Dr. Joel Elowsky, professor of Historical Theology, began his education in a two-room grade school in the rural town of Lowden, Iowa. “Kindergarten through fourth grade were in one room, and fifth through eighth grade were in the other one,” Elowsky said. “I came from a large family, so my siblings populated a lot of the grades.”
By the time he reached high school, he was thinking about ministry, a decision he didn’t take lightly. He pursued the pre-seminary program at Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Mich., with a focus on the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew, which added to his growing knowledge of Latin and German.
After earning his undergraduate degree, Elowsky was tired of school. So he decided to take a gap year and backpack throughout Europe. With his hard-earned savings, he purchased a Eurail Pass and stayed in youth hostels — and ended up “going to school anyway,” taking courses at Westfield House in Cambridge, England.
“Joel brings a unique perspective to the job, especially with the vast amount of scholarship to his name.”
-Dr. Beth Hoeltke
Elowsky continued his education at Concordia Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada (where he would later meet his wife, Joy, who lived across the border in Niagara Falls, N.Y.), and finished his Master of Divinity (M.Div.) (’90) at Concordia Seminary and Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.) (’92). After serving as a mission developer in southern New Jersey for nine years, Elowsky continued his studies at Drew University, N.J., where he obtained his Master of Philosophy (’08) and Ph.D. (’09) — all the while writing, managing and editing the 29-volume Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS) series and the five-volume Ancient Christian Doctrine (ACD) series with InterVarsity Press (IVP). He served as the volume editor of two volumes on the Gospel of John (ACCS) and another volume on the Holy Spirit (ACD). Elowsky continues to edit individual volumes for another series with IVP, Ancient Christian Texts (16 volumes so far). And that’s just the tip of his bibliographic iceberg.
Much of his work specializes in early church studies, the history of exegesis, mission work and African Christianity. His translation of Athanasius’ Letter to Marcellinus was used in the Africa Study Bible. In 2019, he was a consultant for the “60 Minutes” segment on the churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia.
Today, Elowsky, a faculty member since 2014, serves as professor of Historical Theology, director of the Center for the Study of Early Christian Texts, coordinator of International Seminary Exchange Programs and, as of July 1, dean of Advanced Studies.
Advanced Studies: looking forward
The Seminary’s Advanced Studies Program prepares students for theological leadership in the church and world and includes four programs: the Master of Arts (M.A.), S.T.M. and Ph.D., which are overseen by Dr. Beth Hoeltke, director of the Graduate School; and the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.), led by Dr. Mark Rockenbach.
Looking to the future, Elowsky is keeping service at the heart of Advanced Studies. “Our primary focus is determining the direction of the Graduate School and the D.Min. Program and really exploring how the programs can best serve the church,” he said.
“Joel brings a unique perspective to the job, especially with the vast amount of scholarship to his name,” said Hoeltke. “He is a visionary both in the work of the church at large, but also in his theological depth.”
Elowsky hopes to bolster the Graduate School’s international reach by strengthening the Seminary’s partnerships with the international church bodies that have a relationship with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).
Elowsky, who has been invited to lecture at the Patristics Center at the University of Cluj in Romania next summer, has taught internationally in Ethiopia, Taiwan, Russia and Lebanon, and in Europe and Latin America — just to name a few.
Each year, international students come to campus to study, but for some, the cost can be prohibitive. Elowsky is looking at hybrid models to make the programs even more accessible. He recently met with Rev. Shauen Trump, regional director for the LCMS Office of International Mission’s Africa region. Trump asked if the Seminary could offer an M.A. program for professors and pastors in Kenya and other places in east Africa. “Offering an online M.A. to students in Kenya and east Africa is one idea,” Elowsky said. “By offering these classes online, the students could take them while working and serving the people in their home countries. It would be an affordable and effective way to extend our expertise with these students.”
The D.Min. Program was recently converted to an online format and its curriculum updated to better serve pastors who are currently serving in ministry — whether in the United States or internationally.
“The D.Min. Program is an outstanding opportunity for pastors to further their education while remaining in their ministry setting. Yet, the program is a hidden gem. Many pastors are not aware that they can work on a practical doctoral degree while still serving in ministry,” said Rockenbach. “As the dean of Advanced Studies, Dr. Elowsky will be an advocate for promoting the program to pastors around the world who want to be scholar practitioners.”
Looking to the future of Advanced Studies also means thinking about the next generation of Seminary professors. “We have a lot of upcoming students who we are encouraging to enroll in the Graduate School,” Elowsky said. “We have a good program here that could provide the next generation of professors.”
The bona fides of Advanced Studies
The advanced degrees, particularly the S.T.M. and the Ph.D., offer pastors the opportunity to study a particular area of theology in more depth.
Elowsky experienced the value of his S.T.M. first-hand during his first call with the LCMS SELC District as a mission developer in Galloway Township, N.J. (1992-2000).
The additional training from an advanced degree is helpful for pastors as they encounter parishioners’ tough theological questions such as, How can Jesus be both human and divine? Why is there evil in this world?
“Providing an in-depth answer is important so that we don’t just give pat answers to questions people are asking — but answer the actual question they’re asking,” Elowsky said. “Parishioners want somebody who has thought through these questions.
“It’s a testimony to the fact that our Graduate School here prepared me very well. And I think it has served a lot of our students very well. When you see a degree from Concordia Seminary, you’re seeing something that has bona fides — it has some meat to it; some heft — it’s proven to be worthwhile.”