The Wauwatosa Gospel invites an originality of thought perhaps unequaled in the church since the days of Martin Luther, though always, of course, within the parameters of God’s revealed truth. It calls its disciples to throw off the shackles of preconceived notions and to do original work regardless of whether one is working in Scripture or not. All of this is in sharp contrast to the idea of leaning, often mindlessly, upon the work of previous generations.
In his 1904 Quartalschrift article “The Importance of the Historical Disciplines for the American Lutheran Church of the Present,” The Wauwatosa Theology, Vol. III (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1997), Professor John Philipp Koehler comments on the situation of the Lutheran Church in 1904. He writes:
"A degree of mental inflexibility (Geistesstarre) has begun to assert itself, coupled with a hyperconservative attitude which is more concerned about rest than about conservation. This is always the case at the end of a period of mental development. The masses get into a rut which has been worn by what had long been customary. In our case it was dogmatics. This mental inflexibility is not healthy, for if it continues it will lead to death. Both in the mental activity of an individual and of a community, fresh, vibrant, productive activity is a sign of health.
"The inertia of which I am speaking shows itself in a lack of readiness again and again to treat theological-scholarly matters or practical matters theoretically and fundamentally without preconceived notions. This is necessary if we are to watch and criticize ourselves. … And if we do not again and again rethink in detail the most important theological matters and our way of presenting them, it can happen that all of this can become mere empty form without spirit or life. As we practice such self-criticism, we shall find that the divine truths which we draw out of Scripture indeed always remain the same, but that the manner in which we defend them, yes, even how we present them is not always totally correct. Here we can and must continue to learn" (434-435).