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Story Magazine

Fall 2011

Robert Roth, 1919-2011

by Grace Pardun Alworth, M.Div. '13

Rev. Robert Paul Roth, '45, Luther Seminary professor emeritus of systematic theology and ethics, died March 23 at his home in Wayzata, Minn. He was 91.

Roth served at Northwestern Seminary in Minneapolis from 1961 to 1990. From 1968 to 1976, he was Northwestern Seminary's academic dean until the merger with Luther Seminary, where he continued teaching and served as the director of the graduate school.

Roth is remembered for his antiwar activism. In 1969, Roth represented the Northwestern Lutheran Theological Seminary student protest over the Vietnam War to leaders in Washington D.C. He is also remembered for his advocacy for the arts, ecological stewardship and love of music.

"He always felt that music—good, liturgical worship—was important, [to] come together to lift your people up and to feed and nourish us all," remembers Luther Seminary philanthropic adviser and former Roth student Michael Zacher, '69.

Roth graduated summa cum laude from Carthage College in 1941 with a Bachelor of Arts. He went on to earn a Master of Arts from the University of Illinois, a Master of Divinity from Northwestern Lutheran Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. In 1959, Roanoke College awarded him an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.

Roth was ordained in 1945 and served as the assistant pastor of Epiphany Church in Milwaukee for one year before moving to India, where he served for four years at Luthergiri Seminary in Rajahmundry. There, he interviewed Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru for commentaries on politics, religion and culture.

Over the course of his ministry, Roth taught philosophy at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill.; served as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Red Wing, Minn.; and was a professor of theology and dean of the graduate school at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. He was the editor of Areopagus magazine, contributed articles to multiple publications and was a translator and editor of the New International Version of the Bible (1978). He authored multiple books, including "The Theater of God" (1985).

Zacher said, "Roth told us a couple of things as students: Nearly everyone has a quest. ... He said that some of us would go on to do things that would make a difference. We were to do a number of things: grow the church; focus on children, youth and family; encourage generosity; preach well; love our people; make a big deal about God— and do it every day of our lives."

To read tributes to Roth or leave one of your own, visit

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