President Kieschnick Comes Off as a Fundamentalist – The Northern Illinois District Convention Part IV: A Summary and Review of President Kieschnick’s Presentation, by Pr. Rossow

(The other posts in this series can be viewed by clicking on the Editor’s Blog in the Brother’s Cafe.)


There is so much to review and critique in President Kieschnick’s presentation that I could easily get ahead of myself so I think I will stick to a chronological approach beginning with his opening remarks then moving to the “Trouble in River City” video, and concluding with a few comments on the softball question and answer segment.


The presentation began with a rather tepid round of applause. I would have thought it would have been more resounding from a district that has embraced so much of the Kieschnick church growth agenda. It may be that people are growing tired of all the division and conflict his presidency has brought to the LCMS.


Opening Remarks – Doctrine as Strategy

The presentation we witnessed is basically the same presentation he makes at each district convention. President Kieschnick begins his spiel with a recitation-like review of basic Lutheran doctrine. It is done in a rapid-fire creedal-like manner. He rattles off every major teaching and asserting his belief in them. This would normally be a fine thing to do but here is the rub. This ten minutes of confessionality does not flow over into the rest of the 50 minutes of his time before the assembly. In other words, it comes off as very defensive and tactical and not the actual heart of the man’s belief and practice.


Much preferred would be a synodical president who does not have to defend his confessional positions but simply lets his entire presentation live and breathe with the inhaling and exhaling of law and gospel, old man/new man, the real presence of our Lord’s body and blood in holy communion, and so forth. Instead we heard a ten minute, defensive recitation of all things Lutheran and then fifty minutes of leadership talk, promotion of new ways of doing church and disdain for the old ways of doing church. Dr. Nagel is fond of praising theology that is “dripping with Scripture.” We would like to see President Kieschnick’s manner of speaking dripping with word and sacramental theology but that is not the case. In my opinion confessional theology was used by him as campaign tool and was not perceived to be part and parcel of his heart and soul.


Trouble in River City – Goofy Fundamentalism

After those introductory remarks the convention delegates were directed to the large screens for the traditional presidential video presentation. I had read all the reports about the “Music Man” motif used in President Kieschnick’s convention video, even here on BJS, but I still had a hard time believing it was true until I saw it myself. Having grown up just fifty miles from the real “River City” (Mason City, Iowa where they have a huge band festival every year with real instruments and not Harold Hill’s imaginary ones), I was acutely interested in this motif.


Everything you have heard and read is true. In the convention video, President Kieschnick fashions himself a modern day Harold Hill who comes in to rescue River City. The irony of that is that Harold Hill is a huckster and swindler who pretends to be a band teacher who will keep the kids of River City out of trouble by forming them into a marching band. That is actually the secondary point of comparison however.


The primary point of comparison is between the world we live in and River City. One of the famous songs from the Music Man refers to trouble in River City. President Kieschnick likewise asserts that there is trouble in the world and the answer to that trouble is the heavily programmatic, felt needs-addressing Ablaze structure that he and his associates have created. This is where he comes off as a fundamentalist. The troubles he points to are all moral. He paints the world as this terrible place that is sinking deeper and deeper into the abyss of immorality. That is certainly true but it is not a big surprise. The problem with this is that the church’s call from God is not to fix an immoral world. God tells us that we the church are the little flock in the world. The world will get more and more immoral and the church’s call is to remain faithful to God’s word and see to that all those God has called out of the world remain in the true faith. By the way, in keeping with the opening devotion video, President Kieschnick uses the changing world point to leverage his desire to change the way we do church.


It appears to me that President Kieschnick is highlights the immorality of the world in order to position himself as a Bible-believing conservative. This is what makes him come off as a fundamentalist. When mixed with the silly Music Man theme this becomes “silly fundamentalism.” Fundamentalism was basically a protestant reaction to the immorality in America in the early 20th century. They identified a few fundamentals of doctrine (the blood atonement, salvation by faith, etc.) and also asserted that the United States is the new promised land and that we must preserve its Christian character. Modern examples of Fundamentalists include the Baptists like Jerry Falwell and the Pentecostals like Pat Robertson. For sure Confessional Lutherans share some common ground with Fundamentalists such as confession of the inerrancy of the Bible, preservation of Biblical morality, and belief in the blood atonement. But that is where the commonalities end. Fundamentalists do not accept the means of grace and also shatter the distinction between the two kingdoms (left hand kingdom of the world and right hand kingdom of grace). God has called the church not to fix a broken world but to preach Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. It we see the church’s challenge to be addressing an immoral world, the forgiveness of sins will become secondary and fancy parish programs will be primary.


This post is becoming a bit lengthy so I need to break it up into two parts. In the next review and critique of President Kieschnick’s report to the convention I will share with you some silly things President Kieschnick said about the history of a parish in Texas, his list of fundamental doctrines (what is revealing is that it does not include things like closed communion, worship practice and other significant issues) and more.

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.


President Kieschnick Comes Off as a Fundamentalist – The Northern Illinois District Convention Part IV: A Summary and Review of President Kieschnick’s Presentation, by Pr. Rossow — 12 Comments

  1. There’s a lot of irony in this president’s approach. If he really does subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions he would surely be familiar with Luther’s Two Kingdom, or Two Sphere, view of the church and the world. Sure, the world is immoral and is becoming more so every day. But it seems to me that Scripture charges us with the responsibility of preaching the Word, not playing around with political activism. Sounds like he’d be right at home and welcome at a well-known educational institution just a few miles down the road from where I live.

  2. “President Kieschnick begins his spiel with a recitation-like review of basic Lutheran doctrine. It is done in a rapid-fire creedal-like manner. He rattles off every major teaching and asserting his belief in them.”

    Once upon a time, synodical Presidents actually used their convention essays to teach from Scripture and the Confessions.

    One day, they will again. But not today.


  3. Just to point out another problem with the Music Man motif…the problem in River City is a made up one. Harold Hill roles into town and invents a crisis so that he can come to the rescue.

  4. Unbelievable video. And we wonder why we are not a growing church body? Let’s try the things that God says will work instead. What a concept.

  5. Jason,

    This is so true. The same is true of the SMP program. The synod invents a crisis: WE MUST START 5,000 NEW CONGREGATIONS IN THE NEXT 15 MINUTES OR DIE and then creates a simplistic and unnacceptable path to becoming ordained. The opening paragraphs of the SMP motion that the convention approved in 2007 say pretty much that.


  6. To be “conservative” is not yet “confessional.” To subscribe to certain “fundamentals” is not yet to adhere to the Christocentricity of Scripture and have a sacramental understanding of the means of salvation and conversion.

    The Battle of the Bible in the 1970s was only a temporary “victory” as conservatives unwittingly allied themselves with conservative fundamentalist leaning “Lutherans” who held a high view of inspiration and inerrancy but that was about it – otherwise quite Arminian or quasi-Baptist in their thinking otherwise. Now we are also affected with good old American pragmatism combined with the left over gospel reductionism of the Seminex era now called “missional.”

  7. Pr. Wilken wrote:
    Once upon a time, synodical Presidents actually used their convention essays to teach from Scripture and the Confessions.

    One day, they will again. But not today.


    But will it be in the Missouri Synod? Did Jesus promise that the LCMS will be until the end of time? Synods come and go but the Church does not. The word does its work and it is a piercing double-edged sword that may separate the faithful from the heterodox, regardless of what name they gather under. Romans 16:17 is sounding forth to us along with 2 John. Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it and blessed are the shepherds who lead their flock to safe pasture even if in quarantine from the ill.

  8. Inventing a crisis is a standard cog in all the manuals on leading strategic change. (Of course, sometimes there really is a crisis and sometimes strategic change is needed.) But…as we all will agree, I think, the crisis of the moment in Missouri is not the one being foisted upon her, one invented for the sake of an agenda.

    The spigot is already slowed to a trickle…just call up one of those US missionaries on that glossy-color flier you got about 4 weeks back. Whose paycheck will be the last to get cut, I wonder…

  9. Make ’em sick then make ’em well. It is the method of every charlatan and I consider K to be just that. The more important question is not him it is how could we put him that position in the first place?

  10. And yet, the bigger problem isn’t on the national synodical level, but really in the districts. There’s where the influence is on the pastoral call process, call lists, pre-sem interviews, discipline (or the lack thereof or the political use thereof), and much other messy business.

  11. The choice of the Music Man is interesting for reasons that go beyond the false troubles.

    Not only was the trouble in River City a false one, but Harold Hill made two mistakes early on. The “trouble” was based on a pool table, owned by the mayor. He also hooks the mayor’s daughter up with a boy that the mayor disapproves of. Because of this, Harold Hill spends much time dodging the attempts to procure his credentials by city officials. He gives them a smile while agreeing to provide the information but then manages to deflect attention away by turning them into a barbershop quartet.

    One can hope and pray that things end in a similar way that the movie does: when Harold Hill, having fallen in love with a real music teacher named Marion, is unable to bring himself to skip town before the uniforms and instruments arrive. Before the whole town he is forced to conduct the band. It seems the game is up. But even though the band can’t play terribly well, the parents are thrilled to see their sons in the band. Harold Hill decides to stay in River City to stay with Marion and develop the talents of the band for real thus forsaking his life of fraud.

  12. Tim,
    Your meeting with the SP at convention and his words to you remind me of a saying by CFW Walther which I came across in an article by Dr. Aug Suelflow: Walter’s favorite expression about clergy: “Da ist kein Pfaff so klein da steckt nicht ein Papst darein” (There is no preacher man so small that he doesn’t have the ambitions to become a pope.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.