This is an interesting & sometimes poignant excerpt of a letter that modern Lutheran theologian Herman Sasse wrote to Prof. JAO Preus, a leader in the Missouri Synod. Sasse was genuinely grateful to the students he met whose enthusiasm for the Word was plain, just as he was baffled by the inroads that the higher-critical method or “demythologizing” of Scripture had also made among the younger generation. This approach to the Bible, which treats Scripture as legends rather than the Word of God, is very much present in today’s ELCA, and to a certain extent in parts of the LCMS (although they worked at ousting it in the 1970s, albeit without total success.)
What’s especially interesting in this excerpt for me is the practical results in the ministry that those young pastors who swallowed higher criticism — Sasse says they have no concept of care of souls, they can’t preach, and they can’t connect with the people. Perhaps our young men who struggle initially should well ask themselves what their faith is founded on, and go back to the source — the Scriptures, and with them the Confessions as a right exposition and witness of the Word. That’s how you make your faith sure.
The Confessions truly are right: doctrine that gives maximum glory to Christ also gives maximum comfort to the sinner. If you view Scripture in any other way than as law and gospel to lead you to Christ on every page, you will end up with something other than God’s Word — and you won’t know Christ.
Also sobering to me is Brunner’s comment that he’s too old to fight. There’s definitely food for thought in that. If the young men don’t apply their energy and zeal to the cause of the truth, the old might not be able to stem the tide. Eli tried, but his sons were reprobate and ignored his correction — and all three of them suffered for it (I Sam 2-4).
At any rate, God make each of us faithful to His Word — the simplest, and sometimes the hardest, thing. (Amen.)
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,