Monday, February 27, 2012

Summer 2012 Valpo Germany Tour

Thomaskirche Altar
I have been asked to serve as the faculty leader for a tour to Germany this summer that is being organized by Valparaiso University. The tour will intersect with our university choir, which will also be touring at the time.

Apparently there are still a few openings, if you or someone you know would like to join us. Right now, there are 17 registered to go, but we could take as many as 25.

After an overnight flight to Berlin, we will spend two full days in the German capital. Then it is on to Leipzig, where we will spend three nights. There we will hear Valpo's Chorale at the famous Thomaskirche (at both the Sat. motet service and the Sunday main service), tour the Nicolaikirche (where the 1989 freedom demonstrations had their start in the Monday evening prayer services), and visit other interesting sites connected with J. S. Bach and the city's history.

We will then travel to Wittenberg (one night; touring the small town and its places connected with Martin Luther and his associates) and then to Eisenach (one night; visiting the Bachhaus museum and the Wartburg Castle, where Luther translated the NT). The next day we will travel to Weimar, to see the cultural capital of Germany and also the Buchenwald concentration camp, and then on to Dresden. There we will again connect up with Valpo's choir (at Meissen), but also visit the restored Frauenkirche, a museum devoted to the allied bombing of the city in 1945, and other cultural sites (Zwinger museum, Semperoper, etc.).

Participants will have plenty of free time, too, to shop and do sight-seeing on their own in Berlin, Leipzig, and Dresden.

The Zwinger in Dresden
For nearly twenty years I have taught university courses in the history of Christianity, focusing especially on the history of Lutheran theology. I lived and taught in Germany for two years, when I served as the director of Valpo's study-abroad center in Reutlingen. This is also where I developed a course on Martin Luther and J. S. Bach, which I continue to teach regularly.

On this tour I have been asked to provide historical, cultural, and theological insight into the various places we will visit. I hope also to stimulate discussions about the abiding significance of Luther and Bach and how their ideas and actions have shaped the contemporary world and church. Along the way we'll get to hear some great music from Valpo Univ's choir, led by Christopher Cock. Valpo's president, Mark Heckler, will also be with us.

The dates are Tues, May 29, 2012 (depart for Berlin) through Sat, June 9, 2012 (depart for the USA from Dresden). The cost is $2300 (for a twin, double-occupancy) or $2525 (for a single). This price does not include airfare, but it does include 10 nights hotel accommodations in 3-star tourist hotels, continental breakfasts, several lunches and dinners, touring on the coach bus, the Valpo concerts, whatever insights you might glean from yours truly and our professional tour guides, museum entrance fees, and all hotel and service taxes.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact The Global Gurus, at 888-850-6831.

Please feel free to forward this post to friends and family and to share the basic info in your church's bulletin or on a bulletin board.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dissent in the LCMS

All Martin Luther wanted to do with those 95 theses was to discuss them with his academic peers and ecclesiastical supervisors. He wasn't out to divide or destroy the church; he merely wished to discuss his ideas about reforming it. Over time, though, his concern about the sale of indulgences gave way to deeper concerns about the church as a human, fallible institution and about the abuses of church authority. He was threatened with excommunication, then excommunicated, then made into an outlaw, and subject to all sorts of punishments. As a result of his spiritual and mental sufferings, he was driven back to Christ and to Scripture. Gradually, his understanding of the gospel sharpened as he encountered further resistance from church authorities (and ultimately the Pope), and this sharpening led him to take positions that were critical of other church beliefs and practices, some quite ancient and venerable, that he judged to be contrary to the Scriptural gospel and Christian freedom.

While no one showed up to debate those 95 bullet points in the fall of 1517, church leaders certainly took note of them and began to act against the Wittenberg heretic. Their actions and words against him, especially when he perceived that they fell short of his reference to specific Scriptural and historical evidence, led him to adopt a more radical position against the hierarchical church and its coercive power. While holding firm to conciliar decisions about the dogmas of God and of Christ, which serve the truth of the gospel, he held that the authority of the church resides solely in its proclamation of the evangelical sense of the prophetic and apostolic words of Scripture. This gospel proclamation, delivered through evangelical preaching and the administration of the sacraments in accord with the gospel, bears witness to Christ, the living Word of God. Luther thus rejected Roman tradition as an authority, even as he also criticized Protestant sectarianism for its denial of the evangelical and sacramental means of grace.

When attacked, Luther appealed to his baptism and to the fact that he had been made a doctor of theology. He frequently had to defend his callings, especially against those who sought "[to make] sport of the authority of all doctors of theology" ("Disputation against Scholastic Theology"). While he rightly distrusted his own wisdom (Prov. 3:5), he distrusted even more the received "wisdom" of the medieval Scholastic theologians, when it ran contrary to clear Scriptural teaching and the truth of the gospel, and he thus dared to present publicly his arguments and Scriptural interpretation before the judgment of all, so that they could decide if his arguments and interpretation had been deduced well or poorly from St. Paul and St. John and the other authentic prophets and apostles.

I've been thinking a lot about Luther's struggles with the church authorities of his day because I, too, am a baptized doctor of theology who finds himself presently in conflict with a few church authorities (even as I fully and humbly acknowledge that I'm no Martin Luther!). 

For more than a decade I have been involved in discussions with my "peers" in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod (inclusive of both clergy and educated laity) about the interpretation of the first chapters of the Bible and the practice of ordaining only men to the office of the holy ministry. (These issues are related in the LC-MS, since the latter practice is based partly on a commonly-held interpretation of the former Scriptural texts.) During this time I have honored and upheld the LC-MS's doctrinal positions, in accordance with guidelines and definitions provided by the synod, the synod's Board for Higher Education, at least one of the boards of regents of one of the synod's universities, several current and former district presidents, a former synod president, a former seminary president, and a district board (on which I served as secretary for many years).

While I would have preferred that my questions and probing about these theological matters be discussed and debated freely within the synod, especially in its academic institutions, without the threat of expulsion from the brotherhood, given the way the synod is currently structured, matters of theological difference within the synod get quickly put into the adjudicatory process that is outlined in the synod's Handbook (viewed by many as almost on the same level as Scripture and the Evangelical Confessions). According to Section 1.8 of the 2010 edition, "Dissent from doctrinal resolutions and statements is to be expressed first within the fellowship of peers and then brought to the attention of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) before finding expression as an overture to the convention calling for revision or recision." The Handbook does not specify how one is to bring such dissent to the attention of the CTCR, nor does the Handbook indicate how long one must express one's concerns "within the fellowship of peers" before bringing the concerns to the attention of the CTCR.

Over the course of twenty years of publicly teaching theology as a member of the synod, when I have publicly expressed concerns about the synod's position on women or on the interpretation of the Bible's cosmological passages in light of modern scientific knowledge, I have been formally charged with teaching false doctrine. In all cases, the charges have been resolved in my favor or dismissed or not pursued after a certain amount of time. In all cases, too, there has been very little theological discussion about the pertinent issues. Rather, the accuser always assumes that because the synod has a clear position against women pastors, a member of synod who might question this position is guilty of advocating false doctrine."Because Mother Missouri has spoken, how dare you to question her interpretation of Scripture?!" That seems to be the sentiment. (And let's be clear here: We're not talking here about the essential dogmas of the church, the doctrine of God, the person and work of Christ, sin, faith and good works, or the means of grace, etc. The matters to which I am referring concern the interpretation of Scripture with respect to church order and the contemporary understanding and application of biblical cosmology and anthropology.)

Perhaps because of what happened to LC-MS theologians back in the 1970s, there has developed a climate of fear within the synod that stifles theological discussion and debate. The synod lacks "free space" to discuss intellectual matters that are peripheral to the gospel yet still related to it and to the freedom that gospel creates in the life of the Christian and in the life of the church. Because of the real possibility of being removed from the synodical roster for questioning even seemingly peripheral matters, like church order and biblical cosmology, the structures of the synod insure that very few are willing to question a synodical practice or a widely-held interpretation of some verses in the Bible for fear that they will have to undergo a heresy trial, spend time defending themselves, and face possible expulsion from their gainful vocation.

The synod, at least on paper, allows for dissent. I have tried to follow the process outlined in the Handbook. Early last year I brought to the attention of the CTCR my dissent on two synodical positions. I did this by distributing to the CTCR copies of a book I had edited, A Daystar Reader, in which are published two essays of mine that dissent from synod positions about women pastors and modern scientific theories. At that time I thought that this action of mine was sufficient to bring to the CTCR's attention my dissent. However, last summer I learned from my district president that it was insufficient.

In this dissent I identify two issues about which I have concerns and critical questions:

(1) I am convinced that the synod's practice of restricting the office of pastor only to men is wrong. The synod's defense of such a restriction runs contrary to biblical and confessional evidence, does harm to individual consciences (especially to those LC-MS women who have been called by God to serve as pastor but cannot do so within their own church body), runs contrary to Christian freedom, and needlessly frustrates the work of the Holy Spirit in the church's mission within our western, egalitarian society. For my dissent to this position of the synod, one can read my online essay, "An Argument for Women Pastors and Theologians," An earlier, de-footnoted version of this essay was published in A Daystar Reader.

(2) I am also convinced that the synod's position of interpreting the first two chapters of Genesis to mean that God created the universe over the course of six twenty-four-hour days, and that the general theory of evolution must be rejected, is wrong. The synod's defense of such a literalistic interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis ignores the problems and contradictions that are involved in such a literalistic interpretation of these chapters, runs contrary to physical evidence in God's "book of nature," does harm to individual consciences (especially to those educated Christians who know the biblical and physical evidence that contradicts such an interpretation), and needlessly frustrates the work of the Holy Spirit in the church's mission within our western, scientifically-informed society. For my dissent to the synod's position on the interpretation of the first chapters in Genesis, see my essay, "The Scandal of the LCMS Mind," in The Daystar Reader (also available online at

Back in November of last year the CTCR officially responded to my letter of dissent that I submitted to them last June. In that letter I identified the two concerns I have and directed the CTCR to my published essays on these matters. You may now read the CTCR's response to my essays at

I did not receive that CTCR response until much later, for reasons that are unclear to me, but I finally did read it last month. It struck me as a non-response to my materials. So I sent the CTCR the following letter:

The Baptism of our Lord 2012

The Commission on Theology and Church Relations
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod
1333 S. Kirkwood Rd
St. Louis, MO  63122

Dear members of the CTCR,

Grace, mercy, and peace be with you from God our Father through His beloved Son, Jesus, in the Holy Spirit.

For some unknown reason I did not receive your letter of November 15, 2011. It finally came this past week as a result of efforts on the part of Rev. [Paul] Linnemann to have a copy of the letter sent to my university address.

Your letter surprised me for several reasons, especially because it avoids responding directly to the exegetical and theological points I have made in my essays.

With respect to the issue of the ordination of women, you state that my essay on this topic "does not reference or quote a single resolution or doctrinal statement of the Synod regarding the service of women in the church." While this is technically true, the essay does in fact accurately describe the position that the Synod has taken on this topic, both in its resolutions and in several CTCR documents.

The "order of creation" argument has often been made within the LCMS to support a male-only pastorate and it has been made in the way I describe it.

            i) One of the two guiding principles adopted in 1969 Resolution 2-17 is that women should not "violate the order of creation." While that resolution does not define what this expression means, it is clear from subsequent synodical materials that the "order of creation" notion means that women are subordinate to men within creation and cannot exercise authority over them. A 1970 decision from the CCM ruled that women may serve as officers and members of board and committees "as long as these positions are not directly involved in the specific functions of the pastoral office… and as long as this service does not violate the order of creation (usurping authority over men)" (emphasis added). In the 1985 CTCR Report, "Women in the Church," the CTCR wrote, "The Order of Creation. This refers to the particular position which, by the will of God, any created object occupies in relation to others. God has given to that which has been created a certain definite order which, because it has been created by Him, is the expression of His immutable will. These relationships belong to the very structure of created existence" (p. 21). The relationship of male to female is further clarified on p. 27: "The idea that God desires man to be the head of woman and woman to be subordinate to man is rooted deeply in the Old and New Testaments." This "order of creation" principle has been repeatedly affirmed in synodical convention resolutions (e.g., 1981, 1986).

            ii) While my dissent in no way describes "the order of creation" argument as "having primarily to do with the 'order' (the 'chronological sequence') in which God created Adam and Eve," as you incorrectly describe my criticism (my dissent never states that the Synod has presented the order of creation argument "as a mere matter of 'chronological sequence'"), the CTCR itself in its 1985 report stated that the "order of creation" also involves "the headship" of the man over the woman and that this headship is based on the chronological order of woman coming from man: "[The apostle Paul] argues for male 'headship' on the basis of Genesis 2:18-25, which teaches that the man did not come from the woman but the woman from the man and that the woman was created for the sake of the man… [In First Timothy 2:13-14] Paul appeals to the temporal priority of Adam's creation ('Adam was formed first'; cf. Gen. 2:20-22), as well as to Eve's having been deceived in the fall (Gen. 3:6), to show that women should not teach or exercise authority over men in the church" (p. 22; emphasis added). The current CTCR has evidently overlooked this chronological aspect of "the order of creation" argument as it has been set forth within the CTCR's own earlier report.

            iii) Your letter does not acknowledge that indeed 1969 Resolution 2-17 makes explicit reference to "the order of creation." Apparently the current CTCR has overlooked that important second paragraph in the resolution: "The principles set forth in such passages, we believe, prohibit holding any other kind of office or membership on boards or committees in the institutional structures of a congregation, only if this involves women in violation of the order of creation." Clearly, this expression serves as "code language" for the kind of argumentation set forth in the 1985 CTCR report regarding the subordination of women to men in the created order of the Creator and the prohibition against women exercising authority over men. That same 1969 resolution uses the expression "the order of creation" synonymously for "the principles set forth in [those] passages" "which direct women to keep silent in the church and which prohibit them to teach and to exercise authority over men." It was this argumentation, which is not argued at length in the 1969 resolution but which is behind the expression "order of creation" within that resolution, to which I was primarily responding in my essays (both the one in The Daystar Reader and the original one which I am herewith enclosing).

            iv) I am troubled that the CTCR could not take more time to respond directly and concretely to my specific arguments and evidence against the ideological construct of the "order of creation" within the 1969 resolution and the 1985 CTCR report, let alone the other specific arguments I present against limiting the pastoral office only to men.

Furthermore, you state that my "dissent regarding creation and evolution also suffers from a lack of specificity and focus." With all due respect, I do think my description of how the synod has historically understood the "six days" in Genesis is accurate and that I was quite clear in my rejection of this understanding for all of the reasons I set forth in my essay.

            i) The Brief Statement, authored principally by Dr. Pieper (who also rejected the Copernican Theory), asserts: "We teach that God has created the heaven and earth, and that in the manner and in the space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures, especially Gen. 1 and 2, namely, by His almighty Word, and in six days." The 1967 Resolution 2-31 uses the same language: "…Scripture teaches and the Lutheran Confessions affirm that God by the almighty power of His Word created all things in 6 days by a series of creative acts." How is this language, adopted by the Synod when it adopted the Brief Statement and then when it reaffirmed that same language in the 1967 resolution, any different in actual content from the language in my June 29th letter, namely, that "the synod's position of interpreting the first two chapters of Genesis to mean that God created the universe over the course of six twenty-four-hour days." Are you suggesting that it is acceptable doctrinally to interpret the "six days" as being different from "six actual, twenty-four-hour days?" I understand the history of such a reinterpretation of "day" (YoM) in this context, but such an interpretation has not been widespread within the history of our Synod and has never been officially adopted by synodical resolution. In point of fact, the position of the Synod on the interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis and the Synod's corresponding rejection of the modern scientific theory of evolution is reflected in Dr. Kieschnick's words from his 2001 presidential acceptance speech: "I believe the world was created in six 24-hour days…" After this one sentence he was given a lengthy standing ovation by nearly all the convention delegates. Based on that action alone, I think my description of the Synod's position is quite accurate.

            ii) To put the matter as clearly as I can, I am opposing the Synod's opposition to the well-established physical facts of evolution. The Synod should adopt a more cautious approach about condemning scientific theories and should allow for modern natural knowledge of God's creation to shed light on how one is to understand the language and genres in the first chapters of Genesis. We should learn from our forebears who were forced to adjust their interpretations of cosmological passages in Scripture to accord with modern cosmology, as has happened with respect to the acceptance of the Copernican Theory (Dr. Pieper's rejection of that theory, notwithstanding).

            iii) In my dissent I did not confuse A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles with its study version. While I quote from the study version that was distributed after the 1972 original document, the sections from which I quote are direct quotations from earlier synodical statements and resolutions (e.g., the 1959 Statement on Scripture, the Brief Statement) or from the 1972 document itself (e.g., the sections on "The Gospel and Holy Scripture" and "Original Sin"). All material I quote is from synodically-adopted documents.

            iv) Whereas I have concerns about some of the phrasing and emphases within 1967 Resolution 2-31, I agree with the basic doctrinal content presented there.

With respect to my understanding of Scriptural authority and interpretation, I do not think you have been very helpful by merely directing me to A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles. I am well aware of the contents of this document, one of the most controversial in the history of the Synod.[1] It has rightly been criticized for its failure to take seriously the historical character of the Scriptures and the temporal and cultural distance that exists between the biblical writings and modern western interpreters of those Scriptures who have, as a part of their mental framework, knowledge of facts that were unknown to the biblical authors. Our post-Copernican, post-Darwinian worldview is different from the cosmological views presented in the Scriptures. While I acknowledge that the historical approach to the Scriptures conflicts with modern ideas that Protestant Fundamentalists have set forth about Scripture, notions that are reflected in Dr. Pieper's Brief Statement and the Preus-authorized A Statement, I do not accept that this approach is "clearly incompatible with the Synod's doctrinal position on the authority and interpretation of Holy Scripture," a position which can only be the Scripture's own position on itself (which is not really possible). Of course the Lutheran Confessions do not refer to the inerrancy of Scripture either, as that concept developed after the 17th Century, or to post-Enlightenment methods and principles of biblical interpretation, but instead refer to the Scripture's teaching of law and gospel as the key that unlocks the meaning of the Scriptures.

My approach to the interpretation of the Bible (and Genesis 1-11, in particular) is almost completely shaped by the 1967 CTCR report, A Lutheran Stance toward Contemporary Biblical Studies (commended by the 1967 Synod Convention [Res. 2-02]; see also 1969 Res. 2-04), which includes the following statements:

"In hearty agreement with the Lutheran Confessions we affirm that the right understanding of the Gospel (including the proper distinction of Law and Gospel as grounded in the article of justification) is the key that finally unlocks the meaning of Sacred Scripture (Apology, IV, 2-5; FC, SD, V, 1).  We therefore hold that all theological questions raised by any interpretation must be posed and answered with reference to this central concern of the Scriptures.  We also hold that those technical questions involved in interpretation which neither aid nor impair the right understanding of the Gospel (in its full sense) ought not become a matter of controversy in the church" (A Lutheran Stance toward Contemporary Biblical Studies, pp. 8-9).

We consider the following to be basic and legitimate elements of the so-called historical-critical method (cp. “Guiding Principles for the Interpretation of the Bible” as accepted by the Ecumenical Study Conference, Oxford, 1949):

1. Establishing the text…

2.  Ascertaining the literary form of the passage. This entails, as an aid to better comprehension, analyzing the Biblical passage in terms of its formal structure and character at the hand of such questions as these:  Is it prose or poetry?  Is it an address, a prayer, a monologue, a treaty, an edict, a letter?  Is it an oracular saying, an invective, a lament, a liturgy, a proverb, a parable, a creed, a hymn? and so on.

3.  Determining the historical situation. This entails discovering, so far as possible, the original setting—in time and place and circumstances—of the document, its author, and its readers.

4. Apprehending the meaning which the words had for the original author and hearer or reader. This entails careful investigation of the actual linguistic usage and idiom (together with their overtones conditioned by the social context in which they appear) of the author and his contemporaries in the light of the Biblical data and also of such extra-Biblical literature as may belong to the same social context.

5.  Understanding the passage in the light of its total context and of the background out of which it emerged. This entails consideration not only of the text’s antecedent and contemporary circumstances—religious, cultural, historical—but also of the full range of the Biblical witness in both the Old and New Testaments" (ibid., 9).

"The problem of 'history' needs to be handled with extraordinary sensitivity by the Christian interpreter.  He cannot adopt uncritically the presuppositions and canons of the secular historian.  In his use of historical techniques the interpreter will be guided by the presuppositions of his faith in the Lord of history.  It is indeed true that Christian faith rightly sees in the historicalness of God’s redemptive work (His entry into and participation in our saeculum) a divine warrant for the use of 'secular' means and methods in the study of His Word, including linguistic, literary, and historical analysis of the texts.  But at the same time faith recognizes that there is more to history than can ever be adequately measured by 'laws' derived exclusively from empirical data and rational observation…" (ibid., 10).

"The undeniably necessary effort to hear a text of Scripture first of all in its particularity, its meaning 'then and there,' must be balanced by an equal effort to hear the text both in its integral relation to all the rest of Scripture and in its meaningfulness for all who hear it today. This effort does not require an arbitrary flattening out of the rich variety of the Biblical witness into a dull one-dimensional uniformity…" (ibid.).

"Whatever cognizance needs to be taken—as indeed it must—of the connection between Biblical materials and their background in the whole complex of social, cultural, political, economic, and religious factors of their day, a clear distinction must nevertheless be maintained between the unique, divine, and revelatory character of Scripture and the sheer human and contingent character of Scripture’s earthly milieu.  Parallelisms between extra-Biblical materials and the form or substance of Scripture do not as such constitute causal or substantive relations.  This is not in the least to deny the genuinely human and earthly dimension of Scripture itself…" (ibid.; See also the “Introduction” to the CTCR document [1969], A Project in Biblical Hermeneutics, 5-18).

May I remind the current CTCR that the committee that articulated these principles and set forth the legitimacy of the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation included Robert Preus, Ralph Bohlmann, Raymond Surburg, H. Armin Moellering, Martin Franzmann, and Heino Kadai.

The 1967 CTCR Report and its 1969 Project in Biblical Hermeneutics have been very helpful to me over the years, especially as I have sought to understand how the Bible is to be understood and applied today with respect to scientific knowledge about creation and about the service of women in the contemporary church. In light of the synodically-commended hermeneutical principles in these documents, could you show me how my observation about the influence of Aristotle's social teaching on the New Testament is incompatible with the Synod's position on Scripture, since one of the hermeneutical principles is to understand a biblical passage "in the light of its total context and of the background out of which it emerged?" Or how modern scientific understandings of human origins are necessarily incompatible with the Christian understanding of the doctrinal content of Genesis 1-3 (and other Scripture texts that address matters about creation and theological anthropology), especially if one attends to the distinct genres present in the first chapters of the Bible and how these are not "scientific" but phenomenological and culturally-conditioned?

If one argues that the Synod changed its position on Scripture and the interpretation of Scripture between 1967 and 1973, I can accept that argument, but I would simply respond then by saying that the Synod commended a better position on Scriptural interpretation in 1967 than it adopted in 1973. I believe the Synod erred in 1973 when it adopted the resolution about A Statement, an outcome that was more the result of political maneuvering and making sure of convention votes than it was of careful theological argument and understanding. Hopefully, in the future, the Synod will once again commend the hermeneutical principles and historical-critical method that it commended in 1967 and 1969. The hermeneutical principles set forth by the CTCR then and by its special committee on biblical hermeneutics (a committee that included the participation of the principal author of A Statement!) in those years are the right ones for us to be using and commending today.

Finally, the distinction between a so-called "magisterial use" of "reason" and a "ministerial use" is a false one and merely a convenient way to discredit an interpretation of Scripture with which one disagrees without offering reasons for that disagreement. The same kind of distinction between "magisterial" and "ministerial" uses of reason was used at the time of Galileo to discredit his re-thinking of those Scriptural passages that clearly state the sun moves around the earth and that the earth does not move. In that context the defense of "a ministerial use" of reason, to serve "what Scripture clearly teaches," would necessitate the acceptance of a geocentric worldview and the rejection of the Copernican theory. In point of fact, the real issue, then as now, is not "the use of reason" at all, but what is the appropriate understanding of the Scriptural texts in light of the natural knowledge of God's creation, what is the genre of the Scriptural passages in question, what is the meaning of the biblical language "in that distant time and place," and how can one balance that historic meaning with contemporary understanding. The meaning of at least some biblical texts, such as the ones that deal with cosmology, may not be the same today as it was "back then." We certainly don't understand many cosmological passages in Scripture in the same way as did pre-Copernicans.

Within the academic discipline of theology scholars have the duty to "be attentive, be intelligent, be rational, be responsible, develop and, if necessary, change," to use the helpful prescription I learned from my teacher, David Tracy, who learned it from his teacher, Bernard Lonergan. I believe that you who serve on the CTCR have this same responsibility, as do I.


Matthew Becker

[1] One should note, too, in passing, that A Statement, adopted by the slimmest of majorities in a highly politicized and polemical context, has the same doctrinal status as any other doctrinal resolution adopted by the Synod. It was never formalized as an official statement of the Synod, since it was never adopted by the required 2/3 majority of LCMS congregations.

So that was the letter I sent in January. Then, last week, the executive committee of the CTCR put on the CTCR's webpage a reply to my January letter. After reading this second document I have concluded that the CTCR, just like the Roman curia in Luther's day, is not interested in having a theological discussion about matters that are not as simple as the CTCR and other synod members seem to think they are. I'm not the only member of the synod who has questions about these issues. But how is real theological discussion possible in a church body where critical inquiry about the understanding and application of Scriptural teaching is dismissed with the words, "He has a different understanding of the authority of the Bible, so we don't have to pay any attention to his specific exegesis and theological analysis?" Just as in Luther's day, the appeal is to church authority (in this case, that means synodical resolutions and statements and synodical traditions), as if that is really going to address the specific points of theology in a dissent about some synodical resolutions. How is C. F. W. Walther's principle that synod members have only two authorities, Scripture and convincing, being applied in this situation?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Dr. Frederick Danker+

The first really big textbook I had to purchase in college was a Greek-English lexicon. It was required for Dr. Richard Reinisch's courses in Greek. While we initially worked solely in Attic, "classical" Greek, so as actually to learn the language by reading unfamiliar texts, we eventually focused more and more attention on translating Nestle-Aland's Novum Testamentum Graece. For that task, we needed to rely on that big book, the second edition of A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, 1979), based on Walter Bauer's Griechisch-Deutsches Woerterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der Fruehchristlichen Literatur, and edited by Americans W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. W. Danker. Thus, it was usually abbreviated as BADG.

That second edition got a lot of use through college and seminary and then on into the parish and graduate school. I still used it when I was asked to take over the teaching of Greek at my alma mater, Concordia University, Portland, when Dr. Reinisch retired. Just as he had done with me and my fellow students, so I did with my own. They had to buy that big book. Midway through my decade of teaching Greek (alongside my other courses in Christian theology and the history of Christianity), a new edition of that lexicon appeared (Chicago, 2000). Because the last of its American editors, Dr. Danker, had done so much revision to it, his name now appeared second, after Bauer's. The third edition now gets abbreviated as BDAG.

This magisterial work, topping out at 1108 pages, remains the standard reference work for anyone studying the Greek New Testament and early Greco-Christian literature.

Sometime during my undergraduate years I learned about "Seminex," a complicated series of events in 1973 and '74 that eventually led to the dismissal of the majority of professors at the principal seminary of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Included among those professors was Dr. Frederick Danker. My parish pastor, Dale Koehneke, had attended the seminary that those fired professors formed after their dismissal, Christ Seminary--Seminary in Exile, otherwise known as Seminex. One summer when I was home from college I asked Pr. Koehneke if he could direct me to a book that would help me to understand what "Seminex" was all about. He gave me his copy of Dr. Danker's personal account of that traumatic event, No Room in the Brotherhood. It was my first exposure to the theological and ecclesial conflicts that fractured the Synod.

I almost went to Seminex myself, but my teachers at Concordia, Portland, my pastors in Salem, Ore., my family, and my close friends, encouraged me to head off to the seminary that was formed in the same location as the one that had become exiled in 1974. There we were required to read another book by Dr. Danker, his Multipurpose Tools for Bible Study (first edition by CPH in 1960; 2nd ed. by Fortress in 1993), an insightful analysis of the most important resources for the historical-critical investigation of the Scriptures. While we post-1974 students had to refer to these scholarly methods under the title of the "grammatical-historical method," they were essentially the same as the so-called modern "historical-critical method," an approach that the Synod had encouraged its members to use in the late 1960s and early 70s. Some of us joked at the time--1984-88--that "the historical-grammatical method" merely meant that one didn't have to use one's brain as much as "the historical-critical method." "Krino," from which we get the word "critical," means "to make a judgment based on taking various factors into account, judge, think, consider, look upon; to come to a conclusion after a cognitive process, reach a decision, decide, propose, intend" (BDAG 568).

Even in my seminary course on Luke, we were encouraged to read Dr. Danker's marvelous exposition, Jesus and the New Age.

I first met Dr. Danker through our mutual friend, Dr. Edward Schroeder, also a veteran of the Missouri wars of the 1970s. "Red Fred" as he was known to his students, had learned about my work on the nineteenth-century Bible scholar, Johannes von Hofmann, and wanted to talk with me about Hofmann's commentaries on the New Testament. Later, when I gave a conference paper on the theology of Werner Elert, Dr. Danker asked me about Elert's perspective on the so-called quests for the historical Jesus. (As I recall I stressed how important the historical-critical investigation of the New Testament was for Dr. Elert, since purely literary approaches in his view ended up with a mostly fictional Jesus.) Still later, Dr. Danker and I had other conversations in other venues. The last time I spoke with him was in San Francisco, last Nov. at AAR/SBL. He was pretty frail, but we managed to share a few words and even a laugh at the LCMS seminary reception where we ran into each other. He wondered how I got invited and I wondered the same about him.

Word came last week that "Red Fred" Danker died from complications that resulted from a fall he took. He was kicked out of an earthly "brotherhood" that had no room for him and for so many others. One can imagine our Elder Brother having said to Fred last week: "Welcome, there is room for you here."

To read his obituary that was published earlier this week in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: