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.