Philip Hefner (1932-2024)


Philip Hefner, a Lutheran theologian known for his work in connecting scientists with religious thinkers in dialogue, died on April 27, 2024, at his home in Chicago. He was 91.
Soon after ordination in 1962, Hefner began his life’s work of teaching theology to students preparing to be pastors, finally joining the faculty of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in 1967, where he spent the rest of his career.
By the 1990s, Hefner was writing about his signature theological insight, that human beings are created to be co-creators with God. While human beings are united with the rest of creation, they have a special place and special responsibilities because of their unique abilities.
Hefner established the Chicago Center for Religion and Science in 1989 and taught a long-running class at the Lutheran School, The Epic of Creation, which featured scientists from neighboring University of Chicago as lecturers. Hefner served as the editor of the Center’s journal, Zygon Journal of Religion and Science, for two decades.
Philip Hefner was born in Denver in 1932. He grew up in the nurturing community of Messiah Lutheran Church, and graduated from Midland Lutheran College in Fremont, Nebraska. He traveled to Tuebingen University in Germany as a Fulbright scholar in 1954 before beginning his studies at Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary in Maywood, Illinois.
After receiving his doctorate from the University of Chicago, he was ordained in the United Lutheran Church in America in 1962 and began his teaching career at Wittenberg University’s Hamma Divinity School in Springfield, Ohio. After three years at Gettysburg Seminary in Pennsylvania, he joined the faculty of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in 1967. He retired in 2011.
Hefner lectured widely in Europe, Africa and Asia. He was the author of eight books and was a delegate to the Lutheran World Federation, serving on the dialogue team engaging with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. He served on the Lutheran-Reformed Coordinating Committee, and the commission which oversaw the formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in 1988.  
At the center of his busy academic life was his chief vocation, teaching theology to ministerial students. He served on many synod and churchwide committees that dealt with candidacy and ministry.          
At the age of 80, Hefner began to write poetry, much of which he shared on a blog he continued to write until his death. He published a volume during the pandemic in 2020, A Matter of Waiting: Poems of My Days.
Hefner married Neva Lamae in 1956; she died in 2022. He is survived by three daughters, Sarah Rowand, Martha Hefner and Julia Hefner, and by five granddaughters, Rory and Adeline Hefner-Templar and Emily, Kayla and Chelsea Rowand.

Funeral is on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, at 2 PM (CT) at Augustana Lutheran Church of Hyde Park, 5500 S Woodlawn Ave, Chicago, IL 60637 and live-streamed at