Self-criticism is another essential component to the Wauwatosa Gospel. In his introduction to J.P. Koehler’s History of the Wisconsin Synod, Leigh Jordahl writes, “The Wauwatosa Gospel at its best was always interested in applying the fruits of the historical-exegetical method also to the contemporary task of self-analysis, criticism and reorientation” (xxiii).
Nowhere is this emphasis more evident than in Koehler’s signal essay, “Gesetzlich Wesen unter uns” or “Legalism among us,” The Wauwatosa Theology, Vol. II (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1997). Koehler identifies instances of legalism as they exhibit themselves both in his own life and in the life of the Lutheran church. Legalism “manifests itself in the Lutheran church chiefly and principally in bravado of orthodoxy” (229). Its main objective is to conquer a person’s mind with intellectual arguments where “the interests of comprehension outweigh the interests of faith … Considering of chief importance the intellectual comprehension instead of the inner conquest of the heart. … Turning the words of Scripture, especially of the gospel, into a law for which one demands rational assent” (241).
“[Legalism] infiltrates among us in the form of bragging about orthodoxy. By this term I understand such adhering to orthodoxy where the stress is shifted from faith to correct faith. … Such adherence to orthodoxy is primarily of an intellectual kind and functions by demanding and with an admixture of consciousness of one’s own being in the right or having everything right. This bravado of orthodoxy feeds on the factious spirit which opposes the ecumenical spirit” (239).