dr. Francis Pieper is a huge error on the part of any Lutheran preparing for the ministry. Neglecting Pieper is akin to a doctor neglecting to study carefully his basic medical texts. You can not read and understand other approaches to theology unless you are thoroughly grounded in good, solid orthodox Lutheran doctrinal theology, and that is what Francis Pieper provides. He provides the tools necessary for any faithful pastor to deal adequately with modern day errors and problems in theology.
All of which is to say, if and when you hear anyone, and I mean anyone, no matter how respected that person might be, be he a pastor or a professor, poo-pooing Pieper, you are hearing somebody saying something very foolish. I was particularly delighted recently to hear this gentleman quoting Francis Pieper: