There was a critical exchange at the Ft. Wayne Symposia yesterday afternoon. After President Larry Rast’s presentation on the theological formation of pastors after the age of Google, a pastor went to the microphone and asked President Rast to “prophecy.” What do you see for the future of the Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) program?” President Rast did not hesitate but boldly asserted two things. First, this is a question for the LCMS to answer for herself. Secondly, President Rast proclaimed that Concordia Theological Seminary – Fort Wayne will do all that it can to convince the LCMS that its pastoral formation ought to be done in the traditional resident manner. This is a good thing for the LCMS and we are pleased that President Rast has taken this stance since the SMP program produces men who may be personally committed to the Lord’s Ministry but can never stack up theologically since they receive only half the training of the traditional approach and nearly none of that on campus.
Even though Rast supported the traditional residential approach there is nothing traditional about the new pastoral formation curriculum that he, Dr. Scaer, and the other faculty members have developed over the last few years. It is another blessing for the LCMS. We don’t have time to describe it in detail here. In short it abolishes the fourfold approach of exegetical, historical, systematics and practical departments and replaces them with a more holistic and organic approach that gets the seminarian more deeply into the heart of the Scriptures and Luther. It is simple and brilliant. It also places them into small study and mentoring groups led by professors and focusing on the translation of the Bible. This is a fitting way to do “small groups” at the seminary, as opposed to the trendy, pop-culture small group program at St. Louis. According to Rast, it can also bring to a close the last generation’s seemingly endless and foolish multiplication of felt-need seminary classes in counseling, administration, stewardship and evangelism.
There are always a lot of pastors at this conference. One old timer told me how pleased he was to see so many pastors of the LCMS were gathered to study theology. He also mentioned how pleased he was to see members of the LCMS presidium here. The list includes President Harrison, 1st Vice President Herb Mueller and 5th Vice President Scott Murray. This old-timer remarked that in past years you might not see a single member of the presidium at this conference.
The themes of the two symposia are excellent. The exegetical symposium is built around the theme of the historical truth of the Gospels. The systematics symposium is all about the central doctrine of justification.
There were a few annoying things however. One of the seminary profs made reference to “the transfiguration event.” He does not mean it in the way of the false hermeneutics that gave us this phrase and brackets off truth considering the accounts of Scripture to be nothing more than “events” in the minds of the authors with some remote possibility that they might be actual events in actual reality. Calling it “the transfiguration event” is not healthy for the church. I sent a text to a fellow pastor concerning this poorly chosen language of “event” and got a hilarious and profound text in return. (He will remain nameless but let’s just say he and I recently started getting our paychecks from the same place.) I texted him asking if he had lunch plans and to tell him that the presentation was pretty good but sadly the presenter had used the phrase “the transfiguration event.” He texted me back saying “glad to hear it was good – I’ve already had the lunch event.” His clever response makes it clear in short order that we don’t speak this way in common language. It is a manner of speaking that comes from an idealist false hermeneutic. Our seminary professors are rock solid for the most part but they have this incessant desire to read and study the false theologies of the modern age, which is fine, but they then proceed dangerously to adopt their jargon and cast nearly all of their instruction in the form of their false questions and answers. Obviously we need to know the false teachings of the modern world. I am all for that. But there is a point at which we go too far when we adopt their jargon. There is no need to call it “the lunch event.” It’s just lunch. There is no need to call it “the transfiguration event.” It is just the transfiguration.
I’ve noticed this dangerous jargon, and sometimes dangerous thought, that has come from liberal universities like Notre Dame and other places where our boys go off to study, rears its ugly head all around LCMS academia. The mushy “contextualization” jargon and thought of modern liturgiologists is what is behind the move toward contemporary worship and small group theory at Concordia St. Louis. I also heard in another of the excellent presentations here in Ft. Wayne, the dangerous inference that the “early church community” played a role in the formation of the Gospels. We also heard time and time again the phrase “the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history.” Clearly the LCMS presenters hold that the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history are one in the same. My beef is that our time and energy ought to be spent more on simply presenting the Gospel of Christ and Christ himself as found in the inspired and inerrant Word of God rather than casting nearly all of our efforts in the questions and false ideas of modern theology, for example, even suggesting that the Jesus of faith could be distinct from the Jesus of faith.
Let me clarify my concern with an example from the symposium. The exegetical presentations in the auditorium had an unnerving tone of details and minutia. Often the devil is in the details but we need theologians who can inspire us with broad and sweeping teachings where the minutia serve the Gospel and do not become the Gospel. At times it seemed as though the modern liberals have seduced us into asking so many questions about the historicity of the Bible to the point that the Scriptures become sterile objects of scientific study. In contrast to the annoying minutia approach of the main presentations, I found a different tone in a couple of minor papers presented in the smaller venues of the symposia. Pastors Wolfmueller and Fisk presented exegetical papers early on Wednesday morning. There are usually only a handful of attendees at these break-of-dawn presentations. It was standing room only for Wolfmueller and when it was Fisk’s turn we all had to move to a lecture auditorium because of the ectra twenty people waiting outside the room. We were not disappointed by either paper and to my point, they had a totally different tone than the papers in the main hall. Both Wolfmueller and Fisk fed us straightforward Biblical themes and led us through the Scriptures to support their point. Fisk and Wolfmueller would have no beef with the presenters in the main hall and the main hall presenters would have no beef with them. I am not pitting one against the other. I am simply asserting that I find over and over again in academic circles in the LCMS an overemphasis on the jargon and the questions of the modern liberal world that sterilize the Word of God.
I think the approach of Missouri academia from the first half of the last century was more healthy than the current tone and I am pleased that the young bucks may be moving back to that jargon and thus taking a step forward.
The golden age of Missouri certainly had its faults. One of the presenters in the main hall rightly criticized the main stay golden age Bible commentaries of Lenski as having scant reference to the sacraments. The golden age was not always golden. I see the young theologians having the new and great respect for the sacraments but also using a throw-back, common sense approach to teaching the faith with simple language.
I am all for academic study. ( have a masters of divinity, a masters of arts in philosophy, and a doctorate of ministry.) What I am opposed to is letting the modern liberal set the agenda for us. Let us make the study of the liberal agenda an important secondary matter and spend our time forming pastors by the Scriptures, the Confessions and the works of Luther. That is the point of the fine new curriculum changes at Fort Wayne but in my estimation, that right spirit has not yet come to predominate in the exegetical symposium.