The Incarnation and Christian Liberal Arts

52c2c-boyerhallI was thinking about the Christian doctrine of the incarnation today.  For those unfamiliar, the incarnation is the historic Christian belief that God revealed Himself to the world (or incarnated Himself) in the form of a man (Jesus Christ).

The school where I teach, Messiah College, affirms the following in its statement of faith:

God speaks to us in many different ways, times and places but is uniquely revealed to all the world in Jesus of Nazareth who was fully human and fully divine.

If we believe this, how might it shape the culture of a Christian college?  As historian Mark Noll has argued, most forcefully in Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, the incarnation implies that the stuff of this world is important to God.  The world is important to God because it was the place where He decided to uniquely reveal Himself.

The Christian scriptures teach that human beings–in the flesh–are important because they are created in the image of God and because God revealed himself in human form.

What are the implications of this belief?  What might it say about online courses in which students are not bodily present with the instructor in a flesh and blood learning community?  What might it say about MOOCs or other forms of course delivery in which professors are not bodily present and where students are passive consumers of information as they sit behind computer screens?

I like this older piece from Christian philosopher Jerry Gill.  Here is a taste:

Although there is room for, indeed a need for, a wide variety of professorial styles within the college setting, the sine qua non of an educator is the ability to communicate through embodiment. Presenting ideas and questions clearly, listening attentively, evidencing continued growth, and integrating faith in learning are priorities. Such criteria place a necessary premium on selectivity in faculty recruitment. Moreover, continual faculty development must provide models and skills for educational growth. Here again it is the fruits that count – learning as participation rather than as accumulation.

From the student’s perspective, the living-out of an incarnational approach to education will involve active participation in the learning process. The passive reception of information and someone else’s ideas does not constitute education any more than merely giving mental assent to a set of doctrines constitutes Christian faith. Students must take responsibility for their own education as well as for their faith. They must search and sift, think and feel, create and synthesize; moreover, they too must apply and incorporate their learning in order for it to become an actuality.

Just thinking out loud.  Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.