Friday, August 12, 2005

In Memoriam

It's strange to think back on seminary. The first few years are actually difficult to remember, because I was entering the strange new world of theology. Thinking theologically is not a native condition, and the ways one can think theologically are diverse enough that not only was I exposed to this new way of thinking and speaking, but I had contesting babies birthing inside of me, and I wondered whether there would be synthesis, antithesis, or thesis.

Anyway, 2nd semester of my first year at sem I took my first class with Gerharde Forde. I cannot confess to liking his teaching style, at least at first. He spoke using pre-written lectures, and the general method of sitting through his classes was (at least for me) to try and write down everything that he said. My hand got tired each session.

This was not like a lot of the other teaching I had been exposed to. Very little discussion, few random digressions, monological rather than dialogical. Forde didn't have something to discuss, he had something to teach. It was the straight-up oral presentation of a theological worldview, theology that preached Christ and was thoughtfully constructed to prepare preachers to preach.

For my final paper, I basically parroted back what I had heard Forde say during the semester. I got an A. This kind of teaching also puzzled me at the time.

Now, looking back, I realize that there was method behind the madness. I can think of no other teacher who has had so much formative influence on my thought. This is not to say that I have taken the road many trod, of trying to talk and write and think like Forde ad nauseum until the eschaton. Forde did create a school, of sorts, I think not intentionally, for his is a gentle soul not prone to control. The school arose from the power of the Gospel he so carefully taught. I find it frustrating and almost ill-making how some of those who follow Forde have rigidized and formalized his thought as if you should go only so far as Forde and then stop there.

IMHO, Forde is like Wittgenstein, at least in this way- he takes you along the way, and then invites you to keep going. This is what Forde taught me, that from the basis he provides in his writing and teaching, I can and should become a theologian. The gospel of Christ does this- it makes those of us who have heard it, theologians for the sake of proclamation.

The enigma of Forde is that his style of teaching, although it seems to invite just the opposite (you first have to think like Forde in order to then keep going after Forde) actually establishes an independence of thinking. I believe I owe my being a theologian, in large part, to his method.

I still read everything he writes or has written. I no longer try to take passages of his books and translate them directly into the next sermon I am preaching (although this was a danger for me, and remains one for others). I am reminded by Forde that theology is not itself proclamation- it is for proclamation.

So, in memory of Professor Gerharde Forde, I write and publish these words, both as challenge and celebration. May the faculty of our seminaries maintain, as Forde did, the gentleness of soul and passion of mind that led to a teacher who was not afraid to speak clearly and forcefully the doctrine of the faith, but then did not break faith with those with whom he disagreed out of sheer arrogance.


  1. I know what you mean, Clint. Every day since I heard Dr. Forde had died, I've been discovering just how totally Fordean I really am.

    I started rereading Where God Meets Man the day before Dr. Forde died. It's amazing how he was able to condense so much of the heart of orthodox Lutheranism into such an accessible book. He had a tremendous gift.

  2. Yours is a nice eulogy, Clint. Congratulations.

    I think I can understand the impact Forde had on you: Jenson formed me that way, I think (although I tried to audit as many of his courses as possible, so that I didn't have to do papers or exams!) So I hope you won't take offense at what I say here.

    I appreciate Forde as far as he goes, I guess. There was a clarity to his writing that I especially appreciate (partly because it is so rare among theologians of any depth). And there was a commitment to the Gospel, understood by his lights, which is undeniable.

    As a so-called "catholic evangelical," however, I often have to scratch my head at what he left out of his writing. A major example for me, as I have indicated probably ad nauseum is in this "chapter" in Christian Dogmatics where he addresses the "christian life" and says almost -- yes, almost; not: nothing -- about living the Gospel. The result is like most preaching I hear: It's heavy on "Jesus loves you/us" -- something I don't really object to. But it never goes on to "So what?"

    Perhaps you can enlighten me that I have missed a significant part of Forde's opera. (I haven't yet gotten to his book on being a theologian of the cross. A friend says that's pretty good. But I have read a good deal of his stuff.)

    Perhaps you can confirm or deny a kind of snide reference I ran across the other day: Did Forde really have a sign on his office door saying, "I have no ecclesiology"?


  3. Dear Dwight & Mark,

    I'm "Fordean" only in the sense that I learned to think theologically as one of his students, but now understand myself to be more of a "Catholic" than would ever make sense to him. In this way, my sympathies lie with Jensen more than Forde. I therefore cannot enlighten Dwight on something he's missed. The fact that you notice what you notice, Dwight, would make Forde happy. The fact that you are worried about it is a sign that you haven't quite grasped the fulness of the reality of freedom in Christ. Or so I think Forde would say.

    He did have a button or sign that said something like "this man has no ecclesiology." I remember seeing it, though apocryphal stories can sometimes even influence memory.

    Here's another way to parse it: I cannot exclaim, like Mark, how "Fordean" I am. Nevertheless, I am happy to call myself a student of Forde, even if he would not encourage me to go in some of the directions I have theologically.

  4. Anonymous10:57 PM

    Dear Dwight:

    I do not exist. Now go get a life.