Excerpts from “A Christian Humanist Manifesto” by Roger Olson

roger-olson
picture source: George W. Truett Theological Seminary – Faculty Environmental Portraits – 10/21/2009.

‘I will argue that Christian humanism, properly qualified, is biblical and thoroughly traditional as well as a positive force for cultural engagement.
 
Those of you who have lived long enough will recognize that what I’m saying is not new, but then, there are no new ideas under the sun. What I’m calling for is a renewal, a renaissance of Christian humanism—especially among evangelical Christian young people who have not been exposed to it and who have been indoctrinated by their spiritual gurus to think being anti-human is to be more spiritual.
 
(…)
 
Christian humanism” was associated especially with those Christians like Desiderius Erasmus who called for “ad fontes”—back to the sources of Christianity—the Greek New Testament and the church fathers. The emphasis of Christian humanism was on the image of God as the source and basis of human beings’ unique dignity and worth above nature.
 
(…)
 
Erasmus stands out as the premier Christian humanist of the Renaissance and Reformation and it irked Martin Luther to no end. Luther opposed humanism; to him human beings are a disease on the skin of the earth—unless and until God’s “proper righteousness” begins to transform them through faith. Even then, however, he held out no hope of real progress either in individual holiness or civil righteousness.
 
(…)
 
Luther denied the image of God in sinners, saying it is but a broken relic of little or no use.
 
(…)
 
Erasmus, who laid the Reformation egg that Luther hatched, developed a “philosophy of Christ” to oppose both the medieval Catholic emphasis on scholastic philosophy and theology and the growing Protestant emphasis on total depravity. For him, Jesus’ humanity is the model of true humanity and all persons, due to the image of God in them, are capable of imitating Christ with the assistance of grace.
 
(…)
 
By and large, with some exceptions, Christian humanism was opposed by Protestants who opted for total depravity and appeal to common grace rather than the image of God to explain civic and cultural righteousness in society. Strains of it appeared here and there among Protestants, however, especially among the English where Wesley and the Quakers found a seed of goodness in every corner of creation including human beings.
 
(…)
 
What is the antidote to this anti-humanistic perspective among Christians?’
‘What is “Christian humanism?” Let me begin with Scripture. Psalm 8—the biblical charter of Christian humanism.

(…)

Pond scum? Shit? A disease on the face of the earth? Totally depraved? Having no purpose in life except to glorify God to the exclusion of any sheer “joy of life” in creativity? Not according to this Psalm.

(…)

The current trend is to demean humanity by proclaiming an inflated doctrine of total depravity.

(…)

My point is not to contradict the Reformed pastor who has been such an inspiration to so many young people through his sermons and books; it is rather to say that he left unclear how we are to regard fellow human beings. And that is especially the case when we consider that he, like so many evangelicals today, believes and teaches that God only loves some of those walking dead people and intends to save only some of them unilaterally. In fact, Christ only died for some of them—and really not for any of them so much as for God. Christ, the pastor teaches, died only for the elect and even for them only secondarily. In God’s-God-centeredness, he says, he sent Christ to die to vindicate his own righteousness.

(…)

Many in the so-called “emerging church movement” gravitate toward the “kinder, gentler God” without glory or power and many in the Young, Restless, Reformed movement trend toward the God whose glory and power overwhelm human persons, turning them into instruments for his own glory. The first pole tends to elevate humans to godlike status, almost replacing God with humanity. The second pole tends to reduce humans to objects, instruments, pawns in God’s great game of self-glorification.

(…)

my main message to you is that in spite of the damage, human beings are nevertheless good and valuable and capable of great things—including, by the grace of God, satisfying God.

Some Christian thinkers will call my message humanistic. I accept that, so long as “Christian” qualifies “humanistic.”

(…)

To put it bluntly, according to Edwards, God is the ultimate narcissist. But that’s okay for God because he’s God; it isn’t okay for us because we are finite and fallen creatures of God. We have no right or reason to be narcissistic given our wretchedness.

(…)

Then there is the issue of evil; does evil glorify God. There Edwards is bold; even sin and evil glorify God in his judging and conquering them.

(…)

For Wesley, God created out of love. God loves the world and all creatures with the possible exception of Satan and his co-rebel angels. God especially loves all human beings in spite of their wretchedness because he created them in his own image and likeness and because his nature is to love. Creation, especially of noble humanity, was due to the overflowing love of the Trinity. Love does not imply need; true love, the best love, God-like love, creates value in the beloved.

(…)

He preferred to say we are deprived and that by our own decisions and actions, not due to any foreordaining plan of God. Is God glorious according to Wesley? Of course; God’s glory is his love and his love is his glory.

(…)

Scripture tells us in 1 John 4:8 that “God is love.” Love is God’s essence; his very being. And God has invested in his human creatures capacity for that kind of love—love that creates value rather than seeks it. Scripture also tells us in 2 Peter 1:4 that God’s goal is to make us “partakers of the divine nature.” With Wesley, I interpret that to mean that God seeks to share his love with us in transforming ways. God’s grace seeks to glorify us. And God, being love, is most satisfied with us when we are being glorified by him, that is, by his grace.

(…)

James 3:9 warns against cursing fellow human beings because they are made in God’s own likeness. That isn’t specific to Christians; all people are made in God’s likeness and still possess special dignity and worth because of that status.

(…)

The apostle Paul talked in 2 Corinthians 3:18 about we, God’s people, presumably Christians, being transformed from one degree of glory to another—a progressive process of taking in, by God’s grace and power, with our cooperation of faith, God’s own being—love.

(…)

These two biblical truths form part of the foundation of Christian humanism. But they are too often neglected by those who love to insult and demean humanity thinking thereby they are giving God more glory.

(…)

Christian humanism is the belief, then, that human beings are of unique dignity and worth and capable of cultural creativity because of God’s love and grace. I want to add that Christian humanism includes belief that humans, because of God’s love and grace, are able to satisfy God’s own creation desire by allowing God to transform them into loving beings. “God is most satisfied with us when we are being most glorified by him.”’

(…)

‘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.

(…)

I don’t consider it heretical to say that God craves our love and obedience and glorification by him.

(…)

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.

(…)

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 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).

(…)

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

(…)

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 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.

(…)

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.

(…)

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.

(…)

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.

(…)

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.’

sources: “A Christian Humanist Manifesto: God Is Most Satisfied with Us When We Are Most Glorified by Him (Part 1)”, “A Christian Humanist Manifesto…Part 2″, “A Christian Humanist Manifesto–Part 3 (Final)” (patheos).

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s