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Joel L. Pless

Joel Pless image

Professor of Theology

Email

414.443.8930

  • Education 

    A.A.  Concordia College, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1980.  
    B.A.  Concordia College, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1982.
    Additional undergraduate study at Northwestern College, Watertown, Wisconsin, 1982–1984. 
    M. Div.  Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, 1986. 
    S.T.M.  Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, 1993.
    Ph.D.  Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, 2008. 

    Background

    I was born in Illinois and grew up in Michigan, where my father was a research engineer for General Motors. Starting as a first grader and ending with my Ph.D. commencement, I was either a full or part-time student of a Lutheran school for forty-two consecutive years. I enrolled at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 1982 and served as a vicar (intern) at Immanuel Ev. Lutheran Church, Waupaca in 1984–1985. After graduating from the seminary, I served for fourteen years in the parish ministry in north-central Wisconsin, pastoring St. John’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Rib Falls, and Zion Ev. Lutheran Church, Town of Rib Falls, near Wausau. During my time in the parish, I twice served as a part-time social studies instructor at Northland Lutheran High School, also near Wausau.

    I was called to teach theology at Wisconsin Lutheran College in 2000. Since 2010, I have also served as a tour leader for overseas study trips to the lands of the Bible. I also serve as a regular chapel speaker and as a guest preacher and Bible class instructor at area WELS congregations.

    My wife Linda and I have been married since 1990 and we have been blessed with three children, daughter Monica and sons John and James. Our family resides in Germantown, about a half hour drive north of WLC. We are active members of David’s Star Ev. Lutheran Church, Jackson.

    In addition to my teaching responsibilities, I also serve the church at large in various ways: As a docent for the birthplace of the Wisconsin Ev. Lutheran Synod, Salem Lutheran Landmark Church, a congregational delegate for the General Board of Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School, a board member of both the WELS Historical Institute and the Lutheran Historical Conference, and as the coordinator for the Milwaukee Area Biblical Society (MABAS).

    Teaching 

    • COL 101—Idea of a Christian College 
    • COL 201—Christian Life Planning 
    • THE 110—Introduction to Theology
    • THE 130—New Testament
    • THE 211—Christian Faith & Life
    • THE 302—History of Israel
    • THE 306—Life of Christ
    • THE 441—History of Christianity
    • THE 391—In the Footsteps of John and Paul (study tour of Greece and Turkey)
    • THE 392—In the Footsteps of Jesus (study tour of Israel)

    Research Interests

    My 1986 senior church history paper focused on researching the backstory of the 1974 Seminex walkout: “Cancer at Concordia: An Examination of How the Historical Critical Method of Biblical Interpretation was Introduced to the Classroom Teaching at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri.” My 1993 S.T.M. thesis was entitled “American Lutheranism and the Civil War.” My 2008 Ph.D. dissertation was entitled: “In the Footsteps of Walther: The Doctrine of the Ministry in the Writings of George Stoeckhardt.” I have also done extensive research and writing on Wernher von Braun and his career as a rocket scientist before, during, and after World War II and on the nineteenth century Erlangen theologian Johann Wilhelm Friedrich Höfling and his ecclesiology.

    Currently I am designing a two-week study tour course with the tentative title: “In the Footsteps of Paul and Early Christianity: Malta, Sicily, and Italy” and researching the life and achievements of the eighteenth century Swedish-Lutheran astronomer and scientist Anders Celsius. Other research interests include: 

    • Near Eastern and Greco-Roman archaeology
    • American and European Lutheranism
    • Civil War history
    • World War II history

    Scholarly Works

    Select Writings and Publications

    “The Lutheran Who Reached for the Stars: The Life, Legacy, and Lapses of Wernher von Braun at the Centennial of His Birth, 1912–2012.” WELS Historical Institute Journal. Volume 34, Number 1 (Spring 2016): 4–17.

    Book review, Lutherans in America: A New History by Mark Granquist.  Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015. Published in Theology Today. Volume 73, Number 1 (April 2016): 78–79.

    Book review, The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts by Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald, editors. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013. Published in the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly. Volume 113, Number 1 (Winter 2016): 71–73.

    “The Lutheran Who Reached for the Stars: The Life, Legacy, and Lapses of Wernher von Braun.” Journal of the Lutheran Historical Conference. Volume 3 (2013): 225–236. Copyright 2015 Lutheran Historical Conference.