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Early this morning, on my Facebook page, I posted the below review of Randy Boyagoda's 2015 biography of Richard John Neuhaus.  Observations about the ALPB are included.

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Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square, by Randy Boyagoda, was a 2015 biography of Neuhaus (1936-2009).  The book received numerous endorsements.  I had occasion to correspond with Neuhaus a few times in my life, and also heard him speak in person several times.

To summarize in broad strokes, Neuhaus, son of a Lutheran pastor, was raised in Canada and eventually attended Lutheran seminary at Concordia, St. Louis, Missouri, in the 1950s.  He was known as a liberal then.  He always had very high liturgical leanings and became a Roman Catholic priest in 1990.  He was a founder of the intellectual journal, First Things.  It was claimed that he was a "Catholic of the Year," as well as "the Most Influential Clergyman in America."

The book description notes that "Neuhaus' life and ideas placed him at the vanguard of events and debates across the political and cultural spectrum. For instance, alongside Abraham Heschel and Daniel Berrigan, Neuhaus co-founded Clergy Concerned About Vietnam, in 1965. Forty years later, Neuhaus was the subject of a New York Review of Books article by Garry Wills, which cast him as a Rasputin of the far right, exerting dangerous influence in both the Vatican and the Bush White House."  Neuhaus was on the political liberal and then political conservative side.

Neuhaus edited the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau's Forum Letter for years until he became Roman Catholic.  The New York City area-based ALPB is a lackluster pan-Lutheran group that can barely if at all articulate why it continues to exist.  The ALPB is pretty lukewarm doctrinally (AND IT'S NOT GOOD TO BE LUKEWARM – Revelation 3:16). Several other ALPB leaders joined Neuhaus in becoming Roman Catholic.  Like Neuhaus and First Things, ALPB can have its moments, but not very often.  It's barely hanging on.  Membership in churches can increase or decrease for good or bad reasons, but the member numbers of ALPB-influenced Lutheran churches have been dropping like a rock and figure to continue to do so.

The book discusses Neuhaus' relations with the late Herman Otten; Boyagoda interviewed Otten, and quoted extensively from Otten's newspaper, Missouri-based Christian News.  The two men clashed while students at Concordia Seminary.  Boyagoda comments, "Neuhaus played the willing progressive while Otten offered rearguard pushback: in a sense, each young man likely benefited in his development along his chosen ideological line thanks to his encounters with the other. For Otten, Neuhaus was a cosmopolitan 'slick' who heralded a hollowed-out, trend-chasing future for Lutheranism. For Neuhaus, Otten was a parochial reactionary who embodied the inward-focused, stiff-minded past of the Lutheranism he had encountered in various small-town forums..."

When at his best, Otten was a staunch Lutheran who upheld fundamental doctrines.  In 1969, Otten charged Neuhaus with false teaching.  Boyagoda: "The charges themselves were fivefold: Neuhaus 'adheres to and promulgates doctrines which are contrary to Holy Scripture'; he 'does not accept the binding nature of the Lutheran Confessions'; he 'publicly worships with Jews, Religious Liberals, and others who do not accept historic Christianity'; he 'perverts the true nature of the Christian Church' [with respect to his political activity—did Neuhaus truly advocate missions/evangelism?]; and he 'encourages civil disobedience even when the government does not command the Christian to sin.'"  These charges basically went nowhere but I would (without going into exhaustive reasons here) nevertheless defend them as essentially accurate.

Neuhaus did make noises about being more theologically conservative in his later years, though I personally would argue that his heavily Roman Catholic leaning, often philosophical First Things magazine is way overrated in terms of being truly biblical, i.e., advocating for theistic evolution (at least among some writers), etc.  To his credit, he was opposed to abortion throughout his life (though, contrary to some popular belief, by no means is everyone in the Roman Catholic Church, i.e., President Joe Biden and many other government officials).

When Neuhaus died, a number of prominent Missouri Synod Lutherans offered glowing eulogies.  Ironically, then as now, Neuhaus received more praise than Otten did, among this group of Lutherans.  The ALPB's Peter Speckhard, a Neuhaus nephew, gave a presentation (media and text are available on the seminary's web site) at Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne Indiana, "Can the Shoes of Richard John Neuhaus Be Filled?"  One wonders where that seminary stands on purgatory, indulgences, sacrifice of the mass, the papacy (the Lutheran Confessions as well as the 1932 LCMS brief doctrinal statement refer to the papacy as the Antichrist, as do some Reformed confessions), etc., by hosting such an over the top tribute to Neuhaus.  (CTSFW has for decades claimed to be staunchly "confessional Lutheran" and even says on its "About" webpage that it has "the finest theological faculty in the world, bar none"—they have some good professors but how is it possible to quantify that grandiose boast?  Not an accurate boast in my view.)

In terms of telling the story of a life, I gave Boyagoda's 498 page biography four stars when I read it seven years ago.  I think Neuhaus's life is way overblown in its importance, though.  This is not a necessary book for most people to read.  He traveled in political and think tank circles, and his (hardly surprising) move to Roman Catholicism was doctrinally problematic, at best, in my opinion. There are many other Catholics who are more noteworthy and more admirable than he was.
Since June 2021, I've been posting book reviews on my Facebook page.  Given the new attention given Seminex, and given that Dr. Bretscher was a big supporter of that entity that started many decades ago, I'm posting the review here, in that I would consider it a relevant discussion topic.  You will note that I refer to the ALPB as a "lackluster at best" group in the review.

"Christianity's Unknown Gospel," by Paul G. Bretscher Jr., was independently published by former Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod clergyman Paul Bretscher Jr. (1921-2016) in 2001.

This one star book is decidedly NOT recommended, as Bretscher was accused of heresy on the basis of the book, but in December 2020 I got a copy to have first hand documentation and to read and evaluate for myself as I generally believe in doing that. Copies are available for purchase at a low price from various outlets,

On the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, Bretscher comments among other things, "The miracle of Jesus' resurrection was NOT a resuscitated corpse." "The promises Jesus believed were not about a life-after-death BODY." So, yes, sadly, this is false doctrine. There is a lot of Scripture in the 369 page book but Bretscher clearly holds to a low view of the Bible, imposing historical critical methods of interpreting Scripture.

In a newspaper article from 2002, Rev. Timothy Sims, who was district president of the LCMS Indiana District at the time, stated, "I see him denying that God became incarnate in Christ, and ... he denies the physical resurrection of Christ and he denies the Trinity." Sims said this was both the official view of the Indiana district and his personal view. Bretscher was suspended from the LCMS clergy roster, but Bretscher consistently contended that his detractors were the problem and were the ones who did not understand the Gospel. Bretscher served in ministry in Valparaiso, Indiana, fairly close to Chicago.

When Bretscher died, he received some sympathy on the Internet discussion board of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, a lackluster at best pan-Lutheran organization. He probably also still had some supporters within the LCMS. An LCMS pastor conducted his funeral, according to the ALPB.

It was appropriate that Bretscher underwent church discipline and hopefully he changed before his passing, but it should be noted Bretscher had faced conservative opposition for a long time. Herman Otten in Christian News frequently blasted Bretscher in the 1970s and Harold Lindsell devoted a major section of his 1976 book The Battle for the Bible against Bretscher as well. Raymond Surburg was another conservative who expressed concerns about Bretscher. Based on evidence presented in the 1970s, Bretscher could have been removed from the LCMS 20-25 years before he was. So, on the one hand it was good that it finally happened, but on the other hand one deserves no medals for it taking that long. There are examples in the Book of Acts of immediate things happening.

There might be (and I think, are) similar Bretscher type situations in the LCMS and in other denominations today. Undertaken in the right spirit and on the basis of truth, church discipline is a good thing, contrary to some popular belief. It's thoroughly biblical. It finally happened in this tragic case.

Updated Nov 30, 2021, 5:53 AM
The podcast "A Word Fitly Spoken" released an episode last week about Herman John Otten: "We look at the life and work of one of the twentieth century's most influential and controversial Lutherans, Rev. Herman Otten. Pastor Otten served his congregation and his church for more than a half-century and was one of the staunchest opponents of liberalism in the Lutheran Church. Join us for a look at his words, his warnings, and how they apply to our day."

Members of the Otten family have praised the broadcast.  Ruth Rethemeyer wrote: "Thank you very much for doing this and helping preserve many of the facts of my father's life and ministry. His mission in life, by the power of the Holy Spirit, was to try and preserve the Word of God in its truth and purity for all Christians, no matter what the odds were. Three points that I jotted down that you were spot on about him: Encouraging all to read broadly so you can engage with people at their level, it's okay to to talk to people you disagree with and the church is not supposed to be secretive. I also greatly appreciate you ending your podcast with his obituary, another great summation of who Herman Otten really was."

The podcast episode may be found at:

The "Word Fitly Spoken" web site is also uploading sermons of the late Walter A. Maier Sr., famed "Lutheran Hour" speaker from the 1930s and 1940s.
Your Turn / Lutherdom Has Become the Sleeping Pygmy
June 09, 2020, 05:58:57 PM

"Lutheran discussions on the Internet sound like a group of elderly men dosing off as they sip their Ovaltine."
Your Turn / Questions for Mr. Gan Ainm
January 10, 2019, 06:05:29 PM
Dear Mr. Ainm:

I regularly read the ALPB Forum (I frankly have a low opinion of it) but rarely post.  After having read the Edward Engelbrecht article on the Lutheran Forum web site, I have decided to jump in and ask several questions.

First of all, what does "gan ainm" mean?  That was a question that has popped into my head even well before I saw Engelbrecht's long piece.

Second, I've noticed that you've denied being the "Main Nag" referenced by Engelbrecht.  Do you personally know Engelbrecht at all?  Is there ANY basis for what he wrote?  I'm just trying to get a feel, from your perspective, as to whether there is anything at all to what Engelbrecht said, or if he just totally went off the deep end.

If you don't want to answer, feel free not to.

I may have some follow up questions based on what response(s), if any, are received.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely yours,

David Becker
Your Turn / Some Questions for Mr. Someone Writes
March 10, 2018, 08:43:43 AM
Dear Mr. Writes:

I regularly read the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau Forum but I rarely post.  I do not plan to start regularly doing so now, but I have for months been wondering about some things with respect to your situation.  I'm guessing that others may have also.  Mind you, I'm not losing sleep over this, and if you choose to not respond or if the moderators choose to delete this, that's fine.  You don't give your real name (hey, why not start doing so?), so I have to communicate this way.

You have posted well over 2,000 messages on the ALPB Forum now, and your tag line says: "LCMS raised, LCMS theology major, LCMS sem grad, Atheist."  Some recent posts indicate that you recently attended the LCMS's Concordia Seminary St. Louis.

After you got into eyeballs in debt attending the seminary, where donors contributed millions of dollars to expecting that graduates would become pastors preaching the Gospel, what happened when you announced that you are an atheist?  How did that all shake out?  Was there a big blow up, or did people barely notice or care, like your fellow posters on the ALPB Forum?

Or, are you actually an active LCMS pastor who has not made his atheism known to others?  Oh, I certainly hope not, but one never knows these days, so I thought I'd ask.

May I respectfully remind you that Psalm 14:1 says, "The fool says in his heart,
    'There is no God.' They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;    there is no one who does good."  How does that make you feel when you read that the Bible says that you are a fool?

I pray that the almighty, living God will work in your life for transformation and for good.

Sincerely yours,

David Becker
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