human flourishing: a theological introduction

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Human Flourishing: Human Flourishing: A Theological A Theological Introduction Introduction InterVarsity Following Christ InterVarsity Following Christ Conference Conference December 28, 2008 December 28, 2008 Telford Work, Westmont College Telford Work, Westmont College

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Human Flourishing: A Theological Introduction. InterVarsity Following Christ Conference December 28, 2008 Telford Work, Westmont College. What Is Abundant Life?. Our situation, in the surprising epitaph of “What Up.” What is abundant life? Is it … skating and boarding? - PowerPoint PPT Presentation


  • Human Flourishing:A Theological IntroductionInterVarsity Following Christ Conference December 28, 2008 Telford Work, Westmont College

  • What Is Abundant Life? Our situation, in the surprising epitaph of What Up.What is abundant life? Is it skating and boarding? (A favorite of conservative churches in Santa Barbara.) the great outdoors: a challenging Sierra trip with my son, friends, breathtaking scenery, and great food?family, peace, and prosperity? (Randy Pauschs The Last Lecture is, tellingly, focused on family.)a civilization of justice and progress:Equality, tolerance, safety, health, comfort, prosperity, opportunity, freedom? (These are arranged roughly along our political spectrum.)Is it the life of the mind?an optimal balance, a golden mean, of all this, with eternal life waiting at the end?Or is abundant life asceticism, the renunciation of these things?

  • Decoding a MetaphorJohn 10:10 in context:Jesus is interpreting the growing opposition of Jewish authorities and teachers that his signs have aroused.I am the gate for the sheep. All who came [before me] are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it profusely. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:7-11).

  • Decoding a MetaphorWhat does Jesus analogy mean?Not protection from conventional threats; Jesus opponents would have understood that. Besides, that protection doesnt arrive. Indeed, association with Jesus puts believers in harms way.Not the blessings mentioned above. Besides, all seem to be already available (at least for some) in, say, classical Greece.Not some merely spiritual contest over the afterlife, because of all the temporal impacts of following Jesus in John (such as the blind man's healing that leads to this pronouncement).

  • Decoding a MetaphorThis is one of a crush of images that point straight to Jesus as life:midwife of the Spirit's birth from above, serpent in the wilderness, spring of living water, bridegroom, bread from heaven, vine(yard), light of life, and (soon after this passage) resurrection.His rivals are rustlers who want to capture his sheep.They want abundance but as something in their grasp and their control, on terms already familiar to them.Their disordered desires and intentions, which we would typically consider 'good', produce theft, murder, and destruction. They have already judged him after healing the blind man, and will soon resort to murder.(Augustine is good at unpacking the character of sin at work here.)

  • Decoding a MetaphorJesus is abundance in which we can participate (come in and go out) and so live.The contrast is absolute:life/wrath,light/darkness,sight/blindness (recognition/unrecognition), gate/thief, salvation/destruction, shepherd/hired hands.

  • Decoding a MetaphorSo human flourishing is not bene esse, but esse.Yet it is not life versus death.Rather, it is being saved through the one who lays down his life of his own accord.In him was life (John 1:4).My definition (really an indication): human flourishing is the life of Jesus Christ: provided by the Father, given in the Spirit, shared by grace, and received in faith.Like a baptism, it is a dying life that delivers from living death.

  • The Canonical Shape of Human Flourishing This passage instantiates the paradigm of Christian faith that pervades the scriptures and all truly Christian theology:

    Life from the Father, death in the Son, resurrection by the Holy Spirit.

  • The Canonical Shape of Human FlourishingThis runs counter to academic habits and even modern Christian ones. Modernity trains us to move from theory to practice.Flourishing moves from praxis to reflection:come (1:39, 21:12),go (1:43, 4:16, 15:16),believe (4:36, 7:38),remain (8:31), and(to the blind man) go, wash (9:7).Abundant lifes evangelical character, not some other governing presupposition, is its own apologia.They know his voice (John 10:4).Flourishing comes through revelation, not discovery.

  • The Canonical Shape of Human FlourishingThe gospel paradigm is untamed by interdisciplinary or even disciplinary priority:Continuing in his word gives knowledge and freedom (8:32).The word of the gospel arouses belief (trust, or getting it) and life in Jesus name (20:30-31),or else it arouses rejection and exposes blindness and judgment.(Hans Freis Types of Christian Theology is directly relevant to disciplinary and interdisciplinary work.)

  • The Canonical Shape of Human FlourishingYet this baptismal life is abundant true flourishing conferring the riches of the Lord and Giver of Life.Through the gate, the sheep find all pasture and shelter.Discovery happens when we follow the revelation (not vice versa).Note the change in the blind mans humor and wisdom: he engages and teaches! (9:24-33). University and liberal arts contexts discourage even scholars in theology from evangelical habits.They can be labeled Pietist, fundamentalist, naive, dogmatic, narrow, ideological, reductive, private, violators of taboos, etc.They cast him out (9:34) to see and worship Jesus (9:38).

  • The Canonical Shape of Human FlourishingJohns gospel parallels the baptismal death-and-life in Deuteronomy's blueprint: Behold, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil, in that I command you this day to love YHWH your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, that you may live and multiply, and that YHWH your God may bless you in the land you go in to possess. (Deuteronomy 30:15-16) Life-and-good and death-and-evil are conventionally opposed as mutually exclusive alternatives between which Israel chooses.Yet chapters 28-33 repeatedly foretell both evil and good, death and life for Israel, along its path of salvation.

  • The Canonical Shape of Human FlourishingSo the Torah prescribes abundant life, not as a possibility, or an alternative to faithlessness, but as a promise of restoration through the powerful agency of God's covenantal, resisted word.The prophets follow up on the Torahs blueprint, chronicling and foretelling its fulfillment.The writings (e.g., wisdom literature, Ps 119) reflect the words gift of life (Ps 119:50, 93, 107, 159).The New Testaments massive parallels (e.g., Colossians 1:9-2:15) proclaim the surprising arrival of that Mosaic, prophetic future.Israel is, typologically, the blind man whom Jesus heals.

  • The Canonical Shape of Human FlourishingSo human flourishing isfostered by Torah, described and hastened in the prophets, anticipated in the writings, and proclaimed, celebrated, embraced, and awaited among the apostles.(I have purposefully underemphasized the brilliant Genesis 1-3, which Christians tend to abstract from its role in Genesis and Torah and overemphasize.)

  • The Canonical Shape of Human FlourishingIs human flourishing important?The whole divine economy is Christ-shaped in this way.This is what imago dei (Gen 1:26-27) means!The first task of theology (and a task of religious studies insofar as it treats the gospel in good faith) is to know, articulate, respect, explain, apply it.In these ways we are disciples of the Good Shepherd rather than rustlers. (We can begin by teaching the Bible properly.)

  • What About All That Greek Stuff? Without the gospels baptismal teleology, our strivings for flourishing are disordered and destructive: living deaths.However, baptismally relocated in Israels canonical life, many of the usual considerations of the good life reemerge, radically reordered by resurrection: Instruction and governance for justice. History for memory.Strength for security. Learning for engagement.Wisdom for prosperity. Vision for hope.Worship for holiness. Prayer for love.(Life in academia merely sets this Johannine conversion in Athens or Berlin rather than Galilee and Judea.) The Old Testament reflects the riches of abundant life; the New Testament reflects their releasing.

  • What About All That Greek Stuff?The reordered polis will be a baptismal community, rather than a (probably confused) state, city, social group, or clan.Its character will be missional, participating in the apostolic life that comes and goes only through the gate.Personal, ecclesial, family, and civic formation is ordered toward baptismal conversion and maturation:For instance, both marriage and singleness become sanctifying practices for churchs benefit and its missions fulfillment.My wife and I (ought to) educate our children to equip them for the Spirits fruitfulness, not just success or social service.This includes church and catechesis, a full curriculum, and a rich extracurriculum (music, athletics, Scouts, travels ).Similarly, I teach my students to think, live, and write Christian tradition to convert or mature their earlier and future training.

  • An Apologia for Human Flourishing?How can such an outrageous claim [as Christs universality or exclusivity] be presented compellingly in our culture?In John it is not compelling but propelling in two main directions: away from, and (then?) toward Christ.How do we propel?Witness: tell our stories, as the blind man does, and the others, and the Fourth Evangelist.Not in the style of works of the flesh, but with the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:16-24) that divinely confirms our witness. Engage: I love engaging other (mission) fields disciplines, cultures, and professions theologically in my teaching and research.

  • Theology and Ministryfor Human FlourishingInterVarsity Following Christ Conference December 29, 2008 Telford Work, Westmont College

  • Facilitating Human Flourishing through Theology and Ministry We should treat our own and others prior formation constructively.In my experience, it almost always makes these lessons either familiar or recognizable.(Alienating students from their churches and families is counterproductive, if not blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.)Yet our prior formation has tended to make the gospel paradigm for human flourishingseem trite,displace it, or norm it with other accounts of the good life and human flourishing.

  • Facilitating Human Flourishing through Theology and Ministry As a result:Our goals revert to Hellenistic personal or civic priorities, especially in (even Christian) universities (at best, with eternal life added in). Christianity becomes a religion with a proper place in a prosperous society (at best, as its salt and light).Justice becomes the unstable common sense of that society (at best, critically affirmed by Christian conservatives, liberals, etc.).Church life gains cultural expectations that overwhelm truly ecclesial characteristics, making it untransformative or unattainable (thus George Barna, Revolution).The gospel becomes a slogan whose implications are predictable, constrained, safe, and bland (or, at best, compartmentalized).Careers become levers of power (at best, used with others in view).Disciplines and forms of life, as competing metanarratives, leave us bewildered and unsure rather than engaged and informed.Malformation turns these good things into the rustlers and stolen sheep of John 10.

  • Facilitating Human Flourishing through Theology and Ministry So we in theology, ministry, and religious studies can aid human flourishing by receiving the gospel as the faiths controlling paradigm, conforming our practice to the radically Christ-centered orientation of this passage,teaching praxis first rather than postponing it or leaving it to others,expecting opposition even when we are faithful, and readying disciples for it,learning to respect other accounts, sensibilities, and disciplines as candidates for the gospels baptismal transformation as riches of the Father for release by the Son and sharing in the Holy Spirit.

  • Facilitating Human Flourishing through Theology and Ministry We in pertinent fields (e.g., religious studies) can at least present Christian self-understanding undistorted, recovered, or corrected e.g., Richard Bauckham, Markus Bockmuehl, Marianne Thompson, N.T. Wright.We in cognate and even hostile fields (e.g., religious studies!) can respect and draw out their aporias or their incompatibilities with the gospel to display the baptismal work of Gods resisted but undefeated word.In all places we can seek out, discern, and attend to signs of the Kingdom through which the good news encounters the world:e.g., the servants at Cana, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman and her village, the blind man, Lazarus, and the disciples throughout Johns Gospel.

  • Case Studies (for whenever)Does gay marriage facilitate human flourishing?And is Rick Warren a hater to disagree?Is a given ecclesial shape (e.g., a Mennonite shared life)helpfulunhelpfulintelligiblenecessaryimpossible in your cultural context?Is technological (including educational) transhumanism consonant with human nature, or a rejection of it?What distinguishes right from wrong ways to treat the earth?