Thursday, February 20, 2014

The 40th Anniversary of Concordia Seminary-in-Exile

On this date in 1974 the majority of students and faculty at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, marched off the 801 DeMun campus to continue their theological education and instruction at other venues.

I recently came across vintage video footage of those momentous days. I share the Youtube links to that material below.

I'm probably one of only a handful that graduated from the "new" Concordia Seminary, formed in the wake of that '74 exile, who also studied with several of the faculty majority who had been fired as a result of their decision to honor the student moratorium and refrain from teaching until the accusations against them had been addressed properly.

After graduating from 801 in '88 I went to the University of Chicago to study for an M.A. in Religious Studies and a Ph.D. in historical and systematic theology. During those years in Chicago, I came into regular contact with Seminex faculty who had been deployed to the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, just down the block.

None was more important than Bob Bertram, who appears in the clips below.

I'll never forget my first meeting with him. I had been in the library at LSTC, doing work for one of my Divinity School courses, when I decided to see if I could meet any of those condemned "Seminex faculty." Up on the faculty floor at LSTC I happened to come across Bob's office. His door was slightly ajar. I wasn't sure I should knock, but I decided to take a chance. So I knocked, and he invited me to enter. What I thought would be a three-minute "meet and greet" turned into a 90-min. theological discussion. He inquired about my earlier education at Concordia Portland and "801," about what I was reading and studying, and also about what I was planning to do at the University of Chicago (his alma mater). I told him that I planned to study systematic theology. And from there we went into discussion of Paul Tillich (his Dokotorvater) and how I was hoping to work with David Tracy, who had also been influenced by Tillich, and Brian Gerrish (who had assumed Tillich's chair at Chicago).

Bob wanted me to stay longer but I needed to meet someone for dinner, so he bid me farewell but not before giving me a few books from his office and inviting me to return to his office in a week or two for further conversation.

We kept up those regular bi-weekly meetings, more or less, for more than three years.

Even later we kept in touch via postcards and letters (those were the days before email). I still have a pile of postcards that Bob sent me over the years. I also have the notes he sent me after he kindly read my doctoral dissertation. (Already back in 1992 or '93 I had invited Bob to join a gathering of LCMS seminary graduates who were doing theological study at non-LCMS institutions. That gathering was on the 801 campus. He told me later it was the first time he had participated in theological discussion on those grounds since early 1974.)

As many know, I have had my own share of "trials and tribulations" in the LCMS, of charges and accusations, of attempts to remove me from the clergy roster. Before his death, Bob always was there to give me encouragement and support. He assured me that real evangelical theology does not occur except in trial and tribulation under the cross.  (Some years ago when I had a long phone conversation with John Tietjen, he essentially shared the same encouraging word.)

So tonight I'm grateful for the teaching and witness of Bob Bertram and John Tietjen and Ed Schroeder (who has also taught me a thing or two about the promise of the gospel) and others who bore witness to Christ in a time of conflict.

Here are the links:

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