Getting to Know Alexander Pierce
Last fall, the North American Lutheran Seminary (NALS) announced Alexander H. Pierce, Ph.D., will serve as Assistant Professor of Historical Theology to help form students for service in the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). This position has also been added to Trinity School for Ministry’s on-campus faculty
Prior to joining the NALS, Dr. Pierce served as an Assistant Postdoctoral Teaching Professor in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. As an Assistant Professor of Historical Theology, Pierce will utilize his wide ranging research and theological expertise — evident in his many scholarly articles, presentations, seminars and workshops — to educate seminarians across the NALS campus network.
In 2012, Dr. Pierce, 32, received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Northwestern College, St. Paul, MN, with a concentration in Biblical and Theological Studies. Subsequently, he received his Master of Arts degree in Systematic Theology, as well as his Master of Divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 2016. He completed his Doctorate in Theology, with a concentration in the History of Christianity, at the University of Notre Dame in 2022.
Dr. Pierce, his wife, Cassandra, and his five children are currently active members of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Mishawaka, Indiana. He also serves as the president of the board of directors at Covenant Christian School, where three of his children are enrolled in a Spanish immersion program.
Q & A with Dr. Pierce
1. What is your background?
I was born and raised in Minnesota to a lower middle class family. I grew up camping and playing sports. My father was not a “believing” Christian, and my mom only intermittently attended church, but she eventually came to faith while I was a teenager. As I grew older, I struggled and sought meaning and fulfillment in all the wrong places. But in my teenage years, I found Christ and my relationship with Him began to change everything. I shifted from an aimless wanderer to someone living for God in response to God’s love for me. I began ordering my life to the service of God’s kingdom and Church. Along the way, my family moved to Deerfield, Illinois, where I attended seminary for about four years, and now, we are presently wrapping up our time in South Bend, Indiana, where I have been privileged to serve as a member and president of the board for our children’s local Christian school.
2. How did you discern your career path relative to your degrees?
While pursuing an undergraduate degree in ministry, I realized many of the practical aspects of ministry could be learned through participation in a local congregation; I needed to learn more about the Bible, theology, and the Christian tradition; and eventually, I found joy in academic theology and saw it, too, could serve as a possible context for ministry and even evangelism. These realizations led me to pursue my M.Div. at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where I would be able to train for ministry in an ecclesial or academic setting, which would include evangelical Protestant students and teachers who affirmed the Gospel but belonged to a variety of confessions. While progressing at Trinity, my enjoyment and aptitude in studying theology deepened and I began to sense my ministerial vocation coming into focus as one that would be fulfilled in an academic setting involving teaching, research, and writing. Once I realized I wanted to do historical theology, to study theology in conversation with the riches of the catholic tradition, I began seeking more specialized preparation and applied to Ph.D. programs, which led me to research the History of Christianity area in the Theology Department at Notre Dame.
3. How did you discern the role ministry would play in your life?
When I came to faith as a teenager struggling through life, it became clear to me early on that there was no more important mission than to share the Gospel with others who had not received the gift of faith, who had not entered into the embrace of the risen Christ, and who had not encountered the little Christs that make up the Church. The nature and context of my calling to ministry became clear over time as I grew in my personal relationship with Christ and continued walking on the journey of faith. God has employed great mentors and friends in my life to help in cultivating and nurturing my growth despite plenty of challenges along the way.
4. What are your goals relative to being called to serve at the NALS?
While there are many goals, fundamentally, I want to help students to grow in spiritual maturity and to see themselves as wayfarers in the drama of Salvation. I desire to help to prepare pastors for the ministry of Word and Sacrament and thereby to meet the needs of NALC congregations. I also want to offer guidance to those training for ministry as they consider the questions of our day in the light of Scripture as well as the insights of classical, orthodox Christian theology. I will do everything in my power to train pastors to see the broader catholic tradition as the story of God’s work in the church across the ages; to understand the Lutheran Reformation and Lutheran theology in the context of the catholic tradition; to learn from earlier Christians’ interpretation of the Bible; and to avoid being captive to the present by learning from the successes and failures of the past.
5. What is your teaching style?
In teaching, my principal goal is to produce the conditions where significant learning is likely to occur. I design my courses teleologically, first determining the course learning goals so I can then order decisions regarding content, assignments, and assessment to those chosen ends. I invite my students to join me as fellow pilgrims in the journey of faith seeking understanding. So, in the classroom, I enjoy lecturing and fostering guided discussion among students, which can deepen their understanding and present the truth in a persuasive fashion, but also arouses the affections of their hearts for the God we worship. My classrooms are usually free of technology, and I only use PowerPoint for visual aids when bringing in examples from sources such as art history. Instead, I prefer to work on a board to guide students through a lesson while keeping our interactions more direct. Inasmuch as “memory is the residue of thought,” I look to create active thinking in the classroom. This approach can take the form of having small writing exercises in class or having students break into small groups to discuss a question or subject. Along these lines, I also strive to incorporate teaching methods and strategies that serve students’ diverse learning styles.
6. What do you hope seminarians will learn under your tutelage?
Theology is an exercise of the mind and the heart, and the unity of doctrine, ethics, and worship must be coordinated, not divided. I pray they will learn what it looks like to be Lutheran pastors who are credal, confessional, and catholic. Moreover, if Scripture animates the Lutheran Reformation and Lutheranism, the Catholic tradition provides the broader horizon within which Lutheran distinctives make sense. As Lutherans, we don’t need to be insecure about our creeds or confessions but can rather enter into thoughtful and engaging conversations with non believers and believers from other traditions with openness, being resolute while also humble and teachable. One of the most crucial lessons I want students to take away is the importance of friendship. The NALS is a community, and together, those friendships will enable students to support and guide each other across not only Lutheran traditions, but across other evangelical traditions, such as those at the Trinity School for Ministry.
7. Why do you believe you were called to this profession?
The Lord called me to this profession. Growing up outside the church and receiving the gift of the Gospel as a life changing event has given me an inexhaustible gratitude for God’s unsurpassable love and mercy. As a result, I intend to bring a warm affect into my classroom and engagement with students. I care about developing mentorship relationships with them as well as lasting friendship and recognize that anything I accomplish, achieve, or contribute is so obviously the work of the Lord in me, it is undeniable. I bring passion to my teaching and research because I firmly believe it is a matter of spiritual life and death. Theology is not, for me, a cool or distant academic exercise. It is, instead, a journey of faith seeking understanding and I have always found great joy and satisfaction in searching out answers to big questions, “why” questions, “whence” questions.
8. How can the NALS better serve its seminarians and the future of the church? What role can you play in that future?
I see my role as helping to clarify the identity and vision of the seminary, to communicate it across the NALC, and to strengthen the trust and partnership between the NALS and NALC. Obviously, enrollment in general and participation in Ambridge’s residential program, in particular, is essential for encouraging spiritual formation and promoting, through shared experience, “ownership” of the seminary of the NALC. I also think it will be important to develop continuing education opportunities for pastors, including the development of programing to help more people in a greater variety of situations to prepare to administer Word and Sacrament to churches in need of leadership. Lastly, I look forward to helping to build a faculty committed to rigorous scholarship, skillful teaching, and integrated spiritual formation.
9. What do you do for fun?
My wife, Cassandra, and our five children, ranging from 6 months old to 13 years old, enjoy the outdoors — camping, hiking and fishing. We also enjoy sports, travel, and board games with friends and family. And, of course, we are avid Notre Dame fans.
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