They taught in the fledgling Wisconsin Synod seminary in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin in the early part of the 20th century (roughly 1900 - 1930). Their names were J.P. Koehler (pictured), August Pieper and John Schaller. Highly gifted, and perhaps a bit outspoken (Koehler was kicked out in 1929), their spirit and devotion to Scripture is now looked on as representing the golden age of the WELS.
What made them unique within conservative Lutheranism was their antipathy toward blind dogmatism based on the work of prior theologians (repristinating), openness to being taught by Scriptural authority and renewed emphasis on Biblical exegesis. In the words of Pieper:
“ … we submit to no man, be his name Luther or Walther, Chemnitz or Hoenecke, Gerhard or Stoeckhardt, so long as we have clear Scripture on our side. . . . We esteem the fathers highly, far higher than ourselves as far more learned and more devout than we are. Therefore, we want to use them, particularly Luther, as guides to Scripture, and to test their doctrines a hundred times before we reject them. But authorities equal to Scripture or opposed to Scripture they may never become for us, or we shall be practicing idolatry. . "
They saw that the conservative synods of the Lutheran church were falling victim to the same error that Luther denounced - putting the authority of the church fathers above that of Scripture. Pieper called this authority-theology.
"We renounce this authority-theology anew. It causes so much damage to the church. It is unfaithfulness to the Lord; slavery to men; it brings errors with it. But it also makes the mind narrow and the heart small. . . . Dogmatic training perhaps makes one orthodox, but it also easily makes one orthodoxist, intolerant, quarrelsome, hateful, and easily causes division in the church.
Scripture is at once narrow and broad. The study of it makes the heart narrow to actual false doctrine and heresies, but broad toward various human expressions and presentations. It does not accuse of false doctrine unnecessarily; it teaches us to bear and suffer in love the mistakes of the weak. It keeps the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. Therefore we want to entirely do away with this dogmatic authority-theology, and to sink ourselves ever deeper into Scripture and to promote it above all else. We know that in doing so we will best serve the church.”
- August Pieper (1913), Quoted by Mark Braun in The Wauwatosa Gospel (2002). p 25.
The Wauwatosa theologians proved that it is possible to keep dogmatics in its proper place without sacrificing it to skepticism or liberalism. In so doing, they brought fresh clarity to the Gospel which, to ears dulled by dry dogma, sounds somewhat radical.