ACADEMIA

Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Lowe. Ecologies of Faith (2018)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Aug• 07•18

Lowe, Stephen D., and Mary E. Lowe. Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age: Spiritual Growth Through Online Education. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press,US, 2018.

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Online education, particularly theological education is on the surge in the recent years. One of the major concerns in this regard has to do with spiritual formation. Since 9780830852055the online education takes place in virtual space, there is practically very little physical presence or face to face contact between teachers and learners and between learners. This book by two online educators help us to understand the challenges and possibilities of spiritual formation that is possible in the digital age.
The book develops around the concept of ecology—that interdependence and connectivity between entities and the environment that guarantees nourishment, growth and support.
In the first part, the authors elaborate on the concept of ecological motifs in the Bible including the agrarian parables of Jesus. Then using Paul’s metaphor of the body, the ecology of faith within the body of Christ and how it enriches faith and spiritual formation is explained.
The authors then discuss how growing in faith is possible in digital ecologies as well. The social networks are not enemies of spiritual formation. But the connectivity that they offer enhances sharing of faith and spiritual formation. The authors rather persuasively argue that social networks have great power of reciprocal influence. The authors argue that the reciprocal connections between Christians who are connected to Christ are possible in any environment real and virtual. Digital natives are not aliens but they are very much part of the body of Christ.
One of the chapters explore the use of the Greek preposition SYN (with) with Christ in Paul’s letters. The various passages analysed indicates that every Christian have a vertical connection with Christ. It is this vertical connections that supplies all the spiritual nutrients that every Christian need. However, this connection can only be activated through engagement with other Christians who have the same connection. This leads to exploring ecological connections to other Christians in Chapter 10. Paul used the same ‘SYN connection’ to describe the relationship between Christians as well. So, the authors explorate the ‘horizontal syn-compounds’ in the Epistles to Philippians chapter by chapter.
This book does not merely make a case for online education but helps us to imagine online theological education in a new way. We should not discount online education as something where information is dispensed. Online education could also be a great agent of spiritual transformation. This means that just as in face-to-face education context, online education also need to ensure that student-student, faculty-student connections should happen in addition to connecting knowledge to real-life situations.
These ecological connections are not limited to the campus or the online set up. The authors explore Paul’s use of the Greek word ALLELON (one another) to suggest that Christians need to stimulate spiritual growth by connecting to the spiritual ecology of their churches as well. This is the main concern of chapter 11. The authors explore the reciprocal connections across a wide spectrum of sources: for example, in the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Pauline epistles and the Old Testament covenants. They argue that, ‘Online learning environments offer a unique opportunity for the kind of reciprocal interactions Paul describes, Bronfenbrenner studied, Bonhoeffer practised.’
Another intriguing chapter is on ‘Ecological Sanctification’, a concept that may be altogether new. The Lowes argue that sanctification is ecological. They note the difference between the ideas of holiness in the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament associates holiness with quarantine—keeping away from all that defiles a person. However, in the New Testament, holiness is rather ‘contagious.’ Jesus makes clean by touching, sharing the table with those who are not considered holy. This is true of the gospel and faith because they grow by contact with each other. Holiness is not attained individually. The process of sanctification happens in a network of relationships including online networks.
In the last chapter, the authors use illustrations from cosmology and nature urging us to think about spirituality in ecological terms. The interconnectedness and not individualism is foundational for spiritual growth.
This work is full of insights on Christian faith and spirituality that any online or offline educators need to know. The book will help online educators to plan and to carry out online theological education with spiritual formation as its central goal.

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