The Incarnational Stream & Higher Education

During the spring term I took a class on Spiritual Formation in Ministry at Evangelical Theological Seminary (Myerstown, PA). My Engaged Learning Project and Classroom Presentation focused on the Incarnational Stream/Tradition. Over the course of the next several weeks, I’ll share my thoughts on the Incarnational Stream/Tradition and how I understand its value for followers of Christ in higher education. To begin the series, I’ll reflect on my classroom presentation as an example of seeking to teach and to “incarnate” Christ with head, heart, and hands.1 Please jump in to help me refine my thoughts.

[Note: I acknowledge that the seminary classroom is a unique teaching environment (most similar to presenting for InterVarsity, a local congregation, in the Christian college classroom, or another gathering of believers), but don’t let that hinder you from giving of examples of how you (and/or your colleagues) love God with your head, heart, and hands … not only in your discipline, but also in your rhythm of life.]

Credit: Gateway Christian Church

In Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the great traditions of the Christian faith , Richard Foster2 defines the Incarnational Stream/Tradition as “A life that makes present and visible the realm of the invisible Spirit” (272). He encourages participation in the Incarnational Stream/Tradition, “[b]ecause through it we experience God as truly manifest and notoriously active in daily life” (Foster, 272). The preparation, presentation, and reflection on the Incarnational Stream/Tradition at the end of the semester served as a timely reminder that all of life (head, heart, and hands), not just my head, is to grow in Christ likeness. Furthermore, I enjoyed the privilege, alongside my co-presenter, of inviting others to offer their whole lives to God. The process was an incarnational growing experience and the material continues to offer such opportunities.

Although I continually seek to offer head, hearts, and hands to God, at times campus ministry, classes, and my own disposition tempt me to embrace the head over the heart and hands. Do you have similar experiences? As my classmate Rev Marilyn R Paradis (United Methodist Pastor) and I prepared, she challenged my natural inclination to the head by advocating ways for the material to be heartfelt and application oriented. Do you have similar ‘accountability partners/structures’? Marilyn’s selection of the introductory music, prayerful consideration of Philippians 2:1-18, fun use of charades (e.g., baptism, salt, light, leaven), development of the skit packets, and leading of the practice of the Lord’s Supper complimented my idea generation, powerpoint presentation, and skit debrief. All three skits provided insights on encouraging and equipping followers of Christ to be salt, light, and leaven in their daily life and vocation.

The skit involving a doctor – patient interaction brought out how Christ can be richly manifested by health care professionals. I am recommending the Penn State Hershey Christian Medical Society (CMS)/CMDA offer a similar skit in the fall to underscore the importance of whole person care as a whole person, versus simply the head processing another case to be fixed. No doubt applicable to providing academic advise/counseling in formal campus settings and informal opportunities such as those provided by campus ministries. Note: the other two skits were on caring for a homeless person which one comes across on the street and helping out a colleague receiving significant pressure/critique from their supervisor.

The conceptualization of the Head, Heart & Hands Commitment Card delivered the importance of evaluating my own daily actions in light of head, heart, and hands. I am passing along the commitment card to a small group at our local congregation which will be discussing Dennis Hollinger’s Head, Heart & Hands this summer. In addition, I will introduce it to a men’s breakfast group from our local congregation and CMS as a tool for daily, weekly check-ins of our priorities. The card is transferable because the basic context is the challenge to love God with our whole person. Check it out here.

The weekend immediately following the presentation, I seized the opportunity to work out the resolutions on my commitment card. I gave back some of the imbalance of time I ceded to the head in preparation of the Incarnational Stream/Tradition presentation. I cared for the family as my wife Theresa ran the Race for the Cure with her mother, a breast cancer survivor. In addition, I recruited six medical center students and Theresa’s father to assist with outdoor work. We rototilled, constructed raised beds, and mowed the yard. The Saturday project took the head to plan, the heart to embrace with joyful enthusiasm, and the hands to accomplish. As I felt the press of time on a Classroom Presentation Reflection Paper3, I reminded myself that my identity and the season of spring involve much more than the academic. What an apt lesson for me to learn as a campus minister. AND I pass it along to you with the challenge for you to examine your close relationships and where they lay as the term comes to a close. Be intentional, live “[a] life that makes present and visible the realm of the invisible Spirit … [in which you] experience God as truly manifest and notoriously active in daily life” (Foster, 272).  To God be the glory!

In your teaching, scholarship, and daily life, are you tempted to focus on your head to the detriment of your heart and hands? Do you have accountability partners or structures to help you remember the importance of the whole person?

Next post in series: The Incarnational Stream & Higher Education: Family.



1 My developing rubric for the Incarnational Stream/Tradition follows Dennis Hollinger’s (President, Colman M. Mockler Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) Head, Heart & Hands: Bringing Together Christian Thought, Passion and Action (InterVarsity Press, 2005). At the close of the series I’ll shift to a discussion of Head, Heart & Hands. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend you borrow/purchase a copy of Head, Heart & Hands and start reading to participate in the discussion 🙂

2 Richard Foster, academic/teacher and author of several spiritual formation books including Celebration of Discipline and Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the great traditions of the Christian faith ).

3 The inspiration for this post 😉

Further Reading

Foster, Richard J. 1998. Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the great traditions of the Christian faith. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.

Hollinger, Dennis. 2005. Head, Heart & Hands: Bringing Together Christian Thought, Passion and Action. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Update: 5/16/2011, 1:10 pm, ‘Rev Marilyn R Paradis’ gave permission for her name to be included and I added her name in the post.

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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  • David Suryk commented on May 13, 2011 Reply

    Head, Heart, Hands: That would be the 3H Club. Just add Health and you’re in the 4H club.

    • Tom Grosh IV commented on May 13, 2011 Reply

      Yes, The 4-H Pledge currently is …

      “I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
      My heart to greater loyalty,
      My hands to larger service,
      and my health to better living,
      for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”

      It was originally the 3-H club, health being added later, A good decision 🙂 I’m curious as to the Christian culturemaking influence on the 4-H. At present my sense is that 4-H has a secular direction, with variance across the country. Despite the strong common grace element of serving others with head, heard, hand, and health, a significant question is ‘Who is your master?’ and ‘Where does that lead in the end?’

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