The Word of God and Social Responsibility in the Lutheran Church in the United States of America
Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
In many ways, this study has had an elusive central focus. I began my studies with one specific goal in mind: to discover the relationship between the theology of the cross and social ministry. I was particularly interested in this relationship within the Lutheran Church because I felt, and still feel, that it is our response to the cross of Christ which drives our Christian social responsibility as individuals and as a church. At the same time, I have always been impressed by the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr, who has been identified as a theologian of the cross. Therefore, I set out to find in his theology the linkage between the theology of the cross and social ministry. I first grew interested in relating Lutheran theology to social ministry during my studies at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, from 1970 through 1974. The teaching of my history advisor, Dr. Erling Jorstad, and of religion professor and church historian Dr. E. Clifford Nelson, impressed upon me the need for the Lutheran Church to articulate its theology according to the rich tradition of the Lutheran heritage. I was also interested in pastoral ministry as a career, and I had always been moved to apply my role as pastor to social issues. In January, 1973, I took a class on "The Church's Urban Potential" from Dr. Kenneth Christopherson at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. Our study of the writings of Jacques Ellul, Harvey Cox, and Jeffrey Hadden sparked my interest. In addition, the class included on-site visits to Lutheran outreach ministries in Tacoma and Seattle to view social outreach firsthand. In my final paper, I reflected on our site visits and our readings, and began to focus my concerns on social responsibility. Upon return to St. Olaf College, I continued my pursuit of those interests in a class named "The City in American History." I presented a paper entitled "The Search for the Power of Protestantism in American Cities." The next spring, I delved further into this topic in a class taught by Jorstad and Nelson which related American religion and American history entitled "The History of American Christianity." I remember being in awe when the President of Union Seminary in New York, James C. Bennett, visited our class. Then I began my study of Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr, giving a presentation during the segment on "post-liberal reconstruction."...