Thursday, October 22, 2009

Carl Braaten

A number of years ago, I wrote a blog post in response to an open letter that Carl Braaten wrote to then ELCA presiding bishop Mark Hanson. To my utter astonishment, that post started turning up whenever anyone search for "Carl Braaten" on Google. As of today, it is the third result Google offers, and I've seen it as high as number one (maybe just for me, I don't know what Google does behind the scenes). In any event, this was the top search result that led people to my humble blog until it was recently surpassed by "Can Jesus Microwave a Burrito?" (The Internet is a strange place, and Google models that strangeness well.)

Anyway, for some time now, I've been intending to offer something useful to those who stumble across my blog looking for actual information about Dr. Braaten, but it turns out that such information really has been hard to find. Recently, I enlisted the help of Dwight at Versus Populum, who was able to provide me with enough information to offer the rough biography that follows. I'll also be posting this at Wikipedia, which had a very terse entry, so if anyone knows more and would care to elaborate, please go there and do so.

So, without further ado.....


Carl Braaten has been one of the leading theologians and teachers in the Lutheran church for the past 50 years. He has authored and edited numerous books and theological papers, including Principles of Lutheran Theology (Fortress Press, 1983), Mother Church: Ecclesiology and Ecumenism (Fortress Press, 1998) and In One Body Through the Cross: The Princeton Proposal for Christian Unity (Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003).

Along with Robert Jenson, he has been an influential figure in developing and restoring the catholic roots of American Lutheranism.

Braaten was born on January 3, 1929. His parents were Norwegian-American pietists, who served as missionaries in Madagascar, and he received his early spiritual formation in that context. After finishing high school at Augustana Academy, a Lutheran boarding school in Canton, South Dakota, he attended St. Olaf College, Luther Seminary, Heidelberg University and Harvard Divinity School. where he studied under Paul Tillich and earned his doctoral degree. He was ordained by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1958.

At that time, he began serving a parish in Minneapolis and teaching at Luther Seminary. In 1961 Braaten, together with Robert Jenson, Roy Harrisville, Kent Knutson, James Burtness and others, founded the journal Dialog, which he continued to serve as editor until resigning in 1991. In 1962, Dr. Braaten accepted a position at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, where he taught as Professor of Systematic Theology until 1991 and where he is still recognized as Professor Emeritus.

In 1991, Braaten and Jenson founded the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology and established a new theological journal, Pro Ecclesia.


Chris Duckworth said...

Until I took my blog offline, I had a critical post about Dr. Braaten that was also appearing near the top of a "Carl Braaten" Google search ... though I love his Principles of Lutheran Theology, I find most of his recent writings and rants to be unhelpful.

Lee said...

Earlier this year I read Braaten's The Future of God, and it was hard to believe it was written by the same person. Granted, that was published in 1969--I imagine my beliefs will have changed somewhat 40 years from now.

Andy said...

My wife was surprised I did this, in light of my disagreements with Braaten's open letters. The thing is, he has given 50 years of service to the Church, and I feel like he deserves better than something like my rant about his open letter to Mark Hanson showing up when people want to know who he is.

When I wrote the original post, I sent it to him (presumptuous as that may have been). His response was something along the lines of "You stupid schmuck. Can't you see that I'm talking about ecclesiology. Why do you think I want to talk about sex?" I'm paraphrasing, of course. At the time, my reaction was, "I can't believe he called me a schmuck." (I think "liberal protestant" was the actual term he used.) But I saved the response and recently re-read it, and I kind of see his point.

Beyond that, I have gotten a lot out of his books. I like his books much better than I like his letters. ;-)

Lee, your last comment is particularly interesting to me, as I'm exactly the age now that Braaten was in 1969. Can you give a general summary of the book?

Diane said...

I really liked Dr. Braaten's book The Flaming Center, which I read when I was training to be a missionary long ago. I'm kind of sad that I mislaid my copy, as I'm sure it is long out of print.

Ah, I see about the "liberal protestant" thing, as he considers himself an "evangelical protestant." The Protestant/and Evangelical catholic warring camps of Lutheranism really really drive me crazy? Have you heard of Dr. Walter (Skip) Sundberg? He is on the denominational Protestant side of the divide.

ok, that was too much information.

I was actually disappointed by the book Mother Church, which, among other things, seems to yearn for a Pope or a pope-like authority figure.

so, what is Dr. Braaten most upset be? Is it that the church is saying that there might be a variety of positions on homosexuality? Or is he upset that the church seems to be allowing for some local autonomy?

Diane said...

er, evangelical CATHOLIC.

Lee said...

Essentially, The Future of God was a mini-systematic theology, but one heavily indebted to the "Theology of Hope" perspective that was big then. (Moltmann, Pannenberg, et al.) One passage that sticks out in my mind is where Braaten explicitly dismisses "natural law" reasoning on the grounds that creation is unfinished and the new creation, not some mythical golden age of the past, provides the context for thinking about ethics. I thought it was a valuable read, if you ever happen to come across a used or library copy (I believe it's out of print).

Here's a review from around when it was published:

It would be interesting, I'm sure, to hear an account of the evolution of Braaten's views.