The editor of a newspaper (which will not be named here) who has repeatedly published false accusations against Arthur Carl Piepkorn has now admitted in an email to me that one claim he has repeatedly made about himself is not true.The claim is that he “took almost every course Piepkorn taught in both the graduate and undergraduate school at the St. Louis seminary.” What the editor means is that he took almost every course that was offered while he was a student at the seminary.
This is what the editor wrote to me in his October 1, 2012, email:
“You are correct when you write that instead of saying the editor ‘took almost every course Piepkorn taught in both the graduate and undergraduate school of the St. Louis seminary’ he should have said ‘almost every course that was offered while he was a student at the seminary.'”
There is a HUGE difference. Piepkorn taught more than two dozen different courses at the seminary that I know of, and may have taught many I do not know of. Some he taught only once. Some he taught only every four to six years. No one has taken “almost every course Piepkorn taught” at the seminary, not even I, though I was a full-time student at the seminary for almost seven years, and a part-time student for another four. By making the claim the editor made, he has misled many into thinking that he thoroughly knowledgeable about Piepkorn’s theology. He is not.
While I am pleased that the editor has sent me a correction, the least he should do is to publish his correction and run it at least as many times as he made the false statement, something he would surely want Piepkorn to do if their roles were reversed. I have not seen the newspaper in several years and so do not know if he is in the process of doing this or not.
NOTE: I originally printed what follows under July 2010 (below), but I have expanded it and rewritten parts of it and so have moved all of it to here.
The editor is no doubt sincere, but he words his accusations in ways that are sure to mislead many readers.
For example, one accusation that the editor makes is that Piepkorn “denied the Scriptural doctrine of election.” The truth is that the editor of the newspaper and Piepkorn disagreed on what the Lutheran Symbols teach about election. Although no one is perfect, the odds are extremely high that Piepkorn understood the Symbols better than the editor. If so, then it is the editor who is denying the Scriptural doctrine of election. What the editor should say is that he and Piepkorn disagreed on their interpretation of what the Symbols say about this very difficult doctrine.
Another accusation that the editor makes is that Piepkorn “opened the door to a denial of justification by faith alone.” This seems to be an unjustified conclusion that the editor draws from his false claim that Piepkorn denied the Scriptural doctrine of election, because Piepkorn affirms justification by grace through faith hundreds if not thousands of times in his writings and never denied it in any way.
Another accusation that the editor makes is that Piepkorn denied the inerrancy of the Sacred Scriptures. In fact Piepkorn nowhere denies it. Indeed, in his “What Does ‘Inerrancy’ Mean?” (Concordia Theological Monthly, September 1965) he specifically recommends that inerrancy should not be denied even though the term was not applied to the Scriptures until late in the 19th century and can easily be misunderstood. For a summary of Piepkorn’s position see the Foreword that Concordia Seminary emeritus professor wrote for volume 2 of Piepkorn’s Selected Writings, which the editor of this newspaper ought to read.
Another accusation that the editor makes is that Piepkorn denied the immortality of the soul. That makes it sound as if he did not believe in everlasting life. He certainly did, affirming it hundreds if not thousands of times in his writings.
I have never found any discussion of the immortality of the soul in Piepkorn’s personal or professional writings on this topic and never heard him discuss it so I don’t know what the editor is referring to.
Hymn 851, “Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus” in the Lutheran Service Book clearly teaches in stanzas 3 and 4 that immortality is a gift we receive from God when we die:
3. Let us gladly die with Jesus. Since by death He conquered death, He will free us from destruction, Give to us immortal breath. Let us mortify all passion That would lead us into sin; And the grave that shuts in Shall but prove the gate to heaven. Jesus here with You I die, There to live with You on high.
4. Let us also live with Jesus. He has risen from the dead That to life we may awaken. Jesus, You are now our head. We are Your own living members; Where you live, there we shall be In Your presence constantly, Living there with You forever. Jesus, let me faithful be, Life eternal grant to me.
In his monumental five volume The Christian Tradition, Jaroslav Pelikan discusses the topic of the immortality of the soul at some length (Vol. 1, 47-52). On page 47, he refers to the influence of the Platonic doctrine of the preexistence of the soul and the Middle Platonic view of the immortal soul on the writings of Clement of Alexandria. Origen, Pelikan adds, “was quite willing to acknowledge . . . that he shared the doctrine of the immortality of the soul with pagan philosophers.” (48)
“Two Christian doctrines,” Pelikan asserts, “are perhaps the most reliable indications of the of the continuing hold of Greek philosophy on Christian theology: the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and the doctrine of the absoluteness of God . . . . The idea of the immortal and and rational soul is part of the Greek inheritence in Christian doctrine; Thomas Aquinas and Philip Melanchthon are only two of the many theologians to compose treatises with the title On the Soul whose content was determined more by philosophical than biblical language about the soul.”
One of the original polemical targets of the doctrine of creation, Pelikan adds, was the immortality of the soul, a teaching that had its origin in Middle Platonism. The pagan or heretical equation of the soul with life and the claim of natural immortality apart from the action of God the Creator were rejected by Christians thinkers on the grounds that “the soul itself is not life, but participates in the life conferred upon it by God,” [Irenaeus] by whose will alone the soul received the capacity to endure eternally. Tatian, Pelikan continues, was misled by some of his philosophical assumptions, but voiced the Christian “insistence on the doctrine of the resurrection in opposition to natural immortality of the soul.” (51)
“The basis of this insistence,” Pelikan states,” was the Christian doctrine of creation. . . . . Origen’s speculations about the preexistence of souls and their eventual salvation were condemned formally in the sixth century, but had been repudiated by most theologians all along. . . . Once the doctrine of the immortality of the soul was separated from the notion of the preexistence of the soul, it could be harmonized with the doctrine of the resurrection.” The standard view “argued that the doctrine of immortality was incomplete without the doctrine of the resurrection; resurrection meant the conferral upon the body of that deathless life that the soul already possessed.” (52)
In summary, in speaking about the immortality of the soul one has to be careful not to make philosophical assumptions (something even Melanchthon failed to do), and must be careful to distinguish the pagan understanding from the Christian understanding. I suspect that was what Piepkorn did, and that the editor misunderstood him or was himself confused about the “standard” Christian teaching that Piepkorn undoubtedly upheld.
According to his 1 October 2012 email to me, the editor also differed with Piepkorn on the resurrection of the body. Piepkorn defended he latter term. The editor defended the term “resurrection of the flesh.” I have not found any discussion of this matter in Piepkorn’s personal or professional writings, but my guess is that Piepkorn believed that when we are raised from the dead on the Last Day we will be given resurrection bodies like Christ’s. The editor apparently believes that our flesh will be revived in such a way that all of the cells in our bodies at the moment of our death will be brought back to life.
The editor also asserts that Piepkorn denied the historicity of the Genesis creation account. I never heard him say that and know of no place in his personal or professional writings where he says that. I know that he believed that God created all things visible and invisible, including man, that man fell into sin, that God promised redemption. I think the editor believes that the Brief Statement, which was written by Piepkorn’s dogmatics professor Francis Pieper in 1930, is binding on the consciences of our pastors and teachers. It asserts that the creation took place in six twenty-four hours days. But Lutheran pastors and teachers are not sworn to interpret the Sacred Scriptures according to the Brief Statement. Instead the are sworn to interpret the Sacred Scriptures according to the Lutheran Symbolical Books. The Symbolical Books, which contain our official doctrine and practice, nowhere assert that every detail in the Genesis account must be accepted as an historical statement. Attempts have been made to make the Brief Statement binding on the consciences of pastors and teachers, but all such efforts have been rejected by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The Hebrew word for “day” used in Genesis 1 and 2 can mean either a 24 hour day or an indefinite period of time. Many Christians over the centuries believe that the latter interpretation is the correct one or at least that Christians should not be forced to believe it means a 24 hour period. I think most LC-MS pastors and teachers be;oeve that God created all things, but do not believe that we should bind consciences to believe that he did it in six 24 hour days. We are a confessional church, not a Biblicistic or fundamentalist church. See Volume 2 of Piepkorn’s Selected Writings, pp. 84-85 and the paper “Arthur Carl Piepkorn on The ‘Schism of Authority” in Lutheranism, which I delivered at the 2009 Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne (it is posted on media.ctsfw.edu)