The Institute was formed in 1958 as part of the programme of theological reflection promoted by the World Methodist Council, to which it is affiliated. Held originally in Lincoln College, Oxford in July 1959, it has continued to meet every four or five years, bringing together scholars and pastors from around the world to reflect on aspects of Methodist theology, history, identity and practice. The papers presented at the first Institute were printed in the July 1959 issue of the London Quarterly and Holborn Review.
At the Tenth Institute, held in August 1997, the 200 invited participants were drawn from over 30 countries including many younger scholars and women from Third World countries, groups under-represented in earlier years. A history of the Institute by Brian E. Beck was published in 2004.