I was invited to offer the meditation one morning last week at the CCCU New Faculty Institute. I took 1 John 1:1-4 as our text, and after briefly reflecting on it I developed my remarks toward the following question, “What does the Incarnation have to do with teaching and learning that is distinctly Christian?” What I am posting here (for brevity) is the final third of my remarks without the discussion of 1 John and other New Testament texts that set up the theological vantage point of the Incarnation
“What does the incarnation have to do with teaching and learning that is distinctly Christian?” If John so closely links the physical reality of Jesus’ bodily existence to the shape of the Christian life, then we might extend the question to the arena of Christian teaching and learning. I don’t mean teaching and learning that might take up Christian topics or that which aims toward salvation – surely these would have much to do with the incarnation. Rather, I am interesting in teaching and learning, regardless of its subject or field of study, that seeks to conform itself to the logic of the incarnation. At the center of the Christian witness we proclaim that God took on human flesh–not the illusion of human flesh–in order to redeem human existence. How is distinctly Christian teaching and learning informed and directed by this reality that we confess is the beginning of God’s restoration of the world?
Let me suggest one way that I believe the incarnation can inform our vocation as Christian educators. In order to redeem creation, God sent his Son, born of a woman in order that he might restore and heal everything that makes us human. I suspect that this should aim our educational practices, regardless of the subject, toward the whole person– intellect, heart, body. Said differently: the doctrine of the incarnation directs Christian teaching and learning to be concerned with the flourishing of the whole person. I am sure many of us have thought about this before, but perhaps not from this vantage point
If God cared so much for his good creation that he would take it on in order to redeem it, we too should be concerned with the whole person in all of its complexity and beauty.
FITTING PRACTICES OF CHRISTIAN PEDAGOGY
The incarnation might take us one step further and spur us to think about practices that are appropriate for a pedagogy which is self-consciously informed by the incarnation. Let me offer two:
- Confession – The incarnation reminds us that we as human creatures are touched in every dimension by sin. Jesus took it all that it is to be human to himself (except for sin) in order that all that it is to be human would be redeemed. So, our learning and our teaching are no less touched by sin than any other part of our existence as Christian educators. This should lead us to lament our sin, and to confess it to God as part of the process of teaching and learning.
Paul Griffiths says it eloquently in his essay from the volume we are reading together at the conference, Teaching and Christian Practices: “For the studious, lament at one’s own incapacity for study and one’s failures as a student is intrinsic to learning. The extent to which it is forgotten or laid aside is the extent to which the path of studiousness has been abandoned. For Christian students, lament is prompted not only be awareness of the damaged and inadequate nature of our own cognitive capacities, but also by the awareness of the damage to which the world, the ensemble of creatures has been subjected” (“From Curiosity to Studiousness,” 120)
It is not uncommon for my students to raise their eyebrows when we begin class with prayer that includes the confession of sin. However, as Griffiths reminds us, Christian teaching and learning should approach its task in ready awareness of sin’s damage to our efforts.
- Celebration – However, the incarnation not only reminds us of our need for redemption, it reminds us as well of God’s accomplished work of redemption. Our teaching is hopeful because lament is not the final word. Close on the heels of our lament over sin’s damage to our efforts will be celebration of God’s affirmation that his good creation is worth saving.
The incarnation affirms God’s commitment to redeem all that makes me human. This might direct me to celebrate more with my students. Perhaps I should linger more than I do when my students exemplify learning and formation that is worthy of celebration. Perhaps it means that my forms of evaluation should enable students to mark their progress just as well as it helps them to see how far they have yet to go. And perhaps celebration of God’s affirmation of his good creation will mean that my relationship with students matters beyond whatever pedagogical ends it serves.
I take this to be the point which Carolyne Call makes in her essay on the practice of hospitality in the classroom: “In that moment I knew, in a way I had never experienced previously, what it means to teach as a Christian. It has everything to do with how I perceive my students, starting at the very beginning of the semester. My perception has to be colored by trying to perceive them as Christ would have: surely flawed in many ways, yet worthy of love and respect, attention and focus” (“The Rough Trail to Authentic Pedagogy,” 77).
I am glad that John concludes his opening sentences with reference to joy. The incarnation of God’s Son is reason for joy, and I pray that our teaching and learning will be cause for joy as well. May God help us and strengthen us as we do.
We praise you Lord, our God, that your love for us took the strange shape of enfleshment; you made your way in this world with skin, bone, fingernails, eyelashes . . .
hungerpains, parched lips, abandonment – “made like us in all respects” but without sin.
We acknowledge our deep needs before you: our rebelliousness, brokenness, estrangement from each other and ourselves, and our deepest need of all, to be known once and for all, inside and out, coming and going, seeking and being found.
May we make our ways in this world along the grain of your way, through Jesus Christ our Lord and according to the power of your Spirit.