John H. P. Reumann dies: New Testament Professor was a force in Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogues
PHILADELPHIA, PA (June 6, 2008 - updated June 8 with choir and June 9 with memorial information) – The Rev. Dr. John H. P. Reumann, a New Testament professor with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible, and whose influence ranged from the seminary classroom to national and international ecumenical and interfaith circles, died today of cancer at his Lafayette Hill, PA residence. He was 81.
Reumann, the Ministerium of Pennsylvania Professor Emeritus of New Testament and Greek at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP), enjoyed a 45-year teaching career before retiring in 1996. Beyond that, Reumann had a profound influence on church development from a local to global level. Special areas of interest included Life-of-Jesus research and Christian origins, especially the Apostle Paul, ecumenics and Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogues.
“He could have been content to stick strictly with scholarly pursuits, but that wasn’t Jack Reumann,” said the Rev. Dr. LeRoy Aden, retired professor of Pastoral Theology at the seminary and a friend. “He had many gifts and a rare breadth of knowledge about the Bible and theology, but more than that he was an excellent citizen of the church. He loved it and served it tirelessly on the local, synodical and national levels.” Reumann was a linchpin for more than 30 years in the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogues, which culminated in his role helping to shape the Joint Declaration on Justification adopted in Augsburg, Germany in 1999. A facile writer, Reumann did much writing in connection with the declaration, and his knowledge of both English and German did a lot to ease and advance the discussions.
Of that declaration milestone Reumann wrote in the seminary’s PS Magazine early in 2000 that there is “now an agreed statement on what was long divisive but is central to all church life, our relation with God in the good news: ‘we confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ’.” In the piece he agreed with a Wall Street Journal story of the time acknowledging that the declaration focuses on “the central tenet of Christian teaching – that sinners can be saved” in contrast to what the newspaper referred to as the “trendy irrelevancies” of “some churches.”
He was a Guggenheim Fellow, 1965-66, part of the Lutheran-Jewish Conversation in the USA (1969-78), served on the Studies Committee for Lutheran World Ministries (USA National Committee of the Lutheran World Federation) from 1965 to 1987 and was influential in the forming of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) by serving on the Commission for a New Lutheran Church (CNLC) from 1982 to 1986. He served twice on the Board of Trustees for Muhlenberg College, the school from which he graduated summa cum laude in 1947. Reumann chaired a Task Force for the Study of Ministry in the ELCA, 1988-1993, and he participated 11 times as a voting member to church wide assemblies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and its predecessor body the Lutheran Church in America.
“The Rev. John H. P. Reumann was truly a ‘teacher of the church’,” said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA. “Some church bodies identify an office of ‘teacher of the Church’ within their polity. The ELCA does not have such a defined office, but if that were the case, certainly Dr. Reumann would have occupied it. He provided significant theological leadership in deliberations of the Lutheran Church in America and later the ELCA. The recommendations of the Study of Ministry that he chaired were submitted to the 1993 church wide assembly and largely affirmed.” Hanson noted that Reumann had been the sole surviving member of the original participants in the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue, which began in 1965, and that Reumann had served on the Revision Committee for the New American Bible for the U.S. Roman Catholic Church from 1978 to 1987.
“John Reumann was respected in many circles because of his careful and competent work as a theologian,” said the Rev. James R. Crumley, Jr., of Leesville, SC, who served during the 1980s as presiding bishop of the LCA. “I have been grateful for the way in which he without hesitation used his talents for the LCA by helping us to find appropriate and fitting solutions to perplexing questions. A good example was the debate about our adopting use of the title bishop to replace the title of president. The terminology had been debated widely and we needed to close the matter. A request to Jack Reumann resulted in a clear and helpful paper on the history, biblical accuracy and practical questions connected with the proposed change. Jack’s clear and complete grasp of the issue was convincing and influenced a strong church-wide assembly vote that adopted the new terminology. Subsequent developments over the years since have proved the wisdom of the action.” Crumley thus became the “first” and “last” leader with the title of presiding bishop of the LCA before the merger to form the ELCA in 1988.
“Jack Reumann had the incredible knack, better than anyone I ever saw, of listening to the comments of others and then putting out a crisp, concise motion or recommendation for action that would have people saying, ‘Yes, that’s what we are trying to say’,” said the Rev. Dr. Edgar R. Trexler of Hendersonville, NC, who, as former editor of The Lutheran magazine, saw Reumann in action dozens of times in ecumenical, church-wide and Lutheran World Federation circles. “He was so careful in his use of language and its nuances in getting dead on to the heart of the matter. In the process leading to the formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America he was absolutely at the top of his game as a theologian and professor. He played a major role in helping the new church to shape itself. When I served as editor of the magazine I would sometimes go to him and ask him to help me think through what I had observed, to see if he could add to my perspective. He was always gracious, patient and helpful to me.”
As a scholarly professor with Phi Beta Kappa credentials, awarded 1976, Reumann was widely regarded for his intellect and scholarship. His lecture style in the classroom was expressive, measured, careful and precise. “He was always self-assured, but never aloof,” recalled the Rev. Ellen Anderson, director of alumni/ae and church relations for the seminary’s Office of Development. “You were never afraid to ask him a question of any kind in the classroom, and you never felt he was talking down to you. He was extraordinarily patient and went out of his way to make sure that your questions were answered fully in a way you could understand.” She said Reumann would often come to class bearing many scholarly books, which he would leave open for reference, but not usually need to refer to.
“He was so detailed and organized in the classroom,” recalls the Rev. Peter Bredlau, Muhlenberg College’s chaplain and one of the last students Reumann taught before his retirement in 1996. “He was intense. He taught me to pay attention to details in studying the Bible and not to skim passages. He was a real force in the classroom. When he lectured you felt like you had to buckle up and hang on to what he was saying. Yet he was a truly generous spirit. He would never use his intellect to embarrass you.”
While admired for his depth of knowledge, Reumann had a teaching approach that could sometimes be frustrating to students. Several alums recalled how he could overwhelm a class with footnotes and bibliography recommendations so extensive they could not be read. One student told that in Reumann’s early teaching years he taught a class on the Book of Romans “and was so detailed in his teaching we only got through five chapters of Romans in the course.” But if he was demanding of his students he could also be demanding of himself. Reumann was a hard worker. “He was pretty compulsive in his working style,” one observant alum remembers. “He was known for frequently working until 4 o’clock in the morning.”
A seminarian from Reumann’s early years as a professor recalled his experience in knowing Reumann as the advisor to the Interseminary Seminar program, which drew together seminarians from several schools to read and review papers they prepared. “Jack was not a party animal,” the former student said. “So after the seminar was over, rather than taking us out for a beer to express his appreciation for our efforts, he bought us an ice cream sundae. Jack loved ice cream.”
“Jack had an encyclopedic mind,” Aden recalls. “When he spoke at my retirement dinner I was astonished at how much he knew about my field of psychology and pastoral care. It was amazing to hear him describe my field and my work through his eyes.”
“Dr. Reumann was a model in every respect for many of us who have followed him at the seminary and in the Church,” said Philip D. W. Krey, president of LTSP. “He mentored us graciously with faith and patience and retired well. In retirement he continued to work on his scholarly and ecumenical projects and remained unflagging in his support and as an advisor. We will miss a giant in the faith.”
Before his health declined dramatically, Reumann had turned in to his publisher at Yale University Press his voluminous commentary on Philippians, a focal point of his biblical scholarship. In the first draft he wrote more than 2,000 pages in the commentary, including footnotes, and was told by the publisher he’d have to cut it dramatically. His final edition ran some 800 pages. In addition to authoring the Philippians commentary, Reumann wrote 15 books including Jesus in the Church’s Gospels (Fortress Press, 1968) and edited or contributed to dozens of books and articles. He served as associate editor of the Journal of Biblical Literature, 1961-69, and as its editor in 1970. The Lutheran Archives Center at Philadelphia recently received a $5,000 grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission/Bureau for Historic Preservation to “employ a project archivist to arrange, describe and create finding aids for the personal papers of John H. P. Reumann, a Pennsylvania theologian and scholar of international renown.”
Aden said Reumann cared passionately about congregational life, and he could be intensely loyal. “Once, many years ago, I left a congregation we were both a part of because I was unhappy about the pastor’s approach to working with youth,” Aden said. “Jack said that he agreed with me, but he said he was going to hang in there and keep working on improving the congregation’s vision.” Aden and others say Reumann’s passion for congregational life was forged in large measure by his father’s influence. Reumann was born in 1927, two years before his father, W. Paul, began 33 years of service to Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lansdale, PA, today the largest ELCA congregation east of the Mississippi with about 6,000 baptized members. The elder Reumann did much to establish the dynamism of that congregation. The younger Reumann and his wife, the former Martha Weber Brobst, have served as long-time members of Christ Ascension Lutheran Church, once located on the seminary campus at 7301 Germantown Avenue, now in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill.
Reumann was an enthusiastic world traveler, an interest nurtured by his parents who took him on extensive international trips as a young boy. He continued to travel widely as a young man to Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Reumann maintained lasting friendships from these travels throughout his lifetime. Academic life and scholarly pursuits took him and his family for a year at a time to study and teach in Cambridge and Oxford, England, Goettingen, Germany, Bangalore, India and Jerusalem, Israel. He along with Martha maintained a particular interest in welcoming and supporting international students at the Seminary throughout his time there. Closer to home, Reumann loved baseball, following the Phillies through decades of wins and losses with a lifelong passion for the game and in-depth knowledge of its history and statistics.
In retirement the Reumanns were pivotal leaders in an annual week-long continuing education experience for mature adults called Lutherhostel on the seminary campus. Lutherhostel themes were usually recommended by John Reumann after considerable discussion by the advisory committee. Last year’s focus on the ministry of Albert Schweitzer explored an interest of his in depth and featured a remarkable Reumann summary of the week at the end. Martha Reumann served as host and registrar for the program until recently.
The Reumanns were married in 1958. They have been widely regarded as gracious hosts, opening their home, located until recently in Northwest Philadelphia, for special occasions in the life of the church on all levels.
Born April 21, 1927 in Easton, PA, Reumann spent his formative years in Lansdale. Seminary Registrar Emeritus the Rev. John Kaufmann recalls meeting Reumann for the first time in Lansdale when Reumann was home from college and Kaufmann was supply preaching for his father, who was ill. “Jack said he wanted to come to seminary after college,” Kaufmann said. “I remember thinking he seemed like a good prospect. I was wrong. He was a great prospect.” He was so well regarded by the faculty that he was made an instructor at LTSP immediately after graduating from the seminary. During his early years as an instructor he also served as a mission pastor in Villas, NJ, and Feasterville, PA. He was ordained in 1950, the year of his seminary graduation. He earned his Master of Sacred Theology degree from the seminary in 1951, a Masters in the Classics from the University of Pennsylvania (1950) and his Ph.D. (classics and Semitic studies) from the University of Pennsylvania in 1957.
In addition to his widow, Reumann is survived by the couple’s three adult daughters, Rebecca Jane Reumann-Moore of Philadelphia, Amy Elizabeth of Wauwatosa, WI, and Miriam Reumann Sadler of Wrentham, MA, and four grandchildren.
The funeral service is set for 2 pm Thursday, June 12 at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1000 West Main Street, Lansdale, PA.
updated June 8: Invitation to singers: LTSP alumni and friends are invited to join the choir for Dr. Reumann's service. Please contact seminary musician Mark Mummert via email - MarkM1853@aol.com - for further information. The choir will assemble at 1 pm Thusday at Trinity Lansdale.
The family has requested that memorial donations in Prof. Reumann's name be made to:
Faculty Chair in Bible, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, 7301 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19119, www.Ltsp.edu/give, or Christ Ascension Lutheran Church, 8300 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia (Chestnut Hill), PA 19118.
a publication-quality photo of Dr. Reumann is available on the seminary Web site: