The term has become increasingly “trendy”, but what exactly is human flourishing, how should we use it, and is the term compatible with Scripture? These are the questions before because there are some very influential voices that have chosen to use it ad ad nauseum. Possibly the worst example of how the term is being used is demonstrating by Tim Keller as I have pointed out in his recent debacle at Columbia. The reason why this way of talking about “human flourishing” is not helpful of course is because of our post-modern culture’s obsession with total historical, theological and philosophical reconstruction— nothing is off limits as far as redefining things goes. Both words in fact are problematic and need to be carefully articulated.
The term Human cannot be taken for granted any more than the word God today. There was a time, maybe 50 years ago in America, when we could easily talk about God and the vast majority of folks had an working Judeo-Christian knowledge of what we were talking about. That is not true any longer. We have to constantly scale the language barrier. This is true for the word human as well. Because our culture is committed to hypocritical truth suppression, no word is off limits; anything can be redefined and re-imagined, as the emergent church movement has proven. Although most people would admit that we are human and not aliens or animist objects, the Christian worldview has more to say about what is human than that we are unique organisms walking around the earth. We are essentially image bearers; created by the Triune God to reflect His glory. Our dignity begins at conception and our worth does not consist in our health or vitality; we are human until we take our last breath.
Equally problematic is the term “flourishing.” Although some have tried to use the term responsibly, the term “human flourishing” can mean so much but says so little. Thus the term in our estimation is unhelpful being woefully vacuous and nebulous to impart any real demarcations of Christian ethics or Christian doctrine. If we use “human flourishing” as the goal than that goal can easily be interpreted according to one’s own standards of what makes for “flourishing.” That is especially true since the phrase is often used primarily in connection with sociology. As the world is slipping into global, ethical, social and spiritual chaos; “human flourishing” is in the eye of the beholder. But as far as Christian ethics go, human flourishing cannot be useful apart from the gospel’s careful articulation.
I recently taught on the components of a true gospel call; sin, cross and repentance. Without these points being carefully articulated we can never arrive at a biblical worldview of human flourishing. As our post-modern culture slips farther down the abyss of moral relativism, ambiguity is not our friend. Now more than ever we need gospel clarity and gospel distinctives that will set us apart from the world’s temporal and fading dreams of flourishing in a world that is all wrong with God.
Emilio Ramos is the preaching pastor of Heritage Grace Community Church. Pastor Emilio is committed to the expository and exegetical teaching of the Word of God. Emilio is also the author of Convert, From Adam to Christ and the founder of redgracemedia.com- a media ministry devoted to the glory of God’s redemptive grace through Jesus Christ. He and his wife Trisha live in Dallas, TX.