“I think it is safe to say the major conflict in our church today is a clash in precisely this area,” wrote Gerhard Forde in 1964. “The area” was the conflict over how the authority of the Word of God is established. By the method of verbal inerrancy or by the law-gospel method?
The Essential Forde includes four chapters of Forde’s doctoral dissertation, The Law-Gospel Debate. While there is nothing wrong with presenting his work on the history of the law-gospel debate in the nineteenth century, Forde’s dissertation is about the theology of others, not his own theology. Moreover, dissertations are written for specialists, hardly the kind of material suited “to introduce Forde to a new generation of pastors, theologians, and church leaders who do not know him directly,” as Steven Paulson writes of the editors’ purpose.
In 1971 Gerhard Forde shifted from teaching in the Church History department to Systematic Theology. He said this shift did not make any major transition in his thinking or teaching, adding: “It did mean, however, that I have always taught systematics from a historical base – as it ought to be taught!”