In Memoriam: David P. Daniel

Editor’s note: This essay was co-written by Robert Rosin, professor emeritus of historical theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and Richard Blythe, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Trenton, Michigan, and former missionary in Central Europe for LCMS World Mission.

On March 12, 2020, the Rev. Dr. David Paul Daniel died suddenly at home in Martin, Slovakia. A generation has passed since he served on the Concordia Seminary faculty as a professor of historical theology and as director of library services, and although his time here was relatively short—about a decade—David was an important part of this place. His academic contributions in the classroom and in print along with a broader perspective he had on church close at hand and far afield were always marked by enthusiasm and energy that added to the life of the seminary. As colleagues and friends we are pleased to remember him in these pages.

David’s scholarly interests and that broader perspective came in no small part because of his roots in the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches—formerly the Slovak Evangelical Lutheran Synod that later in 1971 became the non-geographic SELC district within the LCMS. His father was the last president of the old synodical conference that once included the SELC, Missouri, and others, lasting into the 1960s.

David Daniel was born on November 6, 1940, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the son of the Rev. Dr. John and Elizabeth (Lisy) Daniel. He graduated with a BA from Muhlenberg College, from Lehigh University with an MA in history, and from Concordia Theological Seminary in Springfield, Illinois. A Fulbright grant supported study at the University of Vienna on the way to a PhD in European (Reformation) history at Penn State University. He taught for ten years at Behrend College (Penn State) and served Lutheran congregations in Pennsylvania until 1979 when he joined the faculty of Concordia Seminary.

Along with the usual history offerings one would expect at a school in a church body with a heavy German background, David added perspective and depth with courses on the Reformation in Central and Eastern Europe which are among those who certainly had ties to Wittenberg and German Evangelicals, but who also had a Reformation of their own and embraced the gospel in their context. David relished talking about those particulars, recounting history not as abstract ideas but as a story that was personal then and practical now. Holding life at arm’s length, history served as a mirror for students to compare and contrast. In addition to the classroom, he also retold the story in print, with the background literature comfortably in hand as seen in his Historiography of the Reformation in Slovakia. He knew that the Wittenberg movement had roots in liberal arts educational change, and then as years passed, that reform came full circle and influenced learning, and so he looked closer to home in “The Impact of the Protestant Reformation on Education in Slovakia.” More, reform was not just getting dogma right, but rather it arose in and then had an effect on the wider, deeper cultural mindset, seen in “The Protestant Reformation and Slovak Ethnic Consciousness.” He contributed numerous entries on Central Europe to the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation and laid out the basics on Luther and church in The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology. And since we do not live in the sixteenth century (much as some might like to) with thinking on “church” confined to that time, he sought to bring ideas forward and recast them in idioms of today—for example, “A Spiritual Condominium: Luther’s Views on Priesthood and Ministry with Some Structural Implications,” published in the Concordia Journal.

Big changes began in 1988. With a Fulbright and a sabbatical, David left for Bratislava to continue work on the Reformation in Central Europe. When things began to heat up in (then) Czechoslovakia, he stayed on to help in a number of roles. Still in Communist days he taught Reformation history at Comenius University (Bratislava) and wrote for Slovak publications. There to study one revolution (the Reformation), David saw another unfold before his eyes in the “Quiet [or Gentle] Revolution,” in Slovak territory. He became an adviser for the Ministries of Education and Foreign Relations and the first director of the Slovak Academic Information Agency (SAIA), working with the US State Department to set up training programs for academic, charitable, and religious institutions in that new democratic context. He also helped with early contacts between the LCMS and Lutherans in Slovakia along with Central/Eastern Europe. Then in 1997 David was called to be a theological educator for LCMS World Mission and at the invitation of the Evangelical (Lutheran) Faculty of Comenius University (the EBF), he became professor of church history, helping to educate church workers for Slovakia. When the EBF looked to strengthen its practical curriculum (after decades under the old regime, confined to the lecture room without practice in the field), David was a bridge between the EBF and Concordia Seminary to find ways to emphasize praxis. When more came from LCMS World Mission—ESL teachers, for example—David lent them a sure hand navigating foreign cultural waters. And from his EBF post he reminded Lutherans there that being confessional was not embracing a historical relic but bearing witness in the present. Central Europe was not Mid-America, although there are Lutherans in both. David knew that from early on as the SELC interacted with Missouri. That kind of parallax view served David well in varied circumstances until he left his university position in 2010 and later moved to Martin. Amid so much change, not everything succeeded, but it was worth trying, always with a love of what Lutheranism had to offer.

David Daniel is survived by his wife, Slavka, a native of Slovakia, who also has served the church in a variety of positions. Their children are Marina Elizabeth and twins Samuel Joel and Benjamin David. Older brother John Lisy Daniel and his wife, Carol, live in Allentown Pennsylvania, and younger brother Richard Joel Daniel preceded David into the church triumphant.

Although the Concordia Seminary chapter was relatively short, David Daniel’s service to Lutheranism and the church was long and reached far with an enthusiasm and love for those whom Christ loves perfectly and eternally.