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Messages - Mbecker

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Your Turn / Re: Death notice for Dr. Horace Hummel
« on: October 21, 2021, 11:39:55 PM »
I was privileged to have had Dr. Hummel for several classes at Concordia Seminary, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I learned a great deal from him.

As I believe I have mentioned in this forum before, he and I once spent a week together in the same hospital room--being treated by the seminary's physician for our respective ailments. I was then taking a class from Dr. Hummel, so I received some additional knowledge/tutoring that week, to say the least. Over the course of those days and nights, we became friends. And we promised each other that we would never tell another soul what we witnessed medically that week. I have kept that promise, as I know he did, too. It was a "bonding experience," to say the least. That was midway through my second year.

Yes, we grew apart theologically later on, but I jokingly reminded him years after my graduation, when our paths crossed again shortly before his retirement, "You were partly responsible for introducing historical-critical methods of biblical study at Concordia Seminary, along with Dr. Scharlemann. And I learned some of that methodology from you, including when we spent some time together in the hospital. So you are partially to blame for opening my eyes to the usefulness of those methods for understanding the Holy Scriptures." Horace smiled that wry smile of his and then proceeded to give a nuanced reply that began with the words, "Well, yes, ah-hem, Matthew, but...." (I have copies of those infamous essays of his from the early 1950s.) I told him then how much I appreciated that one afternoon in the hospital, when we spent a few hours discussing the many ways in which "myth" might be a useful genre-category for understanding the nature of Gen. 2-3.

He was a lot of fun as a professor, as long as you kept up with your Hebrew. One week my fellow students and I had to fight off smirking/laughing at the start of Tues's-Fri's classes, as each of those days he wore the same green suit and tie he had worn on Monday. Later we learned that Horace's wife had been out of town that week, and he simply found it easier to wear the same suit each day. And one always knew when Dr. Hummel was preaching in chapel, as you could smell the incense long before you reached the chapel auditorium....

He was a gift to the church, and, as I say, I will always be grateful for what he taught me.

May he rest in the peace and light of the Lord.

Matt Becker

Your Turn / Re: Valpo-- Confucius Institute
« on: August 30, 2021, 09:10:45 PM »
From Valpo's president today:

This was a good, right, and salutary decision, imo.

Matt Becker

Your Turn / Re: Lutheran Creationists
« on: July 31, 2021, 03:40:03 PM »
Again: what does it mean to be human?

Tom Pearson   

Thank you for your further reflections, Tom, and for drawing attention to additional important works in this area of theology and science. Your course sounds very interesting. I come at mine a little differently, but it looks like we have overlapping interests.

For the past decade or so, the German writings of Edmund Schlink have been part of my "daily bread." I hope to have his large "Ecumenical Dogmatics" out by next summer. The translation is mostly complete; I'm just working on editorial notes, polishing the translation, and tracking down bibliographic details.

The principal theme in his theology is precisely the question you raise: "Was ist der Mensch?" That was perhaps THE theme of Schlink's life, at least according to his brother-in-law, Dr. Klaus Engelhardt, one-time president of the Protestant Church in Germany. I would argue, as did Schlink's doctoral student, Pannenberg, that this is a central question, perhaps THE central question, in all academic disciplines. (Pannenberg did a riff on several of Schlink's theological concerns when he wrote his book on theological anthropology. Ted Peters has done further riffing on those themes, beyond his doctoral dissertation on Schlink's most famous student.)

Schlink's answer to your question is complicated, but he defends two basic propositions over many hundreds of pages: (1) human beings reflect the image and likeness of their triune Creator; and (2) human beings have severely distorted that divine image and likeness. In other words, the human is altogether a creature of the triune God, and this purely out of divine goodness; and the human is altogether a sinner and under the wrath of God. Simul Kreatur et peccator. The fulfillment of the human is only given by God's grace on account of the crucified, risen, and glorified Christ, who alone makes possible the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and eternal life with the triune God.

Matt Becker

Your Turn / Re: Lutheran Creationists
« on: July 31, 2021, 12:47:46 AM »

I'm pointing out to my people that the twenty-first century question seems to be, "What does it mean to be human?" which connects with creation/evolution, sex/gender debates, genetics,  and AI/robotics. What Lutheran authors with science training are addressing these topics?

The best one I know is George L. Murphy, who is a retired Lutheran clergy and a PhD in theoretical physics from Johns Hopkins.  He's written several books, perhaps his best known being The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross and Models of Atonement: Speaking About Salvation in a Scientific World.  Two of my Lutheran teachers, Phil Hefner and Joseph Sittler, have also worked extensively in the science-religion interface (but their contributions are somewhat older).  And Ted Peters, who founded the "AI and Faith" working group, has also written widely on these issues.

But, as far as I can tell, none of these Lutherans are standard-issue Creationists.

Tom Pearson

Just a side note: George Murphy was a member of an LCMS congregation in his youth. He later became a member of the ALC. I highly recommend his books. He was very helpful to me when I was writing the chapter on "science and theology" in my book on fundamental theology (which will be coming out in a second edition with Bloomsbury/T&T Clark in 2023). Ted Peters was also very gracious in his feedback on the first edition, as was Carl Braaten. Like you, Tom, I was privileged to have Phil Hefner as one of my teachers when I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago (but living in LSTC housing, which required me to take a graduate seminar each term at that seminary). Hefner's basic line of thinking about creation, as set forth in his chapter in the Braaten/Jenson dogmatics text, still holds up after all these years, imo. (Like he, I was privileged to have Langdon Gilkey as one of my professors at the U. of C. Gilkey really was a groundbreaker with his book,, "Maker of Heaven and Earth," still worth reading as well.) I became a fan of Sittler before I arrived in Hyde Park, when I was on my vicarage ('86-'87) in Lancaster, OH. I lived in the home of an 86-yr-old spinster, a member of the older LCMS congregation there. She had dated Sittler on the sly. He was valedictorian of her high-school class, and she was the salutatorian. But, sadly, her parents, being staunch LCMS members of Emanuel (founded in the same year that the Missouri Synod was formed), forbade her to allow her friendship/romance with Sittler to go any further than it got, given that Joe was the son of the ULCA pastor in town. She could not date a "heterodox Lutheran." Dorothy nevertheless kept a picture of Sittler on her dresser, and always had a twinkle in her eye when she spoke to me about him. She never met anyone who rose to his level, so she told me, and so she never married. I now have that Sittler photo on my office wall.

But, Tom, you are correct: none of the people you mentioned fit the description of a proponent of the kind of "creationism" that Paul Zimmerman and John Klotz sought to defend. (I had Klotz for a teacher at seminary--the required course in church polity that met at 7:30am, MWF. Let's just say that that was a frustrating experience for him and me. I have his book on "Genes and Genesis," which I have used as an exhibit in a few classes when discussing LCMS creationism.)

FWIW, when I have taught my course on "creation" at Valpo, I have recommended Ian Barbour's book, "Religion and Science," which still provides a helpful typology for thinking about the relationship between "the natural sciences" and "Christian faith." Barbour earned advanced degrees in physics and Christian theology. Phil Hefner's book, "The Human Factor," provides a Lutheran analysis of human evolution. Alistair McGrath, no slouch when it comes to Lutheran theology, earned advanced degrees in molecular biophysics and theology, and must be considered among the leading evangelical theologians today in the area of science and theology. One of his recent graduate students is now on the faculty at Concordia, Irvine, and is also doing important work in the area of science and theology. Another important evangelical theologian doing work in this area is Nancey Murphy, an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren and a professor at Fuller. Finally, I have benefited from the writings of John Polkinghorne, especially his older work, "Faith of a Physicist," and his more recent autobiography. Polkinghorne, who won the Templeton Prize in 2002 and who died earlier this year, taught mathematical physics at Cambridge and was an Anglican priest. (Some years ago I was blessed to have spent time with him in Oregon, when he spoke at Oregon State University as a guest of the LCMS campus ministry there. The campus pastor invited me and my colleague, Chuck Kunert, with whom I team-taught courses in theology and biology at Concordia, Portland, to have dinner with Dr. Polkinghorne. Later we had extended conversations with him before and after his public lecture. He makes an appearance in the second edition of my book.)

In my view, the most important Lutheran theologian of the past 75 years or so to have done creative work in "creation and science" is Wolfhart Pannenberg, who also once lectured at Concordia, Portland. I highly recommend his essays on science and theology. They are technical, to be sure, but worth the effort to ponder them carefully. My students have told me they have found his writing helpful. (BTW, Pannenberg's Doktorvater was Schlink, who also had a strong interest in interdisciplinary dialogue between Christian theology and the natural sciences. He helped to begin an annual conference that brought together theologians and scientists at the University of Heidelberg. I will be translating some of that work in vol. 5 of the Edmund Schlink Works project.)

Thank you, Tom, for reminding me of these important people and of their edifying work in science and Christian theology!

Matt Becker

Your Turn / European Christian Art and Architecture - July 2022
« on: July 30, 2021, 11:10:26 AM »
Given that this organization is called the American Lutheran PUBLICITY Bureau, I would like to publicize an upcoming European tour that I am co-leading with my Lutheran-Christian colleague, Dr. Gretchen Buggeln. Please feel free to share this information within your congregations, family, and circle of friends.

European-Christian Art and Architecture - July 2022

I would like to invite you to join my colleague, Dr. Gretchen Buggeln, and me on a special tour through Germany, France, and England in July 2022. Assuming that travel restrictions will be lifted by then (and all tour participants properly vaccinated), we will depart for Germany on July 17, 2022, and return to the US on July 30. Travelers on the tour will experience the history of European Christianity (early, medieval, and modern), Christian art and architecture, as well as contemporary European cuisine and culture. The tour will visit museums and cathedrals in such places as Cologne, Trier, Reims, Paris, Chartres, London, and Coventry. Along the way, the group will experience a Rhine-River cruise, a visit to a champagne cave, and guided tours of Versailles, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and Oxford. Participants will have free days to explore Paris and London on their own. The price of the tour includes roundtrip airfare, ground transportation, lodging in 4-star hotels, all breakfasts, most dinners, local tour guides, all entrance fees, and “color commentary” by Professor Buggeln and yours truly. (Dr. Buggeln teaches art history and the humanities in Christ College, while I teach modern Christian theology and church history in the College of Arts and Sciences.) Each morning of the tour will begin with an optional devotion and “mini-lecture” on a theme for the day.

While the tour is sponsored by the Alumni Association of Valparaiso University, anyone is welcome to join and participate with us.

For more information, go to:

You may also contact me via my university email address:

So far, 20 people have registered for the tour. Space is limited to 36 total.

Matt Becker

An investigative journalist, Max Horten, has developed a website about the recent closings of three Concordias:

He's also welcoming any further details that individuals could share with him.

He can be reached at Max.Horten[at]

Matt Becker

Your Turn / Re: Marva Dawn +
« on: May 13, 2021, 11:32:33 PM »
During my time at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Prof. Robert Bertram was not teaching
any systematic courses. In my first year I had Bertram for a required church history course.
He was still a rookie on the faculty and was teaching rookie courses. However, he was a
sharp dresser, so he had that going for him.

During that period of time, Bouman and Lueker were in the twilight of their faculty career
at St. Louis.  They were almost part-timers as they taught elective classes and not many
seminarians were electing to take their courses.

I think you may be misremembering what Bob Bertram actually taught in the years you were a student at the seminary. While he did teach courses that leaned more in the direction of "historical theology," he himself never made such a sharp distinction between "historical" and "systematic" theology. He certainly taught courses in systematic theology each academic year he served on that faculty. He wouldn't have become chairman of its systematics department in 1966 if he had never taught "any systematics courses" between 1963 and 1966. What would be some other examples of what you label as "rookie courses" that Bertram taught during your years there? He had been teaching philosophy and theology at Valpo for fifteen years before he started teaching at St. Louis, and in his first year at the seminary he had a brand new Ph.D. degree from Chicago, which he had completed by writing a dissertation in systematic theology on Luther and Karl Barth (under the direction of Pelikan and Tillich), hardly "rookie" material, if you have read that dissertation. The historical material in it is always aimed at a contemporary, systematic telos.

Bob himself told me that in his first year of teaching systematic theology at Concordia Seminary, in 1963, he further developed a course he had developed at Valpo, namely, one that was titled “The Biblical Message and the World Today.” While its starting point was the biblical lectionary, the method used was entirely systematic, as at Valpo, i.e., distinguishing the working of God's law in the contemporary world from the working of God's gospel promise in that same contemporary world, and systematically translating biblical terms/concepts into terms/concepts that contemporary human beings could understand in their contemporary context. That systematics course, which Bertram had developed over the fifteen years he taught theology at Valpo, was offered every year at Concordia SL, starting in 1963. He also regularly taught a systematics course called "Current Church Controversies" and another one on the philosophy/theology of history. Although his course on Luther's lectures on Galatians, which he also regularly taught in his initial years at Concordia SL, might be thought to have been strictly exegetical and historical in content, his 1964 dissertation on those same lectures indicates his approach was largely systematic (in critical dialogue with the theology of Karl Barth and other contemporary systematic theologians, e.g., Bonhoeffer, Brunner, Aulen). Indeed, he taught that course in the historical-systematics department, not the exegetical one.

I know that others on this list were also students at Concordia SL in those years. I wonder if they share your memories about Bertram's early seminary teaching, i.e., before he became chairman of the systematics department in 1966, that Bertram taught "no systematic theology courses" in those years.

M. Becker

Your Turn / Re: Marva Dawn +
« on: May 13, 2021, 06:25:45 PM »
As a Seminarian at Concordia, St.Louis from 1964 to 1968, I would like to share a fact.
Our professors who taught Dogmatics and the Book of Concord included Piepkorn, Robert
Preus, Ralph Bohlmann, Klann, and Wunderlich.  In all of my classes with them the topic
of women's ordination was never discussed. It was assumed that pastoral ministry was
for men according to Holy Scriptures.

You left out Robert Bertram, a convenient omission since he supported the ordination of women already in the late-1960s. He joined the systematics department of Concordia Seminary in 1963. (On Tues, I will be leading an online discussion of an essay he wrote that summer, when he left Valpo to join the faculty of the sem in St. Louis. That essay was the ninth chapter of his doctoral dissertation, which he completed at the University of Chicago in 1964 under the direction of Paul Tillich and Jaroslav Pelikan. Pelikan had been Bertram's faculty colleague at Valpo in '48-'49, then his professor at Chicago. Even though he had moved to Yale by '62, he remained on Bertram's doctoral committee. If you'd like to join that free online discussion about Bertram's paper, you can go here:

Ed Schroeder joined the systematics department of St. Louis in 1971. He had been Bertram's student at Valpo, and was later his faculty colleague in the theo dept there before joining him at St. Louis. Ed was opposed to the ordination of women when he was a student at Valpo, but he later changed his mind.

Having gotten to know Ralph Bohlmann in his later years, I know that he, too, changed his mind about the ordination of women and came to support it. His daughter became an ordained pastor.

From what I can tell, Piepkorn was not opposed to the ordination of women as a practical matter.

You also left off Herb Bouman and Erv Lueker. They, too, were members of the systematics department at Concordia Seminary in the 1960s. As far as I can tell, they did not oppose their colleagues who favored the ordination of women.

Matt Becker
P.S. I suppose I'm biased toward Bertram since he and I share a similar educational and vocational trajectory: Concordia system, Concordia Seminary, University of Chicago (which put me in the vicinity of LSTC, where Bertram was then teaching and where I took courses from him), and Valparaiso University theo dept.

Your Turn / Re: Marva Dawn +
« on: May 13, 2021, 04:03:54 PM »
M. Becker, have you changed your opinion on women's ordination since 1997?


Your Turn / Re: Marva Dawn +
« on: May 13, 2021, 03:00:59 PM »
Perhaps those who responded negatively to your 1997 paper recognized the direction that your argumentation was leading, a direction that you later took it.

Perhaps the parallel is what happened to Luther with respect to the papacy. Was Luther being "duplicitous" when he spoke so favorably of the pope in the 95 Theses but then, less than two years later, after being pushed and prodded by Eck, finally acknowledged at Leipzig the implications of his "new theology" vis-a-vis papal authority? Think of all the other theological changes that Luther gradually underwent between 1516 and 1545, most of which were positive but some of which were clearly negative (e.g., his late writings about the Jews).

I once read about a professor at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, in the 1920s, who prided himself on the fact that he had no need to learn "anything new" in theology, no need to change his mind about anything theological, since he had learned everything he needed to know while he was a student at that same seminary.

Change for change's sake is the other extreme, of course, but can you fault Luther for needing a few years to work out for himself the implications of his "new theology" on a host of related issues? Does it necessarily follow that we must impugn his motives and character because he had indeed changed his mind about papal authority between late 1517 and the summer of 1519? Was he being "duplicitous" in 1517?

M. Becker

Your Turn / Re: Marva Dawn
« on: May 13, 2021, 02:45:40 PM »
It seems to me that if we're going to be consistent about not allowing women to teach theology at our LCMS colleges and universities, the we cannot read what they write either, because writing an essay is simply another form of teaching.

I agree.

But that raises a related question: Is it wrong to read sermons by women that were originally delivered "live" in a congregation? Would it be sinful to read Marva Dawn's sermons? Was she sinning when she gave those sermons, i.e., functioned in the pastoral office of proclaiming the Word? Are Valpo students sinning when they participate in worship services where our female pastor preaches the gospel and administers the sacraments? Hearing what women preach is different from reading what they have preached, but the content of the sermon--whether delivered orally or in writing--is presumably the same, even if the dynamic viva vox evangelii might be different in the Gottesdienst itself.

According to AC V, the aim of the "Predigtamt" is to create the faith about which AC IV speaks. The gender of the pastor seems irrelevant if the aim of the ministerium is to proclaim the Word to give the gospel and to administer the sacraments to deliver that same gospel--all for the ultimate goal of "awakening and strengthening our faith" (AC XIII). While one might have an idea about the gender of a preacher if one heard him/her/them preach and administer the gospel "live and in person," one would not necessarily know the gender of the preacher if one merely read his/her/their sermon and were ignorant of his/her/their name, identity, etc. Don't Lutheran Christians put the focus on the content and aim of pastoral proclamation and the content and aim of sacramental administration rather than on the ontology of the person who is proclaiming the gospel and administering the sacraments in accord with the gospel (ala Augustine's critique of Donatism)?

More and more I agree with Schlink's conclusions about the confessional emphasis on the functionality/instrumentality of the officium rather than on the ontology of those who are carrying out that officium. What is ultimately crucial is the end result of such proclaiming and administering, namely, the awakening and strengthening of faith in Christ. Based on what I hear voiced by those who hear both of our Valpo pastors--one of whom happens to be female--the gender of the pastor is irrelevant to the end result: the faith in the triune God that is created and sustained and given expression through word and deed.

M. Becker

Your Turn / Re: Marva Dawn +
« on: May 13, 2021, 01:56:48 PM »
I was "up front" in that paper as well. I wasn't hiding the argument I was making. I knew that Walter was in the audience, as were others who disagreed with my view that women should be allowed to teach theology in an LCMS university or seminary. Again, I only changed the paper much later, years later, to make clear where its rationale leads.

You don't see this as duplicitous, as evidenced by your later comment that Pastor Speckhard was wrong.  I'm not sure how you fail to see it though.

A friend of our family divorced her husband a while back.  Another fellow divorced his wife around the same time.  They seemed to take quite a lot of interest in each other, helping to get furniture, spending free time together, constantly texting and talking on the phone, etc.  But both swore "nothing is going on."  Later, after their divorces, somehow they ended up "dating" (or whatever you call it when two recently divorced adults live together and sleep in the same bedroom and presumably do things people do in such situations), and eventually married and then divorced.  They still swore their relationship started only after their conveniently concurrent divorces were finalized.

The point is, this whole "I wasn't duplicitous" thing falls flat when you admit the rationale behind the paper leads to the same rationale you use now (and would have used then, presumably) to ordain women.  It sounds like "nothing is going on" to those with ears to hear.  Had you said that at the time, there would have been consequences.  So you did not.  But let's not pretend you didn't know.  And let's not pretend this is not simply incrementalism on your part.  You said what you could say, until you thought you could say more.

Pretending this is all some sort of organic growth from one position to another, from where I sit, comes across as if you think the rest of us are stupid.  And then you somehow wind up offended when we are not.  That's called gaslighting, and it is impolite to say the least.

You cannot know what I was thinking in 1996-1997 about the ordination of women to the pastoral office. You can only go by what I publicly said or wrote at the time and by what I have stated here in this forum about the genesis of that 1997 paper.

The ordination of women to the pastoral office was not the point of the white paper I wrote for Concordia's theology dept., nor was it the focus of the address I gave a year later at the DV/SV conference. If you read the errant typescript of my conference paper that Walter Otten published, you will see that I did not refer to the ordination of women or make an argument for it. The sole genesis of that paper had to do with a very different question: "Can a woman teach theology at Concordia University, Portland?" Only much later did I revise the essay, expand it, extend its rationale, and make the case for the ordination of women to the pastoral office.

Why do you feel the need to impugn my motives and character vis-a-vis that 1997 paper and how I acted at the time? You are implying that you know today quite clearly what I must have been thinking at that time about the ordination of women, based on the later version of the paper. That's like saying, "In 1517 Luther must have been duplicitous about the idea of purgatory, despite his positive public references to that idea in the 95 Theses (and elsewhere), since he later used, expanded, and clarified a rationale in those theses to criticize the idea of purgatory." Do you claim to know that Luther must have thought differently about purgatory in 1517 from what he stated in the 95 Theses--and was thus acting duplicitously when he wrote what he did about purgatory in them--since by the mid-1520s he had rejected the idea of purgatory?

Similarly, how do you know what was in my head about the ordination of women in 1997? Why is it so difficult for you to accept that at that time I was not arguing for that practice?

May I encourage you to heed the teaching you once learned: "We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light."

Matt Becker

Your Turn / Re: Marva Dawn +
« on: May 09, 2021, 08:42:53 PM »
I think Peter's point was that you engaged in duplicity.

This is familiar to me from a Voelz class at CSL, when he was speaking on the issue of inerrancy. As he said regarding that issue (He graduated CSL in 1971), "My professors were duplicitous. "

Nothing new under the sun.

Peter is wrong on that point.

I would like to know what Prof. Voelz meant by that comment you heard him say. On the surface, based merely on your meager hearsay reporting, his accusation seems to break the 8th Commandment. I'd like to see the evidence he would bring forth to support his one-liner. I'd like to hear the argumentation he would make to lead one to his conclusion. What you report him to have said is a strong accusation to make against fellow baptized believers in Christ, especially when the accusation was made behind their backs and when some of them can no longer speak for themselves (i.e., because they are among the saints triumphant). It seems to be an unjust accusation, a sinful accusation, if what you report is accurate.

I have known some of Prof. Voelz's professors, have witnessed their actions, have made my own assessment of their character. I had some of those same teachers as my own. I would not describe those professors as deceitful.

M. Becker

Your Turn / Re: Marva Dawn +
« on: May 09, 2021, 07:31:47 PM »
Again, subsequent events justified all the suspicions. Everyone knew or suspected that Prof. Becker supported WO and was angling to get it accepted with the LCMS. He didn't want to be on record with that position (yet) and got caught by a secret recording of his speech.

In that paper I did not argue for the ordination of women. As I stated, I wrote that paper simply to make the case that the theology department at CU Portland was justified in calling a woman to teach theology. Only much later did I revise the essay to argue for the ordination of women. I didn't "get caught" arguing for something I wanted to keep secret. The conference was a public event, as far as I was concerned. What upset me was the way that Otten and others framed the paper, i.e., as an argument for the ordination of women. While the rationale I put forth certainly supports the practice of calling/ordaining women into the pastoral office, that was not the point of my paper or presentation.

While it seems dirty to be secretly recorded, it feels dirtier to listen to theologians who say different things when they don't know they're being recorded than they do when they are on the record. Again, all anyone had to do to clear everything up was to publicly clarify that they oppose WO. Nobody involved was willing to do that.

What Walter did was unethical. He and his brother Herman broke copyright law.

Had I known I was being recorded, I would have said the same things I said at the conference. I would have asked people not to record or publish my remarks, but I would not have changed what I said. Again, my paper there was very specific: it was about women teaching theology. If the argument I set forth there applied to the ordination of women to the pastoral office, that's another issue, one that I did not raise or address in that setting.

Neither Dawn nor Becker agreed with the LCMS in such a way that the LCMS was willing to have them speak officially in their/our name.

Well, it is interesting that in the year I delivered that paper I was elected assistant secretary of the NW District of the LCMS. Right in the midst of the controversy over that paper, I was elected district secretary. I was then re-elected to that position. It seems likely that I would have been re-elected secretary if I had remained in the district and not accepted the call to Valpo. So I spoke "officially" for the LCMS in many settings in those seven years. Indeed, I was one of two synodical officials in the district during the final five of those years. The district president--the other synodical official--with whom I served, did not object to the content of that essay. Indeed, he spent a fair portion of his time during those years defending yours truly vis-a-vis Barry et al.

That district president also reminded the district that the church's theologians have a responsibility to the church to criticize it, to speak against it when it errs, to help it in its mission, to fulfill the prophetic dimension of the church's mission. Theologians are called to assist the church in its self-criticism. The church is not above criticism, and the church's theologians have the responsibility to criticize the church, as necessary, following the example of Luther and other prophetic voices from the church's past.

This discussion reminds me of the time Pres. Harre published a carefully crafted paper defending his decision to allow a chapter of GALA on the VU campus. It was all carefully worded, but everybody knew the situation wasn't as described. And subsequent events at Valpo proved the naysayers correct. Or in my own fraternity-- we became the first residence on campus to have a condom machine in it. I voted against it but was in the minority. The carefully worded reasoning detailed our sincere health concerns for our guests. Which was BS and everybody who voted either way knew it. You just couldn't get anyone in the majority to publicly admit it. Sincere concern for the health of our guests--that was their story and they were sticking to it, at least in public. It is humiliating to be lied to and expected to go along with it, to be gaslit, to have genuine concerns met with phony protestations and accusations of being hurt by such suspicions.

To her credit, Prof. Dawn was up front in her beliefs.

I was "up front" in that paper as well. I wasn't hiding the argument I was making. I knew that Walter was in the audience, as were others who disagreed with my view that women should be allowed to teach theology in an LCMS university or seminary. Again, I only changed the paper much later, years later, to make clear where its rationale leads.

Did Luther know precisely and clearly in 1517 where his arguments against indulgences would lead him in the 1520s? e.g., with respect to the authority of the papacy and of councils? Luther still referred to purgatory in the 95 theses, a belief he held on to well into the 1520s. Even as late as 1520 Luther did not see where his theological insights would take him in the 1530s and 40s.

In 1997, I wasn't prepared to argue for the ordination of women to the pastoral office. That wasn't an issue about which I had been asked to do research or to prepare a departmental (or conference) paper. My task was much narrower and more restricted: can a women be called to teach theology in an LCMS university or seminary?

I have valued her books despite disagreeing with her on a few things in a way that would not have been possible had she stayed in the LCMS and publicly pretended to teach LCMS doctrine while working away at changing it, all while denying she was up to anything like that. You can learn a lot from someone you disagree with on this or that, but not so much from someone you suspect is misleading you or refusing to be up front about their real beliefs.

She was a gifted thinker, writer, and speaker, with a sincere faith. I believe she was wrong about a few things, but all in all respected her greatly. May she rest in peace as she awaits the resurrection.

Perhaps your ordination vow was different from mine, but I have never vowed "to teach LCMS doctrine." Such a phrase is not a part of the rite of ordination. The calling of an LCMS pastor or professor is not "to teach LCMS doctrine." "To teach LCMS doctrine" is to make the LCMS into the equivalent of the prophets and the apostles. It implies that the LCMS is beyond error or correction in its doctrinal resolutions and practice. Such a view presupposes that the LCMS is infallible and beyond criticism. Surely you do not think the LCMS is infallible in its doctrinal resolutions and institutional practices? Is the LCMS above reproach? Above correction? (And when theologians try to correct the church, they get lines like the following: "Martin Luther, Do you suppose that God is so offended that for the sake of a few heretical Lutherans He will reject His whole church? Do you suppose that He would leave His church in error for so many centuries?" [LW26.15].)

Yes, theologians are often wrong, too, grievously wrong. Look at Peter at Antioch! Many thought Paul was a heretic, too. Look how frequently he had to defend himself, just as Luther had to defend himself. And the list goes on.

In the end, each of us must fear God. That's also true for associations of Christians, e.g., the LCMS, the ELCA, etc.

M. Becker

Your Turn / Re: Marva Dawn +
« on: May 09, 2021, 05:39:12 PM »
I have just now learned that Marva Dawn died on April 18th.

Here is a link to a recent tribute to her:

She was a truly great theologian. May she rest in peace.


I did not know Marva Dawn well, but we had several conversations through the years, when we both were active in the NW District of the LCMS. I always enjoyed our conversations and learned much from her. She was a kind and gentle person, soft-spoken, very sharp, and often direct in her criticism.

The treatment Marva received because of Al Barry's insistence that a woman could not teach theology in the Concordia University System was in the background when I wrote the essay I delivered at the Nov. 1997 "Different Voices/Shared Vision" conference in Chicago. That essay, "When Women Speak for God," was secretly tape-recorded by Walter Otten, who later had a (flawed) transcript of it published without my permission in his brother's "Christian News." In the wake of that publication, I received a lot of criticism, and Walter eventually filed formal charges of "false doctrine" against me. That case went on for a few years, all during the tenure of Al Barry, who welcomed the charge.

As Marie can testify--since she's the one who invited me to speak at that conference--I was careful to focus my main attention on "women teaching theology" and not on "the ordination of women." Only later did I did expand the focus of that original piece to argue for the ordination of women. It seemed to me that if the "order-of-creation" argument fell to pieces, then qualified women could be called to serve as pastors, at least in the LCMS, since the only reason for excluding women from the pastoral office in the LCMS, at least as LCMSers have traditionally argued that point, is its version of an "order-of-creation" argument. Still, even when I was only arguing for the practice of allowing women to teach theology in one of the Concordias, Al Barry and many others were upset with that argument. I have documentary proof from Barry himself, in the form of a letter, in which he clearly states, "women cannot teach theology in our Concordia University System."

Marva was a member of the NW District of the LCMS when I was its secretary and on the faculty at Concordia. She lived across the river in Vancouver and was active in our district as a lay theologian and writer. Our paths crossed in various district and conference settings. She was well-aware of the flak I was receiving for that 1997 essay. And she knew that her own case was partly in the background to what I had written. On more than one occasion she verified that the reason she had been given for why she could not teach theology in one of the Concordias was the fact that she was a woman and that the LCMS' position on "the order of creation" did not allow for that practice. It was as pure and simple as that.

She was not the only woman that Al Barry & Co. tried to keep from teaching theology in the CUS system in the 1990s. The original draft of the essay I delivered at the 1997 DV/SV conference was written at the behest of the chairman of the theology department of Concordia University, Portland. Dr. Schmidt had asked me to prepare a "white paper" on the question of whether or not a woman could teach theology in a university or seminary of the LCMS. This question needed to be answered by our department at the time because it was in the midst of trying to call someone to fill a position in theology, and both men and women had applied to be considered for the position. At that time, in 1996, Al Barry had told our university president, who then told us, and this is a direct quote: "A woman cannot teach theology to men in a university of the LCMS." (Of course, in the history and practice of the LCMS, women have normally been excluded from consideration as teachers of theology in LCMS colleges and seminaries.) My paper was then used by the dept. as a rationale for why we could call a woman to a professorship in theology. In fact, we did call a woman to fill that position. Barry was furious. I recall being involved in numerous meetings about the issue during the better part of a year. The Board of Concordia did call the woman, and she served admirably in the dept., but all her course titles had to be changed from "theology" to "religious education." Talk about legalism! The woman was formally forbidden to teach courses in "theology," but she could teach courses in "religious education." That was Barry's "compromise."

I later revised that essay to argue for the ordination of women. Back in the late 1990s, I delivered versions of it at several LCMS pastoral conferences. You can read the final version here:

While I have not always agreed with some of Marva's theological assertions or emphases, she was a first-rate theologian. (BTW, she almost didn't get her degree from Notre Dame because she was so theologically conservative! I know from personal conversation with Martin Marty that Marva asked him to help her when the theo dept at ND was not going to accept her dissertation. [I don't know the reasons the ND faculty gave for its hesitancy, but it wasn't because she was a woman!] Marty tactfully intervened to tell the ND theology faculty that Marva's dissertation would certainly pass muster at the University of Chicago, were it submitted there, whereupon the ND theo dept reconsidered its position, and Marva was given her degree. [BTW, it should be noted that there are three female doctors of the church that are recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, and women have been teaching theology at Notre Dame for many years.])

In my opinion, Marva was the most important, most influential LCMS theologian of the past thirty years--given her book sales and worldwide speaking engagements. She is certainly among the most published of recent LCMS theologians, save for perhaps Bob Kolb. Her influence happened despite the rejection she received in and from her own church body, solely, it must be said, and most certainly simply because she was a woman.

May she rest in the peace of the Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon her.

M. Becker

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