"I am deeply moved when students understand why documents written hundreds or thousands of years ago really are vital for life and for their ministry."
Patrick Keifert, a theologian who has also studied law, is decidedly analytical. He says: "What I probably teach best is how to think theologically." He likes to challenge his students to be self-critical. "Leaders need to know how to act in ambiguity," he says. "Not by creating black and white where there isn't any, but in the midst of ambiguity."
The question he always returns to is: "how can we interpret an authoritative text in a culturally pluralistic society—in a setting where people don't share the same set of values—in such a way that it can function normatively. For the pastor, that's preaching. But lawyers have to do the same thing."
Dr. Keifert devotes half his time to Church Innovations, a non-profit institute he helped found. Through research and consulting in partnership with congregations, Church Innovations works to develop lay leadership. "We bring together congregations who have successfully met challenges with those who are seeking change," says Keifert. "They learn from each other."
In his consulting work, Dr. Keifert might find himself as far away as Norway, Southern Africa, or on the Seward Peninsula of Alaska—just a few of the locales where the institute works with clusters of congregations from the Mennonite, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and Lutheran churches. He has also served as parish pastor to congregations in Chicago, Minnesota, Washington state and Wyoming.
He studied at Valparaiso University, and received his M.Div. degree from Christ Seminary—Seminex. He received his doctorate from the Divinity School, University of Chicago, and has also studied at both Heidelberg and Tübingen in Germany.
While pursuing a doctoral degree in Chicago, he studied American romanticism with Norman Maclean, with whom he shared a devotion to the sport of fly fishing. Among Dr. Keifert's most cherished possessions is a signed first edition of Maclean's book, a paean to fly fishing and brotherhood, A River Runs Through It.
The goal of scholarship is understanding. When teaching "Lutheran Confessions," Dr. Keifert says, "I am deeply moved when students understand why documents written hundreds or thousands years ago really are vital for life and for their ministry."