Remembering My Grandpa on his Birthday


Dr. Robert D. Preus

Twenty years ago today my grandpa Preus celebrated his seventy first birthday, the last birthday he would celebrate before he died nineteen days later. I was eight years old when he died, too young really to understand all of what he was going through when his call to the seminary was unjustly taken away from him. I wasn’t aware of how much of a scholar he was or how much he had done in the synod. I didn’t even know what a synod was. All I knew about him was that he was a pastor who taught other men how to be pastors. That’s how my mom explained it to me. My cousin, Hans, wrote a post a couple years ago in which he spoke of the influence his grandpa Fiene had on him becoming a pastor. He spoke of how he brought his father to church and remained faithful to Christ all the way to his death. He wasn’t a big-time theologian. But he was a faithful Christian father. So today, on my grandpa Preus’ birthday, I would like to share how he left a great impression on me, which made me want to be a pastor. While I certainly have benefited from his theological literature, and I was able to know him as my teacher through the pages of sound theology he left behind, his impact on my desire to be a pastor first came from knowing him as Grandpa.

I don’t remember my grandpa Preus as well as my older brothers or cousins do. But there is one theological conversation I had with him that has had a lasting effect on me.

This conversation took place when I was three years old after my grandpa Felts had died. I was too young to know what was really going on.  When I heard my parents say, “Grandpa died” I was confused. I thought they were talking about Grandpa Preus. So when I saw him up at the lake that summer, I asked him, “Grandpa, how many times have you died?”

He said, “I haven’t died yet, but I was born twice.”

“Really?” I asked incredulously.

“Yes,” he said, “And so were you.”

He then told me to ask my mother about it. So when I asked her she told me about my baptism (John 3:3ff; Tit 3:5; 1 Pet 1:3).  I know that my parents had taught me about baptism. Of course they had! But apparently I hadn’t really thought it through. I was, after all, only about three years old. And the fact that I was asking such a ridiculous question explains how small my mind was at the time. But my grandpa didn’t simply laugh at my childish query. He rather engaged me theologically. He reminded me of my baptism. And he got me to think about it, even at such a young age.

My grandfather was a great theologian. His books and articles certainly attest to this. But I first knew him as the dad of my dad. He taught his children the faith with the help and support of my grandmother. And even as a double-doctorate professor of theology, he never shrank from teaching even the smallest of children. I thank God for all my grandparents for raising my parents in the faith. And I want to encourage all parents and grandparents to talk theology with their children and grandchildren, even when they seem too small to understand.  On my grandpa Preus’ birthday, I would like to remember him for doing just that.

About Pastor Andrew Preus

Pastor Andrew Preus is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran/St. Paul Lutheran, Guttenberg/McGregor, IA. He is the eighth of eleven sons, with one sister. He received his seminary training at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, ON (MDiv) from 2009 to 2013, and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN (STM) from 2013 to 2014. His main theological interests include Justification and Church and Ministry. He is married to Leah Preus (nee Fehr), and they have four children: Jacob, Solveig, Kristiana, and Robert.


Remembering My Grandpa on his Birthday — 17 Comments

  1. Dear Pastor Andrew,
    Do you know whether anyone has attempted to compile a Preus family tree for the scholarship of the LCMS and for other interested parties? I would be more than mildly interested in viewing the breadth of such a prodigious American Lutheran family including a modest amount of detail, such as each one’s vocation and church affiliation.

  2. Thank you, Pastor Preus for a wonderful, enlightening sharing of your childhood experience. I hope that I have passed on some of the same theology to my own children and grandchildren. Anyway, I’m going to pass this on to them so that one day they can share it with their children.

  3. Your grandfather’s love for the Gospel inspired a generation of pastors and his teaching continues to this day through them. I was a brand-new seminarian in 1980 when a controversy arose over justification. We newbies had no idea what this was about. And so we asked our professors. One gave a 30 minute answer that left us even more confused. Dr. Preus spoke for 5 minutes and we understood what the issue was and what was at stake. I have spent my ministry striving to be as clear and precise as he was – I have not yet made it. I owe so much to Dr. Robert Preus.

  4. @Mark #1
    I know there is a family tree book that goes from Herman Amberg Preus to my dad’s generation. I’m not sure where it would be available. I think it was just self-published for the family back in the sixties or seventies

    @Daniel L. Gard #4
    Dr. Gard, thanks for sharing this. I agree. It certainly is a skill to explain things in a simple way. That’s why I think that of all his books, Luther’s Catechism is his most masterful work.

  5. Thank you for this, Pastor Preus.

    No other Lutheran theologian of the 20th century spoke as clearly and as precisely as Dr. Robert Preus. He was boldly confessional in face of the enemies of the Gospel. His writings have been an invaluable source to me. His works guard us from needless speculation and obtuse and specious interpretations of the Scriptures.

    O that Dr. Robert Preus would be read, marked, and publicized as much as the current crop of “pop” theologians.


  6. Dear Pastor Preus,

    Thanks for these memories of your grandfather! He was without a doubt among the top five conservative-confessional Lutheran theologians/church leaders in the LCMS in his generation. In my estimation, the other four would include: Kurt Marquart, David Scaer, J.A.O. Preus, and Paul Zimmerman. Historians can debate this, but that’s my list.

    Probably the best collection of essays about Dr. Preus’ theology and life’s work is here:

    The bibliography at the end of the book lists his most important books and articles.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  7. My father was on the board at CTS when your grandfather endured that difficult time. I know he had nothing but respect and admiration for your grandfather. My father is also with the Lord now, but my mother still keeps and cherishes a warm and appreciative letter he received from your grandfather. What a heritage we have been blessed with.

  8. Thanks, Andrew, for the nice tribute. Patriarchs — fathers and grandfathers — are so important in our lives, and now we live in a time where this truth is not always properly valued. My dad, your grandfather, was an influence to so many. He taught us scripture through our evening devotions, but he also made us understand grace, forgiveness, and Christian principles through his leadership and example as a great theologian/professor, grandfather, and father. I did not appreciate this in my youth, and my father died too young for me to let him know how his words of kind wisdom have shaped my life.

  9. I think Robert Preus influenced and still does influence a lot of us. He was a very solid Lutheran Pastor, and a strong theologian.

  10. I feel privileged to have completed my M.Div under the presidency of Dr.Preus (CTS, 87). He was also my professor for the courses on the Confessions (for whom I believe the esteemed Dr. Noland served at that time as his graduate assistant). In my last year as a Sem IV there was already some brewing unrest coming from the president of the synod. I was the secretary on the student senate and was part of the effort to put together a petition of support for him signed by the student body. I’d love to have a copy of that petition now.

  11. I sat at the feet of your grandfather many times. Had many conversations with him. He asked me to teach deaf ministry at the Seminary in Fort Wayne. Your grandfather was a great pastor, and outstanding teacher, and a good seminary president. He knew his Theology but could explain it in a way that we, the more simple, could understand it. One night in particular, he was invited from time to time to give a devotion to the students in the dorm. I was fortunate enough to have attended. It was the most awesome devotion that touched the students (and myself) in a comforting way as he brought us the Gospel. You have a wonderful family heritage. Guard it.

  12. Pastor Preus,
    Thank you for your tribute to your grandfather. I feel privileged to having been at the Ft. Wayne Sem. in the early 80’s. I think of it as the golden age of the seminary. It was a time of great theological thought and growth. Dinner time was not spent talking about the latest fads or sports teams but in deep discussion of theological issues. The debate was lively and informative. It was an atmosphere that was set by Dr. Preus who did not fear theological opponents. The winter symposia were filled with people of opposing views. It seemed more common to have an ELCA theologian coming to challenge us than a dead orthodox speaker. I think some might believe that Dr. Preus would only want students to hear the party line. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Dr. Preus believed that confessional Lutheranism could win in an open debate because it was true!

    This was not just some theoretical idea for him. It directed his thinking in his personal life. He was not afraid to stand up to the majority at the St. Louis Seminary when they abandoned the truth of the nature of Holy Scripture.

    This is also seen in the darkest days of his theological career. I was on vicarage when Dr. Bohlmann first tried to force Dr. Preus out of office in 1985. When I returned the following fall I was serving as student association president. There was a long standing tradition for the SA to annually invite the president of synod to come and speak to the student body. I went into Dr. Preus’ office rather sheepishly and asked him about inviting Dr. Bohlmann. Had he indicated any hesitation I would not have extended the invitation. Dr. Preus’ response was “Go ahead and invite him. The more things are done in the open before the world the better.”

    Dr. Preus was willing to stand up to the drift toward ecumenism that was taking root in our synod at the time. Dr. Bohlmann and Dr. Nafzger (CTCR Exe.) were pushing and idea of levels of fellowship. Dr. Preus and Dr. Marquart stood in the breach and said this was wrong and convinced the synod that it was. In my opinion this was one of the main reasons that Dr. Preus was eventually pushed from office. Even then he did not give up but continued to stand up to withering criticism. In the end the synod in convention sided with Dr. Preus. It restored confessional leadership to the Ft. Wayne seminary. With that work completed, like Moses looking over the Jordan and seeing the Promised Land, God called him home. Well done, good and faithful servant!

  13. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    I agree with Pastor Gallup’s opinion that the “levels of fellowship” was the main issue driving a wedge between Bohlmann/Nafzger on one side, and the Fort Wayne faculty and many of the Saint Louis faculty, on the other.

    Synthesizing all the data since the 1969 ALC-LCMS fellowship announcement, you have to say that the intent of “levels of fellowship” was to: 1) bring the LCMS into fellowship with the ELCA; 2) bring the LCMS into association with the LWF. The idea of “levels of fellowship” was to argue that since ELCA folks are “Lutheran,” we should be in fellowship with them in some way.

    I remember one Lutheran Witness article that Ralph Bohlmann wrote while he was president. In so many words, he argued that the ALC and LCA were also “confessional Lutherans” because they included the Lutheran confessions in their constitutional statements. This was a deceit, because the confessions were not binding and normative for ALC and LCA pastors like they are for LCMS, WELS, and ELS pastors.

    Then for awhile–I think this came from Nafzger–there was the idea that those who would not grant the ALC/LCA/ELCA some form of fellowship were following the “unit concept of fellowship” of the WELS. This was not true. LCMS folks have been willing to “cooperate in externals” with ELCA and just about anyone else. We just refuse “church fellowship” with them (see LCMS Constitution Article VI.2).

    Just imagine what would have happened if Robert Preus, the Fort Wayne faculty, and the faithful members of the Saint Louis faculty had not stood up against this movement toward fellowship with the ELCA.

    We LCMSers would today be in fellowship with a church-body that ordains gays and lesbians, blesses same-sex unions, is pro-abortion, is basically socialist in its political stance, and is in fellowship with just about everyone under the sun (Episcopalians, Reformed, Presbyterians, etc.). Not only that, but ELCA would be trying to move LCMS in its direction, since we would be “brothers.” Thank God this did not happen! Many thanks to the many LCMS faithful confessors for holding the line!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  14. @Martin R. Noland #15

    Not only that, but ELCA would be trying to move LCMS in its direction, since we would be “brothers.”

    Seems like they’ve got numerous “brothers” in LCMS anyway, trying to move us away from Lutheran faith. The longer we keep the non-Lutherans around, the more time they have to subvert the gullible.

    JAO Preus would have done Synod a favor if he and others had said, “You renegades keep CSL, and every congregation will have to decide, this year, which seminary and which Lutheranism it will support. Next year we split.”
    Fence sitting for 40 years has just allowed the seminex & sympathizers to dig in.

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