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?”

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.

Comments

Breaking News: Benke’s Retraction, by Pr. Klemet Preus — 21 Comments

  1. 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.

    There is no reason to guess at motives at all: a layman criticized Benke’s involvement in the Yankee Stadium debacle and Benke responded with his now infamous email. The layman’s pastor—one of those who charged Benke, as well as being involved in the Valpo syncretism case—took exception to Benke’s sending of false doctrine to one of his parishioners. Indeed, I think he was in shock at the audacity of Benke’s persistence in false teaching.

    Something else that needs to be noted: without further details being given by Benke, this cannot be considered a theological change, but merely a retraction of a certain imprecise wording of his position. That is, he has not withdrawn any of the defense of what his statement conveyed. While several have reacted in an overly gushing way (“Bless you, Bishop!”), those who have actually paid attention to Dave Benke know that his words and actions are anything but simple. Watch him and probe him and you will in all likelihood see that nothing has changed but this one sentence; he still does, after all, support Tappert’s mistranslation of the Large Catechism, as seen in Pr. Preus’s quote, above.

    EJG

  2. I had written:

    took exception to Benke’s sending of false doctrine to one of his parishioners.

    Better stated: [this concerned layman’s pastor] took exception to a synodical official’s sending of false doctrine to one of his parishioners.

    Contrary to John Tietjen and David Benke, when a synodically-employed bureaucrat or professor teaches false doctrine it is always a public matter, especially when such is done in furtherance of one’s own defense of previous false teaching and practice and the undercutting of the recipient’s divinely-appointed shepherd.

    Again, it should be noted that David Benke has never specifically apologized for his praying for the deliverance of those already dead, nor has President Kieschnick ever apologized for—much less corrected—his posting of an incorrect ‘version’ of Benke’s prayer to the LCMS website.

    BTW, to the BJS Board: when folks whine about the ‘tone’ on this blog, you should tell them to try to seriously discuss theology with David Benke some time. The mixture of smarm and snarkiness in his posts is amazing. Of course, a major difference between BJS and the ALPB message boards is that on ALPB, if you have the temerity to suggest that a false teacher should be disciplined by his church body, you will have your comments removed and mischaracterized and/or mis-stated by the board admins, while letting any responses to said comments stand as they are. Here, words are left to stand on their own; thank you for that!

    EJG

  3. Rev. Stefanski,

    I agree with your assessment. Did President Benke ever retract his practice of publicly praying with those who reject Christ and pray to false gods? I want to see reconciliation and unity in the Lutheran church, but not false reconciliation and false unity.

    In order to put the best construction on this I will say that by faith I trust that we are beginning to see signs that the Holy Ghost is bringing the leadership of the LCMS to repentance. They are realizing that Christ is in His church throwing out the money changers and telling those who are ashamed of His cross to get behind Him. False doctrine which brings division to the body of Christ will not be allowed because Christ will never leave nor forsake His beloved.

  4. Just curious, what is the mistranslation in Tappert? I had never heard of this and how does it play into this situation?

    Mike

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

    Does David Benke believe there is a precise theological statement that conveys the idea that the god of Islam is the same as the Triune God?

  6. Please disregard my question. I decided to visit the ALPB message boards and David Benke answers my above question:

    Here it is, folks. The statement “the Muslim God Is Also The True God” is retracted. The theologically precise statement on the topic is contained in the quotation from the Large Catechism, authored by M. Luther. That I did not simply send the original questioner the quotation from Luther and tell him to read it carefully led to my imprecision. I really have nothing to add to that statement from the Large Catechism. And that is the retraction and the location of imprecision, and that’s it. Period. Done.

    When this is reported out to the other independent non-evangelical and catholic venues, that’s all that needs be said. And why people can’t read these words, “even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God” which were penned by Luther, and figure out that these folks on the Law side of the equation are not saved by such Law-based belief and knowledge, which Luther states and I confess with him in the next sentence, is beyond me.

    His answer still confuses the heck out of me, though.

  7. OK .. I’m definitely still confused. So I went to the source. Here’s what he is quoting, from page 419 in Tappert:

    66] These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people on earth. All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true, God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

    Here it is from Triglotta: (on http://bookofconcord.org/link?lc+ii+66)

    66] These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and separate us Christians from all other people upon earth. For all outside of Christianity, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, although they believe in, and worship, only one true God, yet know not what His mind towards them is, and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him; therefore they abide in eternal wrath and damnation. For they have not the Lord Christ, and, besides, are not illumined and favored by any gifts of the Holy Ghost.

    And here from Concordia:

    66] These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and separate us Christians from all other people on earth. Even if [or: Even if we were to conceded that] all people outside Christianity–whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites–believe in and worship only one true God, they still do not know what His mind toward them is and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him. Therefore, they abide in eternal wrath and damnation. For they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, are not illumined and favored by any gifts of the Holy Spirit [1 Cor 2:9-16; Heb 6:4-6]

    I guess that didn’t help as much as I thought it might; I thought he said at one point that there was a mistranslation in tappert, but might be better worded in another version of the BOC.

  8. It’s been an interesting dynamic over at ALPB. I welcomed the retraction, and still do. On its face, it is what it is, and it’s better than nothing. Ascribing nothing to an underlying motive (tough to do with statements from darned near anyone, particularly Synodocrats, IYKWIM…), I’ll stick by my initial comment on that forum commending the churchmanship of the retraction.

    What has dismayed me in the aftermath, however, is the dynamic that has been driven in large part by the seeming idea that questioning and/or digging into the retraction for further clarification is somehow attacking DP Benke. This has quickly taken the sheen off of the initial reaction to the retraction — rightly so, IMO.

    There is still quite a bit of imprecision swirling about, as noted above by Prs. Preus & Stefanski. Perhaps most troubling to me is that noted by Stefanski — while the “imprecision” is retracted, nothing has been said about the defense mounted by Benke’s apologists, or the imprecision of the statements Benke made himself. In a very odd way, it’s as if the past 4 years didn’t even happen, as they aren’t being acknowledged.

    And yer right about one other thing, Grabauski — trying to engage Benke in a substantive dialog online is enough to make one’s head hurt to the point of exploding. I find him pleasant enough and actually quite entertaining most of the time, but he can be frustratingly opaque when he doesn’t like how the discussion is going.

  9. Mr. Pierce writes, “His answer still confuses the heck out of me, though.”

    Mr. Fisher posts the same passage from the various translations and says, “I guess that didn’t help as much as I thought it might; I thought he said at one point that there was a mistranslation in tappert, but might be better worded in another version of the BOC.”

    No, here’s the deal:

    Look at WHO IS WORSHIPED in the two-point-five translations cited (“Concordia” is really just an update of the Triglotta’s translation), and you will see the problem.

    LISTEN TO Benke’s pseudo-retraction: he retracts his statement, but keeps his basis for it—the mistranslation found in Tappert.

    That is, citing the Tappert error, Benke claims that Muslims and Jews do worship the one true God, claiming that those who say otherwise must argue against Luther himself (instead of against an erring translator), when the fact is that Luther wrote, simply, that monotheism is not enough, which is clear from the rendering of the Triglotta.

    Thus, to state clearly what I was getting at earlier: This is all smoke and mirrors; there is nothing to “welcome” here and, no, my dear Mr. Piper, it is NOT “better than nothing. It is simply the subtilization of the existing error, and entirely bogus ‘retraction’ to make those who are gullible say, “Bless you, Bishop,” instead of actually taking his words at face value.

    For those who are lost: THERE WAS NO RETRACTION OF FALSE DOCTRINE, just an insistence that it would have been better to have allowed “Luther” (i.e., Tappert) teach it than for Benke to have straight out said what he thinks Luther/Tappert means and to get caught (again) with his pants down while he takes Missouri whoring after other gods.

    This ain’t rocket science, folks.

    EJG

  10. Recently there has been a flood of discussions on at least two web sites (ALPB Forum and Luther Quest) concerning YS interfaith service officiant, Rev. David Benke, and his announcement of what amounts to a 28-percent retraction of a five-and-a-half-year-old sentence for being “theologically imprecise.”

    The context of the partially retracted sentence can be seen in the February, 2003, collection of emails by Mr. Pohlman, Rev. Benke, and Mr. Pohlman’s pastor, Rev. Frederick E. Davison.

    Still in apparent syncretic limbo is Benke’s remaining part of the sentence, “… (there IS only ONE TRUE GOD, right?) but worshipping [worshipped?] in an inadequate way” and another phrse, “In other words, the Muslim is worshipping God but understanding God’s LAW”. St. Peter’s Church also still promotes Don Matzat’s article “How Many Gods (or gods) Are There?”, which continues to defend the idea that the “Muslim God [sic] is also the true God”. Maybe these issues will be resolved with more mea culpa-less retractions in another five and a half years or so.

    And while Rev. Benke magnanimously rejects any “theological imprecision” in a (translated) quotation from Luther’s Large Catechism, he maintains his misinterpretation of Luther’s statements in his Thursday, February 20, 2003 7:03 AM email. Others have discussed the correct understanding of Luther’s statements, as in John G. Nordling’s article, “Large Catechism III, 66, Latin Version” (Concordia Journal, 29(3), July, 2003, pp. 235-239), in the comments by Charles Arand and James Voelz (Concordia Journal, 29(3), July, 2003, pp. 232-4), and in Thomas Manteufel’s “What Luther Meant,” (Concordia Journal, 29(4), October, 2003, pp. 366-9).

  11. Not to argue with you unnecessarily, Pr. Stefanski, for the longer this plays out the more I concur with your take on it. That said, at the time that I originally stated my gratefulness for the “retraction” (at ALPB, not what I wrote above, here), not a whole lot was known about the retraction, contextually speaking. Thus, some pretty knowledgeable (and skeptical) guys (Weedon, Bohler, Uttenreither) voiced measured approval of the move. I concurred, giving the benefit of the doubt.

    Given the caveats & qualifications (under the guise of “clarifications”) that have since come out, it would seem that such benefit was both optimistic and premature. Oh well, such is the risk in best construction. Gullible? Probably. I shoulda known better, I guess. Sometimes you just wanna believe that good things will happen over time, y’know?

    I’m just curious about the “why?” of what’s behind this. In one of his most recent replies/posts over at ALPB, Benke took another shot at _Concordia_ & its translation of LC III 66.

  12. Glen,

    As to “why” question, I have a simple answer. It’s an election year, isn’t it?

  13. Given the caveats & qualifications (under the guise of “clarifications”) that have since come out, it would seem that such benefit was both optimistic and premature. Oh well, such is the risk in best construction.

    “Best construction,” when one is dealing with a blatantly unrepentant false teacher like David Benke, is not to suppose that any slight movement that seems like it might be connected with repentance actually is such; rather, it is to refrain from judging his motives while seeking clarification of his words and actions. Beyond Yankee Stadium, this man—one of your church body officials (with whom your district president jointly served the Lord’s Supper at the 2007 LCMS convention)—communed with ELCA Bishop Stephen Boumann and has never publicly confessed that he was wrong to do so. Here’s the ‘best construction’: I don’t think that he thinks it was wrong to do what he did. If, at some point, he publicly says, “I’m sorry for having offended you,” I will still contend that he hasn’t solved anything; that would require recanting his actual false doctrine and practice.

    I’ve read Benke’s post and his follow ups; he is blind to his wrongdoing and blind to what Luther has written (and, as Wallace Schulz pointed out, to what God’s Word teaches)…and the snakelike way that he threw out his first post was a good indicator of what he really was doing and meaning.

    Y’know, I’ve had to apologize publicly before; I certainly didn’t begin as he did and, indeed, wouldn’t have thrown out a ‘tantalizing tidbit’ with the promise that I would give you the details later. False teachers do not deserve our trust until they prove they have recanted their false teaching; the only proper reply to his first post was, “Pres. Benke, ‘What Does This Mean?'”

    EJG (I wonder if he’s going to apologize now for trying to have me removed from the clergy roster for telling the truth and letting others tell the truth about what he did)

  14. Best Construction??? For me, a simple layman, Prov 17:28. But then again, it’s hopefully quite obvious to all in this case that even if Luther did indeed say (which he didn’t, it was a German figure of speech) that the God of the Muslims is the true God, then he would have been wrong and we would have to condemn this teaching with the clear teaching of the one and only true TRIUNE GOD presented in God’s Word.

  15. I read many of the posts regarding the “retraction” and it seems like some on the alpb site are using an unclear (or mistranslated) passage to support their position, when we have many other passages from scripture and the confessions that make it clear that there is only one God, revealed to us in the scriptures thru Christ. It seems like some are saying that because there is only one true God, then all people are worshiping God, whether they know it or not. To me this is not sending a clear witness of the truth…it seems like this can give the impression to those un-churched or weak in faith that all religions worship the same god. I know that all of the posted statements have been followed up with a mention that salvation is found only in Christ…but it seems that this grey area they are grasping at could be (and is, in my mind) more black and white.

  16. Glen Piper wrote: Given the caveats & qualifications (under the guise of “clarifications”) that have since come out, it would seem that such benefit was both optimistic and premature.

    Who could have guessed this about Benke’s 28 percent retraction of a five-and-a-half-year-old sentence?!?… unless one looks at Benke’s actions and words in the past:

    When Benke ignored that he was not on the final approved participants list from the FBI, who were responsible for the safety and security of those permitted onto the Yankee Stadium field, Benke instead proclaims by his own authority, “I resolved that I would need to accompany the rest up to the bleacher area out on the field.”

    When Benke ignored the instructions from his Protestant group leader to wait in the dugout; Benke instead flaunts national security procedures and brags about sneaking onto the field – “What were they going to do, throw me off the field?”

    When Benke co-officiated at a prayer service with identified heathen clerics, following the prayers to their gods by these pagans, Benke then proclaims to the stadium and television audience, “Oh, we’re stronger now than we were an hour ago.”

    When Benke denied he had violated the Missouri Synod’s prohibition against participating in syncretism, Benke wrote the Rev. Wallace Schulz on May 2, 2002, regarding the interfaith prayer service, “Clearly the event was syncretistic”, and followed it with the weasel words, “But was the Mayor of New York’s syncretism something that the Constitution of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod proscribes?”

    When Benke uttered a (blasphemous) YS prayer for which he later contritely acknowledged “my words have offended some in my denomination, Benke hawks the prayer on his church’s website on the back of his “it’s OK to pray.”â„¢ t-shirts.

    When Benke participated in the YS worship service to a multitude of pagan gods and that, as the Rev. Schulz described, “when President Benke asked pagan clerics to ‘join hands’ with him in prayer, this was the spiritually copulative act of adultery”, Benke has now retracted his five-and-a-half-year-old phrase, “The Muslim God [sic] is also the true God,” but leaves in “In other words, the Muslim is worshipping God but understanding God’s LAW”.

  17. I’d say Rev. McCain pretty much slam-dunked the issue on the ALPB site when he posted today:

    This is most certainly a truly interesting conversation and discussion. We’ve seen it go from a retraction of theological imprecision to a rehashing of some old, and still very painful, memories and emotions. Understandable. And we are back again to that interesting passage in the Large Catechism (LC II.66). Let me say first of all that I believe that remarks made in the heat of an emotionally charged moment, with the resulting errors in expression and attendant theological imprecision, certainly should be, and have been, for the most part, forgiven, even though, as this thread demonstrates, they certainly have not been forgotten. I would also, with respect, observe that such mistakes and imprecision should not be allowed to confuse or obscure Luther’s meaning in this passage from the Large Catechism. For a better understanding of this passage from Luther’s Large Catechism, I would highly recommend the following monograph:

    One True God: Understanding LC II.66
    http://www.cph.org/cphstore/product.asp?category=&part_no=155101&find_category=&find_description=&find_part_desc=one+true+god

    People who are discussing this passage on various discussion lists really need to study this book before venturing any interpretations of the passage from LC II.66. I think they will really enjoy Edward Engelbrecht’s study. The study was, by the way, thoroughly reviewed by a number of theologians and, what is more, some honest-to-goodness German language scholars and linguists, who actually specialize in the more obscure forms and constructions of 16th century new early high German, including one chap who did a dissertation on the precise subjunctival form of a contrary-to-fact conditional clause found here. [Yes, there are such folks!]. The book was also reviewed carefully by a Lutheran theologian whose Ph.D. is in the precise area of Luther and Islam. The unanimous consensus of theological specialists and German linguists who reviewed this work is that Rev. Engelbrecht produced a truly superb work of scholarship and opened a new door on Luther the rhetorician and theologian, par excellence. The particular German grammatical construction of LC II.66, was, by the 20th century, quite obscure, if not entirely lost and unknown, therefore, the nuances were not captured and hence were inadequately rendered by other translations, increasingly so as time went on.

    The LCMS Commission on Doctrinal Review, appointed by the Synodical president, when they examined this particular passage in the Concordia edition, at first had indicated it was to be removed, but after many months of fraternal conversation and study together they came to the conclusion that in fact the translation of “even if” should stand as a clarifying addition, so as to avoid misinterpretation of the passage, and the word “although” should be removed as inaccurate. They carefully reviewed and approved Engelbrecht’s work in this monograph and urged that it be distributed to the Synod for further study, which it was, a copy was sent to every LCMS congregation.

    It all makes for fascinating reading and is quite important.

  18. There are reasons why I have left the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (and even the Christian faith). I got fed up with the narrow-minded dogmatism, the arguments, the strife, the inconsideration shown, the hypocrisy, and the judgmental nature of many people. I got disgusted with everything, because what was taught was contrary to my experience in life. In case you may be wondering where I am theologically, I now follow eastern philosophies. Oh yes! I have trekked in the Himalayas and been to India and Tibet as well. I have met people that are much more sincere, honest and down-to-Earth during my travels through Asia!

  19. @Rev. Eric Stefanski #14
    “’Best construction,’ when one is dealing with a blatantly unrepentant false teacher like David Benke, is not to suppose that any slight movement that seems like it might be connected with repentance actually is such; rather, it is to refrain from judging his motives while seeking clarification of his words and actions.”

    (Worth repeating)

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