18 March, 2010

Sound Familiar?

Johann Christoph Kunze arrived in the colonies in 1770. He had taught at Kloster Berge (left) near Magdeburg (which would, not 40 or 50 years later become a hot-bed of Lutheran confessionalism). Prior to that he had received a full-fledged classical gymnasial education at Halle and theological education at Leipzig.
Three years after his arrival, he founded a Seminarium--a Gymnasium, really--where students who had done passing work in the lower grades could continue their education. Solberg calls it a "thoroughgoing Latin school." The curriculum included: Greek, Latin, English, German, geography, history, philosophy, math, etc. Kunze's admirable goal was to provide learned teachers and preachers for the fledgling Church of the Augsburg Confession in the colonies.
What a waste. So Heinrich Melchior Mühlenberg. But hear him out:
We have here in America large English institutions of that sort, academies, colleges, and universities. In these institutions every year large crowds of young gentlemen are created bachelors, masters, licentiates, doctors of law and doctors of medicine, and they are let loose on the world. Then the poor suckers wander to and fro. They have used up their small resources and have no way of making a living. They cannot dig, to beg they are ashamed, and so they sometimes become public charges. [in: Carl Frederick Hausmann, Kunze's Seminarium (Philadelphia: American Germanica Press, 1917), 28].
And there's no short-cut so short but that it's worth taking. Again, the esteemed Mühlenberg, who argues what a pity it would be:
to torment such candidates [that is, for the pastoral office] with foreign languages over a period of many years; it would be sufficient if they possess native intelligence, a compendious knowledge and experience of the marrow and sap of theology...an understanding of the mother tongue [German, of course] and English, and possibly also the declensions and conjugations of the Latin language...and, preeminently, a heart that loves the Savior of the world and His sheep and lambs. [in: T. Tappert and J. Dobberstein, trans., The Journals of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1945), 2.586–7]
Ah, the heart that loves Jesus and His sheep. It reminds of the road to hell paved with good intentions--or of the apocryphal story of Ole out working in his fields. Ever heard it?
Ole loved Jesus, yes he did. One day as he was out working in the barnyard the clouds formed odd shapes above him. As he looked, he saw these letters: G P C. Ole pondered and prayed and prayed and pondered for a long time and then, there it was, his answer. G P C meant Go Preach Christ. So Ole set off down the road to his Lutheran pastor and told him of his intentions. O, Ole loved Jesus, yes he did. And he could speak Norse and English pretty well, too. And he knew the catechism inside and out, you bet he did. But old Pastor Svendsen, he had been to the seminary and knew a little bit more about theology than Ole did, and so he set Ole straight. G P C didn't mean Go Preach Christ, it meant Go Plow Corn.
No less in Mühlenberg's case than in Ole's did a well-intentioned pietism get in the way of good theology and the kind of education that doing good, responsible theology requires (see the post on Robert Benne's critique of the pietistic turn in Christian higher education).
Let us only point out that it's a good thing no one gave God Mühlenberg's advice when He decided to call Moses to lead His people out of Egypt (see Acts 7.22).

1 comment:

Rev. Josh Sullivan said...

This could be a bumper sticker:
"Love Jesus - Will Preach"

With the way that seminary education (along with the Concordia system) is being dumbed down, it makes one wonder if well-intentioned pietism in alive and well among Lutherans today.