Reflecting on Innovation in a Christian College: A Faculty Senate Devotion

I was recently asked to lead the devotion for my university’s faculty senate. I was quite honored to be asked to serve the faculty in this way and began to reflect on what had been a theme for our faculty retreat: innovation. The question of innovation is a tricky subject for any university that both seeks to lead as well as hold on to the traditions and ideals that contributed to its identity and success. What follows are some brief thoughts I shared as we began our work as faculty together.

Faculty Senate Devotion

We began our year reflecting together on what innovation might look like for us as a faculty, as a university. We examined a variety of programs and initiatives that highlighted the creative ways in which we implement our pedagogical aims and mission as an institution.

In this our first faculty senate I would like to perhaps draw our eyes to another moment of innovation.

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1)

In the face of this “innovation,” this movement from a temple to a child, the intensification of sacrifice and self-giving, what is left to be said? How clever! What an improvement in spiritual efficiency! Jesus is the divine Costco! We have cut out the middleman! Jesus as an achievement in free enterprise!

No, in the face of this Mary is left only with a question, “how can this be?”

But what are the implications of this moment? Lest we take the implications of this innovation to only be the more efficient dispersal of grace, a gift intended to confirm our place in God’s creation, we must look to slightly later interpretation of this innovation among Christ’s followers.

Paul, writing to the Ephesians, comprised mostly of Gentiles and struggling to understand their relationship to the Jews among them and in their city, Paul would write:

“Christ’s purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. (Ephesians 2:15-18)

Perhaps in reflecting on the glorious innovation of God’s presence in the world in the birth of Christ we might also come to recognize the innovation of God’s children. That we our the innovation, that we are the surprise. Paul was addressing peoples who seemed to see Christ as coming to confirm their existence, and yet here is Paul suggesting to them that Christ’s creative work was inaugurating the necessity of change. Becoming a new people.

So, perhaps Christ’s coming was not an innovation intended to allow us to do what we already do more efficiently, but to imagine new possibilities of what can be done… and more importantly who must be present with us to do them.

As we begin our business of this year perhaps we should not leave the question of innovation too quickly. In our business of curriculum, diversity, recruiting, and building may we behold the face of Christ and allow Mary’s question reverberate in our work, “How can this be?”

As a university that confesses faith in Christ, to be transformed in Christ, may we be open to innovation that is not merely more efficient, but surprising and unsettling. As such let us open ourselves to the possibility that that which we hold so dear might possibly be very things that must be changed in the face of God’s creation of a new people, that our sacrifice did not end in the baptismal pool.