Thanks Be to God! Memoirs of a Practical Theologian by Robert Benne
was thoroughly blessed through reading the recently published memoirs of Dr.
Robert Benne. Many thanks to Dr. Benne
for writing them and to the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau for publishing
them. Reading Dr. Benne’s memoirs
reminded me of when I saw the 1989 movie, “Born on the Fourth of July.” While watching that movie, and while reading
Dr. Benne’s memoirs, I felt like I was reliving several of the years of my own
was born ten years after Dr. Benne, but like him I grew up in a culture that
supported and encouraged the Christian faith.
He grew up in a small town in Nebraska.
I was born in Minneapolis and spent some of the formative years of my
life in a small town in Iowa. At that time
the world was trustworthy and safe, America was great and good, and right and
wrong were clearly defined (page 77).
Bob Benne met his first black persons in college. I had my first Asian friend in seminary.
experienced and was dramatically changed by the same social and cultural
dynamics that strongly affected him, though at an age of ten years
younger. We were both influenced by the
liberal idealism of the early 60’s. Like
him, I came to view the church mainly as an instrument of social transformation
(page 83). I identified with his
self-description, “I tried to swim with the radical tide” (page 88). I was amused by his comment, “I became a
‘social justice warrior’ before the term had been coined” (page 106). He mentioned that while teaching at the
Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago he worked with the Ecumenical Institute,
an organization that offered introductory courses to the Christian faith,
workshops on anti-racism, and training in community transformation. I remember while attending college near
Chicago hearing a presentation by one of the staff members of the
institute. I was stirred by what he said
and was determined that that is what I wanted to do after graduating from
could identify with Dr. Benne’s then sharing the story of how he came to
realize the spiritual bankruptcy of that view of the mission and message of the
church. He described himself as a
“wanna-be radical” who got “mugged by reality” (page 90). He came to see how, by viewing the church
primarily as a vehicle of social transformation, he had reduced its
transcendent message to merely human efforts (page 89).
greatly appreciate the way in which Dr. Benne shares so personally, openly, and
honestly the story of his own spiritual and ministry journey. He feels deeply and articulates boldly and
clearly the seriousness of the departure of much of American Lutheranism from
the historic Christian faith. He feels
the pain, and he can articulate the issues.
the final pages of his memoirs he describes the events of the last twenty
years, including the formation of LCMC (Lutheran Congregations in Mission for
Christ), Lutheran CORE, and the NALC (North American Lutheran Church). He states wisely and accurately, “Though
church schisms are undoubtedly serious matters that should be undertaken with
trepidation, it has seemed clear to me that the schismatic party was actually
the ELCA. It simply collapsed before the
‘progressive’ American culture, as did other mainline Protestant denominations.
. . . The ELCA bishops, whose first duty was to defend the orthodox truth,
failed miserably” (page 167).
I am very grateful to Dr. Benne for writing these memoirs and am very thankful for the opportunity to read them. I also want to thank Dr. Benne for the role he has played in the formation and life of Lutheran CORE and the ministry that he continues to have.
Dr. Robert Benne currently teaches Christian Ethics at the online Institute for Lutheran Theology. He was Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion and Chair of the Religion and Philosophy Department at Roanoke College in Virginia for eighteen years before he left full-time teaching in 2000. He founded the Roanoke College Center for Religion and Society in 1982 and directed it until 2012. He continues at Roanoke College as a research associate in its religion and philosophy department. A link to the ALPB (American Lutheran Publicity Bureau) website where you can order a copy of his memoirs can be found here.