Four Reasons I Embrace Online Instruction as a Theological Educator

I wrote a post back in March that garnered some attention: “Seven Reasons Theological Faculty Might Not Embrace Online Instruction”. While I offered reasons that I have encountered in my work across various institutions and educational organizations for the last number of years (that also included some of my own struggles with embracing online instruction), I had planned to post this follow-up post sooner. Better late than never.

So here are four reasons that I (personally) embrace online instruction as a theological educator though still with tempered enthusiasm by a number of reasons noted in that earlier post.

  1. Location, Location, Location. I have the opportunity to contribute to the life of students I would not otherwise engage who cannot relocate to my institution for live-seated classes. At least in this day and age there is still the possibility of live courses online (a definite preference over asynchronous courses for myself).
  2. Apostolicity.* Related to the first reason given above of engaging those who cannot physically attend the campus classes is the ability to engage students in otherwise “creative access countries” (and even more significant to my own sense of apostolic engagement where the church has yet to be planted or finds itself under severe restraint for open witness). I have many students all over the planet who simply do not have any opportunity otherwise for advanced theological and biblical training without leaving their setting. These students live and minister in contexts that are considered closed to open missionary engagement and so they require “creative” training for “access” to deeper discipleship into the good news of Jesus. In many of these contexts there are VERY few known believers (and/or the church is persecuted openly). The opportunity to contribute to the strengthening of gospelizing nations and peoples unreached, or governmentally unopened, is precisely my sense of call toward the apostolic work of the church advancing everywhere. My initial call to vocational ministry was (and remains) a call to the least reached and the yet-to-be reached.
  3. Mediation is already the name of the game. As the Church, we already know that while disciples are best made in direct contact and shared life together, that we also are discipled by other media forms as mediated by the Spirit: scripture being the prime example in our lived experiences. The scriptures are words written to others in an ancient past that we confess (and hear and repeat and live into) that mediate God’s revelation to and for us. This modality of engaging text (in written or auditory form) should remind us that as we are engaged by the scripture to be more like Jesus, so we can be engaged in the digitally mediated environment to do the same for others. I was reminded of this by some of the constructive discussion Amos Yong (no surprise here) offered in his (and Dale Coulter’s) book “The Holy Spirit and Higher Education: Renewing the Christian University” (Baylor University Press, 2023).
  4. It is our reality. This is the time and place we have been given. And it includes the digital. We do well to engage online forms of education as best we can (even when there seems to me to be better ways, we simply cannot avoid this altogether as the academy committed to serving the Church and the world). I owe it to my students (and potential students) to commit to making disciples who will make disciples using every tool available to do so.

What might be reasons you are committed to online teaching (if you are a professor/educator)? Or what other reasons do you think we ought to emphasis in our critical embrace of online educational modalities?

* “Apostolicity” is not being used here with regard to ideas of apostolic succession or to apostolic teaching. I would and have argued for such usage in other writings. For the sake of my usage here, I simply mean gospelizing among the least reached and/or unreached to see the church planted and multiplying.

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