National Lutheran News

Theological students have additional option for Lutheran training this fall

Institute for Lutheran Theology in South Dakota establishes innovations

At virtually every stewardship breakfast in a Lutheran church, attendees are reminded that the church is more than brick and mortar; the church is not simply a building.

Does the same hold true for the seminaries of the church? Most people probably envision an ivory-covered bell tower, a library bulging with musty editions, some nice classrooms, and offices for the fine confessionally- minded faculty. But are seminaries physical places or are they schools of thought?

The Institute for Lutheran Theology (ILT) in Brookings, South Dakota, seems to believe both perhaps, but certainly is most invested in providing a way for those who want to be nimble in their ministry to be taught the essentials, according to Dennis Bielfeldt, CEO and provost of ILT.

This is not to say that education won’t happen inside buildings. Some students will gather in Brookings for classes in preparation for parish ministry. But ILT’s greatest influence may be those congregants who will study at specific congregations that are established as Designated Teaching Centers (DTC). “This puts theological education back where it should be — the congregation,” said Bielfeldt.

The ILT was initially formed as the WordAlone Network’s Institute for Renewing Lutheran Theology at its annual convention in Mahtomedi, Minnesota, in 2005. ILT was conceived as a House of Studies “employing the Biblical hermeneutic of the Lutheran Reformation.” The following year it became an “autonomous and independent House of Studies.”

Participants desire to establish an educational institution that will seek to perpetuate the Lutheran confessional witness in this country. As part of that effort, ILT has been holding its annual conference at Mount Carmel Bible Camp in Alexandria, Minnesota, for the last four years.

At the 2009 event, held June 7-10, participants discussed what was on “the hermeneutical horizon” and how to encourage a robust Lutheran theology. Many there were concerned that Lutherans are, as one presenter mentioned, “falling in the ditch on one side or the other” right now.

ILT speakers acknowledge that most Lutherans will discuss the centrality of Christ, the theology of the cross, and the distinction between law and gospel. But, they would say, this is the floor of Lutheran commitment, not the ceiling. Of primary concern, according to Bielfeldt, is the sense that some Lutherans are no longer assigning “theophysical causation,” the assertion that God can actually do things in the real world, to creation.

The pastors and lay participants addressed other topics, such as theological realism and the theology of nature. But, the central discussion seemed to revolve on the clarity of scripture.

By training future pastors and using congregations as centers of teaching, ILT leaders hope to encourage such replication of discussions throughout the church.