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Chicago (ELCA)-FI — The Rev. Gerhard O. Forde, a leading Lutheran theologian, retired seminary professor and pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), died of pneumonia Aug. 9 in St. Paul, Minn., after a lengthy battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 77.
"One can't overestimate the power and impact of Gerhard Forde's theology across the Lutheran Church and the wider ecumenical community. His students heard proclamation in his classroom, not just lectures," said the Rev. Richard H. Bliese, president, Luther Seminary, St. Paul.
"Forde encouraged us to reclaim Luther's theology of the cross and, upon this confession, to be radical disciples of our Lord. Like church bells in a high steeple, his voice will continue to ring out boldly for years to come. His clear vision for the gospel and his theological presence will be missed," Bliese said.
"Dr. Forde was a remarkably clear and persistent witness to the gospel. Through his preaching, teaching and writing, many first glimpsed just how radical the gospel is," said the Rev. Jonathan P. Strandjord, director for theological education, ELCA Division for Ministry.
"His ability to speak not only to fellow scholars but also to general readers in such books as Where God Meets Man is a model of the kind of theological work that the ELCA needs to multiply if we are to foster a culture of theological wisdom," Strandjord said.
A funeral Aug. 12 at St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church, St. Paul, was followed by burial at Indherred Lutheran Church, Starbuck, Minn.
Forde was born Sept. 10, 1927, in Starbuck. His father was pastor of Indherred Lutheran Church.
Forde graduated from Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, and Luther Seminary, St. Paul, both institutions of the ELCA.
Forde began teaching in 1955 as an instructor in religion at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn., another ELCA college. He joined the faculty of Luther Seminary as a lecturer in church history and became an assistant professor of religion at Luther College; he returned to Luther Seminary as an instructor and became a professor of systematic theology.
Forde earned a doctorate in theology from Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Mass., in 1967, and was ordained in 1968. He served as the Lutheran tutor at Mansfield College, Oxford University, Oxford, England, and studied at Tuebingen University, Tuebingen, Germany.
Forde was a member of the American Academy of Religion; the board of dialog, A Journal of Theology; the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue; the Commission for the New Lutheran Church, which merged three church bodies to shape the original structure of the ELCA; and the editorial board of The Lutheran Quarterly, new series.
"I have tried through the years to present the integrity and truth of the tradition, especially as found in Martin Luther, in a way that is interesting, compelling and exciting," he said at his retirement in 1998, after more than 30 years of teaching at Luther Seminary.
Forde authored many theological articles and books, including The Law-Gospel Debate (1969), Theology is for Proclamation (1990), On Being a Theologian of the Cross (1997) and A More Radical Gospel (2004). A festschrift, By Faith Alone: Essays on Justification in Honor of Gerhard O. Forde, was published in 2004. Forde's most recent work, The Captivation of the Will: Luther vs. Erasmus on Freedom and Bondage, was released May 1.
On March 1, Forde was one of 17 ELCA theologians who issued "A Statement of Pastoral and Theological Concern," warning their church against accepting three recommendations on homosexuality that a task force for the ELCA Studies on Sexuality developed for the 2005 Churchwide Assembly in August.
Forde is survived by his wife Marianna; sons Timothy and Geoffrey; a daughter Sarah Monnens; brothers Nels, Paul, Mark, Daniel, Jonathan and Michael; a sister Astrid Ann Young; his stepmother Astrid Forde; and one grandson.
A tribute to Gerhard O. Forde and online memory book are at www.luthersem.edu/memorial/gerhard_forde.asp on the Web site of Luther Seminary.