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Human Flourishing and the Christian perspective on Work

The Christ on Campus Initiative is a project set up by the Gospel Coalition with the goal of reaching university students with the truth of Christianity. To do this, the Initiative is focused on releasing literature that addresses important intellectual and practical issues from a Christian perspective (previous articles have been on Christianity and Sexuality, Arguments for the existence of God, Religious Diversity and more).

This month, CCI have released a new 25 page article by Danielle Sallade on human flourishing. In the article, Sallade examines the practical aspects of what it means to live a life that might be correctly described as having flourished. Looking particularly at the lives of University students that she interacts with on a daily basis, she agrees with the philosopher, Blaise Pascal, who said that “the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room”. Sallade argues that a “culture of busyness” inhibits our ability to live in right relationship with God, our environment, neighbors, and ourselves. She writes:

I am troubled by this change in students as they progress through their education, and I have wondered what causes it. I think a major reason behind the change is that college students are constantly thinking about how their education is tied to the job they will get or the graduate school they will apply to. Since they know they are competing for a finite number of jobs or graduate school positions, their focus becomes the competition to outperform everyone else or at least stay toward the top of the pool. Their education and extracurricular pursuits become more about résumé-building and standing out from classmates rather than on what they are learning and how they are enjoying their God-given gifts. The same is true for high school students competing for a finite number of college acceptance letters. This causes pressure, fear, and stress, which in turn causes students to overwork and overcommit.

With this as the environment, my colleagues and I have thought much about how to counsel our students to live out their faith in their unique role as students. What should they believe about the purpose of a college education? How should their faith as Christians affect how they should study? How they should manage their time? How they should rest? How might they flourish in the fast-paced, pressure-filled culture they inhabit?

In thinking through the answers to these questions, I have realized that the students’ drive to achieve and outperform others is directly tied to their understanding of the nature of work and their definition of success. Most are working with a worldly viewpoint as their foundation. But as sinners in a fallen world, the worldly viewpoint is flawed and has caused our society to lose a God-centered perspective about work and success. The Bible graciously provides an alternative way to live that is God-centered rather than self-centered. When lived out, the result is freedom from the competitive rat-race and freedom from fear.

Our self-centered rather than God-centered approach has at least three mistakes at its core: (1) We wrongly value certain types of work over others. (2) We place our identity in our work and seek justification through our work. (3) We work as if we were independent operators, solely responsible for our daily provision, forgetting that God is our ultimate provider. These three mistaken perspectives about work affect what people believe about college education, which in turn affects the culture on college campuses today.

You can read the whole article on the Gospel Coalition site or download the PDF here.

Here’s her full outline:

1. The Culture of Busyness

1.1. Value in All Types of Work
1.2. Value in All Types of Work—by Design
1.3. Value in All Types of Work—By Example

2. Identity in Work

2.1. Identity in Christ
2.2. Work That Flows Out of Identity in Christ

3. Depending on God in our Work

3.1. Sabbath
3.2. Focus on Faithfulness

4. Conclusion

Sallade is a graduate of  Princeton University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and currently a staff member of Princeton Evangelical Fellowship.

(HT: Andy Naselli)

The Anthropological Argument: Part 1

The Anthropological argument is actually a family of arguments, all of which have human beings as their starting point. An Anthropological Argument for God’s existence is then any argument which begins with man and ends with God as an explanation. In this post I shall briefly summarise examples of popular anthropological arguments and how they have been employed. In my next post I shall state and defend a specific anthropological argument, and examine if it is a good and convincing argument.

Some examples of anthropological arguments are;

(1) The argument from the human body as an exquisite biological machine. (2) The argument from the beauty of a human person in the totality of his being. Both of these however, in my opinion, are best described as a type of the teleological argument. It is understandable that the categories in Natural Theology would have some cross-over.

(3) The argument from mind or consciousness of human beings could be described as anthropological. However this is a large field of enquiry in both breadth and depth, and besides this strictly does not argue for God’s existence – at most I think it proves that God’s existence as an immaterial mind is possible because immaterial minds are exemplified in the human persons. Accordingly this type of argument I think should be placed in a separate category of its own.

(4) Blaise Pascal’s whole apologetic method was anthropological. Unhappy with the traditional arguments for God’s existence efficacy to convince, he decided to start with something people could not ignore – themselves. His first step was to dispel apathy. He would then observe that man is simultaneously noble and wretched. For instance,

“The greatness of man is great in that he knows himself to be wretched. A tree does not know itself to be wretched. So it is wretched to know one’s wretchedness but it is great to know that one is wretched. (218)”

So man is wretched because the universe can easily crush him like a reed. But man is noble because he knows this, while neither the reed nor the universe takes any note. After other examples he goes on to explain how it is only the Christian religion that is able to explain this seemingly contradictory state.

(5) C.S. Lewis included an anthropological type argument in his apologetic. This was captured in a song by New Zealand’s popular singer/songwriter Brooke Fraser.

“If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy,
I can only conclude that I was not made for here
If the felsh that I fight is at best only light and momentary,
?then of course I’ll feel nude when to where I’m destined, I’m compared.”

(6) Francis Schaeffer used an anthropological type argument in conjunction with his cosmological arguments, arguing a universe that includes personal beings must be a result of a personal cause, for a non-personal universe cannot produce personal beings. This argument by itself seems thin on the ground, but gains its force in the context of the rest of his writings.

Indignity and indecency: Pascal on human nature

It is in vain, oh men, that you seek within yourselves the cure for all your miseries. All your insight has led to the knowledge that it is not in yourselves that you discover the true and the good. The philosophers promised them to you, but they were not able to keep that promise. They do not know what your true good is or what your nature is. How should they have provided you with a cure for ills which they have not even understood? Your principal maladies are pride, which cuts you off from God, and sensuality, which binds you to the earth. And they have done nothing but foster at least one of these maladies. If they have given you God for your object, it has been to pander to your pride. They have made you think you were like him and resemble him by your nature. And those who have grasped the vanity of such a pretension have cast you down in the other abyss by making you believe that your nature is like that of the beast of the field and have led you to seek your good in lust, which is the lot of animals.

Blaise Pascal, The Mind on Fire, ed. James M. Houston (Multnomah Pub, 1989), page 115.

Pascal on Human Happiness

Penguin has put out a new series of books, called ‘Great Ideas’, that corral some of the important writings in the history of human thought. Each title is published in a slim, accessible format (some are just excerpts from the original works) with absolutely gorgeous cover art. For those that might otherwise have been intimidated by reading Locke or Dostoyevsky, the Penguin collection represents an excellent introduction to many great literary classics.

Human Happiness by Blaise Pascal is one of their titles in the third series of the ‘Great Ideas’ collection. It is a composite of excerpts from the writings of the seventeenth century Christian philosopher on the condition of man and the felicity of the religious life. Although Pascal was well known to the European scientific community because of his involvement in debates about mathematical and empirical concepts, little of Pascal’s writing was published in his lifetime. It was after his death in 1662 (Pascal was only thirty nine), that his thoughts about religion were posthumously arranged by his family and friends and released (entitled Pensées). Pascal is most well known today for the application of his mathematical genius to restore an old apologetic argument (that it is more prudent to bet on God existing rather than on his not existing), but he also one of the best philosophers to grapple with both the topic of man’s concomitant wretchedness and glory and the problem of God’s hiddenness. This book in the Penguin series contains only one-fifth of the total fragments available but seeks nonetheless to give Pascal’s thoughts on the human pursuit of satisfaction and real joy in life.

Douglas Groothius, author and professor of philosopher at Denver Seminary, has recently written a good review of the Penguin book:

Does Human Happiness succeed as a primer for Pensées and Pascal’s other writings? The answer is, Yes and No. It does succeed in presenting an assemblage of the more assessable and psychologically pertinent fragments concerning the mysteries of being human. But it fails as a primer for two reasons. First, as mentioned above, some crucial texts on Christ go missing. A good primer cannot, of course, include everything and still be a primer. But it should never expunge the essential. Second, given the extraordinary nature of Pensées (an incomplete work of Christian apologetics written in the middle of the Seventeen Century), the neophyte is owed more introductory material to initiate them to the intellectual ambiance of the work. However, this want of prolegomena is overcome somewhat by the timeless and lapidary quality of many of Pascal’s fragments—e.g., “Man’s sensitivity to little things and insensitivity to the greatest things are marks of a strange disorder.” (One may find some assistance in understanding Pascal’s thoughts, life, and world by consulting my book, On Pascal [Wadsworth, 2003].)

In a time when literacy is in deep decline and when so many are learning so little about things that matter so much, I commend Penguin for the Great Idea series and for this particular installment. A close and contentious reading of Blaise Pascal can indeed transform the way one sees oneself—and how one sees God.

You can read the whole thing here.

The book that Groothius mentions (On Pascal) is also available on Amazon.

If you’re interested in reading Pensées, the Christian Classics Ethereal Library has a version online and freely available to view.