Dr. John Pless, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (CTSFW)
First, context for those who need it.
Now… a man (we’ll call him Jake) contacted me on Facebook almost two years ago… He knew I had written this (the first edition of the post).
Some details below from the conversation have been changed.
A local pastor hosted a continuing Ed class and invited all his online listeners to come, (of course I was the only one who did, and I did feel a bit sheepish, but thankfully there were a few other laymen so I didn’t stick out too badly). Here’s the thing, Dr Pless taught it. And frankly he taught it extremely well, it was truly a pleasure to learn from someone who has that kind of knowledge of Luther.
The first thing I have to say is- That man (Dr Pless), is NOT an antinomian, the topic he covered was Luther’s letters of pastoral care, and one of them was to Agricola (yes, that Agricola). He covered the letter on the last day and while he quoted Paulson once and Forde twice, throughout the week, he also quoted Jack Kilcrease, Dr Kleinig.
Throughout the week, not a single syllable that he spoke could in any way be considered outside the bounds of what I’ve been taught is legitimate Confessional Lutheranism.
Of particular note, he gave a brief explanation of Agricola’s error, and it was precisely the explanation that I was given by my pastor at the time (who was fond of teaching Pastor Surburg’s observations of soft antinomianism).
Now I’ll never appreciate Paulson or Forde’s teachings, but it’s clear to me that Dr Pless is not Forde or Paulson.
Dr. Pless quoted Luther as saying “you must set aside the Decalogue”, but he was extremely careful to explain when, why, and who Luther taught to do this- those suffering persistent depression, and then only when suffering a specific attack.
Anyway, I thought I would give you my perspective after I got an up close look at Dr Pless and the way he teaches.
Jake — Thanks for writing this. First of all, this was in person? I know that pastor and know that he likes and respects Dr. Pless, his beloved teacher, no doubt. I too, have learned a lot from Dr. Pless over the years and respect him. He is knowledgeable and a good teacher, and he also will always give you the pure Gospel. I do not think he wants to throw out God’s law. I do not think he is like Paulson and Forde in the things he believes or does not believe either.
This said, the problem like Dr. Pless is akin to the problem with Pastor John Drosendahl[, whose views I described in the article]. It is almost always what they do not say, what they will never say, what they seemingly will not be caught dead saying. One last thing:
Pless, I am sure, has a presence that demands respect and gets respect. This is the man who sent some 20 or more young men to the seminary when he served as a campus pastor at the U. of Minnesota. I’ll stick with my eval. though, because I am confident it is true after listening to the man for many, many years.
I am not calling him a heretic. That said, this post starts to point out the issues. https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2017/07/26/heretics-tell-the-truth/
It was in person at the pastor’s church.
I re-read my message to you and I apologize to you, it was far more terse sounding than what was in my head when I set down to write it.
What I wanted to express was a sense of relief that we don’t have a fire breathing radical, antinomian running roughshod over the seminary.
The topic of the class was one that has weighed heavily on my mind for some time both for myself and for others, it was and will be very helpful.
You know that I have NO love whatsoever for Forde and Paulson’s teaching and I never will, I’m firmly in line with my Pastor’s thoughts on them and my Pastor is firmly in line with Dr Scaer’s (and yours) thoughts on them.
I like your blog because I LIKE your thoughts and careful way that you arrive at them, as I’m sure you’ve noticed I have tendency to shoot from the hip and spray verbal bullets in every direction without regard for who and how badly that might wound, your careful way of expressing your thoughts are a good influence on me.
Your last blog is a case in point….
Jake — well, I now want to say that I didn’t mean for my last comment to be a rebuke at all. I am glad some of what Dr. Pless had to say was helpful to you. You see, this is the thing: he is indeed focused on delivering the Gospel to hurting people and I also know he does not want to pitch God’s law. That is great. I know he is not a fire-breathing antinomian and, quite frankly, I don’t think anyone in the LCMS is. I think the antinomian temptation, however, is strong with us in that we are so very hesitant to speak like Paul. Ever! You know? And that is why the whole 3rd use question is such a perennial struggle. Again, the strength of our theology and our current pastors is indeed delivering the gospel and giving the peace of Christ to sinners. Which we all are and we keep needing it! We do divide law and gospel well here, but the issue is the struggle to talk about sanctification in ways that don’t sound stilted and formulaic and, of course, sound something like Paul! : ) Glad you could go to that pastor’s church!… Thanks again for your continual engagement Jake. You shoot from the hip a bit, but don’t lose that either. It is not always a bad thing, I think! (so long as we also listen to correction, can admit when we went too far, etc…).
Thank you brother!
I owe you a profound apology- Dr Pless is worse than I thought. You right, I was wrong. I am sorry.
Pax, fighter. Onward.
I do not know what news specifically prompted Jake’s apology to me, but if it this post didn’t do it for him, maybe it did for someone else (post since deleted; cataloged in a FB post from Jan. 23 at 11:06 am):
Tell me again about the rude people on Twitter who blew this thing up. Sure.
We need new leadership.
Lord have mercy.