Lately, the idea of human flourishing has gained considerable popularity. In part, current ideas are indebted to the Aristotelean concept of eudaimonia, for which some have offered ‘human flourishing’ as an ideal definition. By adding the adjective ‘true’ to the front of this phrase, one of our goals is to signal a specific understanding of what constitutes human flourishing, which is largely informed by the Bible. (Our understanding is not original or unique, and we can certainly support some groups who currently use the phrase ‘human flourishing’).
An important biblical passage addressing ‘true human flourishing’ is John 10:10, where Jesus says, ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’. Intrinsic to this passage are three vital points of distinction for the biblical message of human flourishing:
1) there is only one genuine source of human flourishing (Jesus), which means all others are incomplete and imperfect, even as they exhibit certain aspects of the Truth obtained by Common Grace;
2) human flourishing is neither initiated nor sustained by humanity itself;
3) human flourishing is not inwardly focused, but involves the harmonious well-being of all creation, which is epitomised in the Old Testament understanding of shalom.
Stemming from these foundational points, we offer the following brief and general (rather than exhaustive) definitions for each term in the phrase:
We realise that some may wish to clarify, qualify, or modify these points, and others may even wish to disagree completely. Because this website is a place for sincere dialogue, we welcome discussion on this topic and believe that everyone involved can benefit from the process of talking about this together. With this spirit, we offer a few questions below to stimulate deeper thinking and discussion.
- For all the important changes and improvements of the Reformation, there were many events and circumstances that could hardly be described as ‘true human flourishing’. Are there any historical situations or periods we can use as a model for true human flourishing?
- We often forget the first half of John 10:10, ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.’ What can we learn from the context of John 10 with respect to the present lack of true human flourishing in our world?
- If true human flourishing truly means the ‘best’ for all of creation, how should this govern our conversations with people who hold different values, beliefs, and faiths?
- What can we affirm about other groups who use the phrase ‘human flourishing’?
- Is it possible that we over-emphasise the possibility of true human flourishing in a world still dominated by sin? How should we temper our understandings within the tension of the present reality of God’s Kingdom being ‘now but not yet’?