Friday, February 10, 2012

Dr. Frederick William Danker (1920-2012)

My familiarity with this great lexicographer comes, as for many others, through the use of A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.  As a Greek student at Concordia-St.Paul from 1979-1983, one of my first required texts was most certainly this tome for which he served as one of its valuable contributors.  The second edition (1979) was at the time of my initial studies virtually 'hot off the presses.'  Although Danker went on to produce yet a third edition in 2000, I have yet to replace my original.  Dr. Danker, who taught at Concordia Seminary-St. Louis for twenty years from 1954 to 1974, was one of the professors who later left to help form Christ Seminary in Exile (Seminex).  He wrote his reflections of this difficult period in the book No Room in the Brotherhood: The Preus-Otten Purge of Missouri, published by Clayton Publishing House in 1977.  I have never read this work, but was surprised when I checked out that no reviews exist for it there.

Dr. Matthew Becker recently wrote a testimony to Dr. Danker on his blog on February 9.  The ALPB also has a thread discussing Dr. Danker, which, predictably strayed off topic as most threads inevitably do.  Both of these sites reveal interesting insights and perspectives not only on Dr. Danker, but on the issues and events of the 70's that propelled him to leave the seminary for Seminex.  Dr. Danker's life and work largely concerns his incredible lexicographic efforts.  For these he will be most remembered and appreciated.  Unfortunately, his role in the 'walk out' in '74 inevitably becomes the second defining mark of his life, especially by those who wish to see him as a martyr-type of the times.  Dr. Becker writes toward the end of his testimony: "Word came last week that 'Red Fred' Danker died from complications that resulted from a fall he took. He was kicked out of an earthly 'brotherhood' that had no room for him and for so many others. One can imagine our Elder Brother having said to Fred last week: 'Welcome, there is room for you here.'"  Obviously a convenient swipe at members of a church body with which Dr. Becker continues to feel at odds.  The LCMS may not welcome good Christian people, but thank goodness Jesus does.  This rhetoric reverberates from other comments I have heard before, especially with the ongoing conflict over fellowship and the Lord's Supper.  The fact that the LCMS simply could not allow the direction of teaching then occurring in St. Louis gets spun as intolerance and closed-mindedness.  Dr. Becker realizes that even today his views, while embraced by a  remnant of aging post-Seminex moderates, is still a minority conviction in the Synod-at-large.  Thus, a kinship exists with these Seminex heroes of yesteryear.  Although lately come he remains to keep their torch alive.  He even admits that he "almost went to Seminex."  While he relates that those close to him convinced him to do otherwise, he fails to provide the essence of their argument that won him over.  However, he took his views with him and seems to have remained unconvinced of the views that prevailed in St. Louis many years before.  "Some of us joked at the time--1984-88--that 'the historical-grammatical method' merely meant that one didn't have to use one's brain as much as 'the historical-critical method,'" Becker recalls.   The condescension toward those of a more conservative bent was present even then. 

At any rate, this post was not intended as a reflection on Dr. Becker, but a brief one on Dr. Danker was passed away on February 2.  One article of his life and passing can be found here. My side note above was meant to be illustrative of how his memory is kept alive as much to showcase the perceived lovelessness of that time as to highlight his academic brilliance.  History is always muddied with the sinful stains of pain and hurt and the reactions we give to them.

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