A Biblical Theology of Human Flourishing

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The Universality of Human Flourishing

In the early 21st century there are few ideas that can be identified as universal. Few ideas span multiple disciplines of human knowledge, from philosophy to economics, from religion to world health policies, from ethics to psychoanalysis, from medical practice to jurisprudence, from trade policies to energy management to music performance, from water treatment to watercolor instruction. Human knowledge and culture has exploded so thoroughly in its diversity and specialization, especially in the Modern period, that few universals or unifying themes remain. There is certainly beauty and richness here, but nothing universal. Such massive diversity is seen not only in the contemporary state. When one moves from a synchronic analysis to a diachronic one, considering views and ideas across time, the hope of finding any consistent idea seems hopeless and naïve. Human experience, culture, and knowledge are too vast to expect one to find much consistency; diversity and change appear to be the only recognizable unified and steady ideas.

Yet, remarkably, there is one meta-theme or meta-concept that appears with remarkable tenacity and consistency across times and worldviews. This concept has staying power and universal voice because it addresses what is most basic and innate to all of humanity, despite the diversity of race, culture, and values. It is a concept that proves to be the motivating force and end goal of all that humans do and think. This idea or theme can be identified as human flourishing.

Human flourishing alone is the idea that encompasses all human activity and goals because there is nothing so natural and inescapable as the desire to live, and to live in peace, security, love, health, and happiness. These are not merely cultural values or the desire of a certain people or time period. The desire for human flourishing motivates everything humans do—both belief in religion and the rejection of it; monogamous marriage and a promiscuous lifestyle; waging war and making peace; studying history and creating art; planting fields and building skyscrapers. All human behavior, when analyzed deeply enough, will be found to be motivated by the desire for life and flourishing, individually and corporately.

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Jonathan Pennington received his PhD in New Testament Studies from the University of St. Andrews. He is an Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Director of Research for Doctoral Studies at Southern Seminary.
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