Theological Symposium

30th Annual Theological Symposium

Sept. 17-18, 2019

Devoted: (Re)forming the Devotional Life

What does devotion look like in the modern world? When we have instantaneous access to material goods, and those very goods are often dispensable, what does it mean to be fully devoted to something or someone?

Christians often talk about "doing" their devotions. This language evokes the picture of a person who spends time in solitude and silence, reading and meditating on biblical texts. That image of the devotional life is tranquil and beautiful, but devotion hasn't always looked this way. Church history tells the stories of men and women of faith who led devoted and faithful lives that were much more varied and complex.

The 2019 Theological Symposium will explore the topic of devotion in all its complexity, (re)forming our devotional lives into lives of devotion. Attendees will walk away refreshed and equipped to encounter the challenges of our contemporary culture with the depths of God's Word and the breadth of His work.

Highlights include:

  • Plenaries led by Seminary professors Dr. David Schmitt, Dr. Charles Arand, Dr. Timothy Saleska and Dr. Bruce Hartung.
  • Reflection, recreation and fellowship time.
  • Fifth Annual Dr. Jack Dean Kingsbury Lecture in New Testament Theology with Dr. James W. Voelz, "‘For Want of a Nail ...': The Importance of Details both Small and Great for Biblical Interpretation" at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17, in Werner Auditorium. The lecture will be available via live stream at
  • A golf outing sponsored by the LCMS Foundation, Monday, Sept. 16. Space is limited for this free event.

Registration is $160. Meals are included. Registration closes Aug. 30.

Be sure and share photos and other symposium details with your friends and family on social media using the hashtags, #CSLDevoted and #CSLSymposium.


David Schmitt
Discerning Devotion: Devotion and Discipleship in a Discontented Age

The devotional life takes on many forms. Different cultural contexts and different life experiences pose both problems and possibilities for lives of devotion. This plenary will offer an overarching framework for the Theological Symposium. We will consider how our particular cultural moment presents three challenges to the devotional life: distraction, disenchantment and disillusionment. For each challenge, we will consider how God works through His Word to reform our lives of devotion that we may live as faithful disciples in a discontented age.

Charles Arand
Devotion in an Age of Distraction

Christian discipleship calls us to devote ourselves deeply to God and the things of God. This plenary will provide an example of what a journey of devotion to one article of the faith (namely, to God's creation and our place within it/our invitation to share in God's devotion to it) may look like. In the process, it will show how the twists and turns of that journey manifested itself in various practices of discipleship. Finally, it hopes to show how such devotion may in turn may give rise to a new community and become a moment of celebration that enriches the lives of others within the community of faith by giving them eyes to see things in a fresh way so as to encourage them in their own walk of discipleship.

Timothy Saleska
Discovery in an Age of Disenchantment

We live in a world in which the focus on ourselves as autonomous individuals has blocked us from seeing the sacred. It is a world in which people no longer feel moved or awed by God or life or humanity. Once our highest values, these no longer amaze or terrify or inspire. As my colleague Dr. Joel Okamoto recently pointed out, this condition (called "normal nihilism") matters in three ways. First, it matters because this is a normal feature of our contemporary life. Second, it matters because it is a general subjective condition. It is not just other people who think and live this way, each of us does too. And third, it matters because it poses a perennial temptation. It conditions how we think, the way we see the world and how we live. As people who claim to worship God and serve Him, we can learn to see differently. This plenary will suggest that to learn to read the Psalms is to learn a skill that will help us to see the world differently. By practicing of reading of some psalms, by presenting some examples and by offering a few directions, this session aims to cultivate a reading skill, which, in turn, has the potential to shape how we see the world, our lives, our relationships and our ministry.

Bruce Hartung
Discipline in an Age of Disillusionment

Life promises many things. People search for what is promised and often work very hard to find it. Sometimes what is discovered is only an illusion of the promise. This discovery can be a spiritual gift; it can also be a destructive influence. This plenary will address the spiritual gift of disillusionment as that disillusionment is reflected in burnout, disappointment and grief. But the devotional life lives with disillusionment as a spiritual necessity and, in doing so, receives it as a helpful guide to following Jesus.

Sectionals: Track 1

Devotion in the Age of Distraction

Rev. Joel Kurz

Pastor, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Warrensburg, Mo.

This session will explore the intersection of nature, poetry and prayer within the devotional life, with special attention given to the work of Evelyn Underhill and Lilias Trotter. St. Francis said that the result of prayer is life, so the discussion will focus on attentiveness to the Word and works of the Lord in our created and creative existence. The hope is that those in attendance will be encouraged to pray and live with eyes opened and lifted up, as did the flesh and blood of Christ.

Dr. Erik Herrmann

Associate Professor of Historical Theology, Chairman of the Department of Historical Theology, Director of the Center for Reformation Research and Director of Concordia Theology

Martin Luther's reforming work is usually described as a reform of doctrine (e.g. justification by faith alone) or a reform of church authority (e.g. Scripture alone). Yet the beginning of Luther's public efforts centered on pastoral care and the devotional or spiritual practices of the people, i.e. indulgences and penance. This sectional will focus on how Luther's reform unfolded as a programmatic reform of devotional practices and devotional literature.

Rev. Mark Kiessling

Director, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) Youth Ministry

Ms. Julianna Shults

Program Manager, Lutheran Young Adult Corps, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, St. Louis, Mo.

Adolescents are given new freedoms and responsibilities and live in a key time of understanding their giftedness and passions in life. In the LCMS context, moving from junior confirmation to high school ministry provides opportunities for young people to understand vocation and a lifelong relationship with Jesus and His church. Using data from the Lutheran Youth Fellowship poll and the 2017 millennial and the LCMS study, this session will explore ways the body of Christ faithfully walks alongside young people on their journey and prepares them for the significant life transition after high school graduation.

Dr. Anthony (Tony) Cook

Vice President, Global Ministries, Lutheran Hour Ministries, St. Louis, Mo.

The size, shape and complexity of households is changing, but the role of the household in instilling and nurturing the Christian faith remains the same. Based on research from Lutheran Hour Ministries and the Barna Group, this session will explore the devotional life of spiritually vibrant households as they grow together, practice hospitality and share their faith with those around them.

Sectionals: Track 2

Discovery in an Age of Disenchantment

Dr. Dale A. Meyer

President and Professor of Practical Theology, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo.

In Do I Make Myself Clear?, former newspaper editor, writer and broadcaster Sir Harold Evans challenges pastors and Christian communicators to examine their work. Writing short devotions is a discipline that sharpens the theological insight and diction of the writer and brings contemporary relevance of age-old biblical truths to readers and hearers. If you can't say it clearly and quickly, you probably don't get it — and your reader or hearer certainly won't! Hear more on the topic from the president of Concordia Seminary, the author of Timely Reflections: A Minute a Day with Dale Meyer, a compilation of 365 daily devotions from his long-running online series, The Meyer Minute.

Dr. David Schmitt

Gregg H. Benidt Memorial Professor of Homiletics and Literature, Professor of Practical Theology and Chairman of the Department of Practical Theology

When preaching on biblical poetry, preachers often rely upon explanation. They take the vivid images of the poetry and the variety of experiences it offers and reduce them to a teaching to be proclaimed. What would happen if preachers approached biblical poetry as something to be experienced in the sermon rather than only explained? This sectional will present a case study of preaching on a psalm. Participants will explore what it means to read and to preach biblical poetry as a spiritually formative drama of the imagination.

Rev. William Weedon

Director of Worship and Chaplain, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, St. Louis, Mo.

A reflection on the offering of daily prayers. This session will explore the practical way the catechism helps us to live in prayer throughout the day and the connections that it provides with Baptism and Eucharist.

Dr. Travis Scholl

Managing Editor of Theological Publications, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo.

Reading the Scriptures is a routine devotional practice. But what does it mean to not only dwell "on" the Scriptures, but also to dwell "in" them? This sectional will explore the ancient method of biblical reading known as midrash as a way to live more fully within the biblical text, to find our story inside God's story rather than the other way around.

Dr. Leopoldo A. Sánchez M.

Professor of Systematic Theology, Director of the Center for Hispanic Studies, and the Werner R.H. Krause and Elizabeth Ringger Krause Professor of Hispanic Ministries, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo.

What if we use the image of a sculptor to think of the Holy Spirit's sanctifying work in our lives? The Spirit is like a sculptor who chisels our rough edges and molds us after the likeness of Christ. There are various ways in which the Scriptures, early church fathers, Luther and contemporary theologians depict the Christ-like life. But are there some depictions of life in the Spirit of Christ that might be particularly helpful for promoting and nurturing a devotional life? In this sectional, we will explore a devotional model of sanctification that highlights the Spirit's formation of Christians to live before God and others according to the rhythm of labor and rest - a pattern most fully embodied in a human life by our Lord Himself. We will look at biblical, patristic, Lutheran and other theological sources supporting such a devotional model, suggest a number of spiritual issues such a model can best address in the Christian life, and the types of spiritual practices such a model seeks to promote and nurture.

Sectionals: Track 3

Discipline in an Age of Disillusionment

Rev. Larry Vogel

Associate Executive Director, Commission on Theology and Church Relations, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, St. Louis, Mo.

"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12 ESV). Throughout previous generations, death lurked as a constant presence. Life was shorter and more precarious than it is today. We have largely prevented early death, postponing the end of days for many. How does length of days change the devotional life of Christians as "strangers and exiles," both in the life of prayer and our time for "doing good" (1 Peter)? It is easy for us to view a greater life span as little more than an opportunity to fulfill our bucket lists. This presentation will suggest the challenge for Christians to approach our longer life spans as a time of increased opportunities for sacrificial service instead.

Dr. John Eckrich

Founder, Grace Place Wellness Ministries, St. Louis, Mo.

Grace Place retreats offer opportunities for centering or meditative prayer following a Lutheran-format for Lectio Divina. Those participating in the retreats pray the Word (oratio), discursively meditate on the Word (meditatio) and wrestle with the Word in daily living (tentatio). This will be an experiential session.

Dr. Thomas Egger

Academic Adviser for First Year Students and Assistant Professor of Exegetical Theology, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo.

The careful study of the Scriptures on the basis of Hebrew and Greek should be more than a merely academic pursuit, reserved for "experts." The benefits extend beyond "knowing more" or even "knowing more clearly" to include being humbled before God and His Word, being strengthened in faith, being renewed in a sense of purpose and being roused to praise. Egger will offer theological and personal reflections on the value of knowing and using the Bible's original languages in one's regular study of the Scriptures - and some modest practical suggestions on reviving and maintaining this discipline.

Dr. John Pless

Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., and Visiting Professor at the Lutheran Seminary, Pretoria, South Africa

Luther often spoke of praying the catechism. The 19th century Bavarian pastor Wilhelm Loehe once commented that of all the catechisms in the world, Luther's catechism alone could be prayed. Not only does the catechism instruct Christians about the theology of prayer, it also tutors them in the art of praying as it anchors trust in the promises of God in the face of spiritual assault from the world, our sinful nature and the devil. This presentation will examine the catechism as the distillation of Luther's evangelical understanding of prayer grounded in God's command and promise. It also will discuss some ways that the catechism can be used in the devotional life in view of Luther's later formulation of the oratio, meditatio, tentaio, as well as features built into the 2017 Luther's Small Catechism With Explanation that lend themselves to a more robust devotional use of the catechism.

Open Sectionals

9:30-10:15 a.m.

Dr. Adam Clark

St. Peter Lutheran Church, Mishawaka, Ind., and Michiana Lifetree Conversation Café

This sectional will begin with the argument that we should conceive of devotion in part as a stable disposition of character (a "virtue") that completely orients a person to God, that this disposition is a constitutive element of human creatureliness, and that it is now reconstituted in sinners by God's gracious work through the Word embodied in the church's worship and wider "liturgical" practices. Drawing on Lutheran, Reformed and Catholic resources, we will examine precisely how these practices take up the whole of human life and how they may form the heart and body, and not just the mind. The presenter will argue for the critical role of the mind's contemplation in fixing a life on God while also fueling action on behalf of the neighbor — and especially "the least of these." He will ask how we may better form our liturgical practices to shape each element of the wholly devoted human life. This sectional also will highlight how "liturgical" formation and practice of devotion fits us for life at the present moment of human history by reforming secularizing conceptions of life, freedom and social justice.

Rev. Daniel Herb

Pastor, Messiah Lutheran Church, Middletown, Ohio

What is it that drives a person? This is a key question today to understand the motivation behind people's actions, attitudes and desires. Every person has an impetus, a foundational code that sets the framework and direction to form daily thoughts, words and deeds in life. The life of a Christian is different from that of an unbeliever, in that the devotion to God and His Word shapes and influences every person's vocation. This sectional will investigate the Lord's guidance for living God-pleasing vocations.

Dr. Theodore Hopkins

Assistant Professor of Theology, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Mich.

For Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christians must learn to read the Bible against ourselves, paying special attention to how the Bible challenges us and our presuppositions. This session will explore Bonhoeffer's biblical hermeneutics before seeing how Bonhoeffer employs this penitential hermeneutic in discipleship.

Ms. Valerie Matyas

Visual Faith Classroom Coach, Visual Faith Ministry, Bay City, Mich.

Learn techniques to express visual devotional responses to Scripture upon reading and reflection, regardless of artistic skill level. This will be a hands-on sectional. Supplies will be provided.

Rev. Kyle Mietzner

Pastor, Zion Lutheran Church, Anchorage, Alaska

Our daily devotional lives were never meant to be lived out solely on an individual basis. The baptized Christian is given a community pledged to daily devotion. Lutherans occupy a unique place in Christendom when it comes to these habits and rituals. Completely free in Christ, we are the inheritors of thousands of years of historical gifts, which set a mighty precedent and pattern for the communal devotional life lived out in the congregational context. Instead of creating something new, it is time to dig deeper into the ways of our fathers and mothers in the faith.

10:30-11:15 a.m.

Dr. Paul Muench

Retired Professor, Concordia University Texas, Austin, Texas

The results are confusing when theory and practice are not coordinated. Certainly, Lutheran doctrine of being saved by grace is correct, but some practices are confusing. For example, Baptism is something God does. Baptism is a gift given by God's act of grace. We baptize infants because faith is something God gives, it is not something we earn. Yet, for adults a declaration that God has created faith is not enough, the adult must go through a period of instruction to earn this "Baptism gift." Perhaps the shift from the biblical-centered set thinking to the Greek-bounded set approach explains this change in practice. Could it be that our Western-bounded set way of thinking is one of the reasons our witness to the God of grace isn't getting much of a response? Is our bounded set practice twisting our message so it is heard as rules rather than relationship, as "do this" rather than "God's grace for you?" Our bounded set way of thinking also may be undermining our worship and devotional life. This sectional will explore whether the cultural shift from Hebrew-centered set thinking to Greek-bounded set thinking is causing confusion between our doctrine and practice.

Rev. Chris Navurskis

Senior Pastor, Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church, Huron, S.D.

This session will examine the contemporary struggle of imploring God's people to make time for devotions, consider the ways Jesus engaged people devotionally using various objects and settings, and include a presentation of tools pastors can use to help their people make their time devotional.

Dr. CJ Ransdell

Pastor, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Dover, Del.

This session will share strategies and resources that are used to incorporate faith practices into confirmation ministry. A byproduct of Ransdell's doctoral research, the resources are easily adaptable for a variety of ministry situations.

Rev. Michael Schmidt

Pastor, Peace Lutheran Church, Natoma, Kan., and First Lutheran Church, Plainville, Kan.

This sectional will examine the Third Commandment and the preaching of Law and Gospel as it relates to the practice of daily devotions in the home.

1-1:45 p.m.

Rev. Matthew Shive

Associate Pastor, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Sheboygan, Wis.

In the 21st century a new movement known as transhumanism has arisen, which seeks to fuse together man with technology in order to create a form of biological immortality. Thinkers such as Ray Kurzweil proclaim a coming digital utopian eternity for humanity and the world. A closer look at transhumanism's narrative reveals an old quest for man's deification. The Christian narrative offers a counter and real hope that has begun in the world and in the lives of God's people. This sectional will compare and contrast the two competing narratives of transhumanism and Christianity.

Rev. Ken Sinclair

Pastor, Faith Lutheran Church, Sugar Land, Texas

Raised in the Lutheran stream from birth, Sinclair heard "forgive and make up!" addressed to any number of childhood disagreements. He never received a correction even as he grew older. White-knuckled forgiveness can be tiring! This sectional will address a process and a pathway to forgiveness so we are actually free to bless the offender.

Rev. Jason Swan

Pastor, The Lutheran Church of the Atonement, Seattle, Wash.

There is a crisis of meaning in our modern world today. The question of how the devotional life of the church addresses the complex issues contributing to this crisis must be raised. This sectional addresses the crisis of meaning in its complexity through engaging stories in fiction that address human suffering, doubt and struggle. This engagement comes by connecting those tales to the psalms of lament, the ministry and Passion of our Lord, and the writings of Paul. These stories and their characters will provide the backdrop to develop multifaceted examples for use in devotional writing and life. These examples will address suffering from a biblical perspective, which finds perseverance and meaning through the anguish of this life by looking to the hope found in the cross of Christ.

Dr. Eric Tritten

Pastor, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Hudson, Ohio

The dominant idea of devotion today seems to be individual and private. At the same time, one of the key expressions of devotion in the Christian life is corporate worship. What would happen if we connected private devotion habits to the corporate worship of the congregation?

Mr. Benjamin Nickodemus

Ph.D. Student, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo.

Please note: Rev. Kale Hanson will be presenting this sectional on behalf of Benjamin Nickodemus.

This sectional will look at the closest parallel to home devotional reading practice in Pauline communities by exploring the dynamic of ancient literacy and ancient reading circles in the Roman Empire. Modern readers often discuss the circulation of Paul’s letters as having occurred between various churches — such as sending a copy of Galatians to the church in Corinth. The presenter will argue, however, that while this did occur, the far more common pattern of circulating letters happened within a particular congregation. Rather than the entire letter being read at the assembly before the entire group, it also was devotionally read by smaller groups during meal times. This is built upon William Johnson’s discussion of reading circles in the Roman Empire and its implications for ancient literacy wherein reading aloud in small group gatherings, particularly at meals, was a standard practice to include nonliterate people into a very robust literacy of ancient texts. The presenter argues that Paul is assuming this style of home devotion for the reading of his own letters. This sort of reading practice leads to the Gospel and the letters being embodied by members as the text is as much recited as read in these reading circles, which fits with Paul’s rhetoric of the Gospel being embodied in him (Gal. 1:16) to which the Galatians are to emulate (Gal. 4:12).

2-2:45 p.m.

Rev. Guillaume Williams

Pastor, Hope Lutheran Chapel, Osage Beach, Mo.

This sectional will cover the history of the breviary, its composition and it structure from both a Western and Eastern use, the themes of the hours of prayer and the day of the week, and why praying the psalms regularly will enrich ex corde prayers. It also will address ideas for simplifying the breviary.

Rev. Daniel Merz

Pastor, Our Savior Lutheran Church, Stanhope, N.J.

Second Tuesday of the month, the circuit winkel. That is the day pastors are encouraged to receive the gifts of worship that they deliver to their flock each and every week. But is once a month enough? If your congregation was only being fed in corporate worship once a month, you would rightly consider the time insufficient for nurturing and sustaining a robust faith. The Divine Service, staff prayers, family worship time at home — you as a pastor and house father are leading others, bringing them to the lush pastures. What about you? The Office of the Holy Ministry offers many blessings, but often pastors starve themselves as they feed others. Hear more about how to be an example to your flock and fight spiritual complacency, prioritize feasting on the Word of God in prayer and song with other pastors as a weekly sine qua non that fuels your work as a Christian and a curate of souls.

Rev. Dan Galchutt

Assistant to the President for Mission and Stewardship, LCMS Kansas District, Topeka, Kan.

In this sectional, Galchutt will make the case that both individual Christians and congregations should be devoted to home as a critical place where the Christian learns and lives out the faith. While weekly worship is rightly emphasized by pastors and congregations, daily time of devotion in the home needs increased emphasis by pastors and congregations, as well as in families. The two together — weekly worship and daily devotions — are God's intended means to foster a life devoted to the Lord and others. He will speak with Scripture as his guide, rejoicing in the fruits of doing such work in the home. He also will discuss how the Christian household does this and offer a free resource to make starting such a practice in the home easier.

Dr. Chris Hinkle

Pastor, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wapello, Iowa

Luther's Small Catechism incorporates a model for sanctifying each day with the Word of God and prayer that can be used by anyone, even by those who cannot read. This session proposes such a devotional approach to our vocations and suggests how it can be implemented.

Rev. Andrew Johnson

Pastor, Christ Lutheran Church, Milford, Mich.

Origen of Alexandria is not a name that typically finds fellowship with the devotional life. While Origen himself was a devoted individual, his place is relegated to the halls of the academy. This sectional will challenge this conceptualization of Origen, arguing that Origen's primary mark upon the church, his hermeneutical system for interpreting the Scriptures, is directly tied to the formation of the devoted life of the hearer in the church. The presentation also will address Origen's formative hermeneutic through the lens of preaching, specifically focusing upon Origen's understanding and utilization of the art of preaching, and that Origen's preaching is intended to further along his hearers' devotion toward God.

Additional Continuing Education Opportunities

Faith and Writing Workshop

Concordia Seminary’s “Faith and Writing” workshop explores various forms of creative writing — starting a blog, creating a sermon or devotion, “traditional” forms of creative writing (story, nonfiction, drama, poetry) — and everything in between.

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Lay Bible Institute

Calling lay people, students involved in homiletical education, pastors and others interested in the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world: the Lay Bible Institute is for you!

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Multiethnic Symposium

The Seminary’s annual Multiethnic Symposium brings together Lutherans and mission leaders of various ethnicities from across the country for workshops, discussions and worship.

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Pre-Lenten Workshop

The Pre-Lenten Workshop includes sermon manuscripts, textual notes, orders of service for midweek services and also suggestions for the Sundays of Lent to help pastors in developing their own worship resources.

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Summer Workshop Series

Hosted by congregations across the country May through August, and led by Seminary faculty, these workshops offer an opportunity to delve deeply into topics ranging from the teachings of Martin Luther to pastoral tools, such as preaching, responding to conflict and teaching confirmation.

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