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Q & A with new Seminary Provost

This summer, Dr. Douglas Rutt accepted the call to be the new provost at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

In this role Rutt will become one of three members of the Seminary’s Executive Management Team, which also includes the president and executive vice president/chief operating officer. He will serve as the Seminary’s chief academic officer, providing guidance to faculty, managing academic administrative affairs, and providing oversight of academic programs and curriculum.

“God always provides the gifts the church needs at the right time, at the right place,” said Rev. Shawn L. Kumm, Board of Regents chairman. “Dr. Rutt is the right gift at the right time at Concordia Seminary.”

Since 2010, Rutt has served as executive director of International Ministries at Lutheran Hour Ministries. Prior to that, he had served as professor and dean at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind., as an area director for Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) World Mission, a parish pastor in Minnesota and a missionary in Guatemala.

Before he began preparing for ministry, Rutt was a U.S. Navy jet engine mechanic and later served as a commercial pilot and flight instructor after he was discharged from the military.

Rutt holds a bachelor’s degree from Minnesota State University (1981) in Mankato, Minn, and a Master of Divinity and a Doctor of Philosophy from Concordia Theological Seminary (1986, 1997). Fluent in Spanish, he graduated from the Instituto del Idioma Español in Antigua, Guatemala, in 1984.

We recently sat down with Rutt to ask him a few questions.

How would you describe yourself?

I am a person who has been immeasurably blessed by God with a variety of interests and experiences. Most important to me is my family — my wife Deborah, five children, their spouses and 15 grandchildren. I treasure the fact that by the grace of God the entire family confesses the Lutheran faith.

How many different countries have you traveled to? Any favorites?

I haven’t counted for a while, but at last count it was over 60. Each place has its own charm and memories. The differences in culture, and especially food, have always been fascinating to me. The favorite would have to be Guatemala. We lived there for eight years, and our youngest daughter was born there.

What attracted you to return to theological education?

I would say that in general my ministry has had two emphases: theological education and mission. The connection between the two became very apparent to me when we first went to Guatemala and I could see that for mission to flourish, there must be a plan and program for the formation of pastors, teachers, church workers, etc. It is noteworthy, for example, that the seminary in Brazil was established in 1903, a year before the church body. In our own case, Concordia Seminary was established in 1839, eight years before the formation of the Missouri Synod. So, the two go hand-in-hand. Martin Kähler, a well-known missions thinker from the late 19th century, said, “Missions is the mother of theology.” In many ways I believe that is true. I look forward to bringing my international mission experience and perspective to the seminary.

What do you love most about the classroom?

Discovery. I love it when we are talking about a topic and you see the light come on in the minds of students, and when you see students come to solid theological conclusions and commitments on their own.

What opportunities or challenges do you see the church facing into the future?

This is both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge we are facing, especially in the West, is facing up to the fact that the church no longer has a place of privilege in society. We cannot keep operating as if we have that place in the eyes of our culture. It is also an opportunity because it forces us to reflect more deeply in proclaiming the Gospel in all its truth and power, and I am convinced it will make us stronger.

Another factor is the growth of the church worldwide. As Philip Jenkins has said, to paraphrase, “The church isn’t just surviving, it’s thriving when you look at it globally.” This is true of Lutheranism as well. It is a challenge because of the need for solid theological education, something Concordia Seminary is a significant part of. Around the world, younger churches yearn to send their future pastors and workers here, and they covet those opportunities when our faculty members can go to their churches, seminaries and schools to teach. There is a lot to learn about God’s Kingdom, going both ways.

How do you see Concordia Seminary serving the church as we face the future?

We have so much to offer for the formation of those who will become church workers and in providing advanced studies. We have a certain responsibility to study issues facing the church and to provide guidance. But we also have a mission to the church in general, with our great faculty providing articles, books and teaching for laypeople. This is crucial for the nurture and growth of God’s Kingdom.

What do you like to do for fun or to unwind?

I enjoy a wide variety of music, from sacred to classical symphonic to jazz to rock. I also enjoy working with my hands doing various projects around the house such as repairs, rebuilding decks and woodworking. We have a large family so I enjoy being with my kids and grandkids.

Have you read any good books lately you could recommend?

I like to read some of John Grisham’s better books because they are entertaining and fast-paced. I enjoy reading about history, especially church history. Two books I’ve taken in recently tell the stories of two remarkable LCMS church men and graduates of Concordia Seminary. One is Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis by Tim Townsend. It tells the story of St. Louis-area Pastor Henry Gerecke, who ended up joining the Army during WWII at the age of 50, and eventually was tasked with ministering to the Nazi war criminals and their families during the Nuremburg trials. Another is Nau! Mission Inspired: The Story of Henry Nau. Before immigrating to America, he once fought a duel to the death, then came to America to make a living as a professional gambler, but was ministered to by two LCMS missionaries in New York. Eventually, he came to the Seminary — there is so much to tell — but was a missionary in the early 1900s to India, became the president of Immanuel Lutheran College in Greensboro, N.C., was asked to establish the mission in Nigeria in the 1930s, and toward the end of his life, went back to India as a missionary in his 70s. These are just two of the extraordinary people who have passed through the halls of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

Dr. Travis Scholl is managing editor of Seminary Publications at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.