It’s Convention Season…


My classmates are agreed to a man that dogmatics in the mid-1950s was a completely undistinguished enterprise. That’s a polite way of saying it was dull. You read the book. The highlight of the day was a poorly worded quiz. When [Dr. Robert D.] Preus came to St. Louis in 1957, the change was radical. He had the intellectual capacity to recognize where the church was going and the conviction and courage to do something about it. And he did. Around him gathered a generation of students who caught the contagion of his convictions. From this confessional revival we were born. When students are talking theology outside the classrooms, you know the enterprise is alive. Authoritarianism kills theology. Now his students are found in the pulpits and classrooms everywhere. They are still doing theology at this symposium, which was his brainchild. Luther disputed the church councils. Preus questioned a synod’s direction. Lutherans cannot surrender that right. Edicts, decrees, resolutions, opinions, and policies cannot take the place of theology. Church councils can and do err and will. That’s Luther.

The quote comes from Logia, Volume V, Number 3, Holy Trinity 1996. The title of Dr. Scaer’s paper was “Commemoration Sermon for Dr. Robert D. Preus.” You can download the entire issue here.


About Scott Diekmann

Scott is a lifelong LCMS layman. Some of his vocations include husband, dad, jet driver, runner, and collector of more books than he can read. Oh, and also chocolate lover. He’s been involved in apologetics for over a decade, is on the Board of Regents at Concordia Portland, and is a column writer for the sometimes operational Around the Word Journal. He’s also written for Higher Things Magazine, The Lutheran Clarion, and has been a guest on Issues Etc. as well as the KFUO program Concord Matters.


It’s Convention Season… — 4 Comments

  1. “Authoritarianism kills theology” at first blush sounds like it could have been cherry-picked straight from somewhere like DayStar…until a right and true distinction is made between mere authoritarianism and Authority.

    Simultaneously, this brings to mind the often-neglected (and equally necessary) cleavage between merely being “judgmental” and rendering a correct and sober judgment about a given thing.

    Is it this failure (in part or whole) to critically parse through this verbiage that allows the blur of doctrine and practice to continually have breath and gain traction amongst us, all in the name of “love?”

  2. I was fortunate enough to be at the Fort Wayne seminary in the early to mid 1980’s while Dr. Preus was serving as the President of that institution. I was unfortunate not to have taken a class from him during that time. After I left Fort Wayne in 1985 (for 4th year vicarage and first call), was the time when President Bohlmann (easily the most arrogant man I ever personally met), decided on a course of action to remove the LCMS’ pre-eminent theologian of the 20th century from his post at the seminary. Members of his family with whom I have had personal conversation, indicated that the trauma of that deceitful course of action likely shortened the life of this gift of God to our Synod. What a loss to us all!

    As for the link between authoritarianism and good theology, keep in mind that easily the most authoritarian LCMS president we’ve ever had was Gerald Kieschnick. He considered Confessional pastors who were liturgical, traditional, and practiced closed communion to be “obstacles” to be removed from the Synod to enable the more “progressive” Synod that he envisioned. In his obsession with turning the LCMS into a somewhat “Lutheranized” version of the Southern Baptist Convention, he would have been more than pleased to have driven out every last one of us. In other words, he was perfectly willing to use the power of his position to “purify” the Synod for his Church Growth agenda. Ergo, authoritarianism trumped theology in a misguided effort to radically change our church body into an image of Kieschnick’s own making. Had Robert Preus been around during President Kieschnick’s tenure, he would have been no less a target.

  3. Dear Captain Diekmann,

    Thanks for the memories from Dr. Scaer’s sermon and Trinity 1996 LOGIA, the LOGIA issue with Robert Preus on the cover.

    Dear BJS Bloggers,

    Some of you may be new to the LCMS, or at least, new to what is going on within the synod. So here is a brief career history for Dr. Preus . . .

    Dr. Robert Preus had a long tenure in the LCMS, and was influential in many different ways. Probably the best way to become acquainted with his work and theology is to order the Congress of the Lutheran Confessions volume that deals with his theology and life. You can order that here:

    Dr. Preus was first a faculty member in the systematics department at Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis in the mid-1950s. Herman Otten, David Scaer, and Kurt Marquart were students when he first came on campus, and they quickly were impressed by his abilities and his orthodoxy. Dr. Preus became a guiding light for students of orthodox persuasion, and for those concerned about the “new theology” coming from Valparaiso University and infiltrating the seminary community.

    After the election of his brother, Jack Preus, to be synod president in 1969, Dr. Robert Preus served as the first president of Balance, Inc., which was organized in order to assist Jack Preus exert doctrinal discipline where it needed to be exerted, namely and mostly, at the Saint Louis seminary.

    About 1975, the synod moved the Springfield seminary to Fort Wayne and called Dr. Robert Preus to be its president. In addition to the existing Springfield faculty, including David Scaer and Dean Wenthe, Dr. Preus brought in new faculty who had been his students–or whom he knew when they were students at Saint Louis–Jim Voelz, Bill Weinrich, Doug Judisch, Kurt Marquart, and others.

    Dr. Preus’ tenure as President at CTS lasted for fifteen years (1975-1989). About 1983 or 1984, it became apparent that “church growth” leaders had designs on taking over CTS. Kent Hunter was trying to make CTS students into his protégés, and Waldo Werning, who claimed to be the “father of church growth in the LCMS,” attacked David Scaer over an article Scaer wrote on sanctification.

    Werning claimed Scaer was teaching false doctrine and needed to be removed from the seminary. Dr. Robert Preus defended Scaer, so Werning went on the offensive and attacked Preus. Werning succeeded by using his connections with the Board of Regents and had Preus removed as president. Werning’s battles against Scaer and Dr. Robert Preus can be seen, in his own words and from his own perspective, in his book “Making the Missouri Synod Functional Again.”

    After Dr. Preus was removed, he attempted to retain his post by using the adjudication system. The Commission on Appeals ruled in Dr. Preus’ favor, but the president of synod, Ralph Bohlmann, and the CTS Regents ignored the ruling. The ruling of the old Commission on Appeals in the Robert Preus case is why Bohlmann and his friends destroyed the old judicial system of the LCMS and replaced it with the “Dispute Resolution System,” most of which still is in place today.

    After the 1992 convention, it became clear that Dr. Preus could not teach or do anything of significance at the Fort Wayne seminary. So he spent his remaining years in work on his “retirement project,” i.e., the Luther Academy. The Luther Academy, under Dr. Preus’ direction, published “LOGIA: A Journal of Lutheran Theology,” which is now in its 23rd year. The Luther Academy began publishing the “Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics” series—Dr. Preus was its first editor, then Dr. John Stephenson, now Dr. Gifford Grobien serves in that capacity. With Dr. Preus’ initiative, The Luther Academy sponsored two series of conferences: 1) in cooperation with the Association of Confessional Lutherans titled “Congress on the Lutheran Confessions” (still in existence) and 2) in cooperation with the Concordia Historical Institute titled “The Pieper Lectures” (now defunct). The lectures from those conferences have been, and continued to be published in monograph form. The Luther Academy has published other books and monographs, and also sponsors overseas conferences to benefit pastors of overseas Lutheran churches. You can find out more about these resources and ministries at: and

    Dr. Robert Preus passed to glory in 1995. His son the Rev. Daniel Preus is a Vice-President of synod. His son Christian Preus, Esq. is on the Board of Directors of synod (second series of terms). His son the Rev. Klemet Preus passed to glory a year ago. His son the Rev. Rolf Preus is a BJS Steadfast Author and has a number of sons in the LCMS ministerium. Dr. Preus has countless students, who remember him with fondness, and who continue his work of preserving a Lutheran theology normed by the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  4. I was at my parents’ home in North Webster IN, with my young family when someone from the family called my dad to let him know Dr. Preus had died. My dad had the greatest respect for him. Dr. Preus lived long enough to see the BoR majority shift back into a Confessional direction, and I got the impression that my dad thought Dr. Preus sorta felt is was “safe” now to die. Certainly, from July, ’95 to the beginning of the 96-97 academic year, there was a *massive* change in atmosphere at CTS. Fwiw, when I received info in the mail about CTS–the catalogue, most notably, in spring of 96, I knew it was much, much “safer” to actually consider attending. Dr. Wenthe was a worthy successor to Dr. Preus.

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