LCMS publishes first dogmatics in 100 years

From left, the late Rev. Dr. Ralph A. Bohlmann, the Rev. Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger and the Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison discuss, in 2013, a publishing plan for the new CPH dogmatics, Confessing the Gospel. (LCMS/Erik M. Lunsford)

Concordia Publishing House has announced the release of a new dogmatics, the first prepared by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod since the publication of Francis Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics, 1917–24.

Titled Confessing the Gospel: A Lutheran Approach to Systematic Theology, this new dogmatics (defined on Page 14 as an “organized, coherent exposition and formulation of Christian doctrine”) was over three decades in the making. 

The project was initiated in September 1983 by the late Rev. Dr. Ralph A. Bohlmann, LCMS president from 1981 to 1992. Responding to repeated requests from pastors, professors and seminary students, as well as the Synod’s Commission on Church Literature, Bohlmann appointed a special editorial committee to prepare a proposal for a new dogmatics “to replace, or stand beside Pieper.” 

The committee consisted of representatives from the Synod’s seminaries in Fort Wayne and St. Louis, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), the Council of Presidents and Concordia Publishing House.

The Rev. Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger, director of the CTCR from 1974 to 2008, served as editor of Confessing the Gospel. Nafzger was assisted by the Rev. Drs. John Johnson, former president and professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis; Howard Tepker, former professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.; and David A. Lumpp, professor of Theology and Ministry at Concordia University, St. Paul, Minn. More than 60 theologians from the LCMS and its partner churches around the world served as contributors.

Said Nafzger, reflecting on the project: “For Lutherans, the Gospel is always at the center of every theological endeavor. The systematic presentation of the Gospel in all its articles, as taught in the Scriptures and Lutheran confessions, is the never-ending task of the Church in its own time and place.

“Francis Pieper’s monumental work can never be replaced. But the hope and intention of those who worked on this project is that Confessing the Gospel can do for our day what Pieper’s dogmatics did for his.”

Building blocks approach

Each chapter of Confessing the Gospel is organized around five “building blocks” that serve as the framework for the material in each of the 15 chapters. These core building blocks are Scriptural Foundation, Confessional Witness, Systematic Formulation, Historical and Contemporary Developments, and Implication for Life and Ministry. 

The Scriptural Foundation and Confessional Witness sections of this dogmatics present the data pertinent to the topic at hand as revealed in the Bible and the Lutheran confessions. According to Nafzger, the primary goal in these sections is to let the Scriptures and the Confessions “speak for themselves … to allow for the clear and powerful witness of God’s Word and the Lutheran confessions.”

The Systematic Formulation building block is designed to bring the basic biblical and confessional material into a concise, yet systematic essay. Here the works of Luther and of other theologians are introduced and brought to bear in order to gain insights into the understanding of the issues at stake.

The Historical and Contemporary Developments section reviews the history of each topic to evaluate the errors and aberrations from the teachings of the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions associated with it in the life of the Church.

The Implications for Life and Ministry section seeks to identify how each topic informs the pastoral ministry at the beginning of the 21st century.

Topics addressed in Volume 1, in addition to Prolegomena (Introduction), are God, Creation, Anthropology, the Person and Work of Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Volume 2 takes up Holy Scripture, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Church, Ministry, the Christian Life, Last Things, and the Doctrine of Election.

Commenting on this format, Nafzger stated: “This nontraditional format was selected in order to emphasize by its method of presentation the way Lutherans do theology. The Scriptures are the foundation for the confessing of the Gospel as it has been summarized in John 3:16. The task of preparing a systematic presentation of the Gospel is itself an act of confessing Jesus Christ so that all the world might hear this Good News and be saved eternally.”

Nafzger suggested that readers can “get the full picture” by working through each of the five blocks in sequence, or they may choose to focus on one particular section. He noted that this approach will be especially helpful for busy parish pastors and teachers as they prepare for their preaching and teaching responsibilities by offering a quick review of the history of each of the topics by way of traditional theological disciplines: exegetical, systematic, historical and practical.

When asked how he feels about seeing this project finally come to fruition, Nafzger simply said, “Thankful.”

Confessing the Gospel: A Lutheran Approach to Systematic Theology is available at cph.org for $89.99 plus shipping.

For more information, visit cph.org or call 800-325-3040.

Cheryl Magness (cheryl.magness@lcms.org) is managing editor of Reporter Online and staff writer for LCMS Communications.

Posted Dec. 11, 2017

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Reporter Online is the Web version of Reporter, the official newspaper of
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Content is prepared by LCMS Communications.

2 Responses to LCMS publishes first dogmatics in 100 years

  1. December 19, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

    This is a great resource! I am really enjoying using the new Dogmatics. I especially appreciate the sections on “Implications for Life and Ministry.”
    Unfortunately, it seems that no index is planned. This is very disappointing and a significant shortcoming. An index seems almost essential for a work such as this.

  2. Katharina December 30, 2017 at 4:04 am #

    $90 is a significant cost for this resource. At this price, how likely is it that the average congregation member will ever hold a copy in their hands?

    If printing this work is really that expensive, could a less-expensive electronic version be made available to those of us who wish to study it?

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