Krister Stendahl

by Phil Johnson

Doctor Bishop Krister Stendahl, knowing God’s Kingdom includes people of every faith and walk of life, was a friend to all in the spirit of Jesus. He was a friend of Pietisten and our fondness for him is great.

Stendahl spoke at the Centennial of the Covenant Church in Minneapolis in 1985 and he gave the inaugural Henry Gustafson Lectures at United Seminary in 1990.

After Stendahl concluded his brilliant lectures, David Hawkinson stepped forward with a Pietisten tee-shirt. Without hesitation, Dr. Stendahl donned the shirt over his Lutheran clerical garb.

Pastor John Stendahl, Krister’s son, wrote:

The days after Father died…were taken up mainly with preparation for his funeral on Friday morning. The sun shone gloriously. The music was lovely, including the sweet beauty of Mozart, the clear lines of old Swedish hymnody sung by an ensemble, the faith-breathing hymns of the congregation, and the lyrical and meditative piano piece composed by a Stockholm organist to accompany Father’s Swedish translation from Second Corinthians 3:18. It seemed impossible not to think both of the gleam which was in my father’s eyes and in his life and of the light to which he bore witness and in which we still basked.
The pall covering the plain pine coffin [was] a beautiful white patchwork with a deep blue cross. The pall, a quilt that his granddaughter Rebekah constructed for this day, signified that embracing love which covers God’s child with grace. After the service the beautiful, white patchwork was divided into twelve sections and distributed to the parts of Krister’s family in token of his legacy and blessing with them, but the cross that united and centered the pall remained to go to the crematorium and accompany his body into the flames. My mother, brother, and I stood by as the cross went with him to the end.
Afterwards, the family went up to the hilltop in whose soil my parents ashes will eventually rest. The little great-grandchildren ran around playfully in the sunshine and we looked with pleasure at the way in which my parents’ names on a shared plaque on the ground were side-by-side with names of so many different ethnicities and languages, yet another intimation of that kingdom of God my father so loved.

Pastor John wrote to George Elia: “Please tell Phil that my father read and appreciated Pietisten, and he almost always passed his copies on to me for my enjoyment and edification. In fact, he did so with the latest issue just a couple of weeks before he died and I believe that was the last written thing he gave me.”

Stendahl concluded his 1972 Nobel Conference lecture at Gustavus Adolphus College, “Immortality Is Too Much and Too Little”:

So, brothers and sisters, we are very small but we are small in the hands of God. Hence we do not need to increase our own importance. Perhaps this whole search for identity, perpetuation, or immortality, as assurance should be lifted out of the ego and be placed in God. To me it seems that if God is God, I neither care for nor worry about the hereafter. I celebrate the coming of the kingdom by singing hymns and by caressing with words the heaven with angels and saints and the messianic banquet with light and joy and glory. And I know that I paint, but I like to paint and I paint out of love and hope and faith. But when all is said and done I pray that the evil I have put into the world will not cause others to suffer too much, and that my little life will fit somehow into God’s plan for the kingdom. The rest I leave. May his kingdom come.”