Full Text for J.A.O. Preus: Theologian, Churchman, or Both? (Text)
J.A.D. Preus: Theologian, Churchman, or Both?
Lawrence R. Rast Jr.
I. Introduction: The Death of "Old Missouri"?
By the 1960s, it seemed to many within The Lutheran Church
Missouri Synod (LCMS) that the deft between moderates and
conservatives had become so pronounced that the two sides could no
longer remain together. Some argued for a peaceful separation. The
administration of President Oliver Harms (1962-1969) struggled to hold
the synod intact. The momentum of change in the LCMS had accelerated
to the point that by the 1965 Detroit convention the moderate agenda
seemed fully to have carried the day. Reflecting on what he believed was a
pivotal convention, Richard John Neuhaus spoke of the emergence of a
new Missouri and the passing of what had been.
The organizational structure [of old Missouri] and the name remain
(although the convention resolved to consider a new name). But the self
understandings that have characterized Missouri over the years have been
discarded in a manner so gentle that it almost amounts to self-deception.
Many delegates at Detroit were vaguely aware that more was happening
than a modification or natural development of "old Missouri." A few
seemed to realize that something had died and that this was the price of
new life needing room to grow.!
Approval of LCMS participation in the Lutheran Council USA
(LCUSA), participation in the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship
(ILCW), and adoption of the Mission Affirmations had poised the synod to
pursue a fundamentally new direction-one from which there was no
going back-at least in some peoples' minds.
Implicit in such forward-looking actions was, at the very least, a move
away from the past and, at most, a radical disavowal of the synod's
theological limitations. Indeed, Neuhaus was so brash as to speak of the
death of old Missouri and its "errors."
For what has died some of us will shed no tears. It is not that we are
insensitive to the brief tradition of the last several decades. Since it usually
contains a fragment of truth, one can even grow fond of error. If he has
1 Richard John Neuhaus, "The Song of Three Synods: Detroit, 1965," Una Sancta 22
(no. 3): 33.
Lawrence R. Rast Jr. is Academic Dean and Professor of Historical Theology at
Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
58 Concordia Theological Quarterly 74 (2010)
been nurtured by the fragment long enough and if it is valued by those he
knows and loves, he will not discard it in cavalier fashion. But discard it
Strikingly, however, in little more than a decade, the LCMS would
experience tension, controversy, and, ultimately, schism. Neuhaus himself
left the LCMS, eventually making his way from the Lutheran tradition into
Roman Catholicism. "Old Missouri" had not, in fact, died. It was back and
back to stay - at least in some peoples' minds.
How did this happen? Already in the late 1950s-and certainly by the
early 1960s - formal organizations that self-consciously saw themselves as
"conservative" over against the "liberal" or "moderate" direction of the
"new Missouri" coalesced into what some have seen as a well-organized,
powerful, and very effective "conservative movement." The most evident
success of this movement was getting J.A.O. Preus elected to the
presidency of the LCMS in 1969. With key figures like Cameron
MacKenzie Sr. (at least initially), Waldo Werning, Herman Otten, Karl
Barth, and Ralph Bohlmann, along with laymen Fred Rutz, Chet Swanson,
Larry Marquardt, and Glen Peglau, this movement succeeded in
redefining the terms of the debate-at least in some peoples' minds.3
An historical problem, however, exists. What seemed a unified
conservative juggernaut in 1969 was by 1977 deeply fragmented, with
some conservatives seeking to replace their party's leader. What
happened? James Burkee has suggested that the conservative coalition was
just that: a disparate grouping of individuals-most of them clergy-some
of whom were more concerned with a generic conservative platform that
featured such planks as anti-communism and anti-civil rights as much as
anything theological, to others who were consumed largely by theological
issues. When the common enemy had been displaced, says Burkee, the
movement lacked sufficient ideological commonality to hold it together.
To put it another way, politics held the conservatives together when they
were on the"outs," but once they were"in," differing commitments led to
the collapse of the movement. 4
This interpretation does reflect the realities, at least to a certain degree.
In a piece written in 1975, layman Chet Swanson described the vagaries of
2 Neuhaus, "Song of Three Synods," 33.
3 For one interpretation of the early conservative movement by a participant, see
Waldo J. Werning, Making the Missouri Synod Functional Again (Fort Wayne: Biblical
4 James Burkee, Pastors and Politics: l1ze Conservative Movement in the Lutheran
Church- Missouri Synod, 1956-1981, Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University, 2003.
Rast: J.A.O. Preus: Theologian, Churchman, or Both? 59
1Im."",.,.""lr''''f'' as a movement and showed its sometimes complementary
sometimes competitive branches. His bottom line was that it is
~PiOS!HbJle to get conservatives to agree completely on every theological
political point. As a result, getting them to work in concert is
difficult. The best one can do, he concluded, is seek to get
to respect the eleventh commandment - thou shalt not speak evilly of
Mary Todd suggests that the struggles in the LCMS in general and
conservatives in particular lie in J.A.O. Preus's removal of only four
eight district presidents in April 1976. She states: "had the purge been
:omlpl(!te, the story of political division in Missouri should be history."6
Preus's failure to remove all eight district presidents in 1976, when he
the authority and opportunity, produced far-reaching results in and
the Missouri Synod. For one thing, it defused a situation where entire
-or at least the congregations of those districts-might have left
synod. Preus's limited action, as it were, tempered the effectiveness of
rhetoric that portrayed Preus as a power-seeking despot-at least in
minds of some. Preus's failure to use the full power that tht:: LCMS had
him in Convention (1975) helped avoid a more profound schism.
question was whether that was a good or a bad thing.
John Tie*n thought it was a bad thing? In Memoirs in Exile he states:
The number of congregations that helped form the synods of the AELC
[Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches] or that joined it later was
considerably less than the leaders of the Coordinating Council had
anticipated. It had been expected that twelve hundred Missouri Synod
5 c.A. Swanson, "Present Situation in the LCMS regarding Conservative Groups,"
.rovj~mlJer 29, 1975 (paper in personal possession of the author): "The answer is to
.)nunUlmciate with each other and respect each other. Keep our minds and hearts in the
~mlDl0n cause. And, in those rare instances where disagreements among conservatives
unavoidable, let us learn to disagree agreeably." See also c.A. Swanson to the Rev.
Nordlie, January 27, 1976, CTS Archives, and Burkee, Pastors and Politics, 226.
6 Mary Todd, "The Curious Case of the Missouri Synod," in Lutherans Today:
~ll1!l'n'ican Lutheran Identity in the Twenty-First Century, ed. Richard Cimino (Grand
IRIU'''ll~ Preus was simply carrying out his duties in an appropriate
lopping off the real "troublemakers," if you will, while allowing
others who were willing to "play ball" to clean up their act. He was just
doing his job. Finally, a third interpretation held that Preus had failed to
carry out his responsibilities as directed by the synod. This group saw this
. not as a first failure on Preus's part, but as the last straw in a series of
leadership failures that could no longer be excused as understandable faux
pas, but rather were part of the Preus fabric, a demonstrable pattern of
lying and duplicity that had to be ended through the election of a new,
truly conservative president of the LCMS. Chet Swanson was one who
held this opinion; Herman Otten was another.12 But there were plenty
more, as the following letter establishes (though written a few years later).
Prior to your election in 1969 as our LCMS President, at a mass gathering
of California Lutherans, in the sacristy of St. Paul's Church, you Signed a
document solemnly signed by 1000 troubled ministers of the Missouri
Synod, stating that "for conscience and doctrinal reasons" the proposed
fellowship resolution with the ALC must be rejected. Two weeks later you
told the Denver Convention, if elected president, you could live with the
Since that time you have tried to silence Christian News, Affirm, and the
united conservative voice who prayed and worked for your election. You
betrayed us and you continue to turn against your best conservative
friends in the Missouri Synod. I'm stating true facts, Mr. President. Our
Lutheran Witness is liberally slanted and managed. Many of our
outspoken liberal pastors and district presidents are throwing their
weight around with their evolution theories and practicing altar and
pulpit fellowship with churches not in doctrinal agreement with us-and
you are doing nothing about it!
The sooner you resign the better. At the Devil's Elbow our founding
fathers gave their deceitful leader, Rev. Martin Stephan, a free one way
boat ride and to replace him God gave them Dr. CF.W. Walther to chart
our ship, the LCMS. We need a new leader like Dr. Walther. 13
12 See the series of articles that appeared in the late winter and spring of 1977 (e.g.,
February 5, 1977) in Christian News challenging President Preus and ultimately arguing
for new leadership among the conservatives. See"A Clear Choice for Conservatives:
Maier or Preus?" and "Four More Years of Duplicity?" both in Christian News (July 4,
13 Norman P. Gutschmidt to J.A.D. Preus, September 5, 1980 (underlining original).
62 Concordia Theological Quarterly 74 (2010)
II. Will the Real Jack Preus Stand Up!
Who is this man, vilified by right and left, conservative and liberal?
What was he like? Was he a theologian or a churchman or both? First, a
brief biography is in order, and then we will return to some of these other
questions in order to try and get a partial picture of our subject.
Jacob Aall Ottesen Preus Jr. ijanuary 8, 1920-August 13, 1994) came
from a long line of Lutheran preachers, though his father, "Jake" (Jacob
Aall Ottesen Preus [August 28, 1883-May 24, 1961]) was a well-known
Republican politician in Minnesota. The elder Preus served as the state
auditor (1915-1921), then as the governor (1921-1925), after which he
moved to Chicago and helped form Lutheran Brotherhood, now part of
Thrivent. Viewed as politically savvy, Jake Preus played a formative role
in the lives of his two sons, particularly Jack, if Adams's Preus ofMissouri is
to be believed.14
Jack himself attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, graduating in
1941, and there met his future wife, Delpha Mae Hollecue. He then entered
Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, from which he graduated in 1945. His
experience, however, was not a positive one, and he chose to seek
ordination in the Norwegian Synod of the American Evangelical Lutheran
Church (familiarly known as the "Little Norwegian Synod," which took
the name Evangelical Lutheran Synod [ELS] in 1957). He served
congregations in Minnesota, as well as serving on the staff at Bethany
Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota.
Preus quickly distinguished himself in the Norwegian Synod, offering
one of the two primary doctrinal essays at its meeting in 1948.15 "What
Stands Between" is a scathing denunciation of false doctrine and "loose
practice" in the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC).16 In a fast-paced,
direct manner, Preus condemned the ELC's positions on the Madison
Settlement (or Agreement), conversion, the will, original sin,
predestination, justification, objective justification more specifically,
conversion after death, Hades, millennialism, antichrist, creation, and
Scripture. On each point, the ELC is found lacking. Worse, however, is that
14 James E. Adams, Preus of Missouri and the Great Lutheran Civil War (New York:
Harper & Row, 1977).
15 Report of the Thirty-First Regular Convention of the Norwegian Synod of the American
Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato, Minnesota Oune 6-10,
16 The Norwegian Lutheran Church of America was formed in 1917 as a merger of
the Hauge Synod, the United Norwegian Lutheran Church of America, and Norwegian
Synod. It took the name the Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1946.
Rast: J.A.O. Preus: Theologian, Churchman, or Both? 63
doctrine has found its way into that church's life. "Loose practice" in
to the lodge, deistic societies (including the Boy Scouts), women in
church (particularly voting), church and state, and a pervasive spirit of
Unionism all make the ELC a less-than-truly Lutheran body. To prove his
Preus pointed to the official pronouncements of the church body,
more importantly, what he had learned at Luther Seminary as a
student. The presence of false doctrine in the faculty and classrooms of
Seminary produced assured results in the life of the church - false
and false practice.
Though still in his mid-twenties when he delivered this essay, Preus's
intellectual gifts were obvious. Indeed, by 1951 he had earned a doctorate
in Classics at the University of Minnesota. Gifted in other ways, he quickly
emerged as a leader in the Norwegian Synod. So it is not at all surprising
that when, in 1955, a proposal for a "suspension" of fellowship with the
LCMS was presented and adopted by the ELS, Preus, along with his
•brother Robert, were instrumental in leading the ELS to this action.17 The
LCMS, the ELS's longtime partner in the Synodical Conference, was
considered to have fallen into some of the same errors as t.~e ELC.
And so, it was with some incredulity that Missourians saw the Preus
brothers come into the LCMS shortly thereafter. Robert was called to
Concordia Seminary, S1. Louis, in 1957 to teach systematic theology. Jack
received a call to teach Greek and New Testament at Concordia
Theological Seminary, Springfield, Illinois, in 1958.
Why this move? Leigh Jordahl, in his obituary of Jack in Logia, traces it
to Robert being passed over for a teaching position at Bethany. This was
tantamount to "repudiation" and may have triggered the twin moves.18
Pastor Rudolph Nordein, believing that Jack's talents were "withering on
the vine" at Bethany, wrote to President Walter Baepler of Springfield in
late 1957 stating that he "would like to see [Jack] get into our Synod as a
seminary professor."19 Things moved quickly. Baepler invited Preus to
17 See also the Report of the ns for the year 1955, pages 41-46.
18 Leigh Jordahl, "J.A.G. Preus," Logia 5 (Eastertide 1996): 48. For my part, I can say
this: one of the things largely missing from the archival materials I read in preparing
this paper was the personal side of Jack Preus. He seems to have kept that part of his life
pretty well isolated from his professional life. However, the video "Warrior of God
Man of Peace" offers several small windows into his "ordinary" life.
19 Rudolph Nordein to Walter Baepler, November 8, 1957, CTS Archives. Baepler
indicates that he had made personal contact with Preus already in the fall of 1957 and
that Preus had visited Baepler around Christmas of the same year. Walter Baepler to
JAO. Preus, March 1, 1958, CTS Archives.
64 Concordia Theological Quarterly 74 (2010)
visit Springfield, which Jack did on March 14-15,1958. The visit went well;
Baepler requested prior approval from the President of Synod and Board
for Higher Education on March 17; approval was granted March 21 and 25,
respectively; a contract was offered on March 26, and Jack returned it with
his acceptance on April 21, 1958. His appointment formally commenced on
July L 1958.20
One of the things that made Jack an attractive candidate for a
professorship at Springfield in 1958 (and Robert for one at SL Louis in
1957) was the need for faculty with terminal degrees. Jack's Ph.D. in
Classics was unique among the Springfield faculty in the late 50s.
However, Baepler had been working diligently to move Springfield away
from its historic position as the 1/ practical seminary" for what were
mischaracterized as less capable students. Accreditation was a desired goal
(reached in 1968), and for that to become a reality called for credentialed
faculty. It also required a more robust curriculum that made greater
demands of its students, particularly in the biblical languages, especially
Greek It seemed like a match made in heaven.
III. Seminary President Preus
Perhaps it was, in a way, for Jack Preus. He and his family seem to
have thrived in Springfield. Jack and Delpha had seven daughters
(Patricia, Delpha, Carolin, Sarah, Tdella, Mary, and Margaret), and a son
Oacob). Jack quickly became a favorite teacher for his open, frank, and
earthy style. Jack Preus told it like it is-and the students loved it. But he
also began to emerge as a leader in this setting as well. George Beto
succeeded Baepler as president in 1959, but soon moved on to lead the
Texas penal system.21 Preus was named the acting president in the winter
of 1962 and later that same year he was chosen as Springfield's tenth
20 J.A.O. Preus to Walter Baepler, March 4, 1958; Walter Baepler to J.A.O. Preus,
March 6, 1958; Walter A. Baepler to John W. Behnken, March 17, 1958; Hugo G. Kleiner
to Walter A. Baepler, March 21, 1958; John W. Behnken to Walter Baepler, March 25,
1958; "Contract and Agreement," March 26,1958; J.A.O. Preus to Walter Baepler, April
21, 1958; all in CTS Archives. In his letter to Baepler, Behnken writes: "Herewith I want
to inform you that the appointment meets with my approval. I have seen him work with
the Committee on Doctrinal Unity and I believe that he is by no means a man who
would cause you difficulty. If anything, he will be of value to you in preserving, under
God's guidance, soundness of doctrine."
21 David M. Horton and George R. Nielsen, Walking George: The Life of George ]01m
Beto and the Rise of the Modern Texas Prison System (Denton, Texas: University of North
Texas Press, 20OS).
Rast: J.A.O. Preus: Theologian, Churchman, or Both? 65
Over the course the 1960s, Jack Preus's star continued to rise. He
slowly surfaced as one of the leading lights in the emerging conservative
movement. Springfield was increasingly seen as the "conservative"
seminary, particularly once the contracts of Richard Jungkuntz and Curtis
Huber were not renewed.22 More popularly, Preus's name became more
familiar through the publication of articles on missions and general church
life in forums like the Lutheran Witness and the Lutheran Layman, as well as
AAL's Bond, which featured the "energetic" Jack Preus on its cover in the
As a result, Preus entered into correspondence with a variety of people
in the LCMS. Hot letters passed between Preus and leading conservative
Carl Hoffmeyer over the presence of Jungkuntz and Huber on the faculty.
Much of the mail was more restrained. Writing to a regular correspondent,
Ralph Lohrengel, Preus tried to allay fears of a split in the LCMS: "I do not
even like to think about a split in our church," he wrote; "I feel that 95% of
the clergy and laity of our church are soundly Lutheran, and if there is to
be any split the liberals should be the ones to blame and to be put OUt."23
IV. Synodical President Preus
In 1969, Preus was elected president of the Missouri Synod, ousting
incumbent Oliver Harms.24 The welcome home to Springfield was pure
celebration. Many thought that conservatism was surely back as the
ideology of choice for the LCMS. But more battles lay ahead. Events,
familiar I think to most of us, quickly led to a confrontation. In 1973-74, a
battle over teachings at the Missouri Synod's flagship seminary, Concordia
Seminary in St. Louis, resulted in the suspension of the president of
Concordia Seminary, John Tietjen, and a walkout of seminary professors
and students to form a seminary, commonly referred to as Seminex.
However, already shortly after Preus's election to the synodical
presidency, several of his actions drew fire from critics across the
22 Richard John Neuhaus, "More on the Travail of Missouri," Una Sancta 27
Qanuary 1970): 16: "Richard Jungkuntz and Curtis Huber were two of the bright lights
that President George Beta had acquired to give a modicum of academic respectability
to the glorified Bible Institute at Springfield."
23 J.A.O. Preus to Ralph Lohrengel, December 12,1966. CTS Archives.
24 Robert D. Preus, "After Denver, What? Four Predictions," The Lutheran Layman
(June 1969): 11; Carl Lawrenz, "Some Significant Positions and Decisions at the Denver
Convention of the LCMS" (1969), http://www.wlsessays.net/files/LawrenzDenver.pdf;
W.M. Oesch, " AnalysiS of the Present Situation of Confessional Lutheranism in America
and the World," Lutheran Synod Quarterly 10 Special Edition (Winter 1969-70): 35.
66 Concordia Theological Quarterly 74 (2010)
spectrum. In November 1969, following the dismissal of Richard
Jungkuntz from his position as executive director of the Commission on
Theology and Church Relations, Missouri United Free Evangelical first
appeared. In it, editor Richard Koenig wrote:
Preus's policies make it necessary for us, however reluctantly, to concern
ourselves once again with the issues of evangelical freedom and the
mission of the Church in our Synod. Missouri's line of development,
carefully marked by decisions of the Synod at conventions over the past
quarter of a century and implemented by responsible leaders, hard
working pastors and laymen, is in jeopardy. In the interest of the Missouri
Synod of the fellowship resolution and mission affirmations and many
other progressive measures we appeal for your prayers, support, and
help. Your immediate response is earnestly solicited (p. 1).
While it is painful to have to undertake a movement of the sort these
letters will espouse, it has ever been thus in the Church. Legalism is
always the dark shadow of the Gospel, and legalism has always been the
foe within the Missouri Synod. What we are engaged in, therefore, is not
"synodical politics" but a question of fundamental importance to the
church. But since it is a question of the Gospel, we are sure of the
outcome. Churches and individuals can forget or obscure the Gospel and
its power for a while, but they constantly re-assert themselves. We have to
bring our brothers to the point where they along with us experience anew
the liberating force of the message which creates, preserves, and builds
the church of Jesus Christ (p. 3).25
Unhappy as the"moderates" were, the"conservatives" were at least as
enraged, due to Preus's support of a resolution in the LCMS Council of
Presidents that condemned Herman Otten and his Christian News.26 Some
folks began to ask, will the real Jack Preus please stand up? Or, as William
Wincke put it, "The Rev. J.A.O. Preus ... appears to be the Richard Nixon
of the theological world. No one is sure where he stands on the liberal
conservative issues that divide the 2-million-member denomination."27
25 November 3, 1969: First number of MUFE published. Later it was revised and
resent on November 18, 1969.
26 Statement of the Council of Presidents, October 3, 1969.
27 November 29, 1969. He continued: "Liberals fear that Dr. Preus is attempting to
negate the liberal steps taken by the denomination in recent years. But conservatives are
not convinced that their president can be relied upon to protect their church against the
encroachment of doctrinal dilution by the American Lutheran Church and biblical
experts who question the denomination's literalistic position on the scriptures." Cited in
MUFE #212-16, 1969.
Rast: J.A.O. Preus: Theologian, Churchman, or Both? 67
V. Garbage In, Garbage Out
Trying to summarize the events of 1969 to February 19,1974, briefly is
I!o'lI(lL.llt:JLOI"LL~. To put it rather crassly, it might be said that two (at least)
oontendlrlg understandings of Lutheranism joined in battle. Among the
the more progressive group was John Tietjen, president of
Seminary, St. Louis. Among the leaders of the more
party were the Preus brothers, Jacob and Robert, along with
Bohlmann of the systematics department at the st. Louis Seminary.
the issue moved toward a confrontation, Tietjen claimed that President
vision was fundamentally flawed and that his Fact Finding
f'n,ml'niH-pp's report compromised the gospel. He wrote: "A theology
whose basic thrust is unLutheran underlies the Report of the president's
r 'nmnnitlrpp and served as the yardstick for measuring the confessional
position of the faculty, resulting in a basic distortion and misrepresentation
"of faculty views."28 The Preuses' vision of Lutheranism was one informed
by their reading of the Great Tradition of Lutheranism particularly as laid
"out in Lutheran orthodoxy. The switches had been thrown, and the trains
•were heading right at one another.
The details leading up to the walkout will not be rehearsed here.
Suffice it to say, after the events of the first half of 1974, John Tietjen
thought there was no going back.
We are free to find new forms and methods to bring God's Gospel to the
world. God has set us free from the law, including any system of rules, no
matter how serviceable it may have been, which seeks to muzzle the free
proclamation of the grace of God. . . . Shall we stand in God's way by
trying to hold on to the past? Shall we interfere with God's work by
seeking to preserve the institutions and organizations he has already
consigned to destruction? ... The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod is
dead. Let the dead bury their own dead. The organization that has given
us life and nurtured us is no more. Its structures are hopelessly corrupt.
Its leadership is morally bankrupt. Let the dead bury their own dead. 29
Shortly before Tietjen delivered his remarks, Robert D. Preus was
elected president of Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield, Illinois.
In little more than a year, the LCMS in convention closed Concordia Senior
College and moved Concordia Theological Seminary from Springfield,
Il1inois, to Fort Wayne, Indiana. With that election and move, what was
already a vibrant and dynamic enterprise took on an even more vital role
28 Tietjen, Fact Finding or Fault Finding? An Analysis of President rAG. Preus'
Investigation ofConcordia Seminary (5t. Louis: Concordia Seminary, 1972), 34.
29 John H. Tietjen, "The Pangs of Death," 6-7_
68 Concordia Theological Quarterly 74 (2010)
in the life of the LCMS. What one of my colleagues has called the"days of
dead orthodoxy" were about to begin and the Missouri Synod would
never be the same. But what emerged was, frankly, not "old Missouri,"
and part of the reason for that lay in the work of Jack and Robert Preus.
Not everyone was optimistic, however. Tietjen looked at the LCMS
and saw a corpse. Others in the conservative camp were beginning to think
that Jack Preus himself might be the problem.
1975 and 1976 each provided a crucial event in the ultimate departure
of pastors and congregations from the Missouri Synod to form the AELe.
1975's Anaheim Convention, among other things, voted to close Concordia
Senior College in Fort Wayne and to transfer the Springfield seminary to
the Senior College campus. Beyond this, delegates agreed that district
presidents may not ordain candidates without the formal certification of
one of the two official seminaries of the LCMS. Further, the convention
granted the synodical president the authority to declare vacant the office of
any district president who should ordain a non-certified candidate.
Commenting on the situation, Time magazine stated:
Even if Preus declares the eight posts vacant, at least seven of the
presidents are expected to be defiantly re-elected by their districts.
Whether the confrontation will compel the moderates actually to break
with the official church-or how such a rupture would come about
remains to be seen. Evangelical Lutherans in Mission, an organization of
moderates that the convention declared "schismatic," will meet next
month to discuss what to do. 30
The article further stated, "If a split does occur, it is uncertain how many
would leave the Missouri Synod. Tietjen predicts that more than 1,500
congregations will depart. Others put the figure much lower, at a
maximum of 500 congregations encompassing some 250,000 members."31
Preus did remove four of the eight district presidents. As noted earlier,
however, his reticence in removing all eight-even after the eight had
made it clear that they intended to stand together-created distress not
only among the "moderates," but also among the "conservatives." This
proved to be too much for some conservatives, and efforts began to find a
replacement for Preus. By way of one example is the following:
30 "Preus' Purge," Time, Monday, July 21, 1975, http://www.time.com/time/
31 "Preus' Purge," Time, July 21, 1975.
Rast: J.A.O. Preus: Theologian, Churchman, or Both? 69
Since published reports would, no doubt, generate a lot of untimely
publicity which would not enhance your chances of reelection, I therefore
strongly urge you to open your books for inspection and answer my
questions before this occurs. It seems to me that both you and your
attorney are very shortsighted as there is no way you can escape
answering questions regarding Synod's financial operations which has
produced such tragic results.32
Despite the grumbling, Preus was returned to office in 1977. There was
now, however, a clear division in the conservative ranks bordering on
schism. As the 1981 nomination cycle was about to begin, Preus surprised
many and came out with a letter indicating his unwillingness to allow his
name to stand for another term.
In his retirement, Jack worked on fundraising for a new chapel on the
St Louis campus. He also completed a biography of Chemnitz that proved
to be popular. Further, he remained involved in certain theological
disputes and continued to appear at synodical conventions. He was named
President Emeritus of the Missouri Synod in 1992.
Jacob A.O. Preus died on August 13,1994, and is buried in Concordia
Cemetery in St. Louis. Though his death occurred more than a decade and
a half ago, he remains a controversial figure in the history of American
Lutheranism generally and The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
VII. Conclusion: Coming to Grips with an Old Problem
The question still remains unanswered: Was Jack Preus a theologian, a
churchman, or both? Perhaps you have formed an opinion by now-or
perhaps the opinion you had preViously has remained intact. My answer is
simple: I would say both-and more. Preus's role in the controversies of
the 60s and 70s will always offer the temptation to take the path of least
resistance. Perhaps some of you have heard that simple interpretation: Jack
was the politician and Robert was the theologian. I just think that is too
easy a way out.
When Robert and Jack Preus came to the Missouri Synod, they brought
with them a new way of doing things. Ironically enough, those
opportunities would likely not have been open to them had it not been for
the openness to new theological perspectives at S1. Louis especially,
though also at Springfield. In other words, Robert and Jack brought a fresh
32 Fred C. Rutz to J.A.O. Preus, February 24, 1977. ers Archives.
70 Concordia Theological Quarterly 74 (2010) ij!.
look at Lutheran orthodoxy to Missourians through their teaching, writing,
Lutheran orthodoxy had been largely defined in terms of Pieper's
dogmatics at both seminaries by this time. It is worth noting, however, that
Pieper was translated initially in the edited form of J.T. Mueller's
dogmatics. Up to the seventy-fifth anniversary of the LCMS, the most
consistently used dogmatics textbook at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis,
was Walther's edition of Baier's Compendium.33 Whatever limitations that
text may have had-and I happen to like it-it did still place one into
conversation with at least a portion of the Great Tradition. When Pieper's
Christian Dogmatics appeared, however, the focus seems to have shifted.
Granted, Pieper's work is nothing short of remarkable-the production of
a dogmatics makes extraordinary demands on its author(s); just ask those
working on the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics or Concordia Publishing
House's Bohlmann/Nafzger dogmatics-some 20 years later! So my
purpose is not to denigrate Pieper, but simply to make this point. Where
II' j Walther's edition of Baier was connected to the historic Lutheran chorus i!
through the voices that sounded from the pages themselves, Pieper's
dogmatics was a solo. And by becoming the "standard" text, his dogmatics
in some ways closed the LCMS's theological system. Add to that the very
real limitations of the Mueller edition, and the system could - perhaps
did - become self-referencing.
Enter the new thinking at St. Louis and the broader familiarity with
Lutheran orthodoxy of the Preus brothers. Two new ways of viewing the
Lutheran world-at least. Robert read and summarized the thought of the
Lutheran Orthodox fathers in his wonderful Theology of Post-Refonnation
Lutheranism.34 Jack translated Chemnitz's The Two Natures in Christ, along
with other key texts, and helped ensure that others would be translated.35
Think of the other texts that we now take for granted that have appeared
in English translation since 1957: Chemnitz's Examination of the Council of
33 Johann Wilhelm Baier and c.P,W, Walther, Compendium theologiae positivae:
adjectis notis amplioribus, quibus doctrina orthodoxa ad IIAlLlEIAN academicam explicatur
atque ex Scriptura S, eique innixis rationibus theologicis confirmatur (Grand Rapids:
Emmanuel Press, 2006).
34 Robert D. Preus, The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism: A Study of
Theological Prolegomena (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1970), and Preus, The
Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism 2, God and His Creation (St. Louis: Concordia
Publishing House, 1972),
35 Martin Chemnitz and lA.O. Preus, The Two Natures in Christ (St. Louis:
Concordia Publishing House, 1971). For example, Jack was key in getting the word out
about Chemnitz's wonderful Enchiridion: Ministry, Word, and Sacraments.
Rast: J.A.O. Preus: Theologian, Churchman, or Both? 71
and The Lord's Supper, to name only two. The Gerhard project now
Untiprw"vand the expansion of the American Edition of Luther's Works
two more recent examples.36 These texts are forcing us to reengage the
iLuithelran portion of the Great Tradition and will continue to do so.
What systematic theology does-indeed, what it is supposed to do-is
a web of perfect symmetry. Robert did this with his Post-Reformation
.uth'PJ"amsm and Jack supported it with his translations. Their contributions
were rightfully formative for a generation of pastors. But beneath their
snapshot of orthodoxy are churning historical realities. Lutheranism was a
mess and in danger always of falling apart during the original days of
dead orthodoxy. Orthodox theologians did things inconsistent with the
true faith. For my part, I am suspicious of Abraham Calov - he was too
. influenced by Pietism for my comfort. But you would never know that
from Robert Preus's Post-Reformation Lutheranism; Calov was simply one of
the "orthodox" voices in the choir. As such, the Preuses' approach to
Lutheran Orthodoxy was something like that of Perry Miller, the great
historian of Puritanism in the colonial period of America. Miller simply
identified a "New England Mind." In The New England Mind: The
Seventeenth Century he did not even bother to cite his sources, so convinced
was he of the fundamental philosophical agreement among the New
England Puritans.37 For Jack and Robert Preus "Orthodox Lutheranism"
was a life of the mind, a symmetrical system-the "web of doctrine" of
which these two brilliantly, passionately, and persuasively spoke.
The fact is, however, that even the best web has its asymmetries. And
here I cannot speak to Jack, but I can to Robert. He was a fine historian and
knew that no system was ever perfectly applied. He convinced me of the
perfect ideal, but he also taught me how to live with the historical realities.
And so, even the most perfect web must have its asymmetries if the web is
going to work. The spider cannot connect all the pieces and parts of the
web without having to bend the perfect frame somewhat to the
circumstances in which it is being built. But even as it does so, it constructs
a piece of functional beauty.
We human beings tend to see beauty and truth in symmetry. Life,
however, is not always like that. While in South Africa during February
2008, I went on a game walk with some African guides. As we walked
through the fog, I nearly walked into a massive spider web in which a bird
36 Martin Chernnitz, Fred Kramer, Luther Poellot, ].A.O. Preus, and Georg
Williams, Chemnitz's Works (5t. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2008).
37 Perry Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Cambridge:
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1983).
72 Concordia Theological Quarterly 74 (2010)
had been snared, wrapped, and sucked dry. It scared me to death! It had to
be the ugliest, messiest, nastiest web that I have ever seen. But that ugly
mess of a web got the job done. Being able to see that in the life of the
church shows real historical perspective.
For a man whose experience was as varied as J.A.D. Preus's, one
should not expect one descriptor to capture the entire man. The web of
each of our lives is far messier than that. Still, as God's people, God
accomplishes his will through inconsistent people like you and me-and
J.A.D. Preus. And with that in mind, perhaps the more perspectival
assessment offered by Leigh Jordahl offers us the best conclusion.
Almost always jovial, always quick to form judgments, infatuated
with watching people and sizing them up, impetuous, and given
to generalizations expressed in sometimes wild hyperbole, he was
restless, and, for someone so amazingly bright, too much on the
move to become, as his younger brother did, a theologian in depth.
And, as is well known, he hated face-to-face confrontation. It was a
flaw in his character that ... he tended to improvise and imply
pacification when issues at hand should have been openly
addressed and thrashed out. For that he sometimes was accused of
being double-tongued. (I don't want to put too fine a point on that,
since I wonder who could have done better at the tasks that
confronted Preus when he came to leadership in the terribly
divided Missouri of 1969.) Neither can I imagine him plugging
along year after year in a pastorate where nothing exciting was apt
to happen, as, for instance, the Faith-Life editor did for forty years
in a non-grOWing country parish. Not that Jack sought or received
much glory, but he was once lightheartedly described as a man
who ate Mexican jumping beans for breakfast.38
38 Jordahl, 'lA.O. Preus," 45.