Historical Footnote on Missouri Synod Institutions of Higher Education

Jacob A. O. Preus II

“You and Your Synod—Present Issues Between the Synod and other Lutherans,”
Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield, Illinois (now at Fort Wayne, Indiana since 1976), April 1975. J. A. O. Preus II (1920-94) was the eighth president of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (1969 to 1981).

Eugene F. A. KlugQuestion asked about the dissolution of the “Synodical System” of educating ministers and the preparatory schools and Concordia Senior College, Fort Wayne, Indiana (1957-77), feeding into the seminaries at Springfield, Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri.

J.A.O. Preus II: This system was working pretty well up until the 1960s. And two or three decisions were made which on the face of them did not appear at all important, and yet were ultimately all important.

One was the permission of the Synod to create a four year college at St. Paul, followed a little later by an almost no ripple action at all to create one at Bronxville. And the eternal drum beating of all the colleges—Winfield, Milwaukee and everybody, even Portland, Austin—to have four year colleges. Every four year college is not only a nail in the coffin of the Senior College, it’s the cover of the coffin.

And then a second decision was made that received no attention whatsoever. And that was somebody, I suppose the BHE [Board for Higher Education], gave permission to the St. Louis seminary, in the last years of [Alfred O.] Fuerbringer, to go out and recruit on non-Synodical campuses.

It totally killed the system! That Senior College has been bludgeoned from both sides. And the worst part about it is that the action to permit St. Louis to go out into the highways and the hedges was agreed to by the Senior College. They didn’t even fight it! And those two actions killed this system.

Eugene F. A. Klug: …Is it possible that we could recapture any part of that system?…

J.A.O. Preus II: It seems to me that to look for the recreation of the system is like hoping for the return of the horse and buggy age or the Model T era. It was a great time, everybody liked those Model Ts. But I don’t think we’ll ever get the country to go back to them. I don’t think the Synod will ever go back to the system. There’s not enough people who love it.

I think that the great desire in Synod—and fanned by the efforts of the presidents and faculties and boards of control of the colleges—is for a string of four year colleges all feeding into Springfield and St. Louis. But I think what is really creating the problem is the failure of the prep schools—at all levels except the teachers colleges—is the failure of the prep schools to recruit men for the ministry. They’re recruiting pre-med and pre-law and pre-business and pre-marriage and everything else, but they’re not recruiting preachers. And as old Alsweed says, “Use ‘em or lose ‘em.”

Now we’re spending over nine million dollars on this college system and each preacher is costing us an increasing amount of money. And the Board of Directors [of Synod] sits there and says, “How many came out and how many bucks? Phooey! Close ‘em down.” So there’s a lot of dynamics in this thing. Now I think what we’ve got to do and we can do it rather easily. It is not too hard to recruit men for the ministry if you know how to do it and go at it! But I don’t think we’re going at it.

We used to conduct these surveys here all the time, and some of you undoubtedly could testify to something on this subject. But we found that it was always the home pastor who said to a young man—he might be twelve, he might be twenty, he might be thirty—“Hey, you ought to go into the ministry.” That’s the way they got them. The statistics always proved that. And yet we put all our money into campus pastors, we put all our money into colleges. We get kids on a college campus and we don’t even recruit them for the ministry. And I think the average pastor is laying down on the job in recruitment.

CTS Student: In the expansion of this seminary, in the area of advanced degrees, it seems from what we understand that new degrees are more in the way of academic degrees than practical. Is this an emphasis away from this being a practical seminary?

J.A.O. Preus II: I don’t know enough about your program to have any opinion on that.

I hate to say this in front of a former colleague because he can quote me some place. Nobody worked harder than I did to get this place accredited. And I rejoiced. We gave Dr. [Lorman M.] Peterson a whole year off to do nothing but that work. And he produced something that looked like a Chicago telephone book. When he took it to the accreditors, they practically gave him a medal of honor. They said, “Never have we seen anything like this.”

But the trouble with it is you get run by the blooming accrediting agency! You lose your ability to maneuver for your own concerns and your own church body. And we’ve seen this thing with the St. Louis seminary, with this terrible emphasis on academics. And I can always remember a fellow who came in to see me one time—a St. Louis student—when I was first in St. Louis. And he said to me, “I know everything about form criticism, redaction criticism, source criticism, but I don’t know a cotton picking thing about the text of the Bible.” And this was the real tragedy of what was going on there. And old Herb Bohlmann used to say to the students, “Now I know all about form criticism and redaction criticism, but when it comes to teaching dogmatics it does not work. And so we will take the text and use it.”

There’s a study going on right now between Missouri and LCA [Lutheran Church in America] on ministers. A career development program trying to find out where preachers feel strong, where they feel weak, where they feel well equipped, badly equipped. And then they’re also consulting their wives, surveying their wives, and members of their congregations on a rather broad basis. I think there have been upwards of something like 900 Missouri Synod ministers involved in this, in all districts and in all kinds of settings. Now one of the things that came out of this thing was that—first they had a bad testing instrument—the net results indicated that pastors felt extremely inadequate, both churches, in the area of teaching and in the area of visitation. Well, man a living! If you spend nine million bucks to prepare ministers and then they come out and say, “I don’t know how to make a house call” or “I don’t know how to conduct a Bible class,” something is wrong because those are the absolute essentials!

I’m not in favor of turning any seminary into a Bible college, but I am against trying to turn either seminary into a graduate school. We must always remember we should never use the word that a seminary is a graduate school. You always hear all that yammering about you guys are the equivalent of PhDs when you graduate, you put in just as much time, and blah, blah, blah. This is a professional school for the training of men for a profession. In that sense, it’s no different from an engineering school or even a barber college! A man comes to learn a certain profession—a law school, medical school. And we’ve got to prepare men who can function with Lutheran congregations and the general public of the United States and Canada in the year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy Five! That’s what we’re trying to do! We’re not trying to prepare 45 source critics or even Greek scholars in the technical sense.

I don’t know if you agree with all of my verbosity here, but I feel very strongly about this. And the accrediting agency is constantly monkeying around with you and constantly being governed totally by Harvard and Union and Chicago and Yale and Princeton and that whole Eastern outfit who were never training pastors but were training theologians. They skewed the whole lousy thing.

CTS Student: We seem to be moving in the direction of having more people here as teachers who don’t have practical experience as preachers. My opinion is this is wrong.

J.A.O. Preus II: I guess I would be a little bit ambivalent on it. I have seen some men who have made very good pastors and have been lousy professors. And some who had no practical experience, but seemingly were very practical people. But I think as a general rule we should try to get people who’ve had parish experience.

I think we sometimes make a mistake in saying to a young fellow who finishes Springfield in 1975, “Now you’re going to go on to graduate school. We’re going to get you a doctorate. Five years from now you’re going to come back here and teach.” Because that guy has just been sliding through that parish experience. Because his whole focus has been on that PhD and getting back here. So that kind of parish experience may not be particularly helpful because he never really had his heart in it.

This, again, is the problem we have with the accreditation because we’re constantly under the gun to get doctors and masters. And then we get a fellow here and instead of helping him develop into high class classroom instructor, we keep him with his nose to the grindstone getting a doctorate.

There are men on this faculty today that I hired ten years ago and the word was “Get that doctorate!” And they ain’t got it yet. They never will. And maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe it’s a waste of time for everybody.

So I don’t know. As I get old, I’m getting more mellow about this, I guess. But I think we had a lot more flexibility back in the old days and we were able to serve the church better. If we needed 200 students in order to serve the ministry, we used to go out and quarry out of Winfield and Milwaukee and all these places and haul in these sophomores. And if we only needed a hundred, we could raise the standard and say you can’t come in without a college diploma. We had much more flexibility.

Transcription: M. L. F. Freiberg Sr.