Questions that arise about Christian humanism as foundation for the faith & work conversation


Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam with Renaissance Pilaster, wikipedia, public domain

I have argued that the faith & work conversation needs a stronger theological foundation, and that the long tradition of Christian humanism can and should provide that foundation. I recognize in making that argument that many questions now arise. So I am beginning to line up those questions. The following is a preliminary list, not yet carefully ordered nor comprehensive; I also recognize that any number of these overlap significantly with each other:

  • What, simply defined, is Christian humanism (hereafter, “CH”)?
  • What does CH have to offer to an argument that the church – gathered and scattered – is called by God to be “for the life of the world” (hereafter, “FLOW”)? And how can it support the dismantling of the harmful “sacred-secular divide” in the modern American evangelical church (among others) that has been identified as one of the primary dis-integrators of our work from our faith?
  • How has CH been present and active in all periods of Christian history?
  • What particular view of the human telos and indeed of salvation/redemption does CH offer? In particular, why has understanding Christ as the “new man” who shows us both our perfection and our destiny grounded CH as a Christian understanding both of humanity and of human culture, and how does that play out in CH soteriology? Does that emphasis make CH soteriology closest to a historically Eastern Orthodox view (theosis)? And how “digestible” is that soteriology within the multiple theological perspectives of evangelical Protestantism today, as well as within the main lines of the Western theological tradition?
  • What grounds CH’s “theo-anthropocentric” quality (the insistence that God is in a significant way “anthropocentric,” which is a point also made by Miroslav Volf in his For the Life of the World) – and how does that quality put the lie to stereotypes about renaissance humanism in particular being inherently secularizing because of its high anthropology?
  • In what key Christian doctrines has CH been grounded?
  • What are some key scriptural foundations of CH? (A crucial question to address among evangelical thinkers who may enter the conversation as skeptics about CH)
  • How has CH been a “philosophy of culture”?
  • What social circumstances and intellectual pre-conditions led WW II–era thinkers to attempt to reclaim facets of CH for their time (as argued by Alan Jacobs in The Year of our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis)?
  • Are there parallels between the crisis of that era (to which, again, some thinkers responded by looking to re-excavate CH) and our own moment of multifaceted crisis?
  • If there are, then is CH a tradition ripe for retrieval today – particularly in North American culture?
  • How were the Reformers Christian humanists?
  • How were the Church Fathers Christian humanists?
  • How did CH underwrite the development of the university as a pro-flourishing institution?
  • What has the line of development or influence been between Christian humanism and “the humanities” of the modern university? And how can/should that connection influence how we think about Christian higher education in general, and theological education in particular, today?
  • What about the connections between CH and science? The arts? Law and politics? Healthcare and the rise of the hospital? (etc.) In other words, how did CH in its various phases influence the development and shape of the major sectors of work in which most of our students’ congregants spend most of their time and invest much of their labor?
  • In the 1960s, in his lectures and book titled For the Life of the World, American Orthodox church leader Alexander Schmemann argued that the church has always been intended by God as a kind of grand sacrament provided for the world. How might this be an argument that is complementary to, or even grounded in, CH?
  • What has CH’s relationship been to non-Christian sources of knowledge? How can that help us today, not only as academics but as pastors and congregants working and struggling out in a world that still feels quite secular to many (though George Marsden and others tell us, is increasingly post-secular)? In other words, can CH help Christian workers who experience their workplaces and their work as alienating because of the apparent secularity of workplace organizations/institutions and their commitments?

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