(from the publication First Things, title "The Real John Dewey Richard." Written by John Neuhaus.)
Nobody would dispute the observation that Carl Braaten is among the most respected theologians on the American scene. (See his “Protestants and Natural Law” elsewhere in this issue.) Recently he surprised almost everyone by announcing that, after many years of teaching there, he is leaving the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago to set up an independent institute for theology in Northfield, Minnesota. His friend Robert Jenson of St. Olaf College in Northfield reflects on why Braaten is leaving LSTC. What Jenson says about Lutheran seminaries has, we are sure, application far beyond the boundaries of Lutheranism. Jenson writes: “Long ago, the church's demand for various sorts of ‘practical' and therapeutic ‘experiences' in the seminary curriculum reduced their space for theology below the viable quantity. Biblical, historical, and systematic theology are hard disciplines, to which only the very most able and well-prepared can catch on quickly. For decades, a seminary teacher of serious theology has had to look out at his/her classses in the certain knowledge that with most of the students the labor was in vain. With those few gifted ones, teaching theology was a joy. But it was a joy dampened by guilt and panic over the innocents being graduated and the parishes they would serve.
“A few years ago the situation futher deteriorated as the recruitment of students changed. Seminary students now for the most part arrive with no appropriate higher education whatsoever. More disastrously yet, a decisive number seem somehow to self-select from the least catechized segments of our in-any-case secularized churches. This of course changed the curricular situation from calamitous to hopeless. And such students are defenseless over against the next-to-be-named set of evils.
“In the seminaries of the ELCA there is now a theological censorship of a stringency previously unknown in Lutheranism outside the Missouri Synod. The new reactionaries of course enforce a different selection of nineteenth-century sectarianism than did those of Missouri; alas, it is one even less compatible with theological enterprise or formation. Its chief axioms are perhaps: (1) biblical and historical study is for the purpose of liberating from the language and opinions of the Bible and the tradition; (2) ‘God' is a complex of metaphors, projected from our religious needs and social valuations; (3) the church is a volunteer society of the religiously like-minded, which we continuously re-institute as our religious minds change; and (4) Western civilization is no damned good, and neither can Christianity be insofar as it is responsible for Western civilization. Probably a majority of professors dissent from this position, but the pietism and/or existentialism of most provides no stable basis of resistance, and the remaining margin is just that.
“And finally there is the quota system of faculty appointments-and don't let anyone tell you there isn't one. Faculty who worry about congregations out there fight again and again to appoint the best available scholars and teachers-and maybe even an unabashed Christian or two. But how many of these battles can one sustain in an ecclesial culture which regards such standards as wicked?” (see here)
There are a number of reasons for the theological drift from Truth happening in the ELCA. The drift started long ago but now it is emerging into an out right rejection of Truth.