In the past year, Professor Thomas Egger finished his Ph.D., was installed as the Gustav and Sophie Butterbach Professor of Exegetical Theology and was appointed as chairman of the Department of Exegetical Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. It was simultaneously the culmination of a long journey and the start of a new stage.
Egger finished his doctoral course work and exams in the late 1990s, after graduating with his Master of Divinity (M.Div.), all at Concordia Seminary. But then he received a call to serve as pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Storm Lake, Iowa. Having grown up in Iowa, the call brought him back home for a time. “There is no higher calling in the church than to bring the Gospel of Christ into the lives of real people, with all of their very real joys, sorrows, struggles,” Egger says. He then returned to the Seminary to teach exegetical theology in 2005. “Studying the ‘whole counsel of God’ prepares pastors to bring the right word, at the right time, to bind up the wounds of Christ’s people and to build up the church in Christ’s promises.”
Upon his return, he began researching and working on his dissertation, studying the book of Exodus and, in particular, God’s self-description of “visiting iniquity of fathers against sons,” a phrase that God utters twice in Exodus. With a growing family (Tom and his wife, Tori, have six children who range in age from adulthood to middle school), the busy schedule of teaching and faculty service, and numerous other commitments, his dissertation work unfolded more slowly than he anticipated. But in some ways, that turned out to be a blessing. His classroom teaching helped shape his theological reflection on Exodus and the Old Testament as a whole, which enriched his doctoral work, and vice versa.
Most recently, he has been teaching courses on the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) and the Psalms, as well as elementary Hebrew. He also has been teaching a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) course, “Exegetical Theology Today,” an online Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) Program course, “Old Testament Theology,” and soon will be teaching a Ph.D. seminar, “Advanced Hebrew Readings.”
Now that his doctoral work is completed, Egger has been able to use his expertise on Exodus and the Old Testament in academic conferences, pastors’ conferences, continuing education workshops, congregational Bible studies and lectures to college students. “Exodus is the story of God’s rescue of His people from bitter slavery, and then His gracious forgiveness of their sin,” Egger says. “God comes to dwell in their midst, to make them holy and to own them as His people, His enduring inheritance.” In 2019, he led a very popular Winter Lay Bible Institute at the Seminary on “Exodus: The Greatest (OT) Story Ever Told” and is preparing a Lenten sermon study for 2021 on “O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High: God’s Enormous Mercy.”
At the heart of the book of Exodus is the story of how Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, which includes the account of the 10 plagues. This has allowed Egger to reflect on how biblical faith helps people understand life in 2020, amid the ongoing global pandemic associated with COVID-19. As he says in a recent interview with Concordia Seminary President Emeritus Dr. Dale A. Meyer on Word and Work: An Intersection, “The moral of the story of the book of Exodus is if you wait upon the Lord and put your trust in Him, you will not be disappointed. … You know, even in dark times, I can see many signs of the goodness of God. … Feed on the Scriptures and feed on time serving one another in love, and experience in both of those places the love of Jesus for the world.”
“There is no higher calling in the church than to bring the Gospel of Christ into the lives of real people, with all of their very real joys, sorrows, struggles.”
–Dr. Thomas Egger
But Egger’s work has not been limited to the Old Testament. In 2015–17, he served on The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) drafting committee for its new Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (Concordia Publishing House, CPH). His niche on the committee was centered on selecting the biblical texts and citations for each question and answer, which drew on his own knowledge of the LCMS’ history of producing and publishing catechisms. He also has a strong interest in American Lutheran church history, which is rooted in his work as a seminarian at Concordia Historical Institute (CHI), organizing its collection of materials related to the life of Dr. C.F.W. Walther, the first president of Concordia Seminary and the LCMS. Egger continues to serve on CHI’s Awards Committee, which reviews key works in American Lutheran history each year and selects the best for its annual awards. He also currently serves as a member of the Board of Regents at Concordia University Chicago, River Forest, Ill.
All of this work is upheld by the endowed chair Egger now occupies. The Gustav and Sophie Butterbach Chair in Exegetical Theology was established in 2000 by Gustav A. Butterbach, a self-professed “German bachelor farmer” from Michigan, to honor the memory of his parents and to support excellence in scholarship and teaching in the area of Old Testament studies. The chair had previously been occupied by longtime Concordia Seminary Professor
Dr. Andrew Bartelt until his retirement this past summer.
Egger met his wife in college when they were both students at Central College in Pella, Iowa. Their son, Andrew, is a journalist in Washington, D.C., and daughter, Stacey, works as a writer and editor in the communications department of the LCMS. They have two children in college: Abram at Concordia University Chicago and Bonnie at Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon. Their youngest children are Ellen, in high school, and Mary, a seventh-grader. Tori has worked as an educator, program manager and social worker serving people with developmental disabilities. She now teaches online English classes to children in China.
Looking ahead, Egger has begun work on a commentary on Genesis 1–11 for the Concordia Commentary series (CPH). He also hopes to one day write a commentary on the book of Exodus.