Apologia pro vita sua
An ELCA pastor wanted to know about my spiritual journey, so here is a brief version:
I was born a Lutheran, at Moline Lutheran Hospital, in 1948, but baptized at Plymouth Congregational Church in Moline, Illinois. My family changed to the equally generic Disciples of Christ congregation when I was eight.
I did not like my family's church so I asked a friend about his congregation, which was Salem Lutheran Church. So, at the age of 16, when my family got out of the car to go to First Christian (Disciples of Christ) I walked across the street to Salem. "Where are you going?" they yelled. I said, "Salem." I joined Salem by adult confirmation. I thought the liturgical service was great. The hymns were far better than the sentimental slop at First Christian. Salem was officially LCA but still Augustana Synod. The pastor was J. Erik Holmer.
My search for college was shallow and brief. I had visited Augustana, where my mother graduated. I applied and was accepted. Tuition in 1966 was $1,000 per year.
I met my future wife the first day of classes. Chris and I have been married for 38 years.
I did not care to attend the newly merged Chicago Seminary and my wife's relatives lived around Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. We were married about 15 minutes after graduating early from Augie, November, 1969. We honeymooned in Springfield, Illinois, and headed for Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. Our huge first year class had 10 students, one of the biggest ever. Tuition was $150 a year, but I had a scholarship from Salem for more than that.
Seminary was easy, so I took a double-load of classes and private study. Chris earned a master's in German literature from the University of Waterloo. I began my own translation of the New Testament to learn more Greek. My intern (vicar) supervisor was Henry Opperman. Like Holmer, he was quite conservative. He was ULCA and had a low opinion of the Augustan Synod. I was able to finish college and seminary in a total of six years. I was the seminary conservative. Just as I was graduating in 1982, gay activism was starting at the seminary.
I wanted to earn a doctorate and thought about the University of Toronto, not far away. I really wanted to attend Princeton, but Opperman suggested Yale. He knew Paul L. Holmer from Yale from serving on the same board. The seminary shunned Holmer when he came for an accredidation visit. I wonder why! I was dispatched to be the greeter. The rudeness of the seminary appalled me. My wife and I invited him to our basement apartment. He said, "How would you like to attend Yale?" He talked up Yale and mentioned many authors I knew. I thought it sounded great. He said, "See you next year." I was accepted just when I had given up hope. I was actually in the local bishop's (president's) office, asking about a call in Canada. My wife phoned to interrupt. I was accepted.
More good news followed when we learned our first-born son was on the way. That was just before leaving. So we went to Yale Divinity with no job, a huge tuiton bill ($2,000 for the year) and a baby. No insurance. No problem. Yale gave us a plan that covered the delivery, and Canada made up the co-pay. Canada loaned us money. Yale loaned us money. I got very good at borrowing.
My Yale professors were very conservative in their treatment of the Biblical texts. They emphasized the content of the Scriptures rather than the liberal theories about (or against) the Bible. I worked at an Augustana Synod church down the hill, literally, from Yale Divinity. Harold Wimmer was a liberal in every respect. He loathed conservatives of all types. Holmer encouraged me to stay for a PhD, but Martin was born and I thought immediate graduate school was just too expensive. I got on the call list and accepted a call to a bi-lingual church in Cleveland, Ohio.
Our daughter Bethany was born in Cleveland and soon showed signs of trouble. She began weakening at the age of 6 months. We got the diagnosis of neurological degeneration at the same time I was accepted at Notre Dame for a PhD program. The hefty tuition bill of $3,000 per year would be paid by a scholarship. The LCA was somewhat helpful about helping graduate students - not enough to whelm anyone. I got a part-time call in Sturgis, Michigan, about 50 miles from Notre Dame.
Two things made me far more conservative during those years. One was facing the constant struggles of our daughter Bethany. Life and death issues place a lot more focus on religious topics. As one of the few Lutherans at Notre Dame, I was expected to know all about Luther. I knew Bainton from Yale and loved studying Luther. Trying to discuss Luther with people who knew next to nothing made me more studious. My dissertation involved an Augustana Seminary professor, so I had to study American Lutheran issues for a period of four years.
By the way, several Waterloo Seminary and Notre Dame professors were bewitched by Paul Tillich. From them I learned to loathe phoney left-wing theologians, Tillich most of all, Karl Barth almost as much.
Notre Dame and our daughter Bethany made me increasingly conservative as the LCA became increasingly liberal. I believe the end of hopes for a merger with the LCMS helped the LCA go radical faster. Also, the LCA got the worst radicals from Seminex.
Having a disabled member of the family has been a 30+ year experience: first Bethany, who lived six years; then Erin Joy, who lived seven years; now my wife, who became disabled in 1994.
The ELCA pastor asked about women's ordination. It was approved in the LCA in 1970, once Franklin C. Fry died. (He would not even discuss the topic.) Very few women parish pastors were ordained until the 1980's. We knew the first one in Michigan. She did not last long in the parish, but I was followed by a woman in Sturgis and by another in Midland.
I finished the PhD in 1982, when I was serving in Midland. I was not looking for a teaching job. My research skills were sharpened by Notre Dame and I knew what real Lutheran doctrine was. The rush toward merger was sickening because the worst aspects of all parties were being featured. What disgusted me most was the pro-abortion stance of the LCA (far worse in ELCA now), plus the constant support of Communist revolution, and the emerging Lavender Mafia. Homosexual activists took over the Michigan Synod, LCA, before I left. I proposed two memorials at my last meeting. The pro-life memorial got 50 votes. The anti-sodomy memorial got even fewer votes.
I entered LCMS colloquy but had my doubts after seeing the Indianapolis convention where Bohlmann was re-elected. I switched to WELS, which had good and bad results. I knew WELS would be parochial, small-minded, petty, and probably anti-intellectual. I was far too optimistic. The sanctimony of WELS is beyond belief, especially when measured against its constant plagiarizing of Fuller Seminary and Willow Creek doctrine.
The good I learned from WELS was Lutheran doctrine. Every lie, dirty trick, false claim, and slander sent me back to the Book of Concord, Chemnitz, Walther, Pieper, and Luther above all. When Wayne Mueller claimed in writing that there was no Church Growth in WELS, I began documenting all the quotations. WELS pastors sent me seminary material. Sure, they ducked like rabbits who spotted a hawk's shadow when anything happened, but at least I had the documents.
Erin Joy died when we were in Columbus, Ohio, in the WELS parish. When I opposed Paul Kuske's efforts to put a clergy adulterer back into the ministry, WELS spread the story that I went insane when Erin died. (Various friends told me what they heard from the famous WELS grapevine.) I would argue that only insane synod leaders would put an amoral man back into the ministry. That was also when my wife became disabled.
I was disgusted with the pathetic leadership of the Michigan District of WELS, the constant lies of the praesidium, and the cowardice of the pastors. I resigned from my call and went to St. Louis for three years. I got along with life insurance sales but went back into the parish in the Church of the Lutheran Confession (sic). This CLC is just the backside of WELS, just as enchanted by the Church Growth Movement as the Wisconsin sect. I was fired over a Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner, which gave me the chance and the need to start an independent congregation.
So I would say I learned Lutheran doctrine at Notre Dame and Lutheran orthodoxy in Columbus. I did not learn Lutheran orthodoxy because anyone in Columbus represented or taught that stance. It was just the opposite. The clergy did everything possible to undermine Lutheran doctrine in any form. That made me study where it all went wrong. That led me to intensive reading in Luther and writing several books.
It was strange to have the District Pope acting like I had VD because I published Lutheran doctrine. The same District Pope encouraged every possible manifestation of apostasy, from Crossroads Community Church and Pilgrim Community Church to Lutheran (sic) Parish Resources in Columbus.
Being independent is a challenge filled with many blessings. God provides. He even provides until He provides. We left Canada with a baby on the way and no job. We left Holy Mother WELS with a disability and short-term health insurance. At every step there has been insurance coverage for my wife. Her coverage is the best it has been and she is fairly strong after a series of setbacks in 2007.
I suggest to pastors that they follow God's Word and let Him do His work. If He wants a pastor to stay in that place, nothing will move that minister. If He wants that pastor to move, nothing will keep him there. Jonah found out the hard way.
1966 - Moline High School, Illinois
1969 - Augustana College, Illinois, BA in Latin and Greek
1972 - Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, MDiv in Biblical Studies
1973 - Yale University, STM in Biblical Studies
1982 - University of Notre Dame, PhD in Theology and Biblical Studies
1995 - Chartered Life Underwriter, American College
1999 - Computer certifications: CCNA, CIW Associate, Linux+, A+, N+, i-Net+
2006 - MA, Distance Education, University of Phoenix
2009 - MA, Journalism, Regent University
Former professors: Otto W. Heick, Paul L. Holmer, Robert Wilson, Abraham Malherbe,
Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza and Frank Schussler-Fiorenza, Stanley Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder.
Attended lectures by:
Martin Marty, Sydney Ahlstrom, Roland Bainton, Helmut Thielicke, Robert Preus, Klemet Preus, Kurt Marquart, David Scaer, Elie Wiesel, and Henri Nouwen.
Met or listened to:
Paul Y. Cho, Billy Graham, Grady Wilson, D. James Kennedy, Laurens van der Post, Jaroslav Pelikan, Richard J. Neuhaus (and his father), Jack Preus, Herman Otten, Al Barry, Herb Chilstron, James Crumley, Robert Marshall, and David Preus.
Spiritual Well-Being of the Elderly (contributed)
A. D. Mattson, Augustana Historical Society (dissertation)
Liberalism: Its Cause and Cure, Northwestern Publishing House
Catholic, Lutheran, Protestant
The Wormhaven Gardening Book
Thy Strong Word
Jesus Priceless Treasure
Jesus Lord of Creation
Articles published in The Lutheran (LCA), Purpose (Mennonite), Lutheran Standard (ALC), Lutheran Forum, Christian News, Nortwestern Lutheran (WELS), Lutheran Spokesman (CLC - sic), Lutheran Journal, John Milton Magazine, Lutheran Digest, Canada Lutheran (LCA).
Ordained in 1973. Pastoral work: 1973 - present, except for 1992 - 1995.
Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Brief Autobiography":
Oh please! Who cares? I want to puke!
GJ - The ELCA pastor cares. But thanks for the excellent coda to my Jonah reference.