What a delight to welcome ILT President Dr. Dennis Bielfeldt to the inaugural chapel service of the 2017/2018 school year at the Institute of Lutheran Theology. President Bielfeldt presented his Presidential Convocation and declared the school year "Open! In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
Before launching into his summary of ILT's achievements in the past year and its expectations of the year to come, Dr. Bielfeldt spoke of three things: 1) the way things used to be; 2) the way things are now; & 3) how ILT addresses the way things are now. In putting forth the way things used to be, Dr. Bielfeldt spoke of such essential things as truth, goodness, and being. While these are categories taken up philosophically, only theology gets at them in the deepest sense of their being undergirded by God himself. In that past way, the study of truth, the study of goodness, and the study of being could not be done without consideration of the divine being itself, the truth of its word, and the goodness of its actions. The study of these things was considered as drawing closer to the divine and engaging in a holy pursuit which intimately connected school and church.
But things have changed. To illustrate the massive dislocation between the way things used to be and the way they are now, Dr. Bielfeldt used two examples. The first he drew from the website The Thinking Atheist and from the writings of one of its forum members called the "True Scotsman." As Dr. Bielfeldt read from the musings of this so-called "thinking" atheist upon the Christian event known as "conversion," the conclusion any Christian would come to is that one which Dr. Bielfeldt pointed out: This so-called "thinking" atheist only deals with a caricature of Christianity and of believers themselves. The second illustrative example originated in ILT's Doctor of Ministry program where the initial course reads from Charles Taylor's book "A Secular Age." In that book, Taylor puts forth the question, "How is it that our culture moved from the 16th century where it was nearly impossible NOT to believe in God to the 21st century where it is nearly impossible TO BELIEVE in God?"
ILT addresses that question and others that arise from the way things are now. The way things are now simply assumes that the more one is schooled-this is, educated, the less need there is for faith. This is but one of the default assumptions of this secular age engaged by the faculty and students of ILT. While this age may have nearly forgotten the "God question," those at ILT have not. Its staff, faculty, and students think deeply about the really big questions and how the theological tradition-Christian, and specifically Lutheran tradition-has addressed those questions through the millennia. So, even as theology has become increasingly dislocated from the intellectual academy, the scholars at ILT are not surprised.They've seen it all before: the caricature, the distancing, the atheism; none of it's new. Those at ILT will continue to think deeply because such "thinking will be its own thanking." Those at ILT have heard "In the beginning was the Word..." and because of such hearing, they are confident of the Word's priority. There is no thinking without the Word. As ILT's graduates go forth, they will have learned the Lutheran tradition, the cultural situation, and how to think deeply of them both so that they can discern the spirits of this age and boldly proclaim the Word, Jesus Christ, him crucified, and him alone as the only hope for world.
Among ILT's achievements of the past year: Accreditation candidacy; fellowship students; and additional faculty. Its expectations for the year ahead: Full accreditation, increased graduates, and an ever-increasing student body.