Pieper, Francis. Christian Dogmatics: Volume 1. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1968.
Chapter A19, “Theology and System”
In this chapter Pieper asks whether theology is a “system.” This is a curious question since the discipline known to Pieper as “dogmatics” is more recently termed “systematics.” What is meant by “system”? If it is “an integrated, organized whole” it is a system. Biblical doctrine is a whole, both in source (called “formal principle”) and its implications or priorities (called “material principle”). Christian doctrine holds together as a whole, centered around justification by grace through faith in Christ. Denial of any part erodes the whole.
Pieper observes that the “modern” theologians use the term “system” to refer to a theology built on non-biblical speculation. This runs counter to traditional theology which draws doctrine from interpretation of particular Bible passages recognized as the “sedes doctrinae.” He reminds the reader that only the Bible is the source of doctrine, counter to modern theology which may be built on the conscience or experience. In this respect, modern theology attempts to pursue the discipline in the way an experimental scientist would, rather than someone in the related fields of history and literature. The very theologians who make claims for empirical studies reject the Scriptures, which serve as the source data for theology. Pieper points out that this same discussion happened at the time of Luther, who insisted on the Scripture as the source for all theology.
Finally, what of those who try to harmonize all the areas of biblical tension? They ultimately deny biblical doctrine as they must reject, for instance, the concept of the trinity or the unity of God. Pieper gives several examples of the implications of over-systematizing.
Chapter A20, “Theology and Method”
Pieper now turns his attention to the way theologians arrange the concepts they will discuss. There are two basic methods of arrangement, “synthetic” and “analytic.” In a synthetic arrangement the theologian moves from whole to parts, beginning with the doctrine of God then moving to men, salvation, etc. In the analytic arrangement the theologian moves from parts to whole, beginning normally with last things, eternal life, then moving to man, salvation, and the causes of salvation. Both arrangements have been used well by a variety of theologians. Both work well, as they are predicated on adherence to Scripture as the authority. Pieper contrasts this to the modern theologies which assert that adherence to Scripture leaves no place to begin or to develop theology. This did not seem to be a problem for theologians in the past. The only means of constructing a theology which Pieper sees as impossible is when it is constructed on religious experience or self-consciousness.
Pieper spends significant time in his discussion to document theologians who constructed their systems on Scripture, holding to purity. He speaks at length of C.F.W. Walther in the Missouri Synod, as well as Franz Delitzsch, multiple lay writers, and Adolf Hoeneke, who steadfastly defended an orthodoxy drawn from Scripture. Pieper also engages in a discussion of the charges of Calvinism made against the Missouri Synod. As Pieper describes it, biblical theology is poised to thrive in North America.