The “God’s Power and Human Flourishing” Consultation took place at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture in association with the Yale Divinity School, May 23 and 24, 2008.
The perennial question of human flourishing is one point at which a central value for Christian faith and a central value for the various cultures in which it is lived converge. “Flourishing,” of course, is a vague term. In non-theological contexts and Christian theological contexts it has been variously named as “blessedness,” “righteousness,” “abundant life,” “happiness,” and, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, “self-fulfillment,” “self-actualization,” or “self-realization.”
These names for flourishing do not neatly divide between theological and non-theological contexts; Christian thinkers have regularly appropriated ways of understanding human flourishing from non-theological sources. However, where non-theological accounts of flourishing are often predicated on the view that human beings can and must achieve their own flourishing, Christian thinkers contend that human flourishing is inseparable from God's active relating to human creatures. Flourishing is thus always a grace that is at least dependent on God’s assistance, and may indeed be a gift entire – though one that it is always contingent on God’s ongoing relating to human creatures.
Consequently, theological understandings of human flourishing are inseparable from some concept of God’s power to effect human flourishing. This suggests a budget of three interconnected questions on which it is important to achieve greater theological clarity: (a) Theologically speaking, what counts as “human flourishing”? (b) Which, if any, of the culturally available ways of conceiving of human flourishing are theologically helpful? (c) What understanding of God’s power is presupposed by the proposed theological understanding of human flourishing, and how do the two conceptually fit together?
Jean Bethke Elshtain, David Ford, John Hare, David Kelsey,
Miroslav Volf, Nicholas Wolterstorff.
The papers presented at this consultation are listed and
available for download in the Resource Center.