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Theologian James Burtness dies

James Burtness
James Burtness, 77, ELCA theologian, pastor and retired professor of systematic theology at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., died April 10 from injuries sustained from a fall in January.

Michael Rogness, a professor of homiletics at Luther Seminary, said his former teacher and colleague’s “most important contribution was opening the whole field of ethics, particularly the big post-World War II questions of the 20th century.”

“He introduced us all to [theologian Dietrich] Bonhoeffer,” Rogness said. “He made theology real for us because he combined it with what was going on in the world.”

Burtness began teaching at Luther in 1955, becoming a full professor in 1972. He retired from full-time teaching in 1998.

He served on many church committees, including the Commission for Church Cooperation and the Commission for a New Lutheran Church’s task force on church and society. He also edited two well-known theological journals, Word & World (1979 to 1981) and dialog, A journal of theology (1969 to 1971).

Ordained in 1958, Burtness published many works, including: Shaping the Future: The Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1984), Whatever You Do (1967) and his translation of Bonhoeffer’s Psalms: The Prayerbook of the Bible.


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