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Beware the Ivory Tower Academics and Their Deadly Theology

February 17th, 2011
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One of the major crises in worldwide Christendom is the fact that in most every major liberal mainline denominational institutions theology is treated as an academic pursuit, divorced from the actual mission of Christ. So, be very careful when you note that a person appears to be indulging their pet academic interests than in preparing servants of Christ’s people. If, or when, we notice that there is more interest in reading and studying theologians in the past century, beware. Our focus and interest should always be, first, and foremost, on studying Scripture, Confessions and the faithful teachers of our Lutheran Church, chiefly Martin Luther, and other faithful orthodox Lutheran fathers.

Hermann Sasse had something to say about this problem:

63 Clifton Street

Prospect, South Australia

April 7, 1962

Dear Professor [J.A.O.] Preus,

It is now almost two weeks that I came back from my trip around the world, a little exhausted from the rush of the last weeks, but refreshed in the spirit by the experiences of the months abroad… The way your students listened to the old foreigner and the confidence they showed in our discussions on the most vital questions of the Lutheran Church and its doctrine has been a source of great encouragement to me. …I had to think of them when I met in Germany a different type of students, sophisticated young existentialists who did not know how to bring home to the Christian congregation the “myths” of Christmas and Easter. Which means they believe in the “message,” but not in the historicity of the narratives… I met Bornkamm (Heinrich, the church historian) and had a most moving meeting with Peter Brunner with whom I was connected in the church struggle in Hitler’s time. He is now an old man and quite disappointed with Lutheranism in the EKiD. He told me he looked back at a frustrated life because all his attempts to restore the right of the Lutheran Church within the union had proved futile. In case his church would accept the ordination of women he would withdraw from all activities in the church. He was disgusted with the new Biblical theology which destroys all doctrine. To my question why he did not write against these men he replied he was too tired for further fights. It is an enigma how this theology which destroys the historic character of almost the whole “Heilsgeschichte” and is satisfied with the “Kerygma” which it finds behind the “legends” could get hold of the youth of German Protestantism. Why is it that old men in their high seventies carry away the youth of our churches, even in America, like Bultmann and Tillich? It is probably a return to the theology of the time before 1914, a revival of that historicism which has lost the ability to think in terms of dogmatics.

The practical result is that the generation of younger pastors can hardly be accustomed to practical work. Their sermons betray the contrast between their undogmatic theology and the need to preach the doctrine of the church. These split personalities produce sermons which leave behind the impression of mere intellectual exercises of technical discussions of problems which the average congregation cannot understand. And how can it be otherwise if I preach the resurrection of Christ with the conviction that the Easter gospel is a legend… The type of professor who at the same time was a Seelsorger has died out. Where such professors still exist, they are mocked, as Professor Trillhaus in Goettingen has lately pointed out… I did not find in Heidelberg Schlink, but heard he was in Rome. So I rang him up there and on the last leg of my trip I indulged in my old dream to see the city of the apostles. We spent many hours together while seeing the sights…

With kindest regards, Yours sincerely,

H. Sasse

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  1. Sven Wagschal
    February 17th, 2011 at 07:13 | #1

    It is “Trillhaas”, not “Trillhaus”.

  2. February 17th, 2011 at 08:09 | #2

    That’s incredible. Thanks for sharing it. He was a perceptive soul.

  3. gabriel borlean
    February 17th, 2011 at 13:39 | #3

    so true, even today. thanks for sharing this excerpt.

  4. February 17th, 2011 at 21:20 | #4

    One of the major crises in worldwide Christendom is the fact that in most every major liberal mainline denominational institutions theology is treated as an academic pursuit, divorced from the actual mission of Christ.

    I am not sure that I would use the word “academic”. I think “political” (as in secular politics)is a more apt description.

    My conclusion (perhaps flawed) is based upon watching the “finished product”: the young ELCA pastors I encountered. Talk to many of them about the Trinity, or the Resurrection, or suggest that Jesus is the only way to God, and you will get either an angry stare or a bemused you-ignorant-barbarians-can be-so-cute speech. But mention the war in Iraq or the Bush tax cuts, and you will be treated to a genuine hellfire-and-brimstone speech about the heathen rightwingers.

    I have to believe the nut does not fall far from the tree, and that many of the young ELCA pastors I met are merely living the political gospel they were taught.

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