Breaking News: Benke’s Retraction, by Pr. Klemet Preus

(Editor’s Note: We will publish Pastor Preus’ fifth and final post on closed communion later this week. For now we interrupt that series with this timely commentary on breaking news.)

Over the weekend David Benke retracted his five year old statement that the Muslim god is the true God. His retraction took place at the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau online forum. His exact words are:

“I retract the statement ‘The Muslim God is Also the True God,’ because it is theologically imprecise.”

In a later post he also writes:

“1) This retraction has not been requested by anyone formally or instructed to be given by anyone formally. The words of the retraction are simple, and they are mine.2) The theological imprecision is NOT in the following quotation from Luther’s Large Catechism (Tappert p. 419), which was part and parcel of the two private emails distributed to the unofficial press on the outside edge of my denomination without my knowledge or permission by an LCMS pastor whose parishioner forwarded them to him without my knowledge or permission.” He then goes on to cite the Large Catechism.

Allow me a couple of observations.

First, all of us make theologically imprecise statements in casual conversation either verbally or on line with friends. And it is a bit unfair to hold a man to such statements as if they were his last or most considered word on the subject.

Second, at the same time it seems to me that a lot of heat could have been avoided if the distinction between unguarded statements and carefully nuanced statements would have been made right off the bat. That may have prevented others from defending the imprecise unguarded statements as if they were on a par with the Apostles’ Creed.

Third, the theological climate in which a theological statement is made is often a determinant of the meaning of the statement. President Benke’s unfortunate statement was publicized while the Yankee Stadium prayer service was being discussed and debated heatedly in our church. His involvement in that tragic and divisive event and President Kieschnick’s defense of him was seen by many as a denial of the Triune God. I don’t want to presume to judge motives but it seems to me not unlikely that President Benke’s initial statement was circulated in order to link his involvement in Yankee Stadium affair with a statement which was potentially incendiary. And, again with no desire to question the motives of President Benke, it is common to defend even the weakest or most imprecise statement when they are spoken in the heat of controversy.

Fourth, I believe that President’s Kieschnick’s defense of President Benke and especially the claim that President Kieschnick had given him permission made it impossible for David Benke to dissociate himself from either his Yankee stadium involvement or his imprecise comments. It would have been perceived as a slap at President Kieschnick. It’s much more possible now when Yankee Stadium is ancient history. So back then you had a theological discussion being furthered by an imprecise unguarded statement which could not, for political reasons, be withdrawn.

Lessons to be learned?

  1. Don’t post anything to anyone which you don’t want the whole world to read.
  2. This is especially true in times of controversy.
  3. If you haven’t learned the first lesson, don’t allow yourself to be defined by your unguarded statements no matter how much it hurts to withdraw them.
  4. Context still does determine meaning to some degree.
  5. When theology becomes politicized you won’t get anything done.
  6. We need a theological context in our synod which is not politicized.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the two men who discussed the prayer service at Yankee Stadium before it happened could now admit that such an event was at best “theologically imprecise?”

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