Recent theology distinguishes between theology and the Church’s proclamation of salvation. The latter is supposed to present the Christian doctrines in so far as they are to be received by the Christian congregation through faith; theology on the other hand is said to have the function of “scientifically mediating” the congregation’s faith to the thinking intellect. For this reason also recent theology abandons its “direct relation to salvation”. The old Lutheran definition which consistently held to this relation is said to rest upon a confusion of “theology” with “the Church’s proclamation of salvation.”
Over against this Walther held with the old Lutheran theologians that theology is a habitus practicus theosdotos. In Lehre und Wehre Vol.14, p.4ff., he published a lengthy article entitled: “What is Theology? A contribution to the Prolegomena of Dogmatics”, in which he begins with the following thesis: “Theology is the practical habitude, wrought by the Holy Ghost and drawn from the Word of God by means of prayer, study, and trial, vitally to know and to impart the truth revealed in the written Word of God unto salvation, to establish it therefrom, to expound, apply and defend it, in order to lead sinful man through faith in Christ unto eternal salvation.”
Of this definition, Walther then proves that it is both Scriptural and also that given by most Lutheran teachers.
On the objective and subjective concepts of theology, or of theology conceived as teaching and as habitus of the theologian, Walther prefaces the following:
“Christian theology can be regarded in several ways, either subjectively, as something inhering in the soul of a man or objectively, as teaching which is presented orally or in writing. In the first case it is regarded absolutely, as it is in itself, apart from what may be done with it; in the other case it is regarded relatively, as it is in a certain respect, in accordance with a certain accidental characteristic with respect to a use which may be made of it. In the first case Christian theology is taken in its primary and proper, in the second case in its secondary and improper significance. Since theology must first be in the soul of a man before it can be taught by him or presented either orally or in writing, and since everything connected with theology must be judged in accordance with what it is in itself and in its essence, therefore in the thesis, according to the example of most dogmaticians in our church, the definition of theology regarded subjectively or concretely, i.e. as it inheres in a concretum or in a person, is given precedence.” (Lehre und Wehre, 14, 8 f.)
Theology, subjectively regarded, is to Walther “not the sum total of certain intellectual acquisitions”, but a habitude, a sufficiency or skill to perform certain functions. “The Holy Scripture”, says he (l.c., p.10), “although the word theology does not occur in it, itself specifies this as the category to which theology belongs. For since theology, subjectively considered, is what should be in those who are to administer the office of teachers in the church, we may therefore seek and recognize in the Biblical description of a teacher also a description of a true theologian.”
Walther refers to Hebr.5:12-14; II Cor. 3:5; II Tim 3:17. With regard to II Cor.3:5 he remarks: “In this passage the Apostle, after he has exclaimed in 2:16 with regard to his teaching office: ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ writes as follows: ‘Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.’ So that which in Heb. 5:14 is called a skill, (habitus, A.V.: ‘use’) is here called sufficiency. Now sufficiency implies not only a certain competence and skill by the observance of certain rules to produce a certain effect, but also at the same time a disposition of the soul, thus a habitude.”
Walther lays special emphasis on the fact that theology is altogether practical, that it is not concerned with satisfying the thirst for knowledge but with leading sinners to salvation. Theology is for him not a “theoretical habitude”, ” which has knowledge itself for its goal and therewith rests content (l.c., p. 73) but a “practical habitude.”
“It is the latter,” he writes (l.c., p. 72) “for the reason that its purpose is a practical one. St. Paul indicates wherein the purpose of theology consists when he writes, Titus 1:1,2: ‘Paul, a servant of God., and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness in hope of eternal life.’ Herewith the apostle obviously indicates the purpose of his offices namely that he has received it in view of the faith of the elect and the acknowledging of the truth unto Godliness and all of this in hope of eternal life. But the purpose of the office is also the purpose of theology. This purpose therefore is the true faith, the knowledge of the truth unto godliness and finally eternal life. See Rom.1:3 in connection with I Tim. 4: 3-6.”
Franz Pieper, “C.F. W. Walther as Theologian”.