Looking forward to Teaching the Seminary’s New Curriculum

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Professor John HoffmeyerTen years ago, the Rev. Dr. John Hoffmeyer had key responsibilities for overseeing the development of the then “new” curriculum. More recently, he and the Rev. Dr. David Grafton, associate professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations (also director of Graduate Studies), have co-chaired the latest curriculum edition that begins this fall semester. He helped plan it. What excites him about teaching it?

“We always want to remember that our purpose is to form students who will be challenged to communicate the Gospel in word and deed to those whose lives they touch,” he said. Hoffmeyer, a faculty member for 15 years at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP) and associate professor of Systematic Theology, notes the new curriculum is closely tied to the seminary’s Gospel-oriented mission statement: “Centered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia seeks to educate and form public leaders who are committed to developing and nurturing individual believers and communities of faith for engagement in the world.” “The Gospel is an ‘old, old story,’” Hoffmeyer pointed out, because the unconditional love of God never falters. At the same time, the Gospel is a ‘new, new song’ because God’s love, without qualification for each and every person, is always a fresh gift for people here and now, in the new challenges and opportunities of a changing world.” It is this Gospel, old and new, that is the foundation for teaching and formation of today’s students who will minister in the context of today and tomorrow.

Some highlights of the process for the new curriculum, as noted by Hoffmeyer, include these:

  • Professor Hoffmeyer in classAccrediting bodies (the Association of Theological Schools and Middle States Commission on Higher Education) are a great “nudge” for helping seminaries remain accountable to what they say they want to accomplish in training seminarians.
  • Designing a new curriculum is a bit like what happens when a composer puts musical notes on a page, but the “proof of the pudding” is what happens when “music is transformed from the page and is actualized into sounds” or when the “curriculum on the page becomes learning and formation that actually occurs both through classroom teaching and the practical experience of field work in congregations and beyond.”
  • In some ways the new curriculum has not, strictly speaking, changed all the notes on the pages of the old curriculum, but it has assessed what has worked and built upon a solid foundation from before. “We have discovered new ways to teach based on our learning and assessments over the past 10 years, and we think this discovery gives our faculty renewed energy and passion. At least that is the goal for me and others,” Hoffmeyer said.
  • The new curriculum builds on the old one by including “across the board” in the course structure emphases on global, ecumenical, interfaith, mission, and evangelism concerns and perspective. For example, the course “Lutherans in North America” has an interfaith dimension built into it. “Before, a faculty member might have introduced this perspective into such a course, but now that overview is more formalized,” Hoffmeyer said. “These emphases used to be part of 1/2 credit units for separate courses. Including these emphases in existing courses is one way we have made the curriculum more affordable.”
  • An expectation of every course now is that it incorporates a component of outside-the- classroom learning through the practice of ministry in a home or field work congregation. “This component might have happened before, but now it is formalized into each course,” Hoffmeyer said. For example a Christology course might challenge students “to imagine how they will teach a 45-minute adult forum class on Jesus Christ and what they believe is important to say to such a class. We want to formalize more how students integrate what goes on inside the classroom with what goes on outside the classroom.”
  • Many of the formalized above new curriculum steps “make it easier for us all to ‘do the right thing’ as we teach,” Hoffmeyer said. 
  • The new curriculum also features a universal syllabus template for each course that spells out course objectives in a way that defines anticipated learning outcomes.

“I hope that these approaches will rekindle our teaching passion and creativity,” Hoffmeyer said. “I think the approaches will give us renewed focus on what we want students to learn for the mission of the Gospel. That is energizing and exciting.”