Institute of Lutheran Theology

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by Russell Veldman, Dec 19, 2019.

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  1. Russell Veldman

    Russell Veldman New Member

    I see that ILT now has accreditation through ABHE.

    Does anyone have experience with this school?
     
  2. Steve Levicoff

    Steve Levicoff Well-Known Member

    Welcome to DI, Russell.

    I doubt that you'll find anyone here who has experience with ILT. As a general rule, we only have experience with credible schools. :D

    But seriously, I've always had a warm spot in my heart for renegade Lutherans. And these guys are clearly renegade Lutherans - the school does not appear to be recognized by any of the three major Lutheran denominations (ELCA, Missouri Synod, and Wisconsin Synod).

    Having said that, when I examine ILT, my bullshit meter goes off the scale. Yes, I realize they are accredited by ABHE, which is generally credible (meaning, with some exceptions). But in reviewing their web site I see some significant red flags. No, I will not be specific. Why? Because that would be time consuming, and I don't want to be bothered. Suffice to say that if you decide to earn a degree from these folks, I will laugh at you.

    Bottom line - if you're looking to be credentialed, let alone ordained, by one of the major denominations, this school will be considered a joke. If you don't care about such things, cool - neither do I.

    By the way, speaking of renegade Lutherans, if they happen to be your thing, check out Faith Evangelical Seminary in Tacoma, Washington. They've been around a lot longer than ITS and are now accredited by TRACS. Do I recommend them? Nope, certainly no more than I would recommend ITS - which I do not. But they've always been a fun bunch of renegades.
     
  3. Steve Levicoff

    Steve Levicoff Well-Known Member

    So, I had an extra minute or two, and decided to punch up a view of ILT at its published address of 910 Fourth Street in Brookings, SD.

    If you’ve never done this with a school, be the first kid on your block to try it out. Go to http://maps.google.com and punch in the address. When the map comes up, click on “Satellite” view and enlarge the map to see the building in close-up. If it is on a street in which the Google cars have made a run, they’ll also have a street view available (in addition to the satellite view).

    So . . . At this location, according to Google, we have the Brookings DMV (drivers license bureau), Career Advantage (a social services organization), Dakota Rural Action (an association or organization), Den-Wil Rentals (an apartment rental agency), and Institute of Lutheran Theology (Seminary). ILT is apparently just a small office in a one-story streetside building. (If you blow the picture up enough, you'll clearly see their sign on the left end of the building. It almost makes Rick Walston's CES mill look big.)

    Keep in mind that this purports to be a graduate school of theology that is now offering two doctorate degrees – the D.Min. and the Ph.D. (although they admit on their website that they only have five students in the Ph.D. program).

    Am I prepared to call them a degree mill? Based on the information available at this time, the answer is no. Am I prepared to call them mickey-mouse? Hell, yeah. :rolleyes:
     
  4. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    This is an oddly balanced view from Levicoff. He must really have a soft spot for renegade Lutherans.

    That said, the only thing I would poke at a bit is the notion of being a "renegade" Lutheran. Historically, anyone outside of one of the various state churches in Europe could be considered a "renegade" but I don't believe that actually means much of anything. Lutherans are all renegade. They don't have nearly the unity of the Anglicans and they are splintered as hell.

    Regarding this group, I say the same thing as with any degree undertaking. What is your goal? Will this degree help you meet that goal? Want to be ordained? You need to check with the body you hope will ordain you to see what is acceptable. Want to teach? Take a gander at the sort of schools you hope to work for and see where their faculty studied.

    Different circumstances will direct the path differently. A recent college graduate hoping to become a full time Lutheran pastor is in a different boat compared to an established Lutheran pastor who is teaching at a local seminary/university and just needs a PhD, from almost anywhere, to go full time.
     
  5. heirophant

    heirophant Well-Known Member

    I'd never heard of them until you started this thread. But I kind of like it. (Despite my not being a Christian in terms of my own beliefs and practice. I do have serious interests in the philosophy of religion and the science/religion interface.)

    It should probably pointed out that ABHE is currently only recognized by the US Dept of Education to accredit programs at the bachelors level. ABHE does accredit programs up to the doctoral level, but that accreditation doesn't have DofEd recognition at the present time. (ABHE is currently petitioning to have their scope widened.)

    ILT's philosophical standpoint as expressed on p.12 in their Catalog, looks somewhat more sophisticated than we see at many theologically conservative schools. (The reason is obvious below.)

    Their small faculty doesn't look half bad. Here's the first two (of six, plus there are ten adjuncts, mostly in pastoral theology). It's a small faculty, but it would make up a pretty decent university department.

    The ILT President and Professor of Philosophical Theology is Dennis Bielfeldt. (I get the impression that ILT is his baby.) This gentleman has a PhD from the U. of Iowa and is currently Professor of Philosophy and Religion (emeritus) at South Dakota State University, which is also in Brookings SD. His publications are numerous and interesting to me from a philosophy of religion standpoint. He's the author of the articles on 'Monism', 'Ontology', 'Pluralism', 'Physicalism, Reductive and Nonreductive', and 'Reductionism' in the Encyclopedia of Science and Religion, 2002, Macmillan.

    https://www.ilt.edu/bio-bielfeldt-

    The second one is Robert Benne, Professor of Ethics. This gentleman has a PhD from the U. Chicago Divinity School, taught for 17 years at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, then for 18 years at Roanoke College in Virginia, where he is now emeritus.

    https://www.ilt.edu/bio-benne-

    There are language requirements for the PhD - Hebrew and Greek for the Biblical Studies emphasis, and Latin and Greek for the Philosophical Theology Emphasis. (Although they say that proficiency in another modern language or in formal logic can substitute for one of those two when necessary.)

    Cost isn't cheap, but they say that they offer (unspecified) financial support to their graduate students, something that isn't unusual in B&M doctoral programs but is extremely unusual in DL programs. ILT seems to offer financial support to masters students too. They claim that it's possible to graduate with no debt.

    I'm unmoved by Steve's point about their small campus. Wikimedia has the photograph posted below. If this accurately represents it, it looks to my eye to be as substantial as most of the member seminaries of Berkeley's Graduate Theological Union.

    [​IMG]
     
  6. Steve Levicoff

    Steve Levicoff Well-Known Member

    The church you pictured, which also appears on ILT's web site, does not match the property at the address of record, which also appears on their web site. Do the Google maps search, and you get something far different than the pictured church.

    In short, I stand by my statement regarding the property that matches their published address.
    You have touched on one of the reasons I said that ABHE is generally credible, with some exceptions. The school is, in fact, advertising that they have accredited graduate programs up through the doctorates but does not mention that AABC has not been traditionally authorized by DoEd to accredit graduate programs. (Remember that ILT, which purports to be a seminary, does not even have an undergraduate degree program.) That is sleazy on both of their parts. (At least ILT does not purport to be a university.)

    Should ABHE be allowed to accredit graduate programs? I have no particular opinion, but lean toward the notion that allowing them to do so is like allowing DEAC to do so. They've got a lot of tap dancing to do to demonstrate to my satisfaction that they are adept at such an expanded scope.

    And I agree that ILT is Bielfeldt's "baby," as it were. But I have often critiqued schools that are founded by a single individual (especially the ones that are founded by so-called entrepreneurs). I purport that as no more than my opinion, as I have no interest in doing empirical research on this issue. But it is, my opinion, and since everyone knows that I'm brilliant, they'll just have to accept that opinion. So there. (Yes, my tongue is in my cheek, which means that I can't be bothered with any debates on this bullshit.)
     
  7. Russell Veldman

    Russell Veldman New Member

    Well, some very intersting and passionate responses were made to my question.

    ILT was formed to provide theological education for Lutheran churches who pulled out of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and a couple of other Lutheran denominations. They are focused on preparing future pastors for their churches and have assembled a faculty of true-blue conservative Lutheran professors. Since they offer no onsite classes, everything is done in real time over the Internet, but they do have a building that houses offices and a growing library. Bielfeldt, Kilcrease, and Lioy are established scholars with respected publications. The others I am unfamiliar with. As to accreditation, I would not be surprised if the school moves toward pursuing regional accreditation at some point in the future (Global University received this), or even ATS, because Lutherans traditionally place a high value on quality education.

    My goal is to find a Th.M. or S.T.M. program to add a research component to my education. ILT might just work - but I will watch the school develop for a while first.
     
  8. Steve Levicoff

    Steve Levicoff Well-Known Member

    Good move.

    When I started my M.A., I went to the Simon Greenleaf School of Law in Anaheim and started their program in theology and law. At the time, they had applicant status with WASC, and I gambled that they would at least have candidacy by the time I was done. Functionally, if you graduate from a candidate school your degree is treated as accredited, and most schools that attain candidacy will go on to achieve full accreditation

    Greenleaf (which is now the Trinity Law School, part of Trinity International University and, by nature, affiliated with the prestigious Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), was started by John Warwick Montgomery and Walter Martin and had a stellar faculty that included Rod Rosenbladt (along with JWM, a prominent Missouri Synod guy), Harold Lindsell (of Battle For the Bible fame), and visiting professors that included Josh McDowell, William Lane Craig, and a few other prominent scholars tossed in for seasoning. As part of Trinity, they gained regional accreditation, but continue as a non-ABA law school.

    Well, during the semester I spent there, I watched their chance for candidacy go down the tubes. I bailed out fast, and finished my degree through Vermont College of Norwich University – and ended up with a much better degree.

    My point: Never go with a school until it has at least candidacy status with a regional accreditor or ATS. Even if they appear to be on the right track and have a faculty to beat the band, there is always the possibility that they’ll botch it up.

    It sounds, Russell, as if you already have an M.Div. In ATS schools, a Th.M. or S.T.M. presupposes that one already has an M.Div. Indeed, it’s a prerequisite for admission to further graduate programs.

    JWM, by the way, would end up leaving SGSL under shady circumstances, and his first move was to the then-unaccredited Faith Seminary in Washington state, which I mentioned previously. He became one of their “distinguished” professors and, in fact, has been called a “distinguished” professor at every school at which he has subsequently taught. JWM would also become the European dean for Trinity Bible College & Seminary, a known degree mill, but he eventually realized the folly of that move and, instead, became a distinguished-something-or-other at Patrick Henry College and would ultimately teach at several U.K. and French universities.

    Many people I knew, including me, had a love-hate relationship with Montgomery – he was our “Professor Kingsfield” (remember John Houseman in The Paper Chase?). I owe JWM a few things despite his taking SGSL down the tubes. First, I learned never to require students to read one of my own books – it’s pretentious. Second, JWM turned me on to the Lutheran Brethren Church, the most fun bunch of non-ELCA Lutherans I have ever known. Their flavor is almost Baptist, but their doctrine is pure Luther. They have a seminary in Fergus Falls, MN, which I endorsed even when it was unaccredited – and they have since gained accreditation with TRACS.

    Anecdotally, the best critique I ever heard of Montgomery came from one of my doctoral professors, who said, “Montgomery’s biggest problem is that he is as brilliant as he thinks he is. And he is.” Side note: That same professor of mine, who is a prominent scholar and held ministerial status with the LB church for many years, is listed as an adjunct with ILT.

    If, and only if, ILT succeeds in gaining RA or ATS accreditation, I’ll be sufficiently impressed with them to fully endorse them. But based on my experience with SGSL, I wouldn’t trust them until they get to such a point.
     
  9. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    The old church has a sign in front of it identifying it as the Old Sanctuary Banquet Hall. Here's the website:

    https://www.oldsanctuary.com/gallery

    The website further states that they rent office space including to such entities as the DMV and the Institute of Lutheran Theology in a separate building which was formerly the church rectory. While the website states clearly that all of these offices get use of a conference room, it doesn't say they get free reign in the sanctuary/banquet space, but I'm sure they can still book it.

    https://www.oldsanctuary.com/offices

    So the rather nice looking church is not part of the ILT but is part of the property where they rent office space.

    Not that owning a church building really matters for evaluating a school.
     
  10. Steve Levicoff

    Steve Levicoff Well-Known Member

    So let's get back to Den-Wil Rentals . . . The name, in part, comes from ILT's illustrious president and professor, Dennis Bielfeldt. Go to the town's daily newspaper at http://brookingsregister.com and do a search on Bielfeldt, and you'll come up with several articles addressing his life as a rental apartment manager.

    Now, there's certainly nothing wrong with being a property manager - it's an honorable profession. But this is the guy purporting to be the president and professor of a graduate school that advertises two doctoral programs.

    By the way, if you'd like an even better low-down on the school's facility, go back the site of the property they picture on their site and check out the interior pictures - https://www.oldsanctuary.com/gallery. And check out their home page at https://www.oldsanctuary.com - this entire building is a banquet hall. Yet ILT portrays this churchy-looking building, which is located down the street from its actual office location, as its headquarters.

    Can you spell s-l-e-a-z-y? This is looking more and more like a Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movie - "Hey, kids, let's start a seminary!" :D

    I have to admit, though, that Beilfeldt does have a sense of public relations. He managed to get ILT mentioned in the Wiki on Brookings, SD, "Brookings is also home to the Institute of Lutheran Theology, a pan-denominational Lutheran seminary. Students come from across the Lutheran spectrum, although the majority are affiliated with one of three denominations; the North American Lutheran Church, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ and the Canadian Association of Lutheran Congregations." Even then, ILT comes off as a school that represents mini-denominations that originated as break-offs from the ELCA (the largest body of Lutherans). Similar to the many mini-denominations that broke off from the United Methodists or Presbyterian Church USA due to positions they objected to in regard to women, sex, or war, these small denominational break-offs are essentially Lutheran wanna-be's. Kind of like ILT appears to be a seminary wanna-be. :rolleyes:
     
  11. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    Good find. I'm surprised no one else noticed that this was a banquet hall.
     
  12. heirophant

    heirophant Well-Known Member

    They aren't all that small, NALC claims some 420 individual congregations. LCMC has more than 100. CALC some 33.

    There's some hostility on this board towards groups like these for various reasons, but I have no problem with them. It's what freedom of conscience is all about.

    Yes. The ILT faculty list is what I liked about it and it's what puts them a step above so many dodgy unaccredited church basement 'seminaries' out there. I think that ILT is something very different and thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    Of course, ILT is accredited, by ABHE. The fact that the Dept of Education doesn't recognize ABHE's accrediting graduate programs is mostly a matter of eligibility for federal student loans. It isn't really necessary for academic credibility in my opinion. Credibility, especially at the doctoral level, is more a matter of faculty strength, research productivity and so on. That's where ILT needs to direct its efforts. It has the foundation in place with its professors.

    It all depends on where and how a graduate intends to use a degree, I guess. Here are three small denominations where an ILT graduate could become a clergyman or even play a theologian role, with ILT's accreditation being essentially irrelevant. Getting a teaching job out there in conventional secular academia or in the "mainstream" Lutheran denominations, maybe not so much.

    There's also the kind of person less motivated by career prospects, for whom education's the thing. Maybe (like me) they are retirement age and the philosophy of religion interests them. If somebody like that wants a more structured program and likes ILTs faculty, this might conceivably be a good fit.

    Not for me so much since, like I said, I'm not a Christian. But if I were a Christian of the more theologically traditionalist sort, and if ILT proved to be affordable, I'd give it some thought based on my interest in the philosophy of religion.
     
  13. Dennis Bielfeldt

    Dennis Bielfeldt New Member

    Russell,
    Somebody I know saw the discussion here, and wanted me to check it out. I was happy to see that our young school is being noticed. However, there are several statements in the replies that are factually incorrect. As the President of the Institute of Lutheran Theology, I want to provide you accurate information.

    Firstly, the Institute of Lutheran Theology (ILT) owns its own campus in Brookings, SD. It is, in fact, the old Saint Thomas More Catholic Church campus. ILT thus owns the 13,200 sq. ft. church, a 9,800 square foot school annex, and a 4,500 square foot rectory building. The Church houses our library and our information services offices on the garden level -- we are now somewhere over 25,000 catalogued physical volumes plus great on-line resources! The Church itself is still being used as a banquet hall on occasions because of community demand, but we have plans to turn this all into a really stellar library complex. In addition to about 6,000 square foot of space in the church, ILT currently occupies another 2,100 square feet in the other two buildings. Far from being "one office," we are presently occupying over 8,500 square feet. We do currently have a number of tenants in our building because it helps our cash flow. Someday, however, all 17,500 square feet of our campus will be occupied by ILT. We have not grown to that point yet, but my hope is that we shall.

    Secondly, ILT is accredited by ABHE for doctoral programs, and ABHE is recognized by CHEA for all of its graduate programming. Currently, the USDE only recognizes ABHE undergraduate programs for Title IV, but ABHE has before the Department of Education the requisite documents to have its graduate programming recognized as well. I believe that this will happen very soon. Clearly, ILT wanted to make sure that all of its programming would be recognized both by CHEA and the USDE.

    Thirdly, I am very pleased to see that most who had written recognize the strength of our faculty. They include Benne, Hillmer, Kilcrease, Lioy, Sorum and me on the faculty senate with Paul Hinlicky, Robert Kolb, Mark Mattes, David Nelson (Academic Book Editor of Baker Books) and more you might recognize also teaching in 2020. Paul Hinlicky has taught with us in the past, and he and Mark Mattes are joining our Ph.D. faculty.

    Fourthly, ILT is an independent Lutheran theological initiative that has participants at the Board, Faculty and Staff from the ELCA, LCMS, LCMC, NALC, CALC, and AFLC. In actuality, LCMC (Lutherans Congregations in Mission for Christ) totals over 800 congregations, and it, CALC (Canadian Association of Lutheran Congregations) and the NALC (North American Lutheran Churches) have been the closest constituency to ILT. We are, however, very interested in providing quality graduate programming to interested parties within all the Lutheran church bodies and far beyond.

    Fifthly, I will admit that it is somewhat odd to be both a business person and an academic. I confess to being CEO of Den-Wil Inc and related companies (www.den-wil.com) as well as President, CEO & CAO of ILT. Den-Wil does multi-family housing and commercial buildings, it is involved both in the lodging and hospitality industries as well as construction and real estate development. I did not set out to do this in life, but this is what has happened. ILT needed someone with entrepreneurial experience, however, to get going because it had no funding from an established church body. Fortunately, I had some experience developing projects, and was not frightened by the considerable investments that had to be made to get us going.

    Finally, all should realize that ILT is a fully-functioning seminary and graduate school with a self-governing faculty, and all the units needed to function, e.g., information services, enrollment services, donor services, congregational relations, international partnerships, publicity, and alumni connections. We believe that people proclaiming the Gospel today likely need more education rather than less, and thus we are always very interested in understanding the current cultural and intellectual horizon in which theology must now be done. We challenge our students intellectually.

    ILT is very young and many of its programs are in the nascent stage. But we are developing. This project is not about me nor will it ever be about me. I am just the guy carrying the baton for this leg of the race. I am available to respond to any questions you all might have. Thank you!
     
    Russell Veldman likes this.
  14. Steve Levicoff

    Steve Levicoff Well-Known Member

    Dennis,

    First, welcome to DI. (Notice how I used the correct "First," and not firstly, secondly through - OMG - fifthly.)

    I'm delighted that you have joined us - it's nice when the head honcho of an institution participates in the discussion, especially one with your credentials. And especially one who spears to have a sense of diplomacy rather than immediately spouting off with lawsuit threats.

    I notice, though, that you appear to be relying on the ABHE accreditation exclusively. Regardless of whether their expanded scope is ever recognized by DoEd, they are still identified as an undergraduate accreditor (albeit a credible one). So I stand by my quoted comment about RA and ATS accreditation. Does ILT have any intention of pursuing one of the more recognized accreditations?
     
  15. Dennis Bielfeldt

    Dennis Bielfeldt New Member

     
  16. Dennis Bielfeldt

    Dennis Bielfeldt New Member

    Steve,

    It is nice to have a discussion with you. From the start we were going to pursue HLC accreditation and began the process. When we began the process of establishing the Institute of Lutheran Theology, ATS was not so comfortable with delivery systems such as ours and would have required residency requirements that we did not want to put into place at the time. (Since then, I understand ATS is more open to synchronous online delivery.)

    We started the HLC process, but knew we wanted to expand quite rapidly with new programs, and we realized that we could not easily do this with HLC. They told us that we needed to hold the programs we were in the process of accrediting for five years without continuing to develop new ones. We met the ABHE people, and it simply clicked for us. They are a bit more prescriptive than HLC, and as a new school struggling to put into place all proper assessment tools, handbooks, documentation and institutional algorithms, we were aided by them. After working with them in 2015, we received formal applicant status in 2016, candidacy status in 2017, and initial accreditation in 2018 -- the fastest any of their institutions had ever achieved this, I believe. Approximately 1/3 of their institutions have graduate programs and this list is growing, so they are very motivated to get Title IV from USDE for members' graduate programming.

    I have always believe that ABHE is a floor not a ceiling for our accreditation efforts. In my opinion, we need to get the entire institution -- including Ph.D. program -- to the point where we can take this through the HLC accreditation process. I expect the demands of this to be a bit higher than taking ILT through ATS accreditation, especially with respect to a research library. I am confident that we can ultimately meet the financial conditions of HLC with respect to cash reserves, etc., but would like to have a couple more good years of financial operational history.

    With respect to the last point, we are a GuideStar Platinum institution, and are completely transparent with our yearly audited financial information. We have raised about $7,000,000 in cash over the years in addition to tuition and other revenue streams -- mostly our rental operations. We need to keep developing financially to have the economic girth to survive into the next century and beyond.

    Thanks for the conversation!
     
    Russell Veldman likes this.
  17. Russell Veldman

    Russell Veldman New Member

    Thank you for responding to my question. What a joy to hear from the president himself of ILT!

    This non-Lutheran will probably be contacting you soon.
     
  18. Dennis Bielfeldt

    Dennis Bielfeldt New Member

    Russell,

    We shall be honored if you do so.
     

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