Saturday, February 11, 2017

Studying Classical Lutheran Theology with Vigor and Rigor

I am driving back from the Association of Biblical Higher Education (ABHE) Annual Convention where the Institute of Lutheran Theology (ILT) was just granted candidate status towards full institutional accreditation.  ILT is dedicating all the resources necessary to acquire initial accreditation extremely quickly.

ILT is known, of course, for its innovative pedagogical model that uses video conferencing resources in an on-line format that allows almost all of our M.A., M.Div., STM and D.Min. curricula to be delivered directly into student's own home.  I was a tenured professor for many years at a state university, and often tell people that the only difference between teaching at the university or with ILT is that with ILT I don't have to find a parking place before class.  We do distance education very well.

Just because ILT is innovative pedagogically, however, does not guarantee its long-term success or viability.  Many other schools, even state universities, are beginning to use the technologies we have used since inception.  Lutheran seminaries are getting into the act as well.  So when all the Lutheran seminaries learn to deliver on-line like ILT has done, what is left to be distinctive about ILT?

The answer is easy: ILT is much more rigorous than most Lutheran seminaries now are; we prepare much more deeply in the discipline of theology itself.  The following compares the Institute of Lutheran Theology's Master of Divinity program with that of Luther Seminary's in St. Paul.  Luther Seminary once had a very fine curriculum, but changes over the last decades in the trajectory of theological education in North America have profoundly affected that curriculum.  The ILT curriculum comes from the 2017-18 ILT academic catalog.  The Luther Seminary information can be found in the Luther Seminary 2016-17 academic catalog found at  Below are the classes that students must take at each institution.

Biblical Theology

Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • Introduction to Greek
  • Readings in NT Greek, Biblical Hebrew 
  • Lutheran Evangelical Methods
  • Lutheran Biblical Interpretation
  • The Pentateuch
  • Wisdom and the Histories
  • The Gospels
  • Paul and His Legacy
  • Epistles and Formation of the NT
  • OT or NT elective 
Luther Seminary
  • Biblical Hebrew
  • New Testament Greek
  • Scripture & Witness I
  • Scripture & Witness II
  • Biblical Exegesis for Ministry 
Historical Theology

Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • History of Christian Thought I: Origins to 1500
  • History of Christian Thought II: The Reformation
  • History of Christian Thought III: 1700 - 1900
  • History of Christian Thought IV:  20th Century
  • History of the Lutheran Church
  • The Theology of Martin Luther
  • The Lutheran Confessions 
Luther Seminary
  • Reform and Expansion of Christianity
  • Either History of Christianity since 1800 or Apostles to the Reformers
  • Lutheran Confessional Writings or denominational option
Systematic Theology 

Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • Creation and the Triune God
  • Christology 
  • Christ, Spirit and the Two Kingdoms
  • Three from the following:  
    • Theology and Science
    • World Religions and Theology
    • Christian Sexual Ethics
    • Philosophy of Religion
    • Religious Interpretation of Films 

Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • Faith, Knowledge and Reason
  • Critical Thinking for the Theologian (doctrinal track) 
Luther Seminary 
  • None 
Pastoral Theology 

Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • Pastoral Theology I
  • Pastoral Theology II
  • Pastoral Theology III
  • Parish Administration
  • The Teaching Shepherd
  • Theology and the Practice of Worship
  • Homiletics I 
  • Homiletics II
  • Homiletics III
  • Pastoral Theology elective
  • Internship (no credit) 
Luther Seminary 
  • Christian Public Leader I & II (half courses) 
  • Congregational Care and Formation
  • Foundations of Biblical Preaching 
  • Public Worship
  • Clinical Pastoral Education
  • Internship (counts as two courses) 

Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • Two courses (OT or NT elective and Pastoral Theology elective, as noted above) 
Luther Seminary 
  • 12 courses 
Notice the difference in the emphasis between ILT and what Luther Seminary now offers.  We don't teach leadership as an end in itself, but believe that if our students humbly know Scripture and the theological tradition profoundly, they will be formed with servants' hearts so that they might preach, teach and lead boldly.  Evangelical leadership is a function of Evangelical servanthood; such servanthood is not a function of leadership.  

Given what I have just said, it might be useful as well to contrast the Institute of Lutheran Theology D. Min. program with that of Luther Seminary.  Here it is: 


Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • Reaching the Unreached
Luther Seminary
  • Congregational Mission and Leadership
Residency Requirement

Institute of Lutheran Theology
  • None
Luther Seminary 
  • Total of 38-42 days over four years
Method of Course Delivery

Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • Live multi-feed video conferencing one evening per week for a total of 45 contact hours per semester
Luther Seminary 
  • On-Campus one-week intensives, with work before and after
Required Courses

Institute of Lutheran Theology
  • A Secular World
  • Models of Engagement
  • Proclamation in the 21st Century
  • Catechesis
  • Methodology and Approaches to Graduate Study 
  • Two student-designed independent projects
Luther Seminary
  • Integration of Theology and Ministry
  • Pastoral Theology, Identity and Spiritual Life
  • Missional Church
  • Missional Leadership
  • Congregational Practices 

Institute of Lutheran Theology 
  • Work independently at own pace
Luther Seminary 
  • Four visits to campus during fourth year for research and guidance
I have made a comparison with Luther Seminary simply because I take what has happened at Luther to exemplify general trends in theological education within North American Lutheran circles.  Please know that I have nothing against Luther Seminary; many of my good friends once received a very fine theological education there.   


  1. Dr. Bielfeldt,

    This is very helpful to me as I make decisions about furthering my education. I'm curious if you could also compare this to maybe an LCMS seminary and an ELS or WELS seminary? As a former evangelical pastor who is newish to Lutheranism, it is fascinating to me that ILT seems to be the only seminary that is not run by a denomination. This is appealing to me and would love to see how ILT's education compares to the more conservative Lutheran Synods.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Peter. I am so sorry to have just seen your comment awaiting moderation. I just missed it!

      While the founding of ILT was by people who had come out of the ELCA, we very early on found great friends in the LCMS. The development of ILT has been greatly helped by their presence among us. Since we are independent, we have also had good relationships with both the WELS and the ELS. In fact, our first STM graduate was a ELS pastor. In the Doctor of Ministry cohort this semester we have two women and three men. Two people are from the Lutheran Orthodox church, one from the ELCA, one from the LCMS, and one is rostered as an American Presbyterian. We are independent because we think we have the best chance of not compromising ourselves theologically if we are not owned by a denomination. We are always very interested in connecting with people like you! I have a personal email address and encourage you to contact me at for more conversation. Thanks!