A Christian Humanist Manifesto–Part 3 (Final)

A Christian Humanist Manifesto–Part 3 (Final) November 16, 2012

Two questions will immediately arise, or at least arise upon close reflection, in the minds of thinking Christians. First, can creatures satisfy God? That is, can we, mere “worm”s that we are, add something to God’s own bliss and enjoyment of himself? Second, is “glorification,” something all Christians believe is at least an eschatological reality for sinners saved by God’s grace and mercy, at all possible in this life—before the resurrection and new heaven and new earth? Related to the second question is the question of original sin and depravity, the corruption of human nature by sin: can it be removed by the transforming power of God’s grace in this life prior to death so that a human person can, at least to some extent, satisfy God’s desire to glorify him or her?

Realizing this goes against the grain of much Christian tradition as well as much philosophical theism, I believe the answer to both (or all three) questions is yes. Philosophical theism, often together with a doctrine of God like Edwards’, has convinced many to think it is somehow inappropriate to think of God as capable of being moved by creatures, of being caused by creatures to have feelings or emotions, to experience joy or sorrow or anger on account of what mere creatures do or don’t do. We are told by much of Christian tradition that such thinking is anthropomorphic—depicting God as having human-like characteristics. But I suggest that is to make a mockery of much of the biblical narrative which does, indeed, portray God as personal and relational. To John Calvin and his followers, biblical depictions of God as human like, as having emotions, for example, is the result of divine accommodation. God, Calvin taught, talks baby-talk to us in revelation, in Scripture. But that is to posit a God above and behind the personal God of the Bible—Yahweh and Jesus Christ, God incarnate, as if God were really unlike any of that—unfeeling, unresponsive, impersonal.

To be sure, God is not a human being, but human beings are created in God’s image and likeness and God is personal. God did not become human in Jesus Christ because humanity is unlike himself but because humanity is like himself—except for sin. But sin is not an essential aspect of humanity; it is our humanity’s brokenness, its estrangement from itself as well as from God.

Scripture portrays God as being satisfied. God was satisfied with Jesus. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”—attributed to God in all three synoptic gospels. Hebrews 11 mentions Enoch, a patriarch whom God found “well-pleasing.” When I talk about “satisfying God” and God being “satisfied with us,” I’m referring to God’s pleasure, God’s enjoyment. I don’t consider it heretical to say that God craves our love and obedience and glorification by him.

Years ago I read an essay by Fuller Seminary professor James Daane, a Reformed theologian, that rocked my world. It was entitled “Can a Man Bless God?” Today, of course, he would entitle it “Can a Person Bless God?” (It’s included in a collection of essays under the volume title God and the Good edited by Clifton Orlebeke and Lewis Smedes [Eerdmans, 1975].) Like many seminary students, I was taught in my theology classes that God is immutable; nothing any creature can do can add anything to God. God is in every way always complete and unconditioned—incapable of being given anything he does not already possess in himself eternally. Traditional theologians like to pay God metaphysical compliments like that.

Against the stream of traditional Christian theism, and against the grain of his own Reformed tradition, Daane wrote that “[The] God of the Bible is not unresponsive to finite human condition. His freedom does not consist in being free from the touch of what is not God, nor is his immutability a change of relationship to the world that involves no change in God….” (p. 171) Daane asked why theologians came up with the idea of God as the “Unconditioned Absolute” and answered that they “lingered too long at the waterholes of Western rationalism.” (p. 172) He concluded that “In the biblical view God hears and responds to the cries of the needy, and is indeed so involved in conditional, contingent reality that he can be both sinned against and, no less, blessed by man in such a way that it makes a difference to God himself. But a God who is unconditional because he himself accounts for all conditions by virtue of his essence or decree is a God who cannot hear, let alone answer prayer.” (p. 173)

Daane was one of several Christian thinkers who together liberated me from thinking of God as absolute, unconditioned, incapable of being changed or affected by what creatures, by what I, do. In fact, I came to believe that paying too many metaphysical compliments to God can de-personalize God. That trend was, I believe, unwittingly set in motion by some of the church fathers as they adopted Greek philosophical modes of thinking about God, carried forward by Augustine under the spell of neo-Platonism, deepened by Thomas Aquinas who borrowed from Aristotle to describe God as actus purus—pure actuality without potentiality, and brought into evangelical thought by Reformed theologians like Jonathan Edwards and Charles Hodge.

Contrary to all of that, I believe, the God of the biblical story and of Jesus Christ is a passionate God who opens himself to risk, pain, sorrow, joy, satisfaction and richer experience in relation to the world he created out of love and for both his glory and that of his creation. One need only look to Jesus’ parables, especially that of the prodigal son and waiting father, to see that Jesus thought this way about God. The return of the prodigal son to his father’s home brought his father, clearly meant to represent God in the story, great joy and satisfaction.

The second question my thesis, my motto, raises is about the depth of human depravity. My critics, most of them from the Reformed branch of Protestantism, will say that I have not taken sufficiently into account the fallenness, the corruption of humanity. I disagree. Even they believe that God’s transforming grace makes it possible for regenerate persons to glorify God and be satisfied in him. Piper, for example, talks much about the Christian’s life as ideally one that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can please God. He might even agree with me that, to some degree, a regenerate person’s life can be glorified by God and bring satisfaction to God. The difference between what he would say and what I am saying, however, is one of emphasis. I am arguing that God seeks not only his own glory but also ours. And that God’s inner satisfaction, the smile of God that he often talks about, can be brought about by us—as we cooperate with God’s grace to conform to the image of God and become what God designed us to be—partial partakers of the divine nature.

Let me dwell for a moment on that last statement.  Eastern Orthodox Christians have long emphasized salvation as theosis—“deification”—another scary concept to many Protestants and especially evangelicals. It sounds “new age-ish” or mystical in an occult sense. It sounds like something Shirley MacLaine would have claimed for herself as she stood on the shore of an ocean, spreading wide her arms and declaring “I am God!” That’s not what it means. The Eastern Orthodox idea of deification comes from 2 Peter 1:4 which says that God has given us “his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world.” (NRSV) In Eastern Orthodox theology, going back to the Greek church fathers, deification means being made partial partakers of the divine nature by grace. It’s a gift. Through faith and the sacraments and by the indwelling Holy Spirit believers in Jesus Christ are being united with him, something even John Calvin emphasized, and being transformed into Christlikeness. The perfect humanity of Jesus is being communicated to us so that our humanity is being changed, as Paul put it, “from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Deification has never meant becoming God as God is God. That won’t even happen in the resurrection when we see God “face to face” as Paul described it in 1 Corinthians 13:12. For Eastern Orthodox Christians, and John Wesley followed them in this, transformation in glorification is God’s impartation of his own immortal life now; Christ came to communicate his humanity in union with God to us now.

The incarnation lies at the very root of Christian humanism; Jesus’ humanity is displayed as true humanity—humanity in union with God. Humanity freed from corruption; pristine and more—transformed by the energies of God. The image and likeness of God being restored and made whole, liberated from bondage to sin and decay and corruption. This is what Greek church father Irenaeus meant by “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Humanity fully alive is seen in Jesus; through our union with him we can experience a partial restoration of our humanity, humanity healed and restored. That’s deification. Not that we become God or gods but that we become truly human through the gift of God’s grace imparting his own life to us. That’s the gospel: that we can be more than forgiven; we can be transformed, deified, humanized, made whole.

The original plan of God was for the church to be God’s new humanity in the world. Marxists have dreamed about a new humanity through revolution. Others have hoped for a new humanity to emerge through education and technology. Those dreams have failed; the majority of people in today’s world, living in the aftermath of the “genocidal century” that was supposed to have been the “Christian century,” have given up hope for a new humanity. The challenge facing Christians is to recover that hope through the church and show the world that humanity is not a disease on the face of the earth but the glory of God—when made fully alive through Jesus Christ.

That is what I mean by Christian humanism, my friends. Not taking fallen, weak, sinful humanity and exalting it to replace God. Not making idols out of ourselves as we are. Rather, Christian humanism is exalting the man Jesus, who was also God, as the model of true humanity and living out the promise that he came to give—that we all might also be like him in his humanity—satisfying God by being glorified by God through the Spirit of Jesus in the church.

My assertion is that when we allow God to do his work in us by renewing and restoring the divine image as it was in Jesus, God is being satisfied. We are blessing God, making God happy, if you will, making God sigh with deep satisfaction, making God dance, not by achieving something on our own or doing something apart from his will and power and without his gifts, but by cooperating with his grace, allowing it to transform us into his new humanity.

Now, before concluding, I want to make something else clear about Christian humanism. It’s not just we, God’s people, who possess God’s truth, beauty and goodness as if God and his gifts were our private possessions. To be sure, we know God more fully through Jesus Christ, but even he is not our private possession. We are simply ones who volunteer to be citizens of God’s new city, the new humanity God is growing through the incarnation and the giving of the Holy Spirit. We’re the vanguard, if you will, but not the owners of God’s kingdom. God’s grace and the Holy Spirit are at work in the world outside the church as well as in it and sometimes more obviously there. God is at work wherever truth, beauty and goodness are found. Especially evangelical Christians have a habit of building walls between ourselves and the world of culture; Christian humanism reminds us that God loves humanity and has never left himself without a witness among people. The image of God in humanity has never been obliterated and God’s common grace is everywhere at work even where God is denied.

The practical result of knowing this is a Christian love of learning resulting in a kind of “holy worldliness” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it. Bonhoeffer scholar John de Gruchy, in his excellent book Confessions of a Christian Humanist, rightly says that “Christian humanists cherish the love of learning both for the sake of the Church’s ministry in the world, and because of its importance for human well-being, for the simple reason that the two belong together.” (p. 180) Anti-intellectualism is a sin, even when engaged in for pious reasons, which is not to endorse everything humans think up. Sin is very real and the corruption it brings into everything of human existence, including the life of the mind, must not be minimized. However, it’s also possible to overstate it. Calvin said that the human mind is nothing but a factory of idols. The Calvinist doctrine of total depravity can sometimes discourage seeing all truth as God’s truth and result in turning a deaf ear and blind eyes to truth, beauty and goodness in the world. The church fathers before Augustine, Greek church fathers such as Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria, regarded Jesus Christ himself as the “seed” of truth, beauty and goodness in all endeavors for knowledge and wisdom. Jesus, in other words, they believed, is not our private possession but the cosmic Christ in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).

To the Christian humanist, humanity is essentially good even if existentially estranged. And the cosmic Christ through the ever and always present Holy Spirit who created by hovering over the primordial waters, bringing order out of chaos, is mercifully and graciously at work in the world that God so loves. To the Christian humanist our task as Christians is not to escape humanity but together with God to redeem it and that involves uniting truth, beauty and goodness regardless of their sources into God-satisfying projects of promoting the well-being of God’s good creation.

God is most satisfied with us when we are being most glorified by him. Let us satisfy God, make God dance, by allowing his grace to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ, becoming partial partakers of the divine nature, for the sake of the well-being of God’s good creation loved by God.

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  • John

    Good article! Here are some thoughts that occurred to me as I read it.
    I remember you pointing me to Daane’s essay when I was working on a paper in Systematic Theology (in ’83 or ’84). I don’t remember the details, but I think I was working toward a balance between God “needing” humans and God’s self-limiting in relating to humans and all creation.

    A statement of faith of the Korean Methodist Church declares that God is “the source of all goodness and beauty, all truth and love” (The United Methodist Hymnal #884).

    Some of this discussion reminds me of Aslan’s words to Caspian: “You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve, and that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor in earth. Be content.” (C. S. Lewis, Prince Caspian 211-12)

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for reminding me of our time together, John. I guess I’ve been recommending Daane for a long time. Way back then, though, I didn’t know of his book The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit (Eerdmans, 1973). God directed me to it at a used bookstore; it was invaluable as I wrote Against Calvinism. Daane was a Reformed minister and theologian who vehemently opposed double predestination and the idea of reprobation. Today I think he would fit into the category of “evangelical Calvinist” which I have discussed here. C. S. Lewis is one of my favorite Christian writers. But, increasingly, aggressive Reformed/Calvinist types are shying away from him because he was Arminian.

  • Bev Mitchell

    (western theologians) lingered too long at the waterholes of Western rationalism.” From James Daane as quoted by Roger Olson

    “….paying too many metaphysical compliments to God can de-personalize God.” As also happens in the purely human world when sycophants hold sway.

    From what I read elsewhere your analysis is spot on. But it still begs the question as to how very serious theologians who claim to love God and who would (and have) died to maintain belief in the truth of Scripture, even the idea of sola scriptura, could get their reading of so much of Scripture so wrong. It’s one thing to borrow a philosophical mindset and misread Scripture through its lens. It’s quite another to go to the lengths so many have gone for so long. Especially when the Eastern Church did not – as far as I know.

    I think that the fierce opposition to various perceived threats to “right” belief must be added to the list of reasons for this peculiar, unscriptural stance. The East-West split over where the Son comes from, the Reformers battle with a Church gone political and all-controlling, etc. Yes, they allowed a secular philosophical bent to obscure their reading of much of Scripture, but they often did so in the heat of a battle they saw as existential. The same problem continues to this day. This does not excuse the perpetrators, in fact, it further condemns them. It is so easy, it seems, for us to want our position to be right and complete that we can make errors as grave as this one, and cling to it as if our life depended on it. There is much soulishness (or worse) in this approach and it probably can only ultimately be driven out by prayer.

    As for God being moved by anything, well, according to Scripture, God is even at war with a very serious enemy. We need only consider the temptation o f Christ in the wilderness to see that things are afoot that we can only just glimpse through careful attention to Scripture. What do those who see God as unmoved and, I suppose, unchallenged do with the temptation story? God lisping is just too convenient by half. If the temptation if Christ is to mean anything at all, the possibility of yielding to the temptation (the seduction to place power over love) must have been real. Do extreme Calvinists believe that the temptation of Christ (God) was real in this full sense? If it was not, we can fold our tent right now.

    And on a happier note, for we should be very happy indeed if we believe as you have outlined, “God is at work wherever truth, beauty and goodness are found…..The image of God in humanity has never been obliterated and God’s common grace is everywhere at work even where God is denied” This is so obvious, so clear and, apparently, so difficult for some to see. Thankfully the Holy Spirit is forever free from the little theological boxes we construct to keep her tamed and well behaved.

    • rogereolson

      I just finished reading the unedited proofs of a new edition of God’s Strategy in Human History by Paul Marston and Roger Forster (to be published by PUSH publishing sometime yet this year). They trace most of the ills of Western theology back to Augustine. Toward the end of the book they build a good case that Augustine’s views of God, humanity and the government’s right (and need) to use violence to force orthodoxy on people are all linked and that even the magisterial Reformers’ endorsements of civil enforcement (on pain of torture and death) of their orthodoxy are linked with their views of God’s sovereignty. The older I get and the more I read and think about these matters, the more I want to put distance between me and (the later) Augustine.

      • James Petticrew

        Goodness that Marston and Foster book is a blast from the past, just about the only Arminian UK book I could get hold of in the late 80s, look forward to retracing the update. Very little heard of Roger Foster these days

        • Timothy

          I like the Forster and Marston book. It is intriguing to a Bristsh evangelical of my generation. Part of the appeal to me is the foreword from FF Bruce and another is the list of names in the acknowledgements. The latter reads like a who’s who of British 20C evangelical scholarship. The former makes the comment about election that I find so helpful, so unexpected in a Calvinist. Bruce says that “election of believers is ‘in Chtrist’; and that election implies not that some are elected and the others consigned to perdition, but that some are elected so that others through them may receive the divine blessing.” This he freely credits to Forster and Marston but clearly sees as also Calvinistic.

  • CarolJean

    Thank you!

  • Evelyn

    I just want to leave a little note to say thank you so much for taking the time to write these thoughtful and thought-provoking pieces on Christian Humanism. I’m studying theology for ministry by distance learning, and of course that throws up all sorts of questions – but without a community in which to thrash them out. What you’ve written about is speaking directly into some of those at the moment, and I have found it both helpful and comforting. Thank you very much! Blessings.

  • Fred Karlson

    Good comments, I really enjoyed them. For some reason, it reminds me of a recent article by Richard Muller where he opposes the philosophical determinism of Jonathan Edwards, and argues that it also conflicts with the Westminster Confession and Calvin. Muller puts forward the thesis that many Reformed thinkers have departed from an earlier position that granted man more humanity. Here is the link, and to get the pdf you have to register.

  • Tom

    Great article Dr. Olson. I wish you could write more on this subject. I have always wondered what Calvinists do with verses like John 17:22 and Ephesians 3:21. I too pick up a particular strain of anti-humanism in a lot of the YRR sermons I hear. I was listening to one where the pastor kept repeatedly emphasizing that we are murderers. He used other degrading words to describe us in relation to God. I mean on the one hand I would agree with this but it seems like Calvinists take this loathing of human nature to the extreme maintaining a complete separation of Creator from creature which I guess is why their view of salvation is mainly forensic. I don’t understand why they fear anything that is subjective. Are there any books that examine Reformed theology as an over reaction to Catholic teaching/practice in the Middle Ages? Also, I often wonder if any of the reformer’s legal background affected how they did their theology. Fascinating how you bring this around to theosis. It seems you can’t even bring theosis up in conversation without being seen as heretical. I guess that’s the Protestant cast of our thinking in this country.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Hi Roger,

    Thank you for your well-thought-out series of essays. While I’m more of the opinion that people are basically bent towards bad, there is much that we do have in common – and can move together in the same direction. And I do believe that God can be pleased with people because of what they do – Paul had as his goal to please God (2Cor5). God’s nature seems not to be so immutable as to be immune to this.

    I would like to ask you to further elaborate further on your statement that anti-intellectualism is a sin. I searched my memory and could come up with no Biblical directive nor Biblical example where such is an affront to God. Surely the “simple” and “fools” are regarded poorly, but that is usually by their poor decisions and poor moral behavior. People who trust God and have a simple faith in what they read in the Bible make no stench to God, even while they distrust the theories of the learned. They may be immature (sometimes defiantly so), not sinful, in my opinion. Please, Roger, what exactly do you mean when you associate anti-intellectualism and sin?

    • rogereolson

      I’m tempted to say you would have to experience anti-intellectualism (such as I mean) to know it. There was as strong strain of it at the college I attended (and graduated from by the mercy of God in spite of the college’s regents who discussed not allowing me to graduate for asking too many and too hard questions). Anti-intellectualism smothers curiosity and creativity, treating them as sinful. It forbids asking questions about “settled beliefs.” It’s sinful because it denies our humanity in the image of God and seeks to control people through spiritual abuse. I’m not talking about the poor, benighted saint who simply doesn’t “get” the importance of the life of the mind. I’ll give you another illustration. When I was at my first teaching job in a Christian university, I noticed several students picking up books on world religions (for example) in the university’s bookstore and praying over them. I asked them what they were doing. They explained they were casting out the demons of deceit that otherwise (and probably still would) would leap out of the books and infect the minds of students who read them. I know of a seminary not far from where I live and work where the regents told the president (this was some years ago and I heard it from the fired president) to order the faculty not to even talk about liberation theology in classes or with students. “Liberation theology” was to be taboo. It couldn’t even be mentioned by faculty. The president refused which contributed to his being fired. Does all that help you understand “anti-intellectualism?”

      • Tim Reisdorf

        Thank you, Roger, for your explanation.

        I have encountered this while teaching at a Christian K12 school. In the High School there was an intolerance for any suggestion that Old-Earth Creationism had any support in fact. I was constantly offered books and video tapes that definitively proved the case of the Young-Earth Creationism – thus eliminating the need (and curiosity) for talking or thinking about the matter. It did not help the cause of tolerance in these things that the textbooks were terribly un-evenhanded in matters of science. Bible class had its own difficulties as you might imagine.
        I would agree with you that it could reach a level where it would be sinful in that it suffocates others’ ability to relate freely with their God, unfettered by such regulations. For my sense of things, it would have to be quite bad for me to associate it with sin.


        • rogereolson

          Here’s another example of Christian anti-intellectualism. When we lived in Munich, Germany, we attended a Southern Baptist church. Many of the congregants were scientists employed by a major German company. (But only people baptized as believers by immersion in recognized Baptist churches could be members!) One Sunday the preacher concluded his sermon with “The Christians attitude toward secular culture should be ‘Don’t confuse me with facts; my mind is already made up’.”

  • Something I was reminded of while reading your final installment: I have often heard the verse quoted from John 3:30, “he must become greater; I must become less,” but almost always used in a way that demeans and puts down “me” as a person, sounding as though I must become something that I am not, as though the image and Spirit of God do not already reside in this mortal form. I cannot see that sort of meaning in the verse, and it seems that a lot of what you have written about in this series accounts for the prevalence of such an interpretation. (I’m sure there is wisdom to be had from analyzing the original language and interpretation, but I have never undertaken such an exercise in relation to this verse)

  • This series was very refreshing and I was very pleased with where it lead. A few months ago I stumbled upon and read your article, “Deification in Contemporary Theology.” Also I recently finished Küng’s “On Being a Christian” (again I don’t agree with him on everything there, but thought he brings a good perspective from the humanist side). It seems to me that orthodox deification IS true humanism, and of course this is Christian humanism. Deification properly understood doesn’t detract from God’s glory but magnifies it. By God glorifying us, HE ultimately is glorified. Ephesians chapter 1 demonstrates that the Trinity’s work in humanity produces universal praise to His glory. In another sense, God glorifies us (honors, privileges) by causing us to be the channel and venue of His glory (Eph 3:21).

  • RPierard

    Roger, this is great. Being a historian not a theologian or philosopher, I have lacked the tools to express myself like you have so clearly and effectively done. For a long time I have considered myself a Christian humanist but the concept was not well-formed in my mind. Now I have something to grab on to, and I hope this is published somewhere rather than simply being lost in cyberspace. It helps to counter some of the nonsense being peddled in evangelicalism today, particularly the Calvinist variety. Thanks against. Dick P

    • rogereolson

      Thanks, Dick. I miss our times at CSR board meetings. Thanks for all your contributions to evangelical scholarship.

  • Crfields

    Dr. Olson,

    Many thanks for this wonderful write-up. It long pained me to to have to put up with the “pond scum” declarations about humanity that you refer to. I have never found them to be consistent with the biblical record, especially with Psalm 8 and similar references.

    When the (non-denominational) church I work for asked me to write a succinct history of the Church, one of the things I discovered was that Humanism did indeed have its origins in Christianity. Thank you for the timely reminder of this discovery. Your manifesto is going in my “file” for future reference, and I have no doubt that I will be referring to it for some time. Blessings to you!

  • John Metz

    Roger, I truly regret that I waited until today to read your fine article (especially Part 3). It seems I am too often late to the discussion. The things you said about union with Christ, theosis, deification, glorification, etc. were music to my ears. I rejoice that our God is not an iceberg in space but a real, personable, and relational God who desires to join with us in and through Christ. Thanks for a great post! Athanasius, sometimes called the father of orthodoxy, said, “God became man to make man God.” To this we should add “in life and nature but not in the Godhead or as an object of worship.”

  • James

    HERE IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST problems with some of us Christians. We THINK about it to much.

    One of the reasons why we do this is its so much easier than actually doing anything. We decide that pondering all day is somehow of service to God. We debate all the particulars, seek out those who disagree and make a life of just talking instead of doing. Trust me when I say “we”.

    I envy christian women in this way. They dont really care about defining everything–they just act. To be like christ is to not be like me–I know that for sure.

  • Roger the only problem with the Christian humanism you espouse here is it falls between two stools, both of which are the antithesis of humanism.
    On the one hand, it lacks any independent, coherent analysis and is content to fall back on liberal secular humanism which is patently failing to grapple with the worlds urgent problems. That is not surprising since its ideological bedrock is a green nihilism that basically regards humanity as a mere organism- and rather pernicious one at that. Not much humanism there.
    On the other hand your Christian humanism remains locked into the mainstream church whose theology is focused far more on the world to come than this one. As long as Christians hold onto the idea that our destiny and fate is in God’s (albeit merciful) hands, they really can’t describe themselves as humanists.
    My book Christian Humanism: the compassionate theology of a Jew called Jesus addresses these problems and arrives at a revolutionary new solution. Perhaps you might like to take a look at it.

    • rogereolson

      “Content to fall back on liberal secular humanism?” You will have to be more precise for me to take this charge seriously.

      • I gathered from your rather lavish praise of John de Gruchy’s book that you were of a similar liberal secular humanist ilk to him (see p 91 of Confessions). I challenge you to take a look at my view of Christian humanism- it is far more interesting, original and indeed, ‘Christian’- even if I do say so.

        • Is that not precise enough Roger?

          • rogereolson

            What? Just pointing out that I quoted John De Gruchy who you consider a secular humanist? Isn’t that guilty by association? What I meant is that you’ll have to point out what I said in my essay on Christian humanism that deserves to be labeled secular.

  • Fair enough but I wonder what practical political, social and economic form your “new humanity” inspired by Jesus Christ would take. All the glittering generalizations and spiritual aspirations are fine but what is the game plan to stop the slaughter and rape of millions in the Congo? I can’t imagine the God Jesus told us about ever wanting to ‘dance’ while that atrocity continues in His world.

    • rogereolson

      Why? A person can’t grieve over the horrors of the world but also celebrate stops toward peace and righteousness? It’s all or nothing? Absolute either-or? Seems unlikely for anyone.

      • I don’t think Christians are even grieving about the Congo as few even know about it. Our world is so morally impoverished that this obscenity is scarcely even mentioned in the media. I would argue that a Christian humanist should regard it as inhuman and hypocritical that Christianity does not act as a moral watchdog, demanding the world pay attention and do something about such horrors. I am not saying all or nothing. There are a squillion other problems that can be put on the backburner while we celebrate various small victories. But the Congo is not one of them.

        • rogereolson

          You should read Christianity Today. It often puts the spotlight on issues of humanitarianism in a suffering world. But you still did not answer my question–can’t God “dance” in response to real accomplishments of good in the world even as he grieves over the suffering that continues?

  • The Congo violence is the greatest human tragedy and crime since the Jewish holocaust. If Jesus were here today he would surely be demanding intervention to stop it. This is not Afghanistan- it is more like Mali (without the hostile Islamism). Grieving the situation does not cut it and no- I don’t think God would ever ‘dance’ while Christians effectively ignore such virulent evil in his world. How could he dance when so many of his children are screaming in agony?
    Regarding the broader theological strands of your essay, I agree that this world was created to fully actualize God’s glory but not because God “craves” anything or is “narcissistic” in any sense. That implies ego and surely any notion of a transcendent divinity must include the notion of detachment. The only way of reconciling the evil of this world with a loving God is to regard it as inexorable, a cosmic necessity to fully actualize Gods goodness, just like darkness is needed to give full meaning to light. But I can’t see how God’s glory and goodness can be amplified by small victories while evil runs so rampant. Christians must prioritize and take action against the extremities of human suffering, just like Christ did. That is the only way we can fulfill our divinely ordained purpose to roll back the relentless tide of evil, decreasing the power of “the prince of this world” and (partially at least) reclaiming his domain for God.