How Does the Christian Worldview Contribute to Human Flourishing?

Bulletin Roundtable Question

In this Bulletin Roundtable, our four contributors respond to the question: “In what way(s) does the Christian worldview contribute to individual and/or societal flourishing?”

Paul Copan

For one thing, the biblical worldview presents us with the very resources to make sense of the values necessary for human flourishing: human dignity, equality of persons, moral responsibility, objective moral values, and so on. These values are rooted in a supremely valuable being and do not spring from valueless, mindless, physical processes.

Second, the biblical worldview has actually shaped the major structures of Western civilization that have given us these goods. Not only does the biblical worldview make good sense theoretically, this has actually been demonstrated in historical fact through faithful followers of Christ. This is a reality acknowledged by secularist thinkers, and here is just a sampling.

First, Jürgen Habermas is one of Europe’s most prominent philosophers. He affirms the inescapable and profound debt the world owes to the biblical worldview: 

Christianity has functioned for the normative self-understanding of modernity as more than just a precursor or a catalyst. Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and a social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights, and democracy, is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love.  This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation.  To this day, there is no alternative to it.  And in light of current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage.  Everything else is just idle postmodern talk. [1]

Second, the postmodern thinker Jacques Derrida makes a similar declaration about the biblical faith:

Today the cornerstone of international law is the sacred, what is sacred in humanity. You should not kill. You should not be responsible for a crime against the sacredness, this sacredness of man as your neighbor… made by God or by God made man….In that sense, the concept of crime against humanity is a Christian concept and I think there would be no such thing in the law today without the Christian heritage, the Abrahamic heritage, the biblical heritage.[2]

Third, philosopher Luc Ferry makes the same point—namely, that the Christian idea of human equality was “unprecedented at the time, and one to which our world owes its entire democratic inheritance.”[3]

We can add much more. True, we are now living off the fumes of the biblical influence in Western civilization. However, the goods we have taken for granted have been shaped largely by the biblical faith being lived out by dedicated believers across the ages.

Notes

[1] Jürgen Habermas, Time of Transitions, ed. and trans. Ciaran Cronin and Max Pensky (Cambridge: Polity, 2006), 150-1.

[2] Jacques Derrida, "To Forgive: The Unforgivable and Imprescriptable," in Questioning God, ed. John D. Caupto, et al. (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001), 70.

[3] Luc Ferry, A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living (New York: Harper Perennial, 2011), 72.

Paul M. Gould

Christianity contributes to flourishing in at least three ways. First, Christianity grounds the very possibility of flourishing. In his book The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis said that we have two basic options when it comes to happiness: we can either be like God and enjoy his good gifts in creaturely response or eternally starve. God gives us the happiness there is—and that happiness is found in relationship with God and in the sharing of the things of God. If God didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be any meaningful happiness.

Second, Christianity give us a reason for genuine hope. God wants us to flourish. He wants us to enjoy life the way it was meant to be. As the Psalmist proclaims, the Lord “delights in the well-being of his servant” (Psalm 35:27). There is happiness to be found. This reality sustains us during times of difficulty. It reminds us that we are pilgrims on a journey to our heavenly home.

Finally, Christianity offers a real power to change. Christianity offers an accurate diagnosis of man’s fundamental problem (sin) and need (Jesus). Moreover, when we come to faith, we are given the Holy Spirit—and a new power for change. As Peter proclaims: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). This is good news! There is a happiness to be found, God wants to give us this happiness, and he has provided a power and means for us to become whole.

David Baggett

After preeminent Christian philosopher Robert Adams once explicated a number of technical philosophical reasons to think moral facts evidentially point to God, he admitted that he was keenly aware that such abstruse matters form only part of the total moral case for theistic belief. “Theistic conceptions of guilt and forgiveness, for example … may well have theoretical and practical moral advantages at least as compelling as any that we have discussed” (emphases added).

 A. E. Taylor once delineated aspects of our condition of moral guilt, including that it (1) involves discontent with ourselves, not just our surroundings; (2) continues to assert itself despite the passage of time; (3) often accompanies a demand for punishment; (4) is seen as peculiarly polluting; and (5) involves the poisoning of the fountain of our moral personality. We all of us as human beings have a deep existential need to be forgiven for falling morally short in all sorts of ways. That there is an objective moral standard and we fall short of it are, C. S. Lewis once wrote, the two best clues to understanding the universe.

We desire not only forgiveness and deliverance from guilt, but to be made better—to be changed and radically transformed into the people we were meant to be. Immanuel Kant characterized it this way: we are all born under the evil maxim, subordinating our duties to our desires, and we need nothing less than a revolution of the will. Anselm spoke of the way we privilege our affection for advantage over the affection for justice. The 17th century Lutheran Pietist leader Philipp Spener spoke of our need not just to become better people, but new people. We need our sins forgiven, but we also need our sinful nature to be healed.

And we need more than incremental transformation. We have a long way to go, all of us, curved inward on ourselves as we are. Transformation alone won’t do; we need transfiguration. We need to be made perfect, something that we can never do on our own. More than merely our symptoms need dealing with; our moral malady needs radical healing at its root. We are called to be nothing less than holy as God is holy, but what realistic hope could we ever have for such a thing? Evan Kant mistakenly thought perfection to be something we could only go on pursuing forever, always out of reach. Despair would be the eminently right response if our own resources were the only ones at our disposal.

They are not, fortunately. The (amazingly) Good News of the gospel offers all three—forgiveness and transformation in this life, and ultimately perfection in the world set right. Theologians give us the language to use here. Salvation for a person involves, first, justification: the forgiveness of our sins. Second, it offers sanctification: our transformation by the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work within us. Third, it offers glorification, the hope of a culmination point—and a hope that won’t disappoint. So stunning a prospect is no Pollyannaish pipe dream, but the sober and glorious truth for those who stop resisting God’s overtures of love. Rather than too good to be true, it’s too good not to be true. We really can be made new people, made to be like Jesus, made most fully ourselves. By God’s grace we can learn the Trinitarian dance steps of holiness, and can be delivered from sin’s power; we can discover why we are here, and can enter into the fullness of joy that comes from returning to our First and Final cause; we can grow to love God with all of our hearts and souls, minds and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.

Morality is penultimate. The very life of God, and nothing less, is what we were made for. As C. S. Lewis once put it, “Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up.”

Christopher Reese

Perhaps counterintuitively, one aspect of Christianity that helps us flourish is its emphasis on our fallen nature.  Because “none is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10), we must continually examine our attitudes and actions to ensure that they align with Scripture and God’s love.  We have to watch ourselves, or we “also may be tempted” and fall (Gal. 6:1).  In this light, we have to remain open to the correction of others, who can often see faults in us that we are blind to (Prov. 9:8)—as difficult as that can be.  This self-monitoring helps us to flourish by avoiding the negative consequences that can result from doing whatever comes naturally (Prov. 14:12).

The same principle applies equally to others.  No believer—even if they occupy a position of leadership—is above question or correction.  No human being is worthy of our absolute allegiance since “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2).  Thus, we have to guard against cults of personality, which can easily develop around pastors or other Christian leaders.  This also extends to the church and Christian institutions.  As the Reformers observed, Ecclesia semper reformanda—the church must always be reformed.

We should adopt the same attitude toward ourselves and any organization or group in which we exercise influence.  Because of our fallen natures, individual lives and communities will always be in need of reformation.  By being on guard against our own and others’ propensity to pursue paths contrary to God’s will, we can flourish by not forgetting this truth (John 8:32) and seeking instead to walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16).

Do you have a question you’d like us to consider for an upcoming Roundtable? If so, please email it to worldviewbulletin@gmail.com.


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