Lutheran Theological Seminary
Pretoria, South Africa
16-31 August 2013
This trip marks my ninth trip to Pretoria as a visiting professor at Lutheran Theological Seminary. My thanks to the congregations and individuals whose contributions purchased the airline ticket and also the books both for distribution to students and pastors as well as for the Saint Augustine Library at LTS. Students received copies of Steven Paulson’s Lutheran Theology, Jonathan Fisk’s Broken, and my Mercy at Life’s End. Library books donated by the Southern Illinois District included copies of recent releases in the Concordia Commentary Series, Volume 75 of Luther’s Works, Creation and Predestination by Johann Gerhard, Commentary on Luther’s Catechisms: Confession and Christian Life by Albrecht Peters, Gospel Sermons by C.F.W. Walther, I am not Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare by Robert H. Bennett and The Self Donation of God by Jack Klicrease. Each student in my courses also received a CD containing the first twenty volumes of Logia: A Journal of Lutheran Theology. I also brought along books for specific students who had requested them for writing projects at the University of Pretoria.
I taught one course (four hours each day) on each of the two weeks. On the week of August 19, I taught a course entitled “Toward a Pastoral Theology.” In this class we worked with the Psalms of Lament, Oswald Bayer’s “Toward a Theology of Lament,” II Corinthians as Paul’s “Pastoral Theology of the Cross,”, Peter Stuhlmacher’s “Eighteen Theses on Paul’s Theology of the Cross” and selected Luther texts as examined issues related to theodicy and the pastoral care of those suffer. This course was especially significant in providing a Lutheran approach to suffering in contrast to the so-called “prosperity Gospel” (health and wealth) on the one hand and liberationist theologies on the other hand as both figure into the African context. We had twenty-one participants in this class including ordination course students, pastors from the LCSA, ELCSA, and FELSISA and several evangelist/lay preachers. In addition to students from South Africa, Uganda, Liberia, Ethiopia, Zambia, and Botswana, we had two first-time students from the Congo.
The second week (week of August 26) was devoted to a homiletics course, “Learning How to Preach from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.” Using Steven Paulson’s Lutheran Theology and Gerhard Aho’s The Lively Skeleton: Thematic Approaches and Outlines, we examined the theology of preaching in Romans. Students engaged in workshop style presentations on writing and defending sermon outlines based on texts from the Epistle. Eighteen students participated in this class along with several occasional auditors. In many ways this course represented a kind of “high point” in my teaching at LTS. Over the past few years I have had several of the students enrolled in this course, in other classes on topics such as the theology of Law and Gospel, Luther’s On the Freedom of the Christian, and the theology of the cross. Preaching is always the ultimate test of theological learning. It was gratifying to see these students were not only retaining what they had learned in previous courses but utilizing it in their work with texts from Romans. It is true that learning the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is the highest and most difficult art, taught only by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience. It is gratifying to see students make real progress in this art for the sake of proclaiming the cross of Jesus Christ with clarity and power.
Over the last three trips to South Africa, I have noted an increased number of pastors, evangelists, and lay preachers coming in for the courses. This is a good thing. In the USA, we regularly accent the need for continuing education. It is important that those who are already working in the field have the opportunity to return to LTS for additional training and mutual support. I’m pleased that Bishop Weber is encouraging this among the LCSA pastors. I hope that in future course we will continue to see this trend grow even as additional pastors from FELSISA and also from LWF-related southern African churches are invited to attend.
In addition to teaching, I preached for Matins at the seminary on August 19 and 26 and for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Arcadia on Trinity XIII, August 25. I also assisted with the Confessional Service at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Pretoria on Trinity XII, August 18.
The time in Pretoria afforded me the opportunity to consult with Enoch Macben who is in the final stages of writing a master’s thesis at the University of Pretoria on the understanding of law in Paul and Luther.
My thanks to Bishop and Mrs. Wilhelm Weber and Pastor Martin Paul for their hospitality and for providing housing during my stay in Pretoria. I also appreciate the collegiality of Prof. Nathan Mntambo who graciously welcomed into the life of his congregation. Mr. Christoph Weber was very helpful with a variety of logistical matters including transportation and reproducing handouts for classroom use. My deep thanks to all of them for their friendship and assistance but especially for the work they are doing on behalf of the Lord’s kingdom in the whole of southern Africa. As I have said before, LTS occupies a unique and strategic position for confessional Lutheran theological essay in Africa.
I am happy and honored to donate my time to teach at LTS twice each year. As I receive no financial support from the LCMS or the seminary in making these trips, they are dependent on donations from congregations and individuals. I will gladly continue in these efforts as long as we can secure funding for air travel. God willing it, I will return again for another two courses from March 3-15, 2014.
-Prof. John T. Pless
1 September 2013