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Reflections on Teaching Online: “The Christological Content of the Christian Faith”

At Southwestern, it is a privilege to be part of an innovative faculty that has taken upon itself the responsibility for instructing a large and growing set of courses through an online format. Many people, students here and at other institutions as well as faculty members at other institutions alongside a number of interested laypeople, have often asked for, and continue to request, access to my lecture notes as well as any video or audio recordings of my class lectures. Perhaps now their requests may be answered more fully.

Our seminary students have always had access to the lecture notes and to many of my other writings, but now they also have a growing body of video/audio records of the lectures. However, it is always a struggle to know exactly how much of these lectures to make public and how much of the primary content should be reserved exclusively for our matriculated students. Here, I will make at least one of those lectures publicly available. (If you would like access to more such videos and are absolutely unable to attend seminary, please do consider enrolling in one of our online courses.)

This semester, I am teaching Systematic Theology II in both on-campus and online venues. In an interesting shift toward the online format, last semester I taught 85 students on campus and 70 students online, while this semester the numbers are 75 students on campus and 85 students online.

We try to make the best of teaching online courses, thereby helping bring theological education that much closer to the local churches.

Now, for some reflections about how we try to make the best of teaching online courses, thereby helping bring theological education that much closer to the local churches. In the online format, we follow a similar format to the on-campus course but with modifications to pull the students into required interaction with the professor and with one another. Here is how one session of an online Systematic Theology course might appear:

  1. We require the student to read carefully a chapter or an article on the subject matter for that session and often to write a critical reflection. For instance, before the first session on Christology, the students are required to read Daniel Akin’s chapter on the Person of Jesus Christ in A Theology for the Church.
  2. We require the students to view the videos of the on-campus lectures. Here is a link to the lecture that the students were required to view. It is entitled, “The Christological Content of the Christian Faith.” (The lecture’s purpose is to help the students see that Christianity has both a propositional content and personal encounter at its center—Jesus Christ the Lord, the second person of the divine Trinity. This is the first of a number of detailed Christology lectures. You will notice that my teaching style borders between preaching from the pulpit and teaching from the lectern.)
  3. Subsequent to the lecture, we ask the students to interact with a thought-provoking discussion question. For instance, “How would you summarize the content of the Christian faith in a summary format? And how would you validate that summary from Scripture?” The student must write three paragraphs answering that question and then respond to at least one other student’s answer to the question with at least a further full paragraph. The discussion format is helpful in bringing the student to interact with the material.
  4. Students in the online course take written tests and submit in writing some combination of critical book reviews and papers in almost exactly the same format as our on-campus students.

As you can see, in the online course, I have tried to mitigate the lack of an incarnational presence as much as possible through electronic means—reading, video, written discussions, and full testing and writing responsibilities. It will take time and feedback to see how well online courses do in comparison to on-campus courses, but some of the concerns that I myself had about electronic pedagogy have been somewhat allayed as I have actually taught courses online.

If you are called to Christian ministry, please consider enrolling on campus at Southwestern Seminary. There is really nothing better than living in a community dedicated to academic and applied theological preparation. If you cannot possibly move here, but you are still interested in taking an online course, I hope you will also consider Southwestern Seminary. We have an excellent faculty and a vibrant student body. We are committed to raising up witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ. Come, listen, then go, witness.

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Malcolm Yarnell

Professor of Systematic Theology, Director of the Oxford Study Program, Director of the Center for Theological Research, and Chair of the Systematic Theology Department

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