We’ve been wondering for years: “is the increase in online retailing going to cause physical stores to go out of business?” Well, the Wall Street Journal says, yes, “Brick and Mortar Stores are Shuttering at a Record Pace.” 2,880 retail locations have announced closings this year, which is “more than twice as many closings as announced during the same period last year.” Meanwhile, Amazon might become the first ever trillion-dollar-company. “What does this have to do with Bethlehem College & Seminary?” you ask? Plenty.
Last week I represented Bethlehem at the MACHE Conference. At every conference I attend, a frequently asked question is: “do you offer any online programs?” The answer is unapologetically, “no.” (Well, “not really.”) Certainly, taking courses online is convenient and flexible. Not everyone can pack up and move to Minneapolis for college or for seminary. For some, online isn’t just an option, it’s their only option for pursuing education.
At Bethlehem, though, we’re focused on doing one thing, and doing it really well: education in serious joy. We’re devoted to delivering the highest quality educational experience we know how to give, and that can’t be bottled up and sold on the internet. The best learning takes place in the context of real relationships, both with your teachers and with your classmates. Our small classes and cohort model provide for rich personal relationships which are indispensable to the learning experience.
At Bethlehem we’re resisting the trend to digitize everything. We were created with souls and bodies, and any attempts to sidestep our embodied-ness always turn out hollow in the end. Real friends are are so much closer than Facebook friends. Seeing and hearing a smile and a laugh are so much more meaningful than an emoji. Church is when you gather with the body, not just when you listen to a sermon on your ipod. I can demonstrate the love of Christ best in my neighborhood, not on Twitter. And similarly, Bethlehem College & Seminary remains committed to embodied learning, in a classroom, face to face with professors and classmates. Such learning is so much more joyful than chatting about an assignment in an online forum. For those who are able to make the commitment, we think the returns far outweigh the costs.
John had it right, I think: “I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face” (3 John 13–14).