Theological Prolegomena—the name of our one our seminary courses. That’s a mouthful. So what is it? Crudely translated: “Forward to Theology.”
As I began developing the courses for our seminary my focus was on the core courses in the four areas of theology (exegetical, doctrinal, historical, practical). But as we received interest from people leaving non-Lutheran backgrounds who wanted to study with us, I realized that there was a component missing in the curriculum. That is, they were attracted by many aspects of Lutheran theology, but they retained their old framework of thinking. That is, Lutheran theological topics were stuffed into a framework that couldn’t effectively embrace Lutheran theology.
Thus, Theological Prolegomena was birthed into our seminary curriculum. In our syllabus for the course, here is the overview of what is Theological Prolegomena.
What does it mean to be Lutheran? That question causes much confusion. Some think that it means to follow Martin Luther. Some think that it is inappropriate to even ask the question, assuming that the real question should be about “Christian.” Some think that it refers to denominations. And still others think that it means to be “Protestant” with a few, minor doctrinal differences from all other “Protestant churches.” But each of these miss the point of the question.
This course looks at the underlying thinking that sets the foundation for understanding Martin Luther, but more importantly for understanding those who confess the Christian faith in this unique way. That is, one cannot take the theology of another movement and adjust a few things and become Lutheran. Rather, the foundation of thinking affects every doctrine, and even how to approach the Scriptures, doctrine, and theology. Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians (Luther’s Work) gives the student a primary source related to the topics covered in the course.
But to be Lutheran is more than studying some of Luther’s writings. It involves a shift in how we view God, how we view humanity, and the relationships developing out of those two views. In fact, we do not follow Luther, rather we confess the faith as Luther and Melanchthon and Chemnitz, and a whole stream of others have done throughout the centuries.
We start with these statements that guide our study of theology.
Material Principle: What matters most?
Justification by grace through faith
Formal Principle: What is the source for determining Material Principle?
Then we look at three commons terms used in the history of the Christian Church. Sometimes the words have been narrowly defined or applied. But we discuss these terms as they developed in the early church, and as historically applied to Lutherans.
If the word is not capitalized. Sometimes you will see Church catholic and it means the universal church (all believers in Jesus Christ). If the word is capitalized then it is narrowly referring to Roman Church headed by the pope.
Orthodox: “straight praise” ———> “straight doctrine”
Again, this is used two ways, in the general sense of “straight doctrine,” namely everyone who teaches the “straight doctrine of the Christian Church.” In a narrow use of a church body then it applies to many of the eastern churches, i.e. Greek Orthodox Church.
In the broad use the word refers to those throughout the centuries who have maintained a proper understanding of the Gospel. In the contemporary environment, the word has been associated with a very narrow segment within the Protestant churches. Interestingly the Evangelische Kirche is the name that refers to the Lutheran churches in Germany.
Thus, as Lutherans we identify ourselves as catholic, orthodox, and evangelical.
How often have I heard this statement: “I am Christian first and Lutheran second”? Far too often! And worse, such a statement is not even accurate. Rather the statement should be:
“I am a Christian who confesses the faith as a Lutheran” (how we confess).
In other words, we are catholic, orthodox, and evangelical Christians who have publicly stated what we believe the Bible teaches, definitely given in the Book of Concord: Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (compiled in 1580).
Some might object and say, “We just believe what the Bible teaches.” Our response to that is, “Okay, what does the Bible teach?” The instant a person answers the question, she or he has given a public confession of what the Bible teaches. Our answer to that question has been in place since 1580 (some documents are earlier) when the entire Book of Concord was accepted.
Thus, we find two phrases repeated in our confessions that reflect all the above:
“The Church has always taught”
“We believe, teach, and confess”
By those phrases, we as Lutherans publicly confess that what we are stating in the Book of Concord is what the Christian Church has taught since the time of the apostles up to the present time. That is why the first three documents in the Book of Concord are: Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed. We are not changing what the early church taught. We are not some spinoff of many, but rather we confess the faith as it has been passed on from the beginning of the Christian Church.