On Tuesday, the Acton Institute co-sponsored, along with Regent University’s College of Arts & Sciences and School of Divinity, To Fail or To Flourish: Does My Life and Work Really Matter? The purpose of the event was to initiate a conversation on campus on the topic of human flourishing involving students, faculty, staff and administration.
The day started with a session by Dr. Corné Bekker entitled, “Does the Bible Say Anything About Flourishing?” Dr. Bekker leads the Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership Ecclesial Leadership major, teaches in the doctoral programs of the School of Business and Leadership, and is actively involved in research on the use of Biblical hermeneutics and spirituality to explore leadership.
Dr. Bekker examined the question, “What does it mean to be fully alive?” He cited St. Iranaeus’ quote (“the glory of God is man fully alive”) and explained how it is often misquoted and/or misused, oftentimes in the context of flourishing. David Kelsey, in “On Human Flourishing,” says, “Christian theology has a large stake in making it clear that its affirmations about God and God’s ways of relating to human beings underwrite human beings’ flourishing.” Flourishing is not simply being happy or feeling fully alive. Human flourishing must start with Christ Himself. Kevin Cronin in his book Kenosis: Emptying Self and the Path of Christian Service describes three relationships important to flourishing: God and self, others and self, self and self. Dr. Bekker described these three relationships in the remainder of his lecture.
As it says in Genesis 1:26-28, “. . . so God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them.” John Paul II in the 2004 Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church states, “The human person, in Himself and in his vocation, transcends the limits of the created universe, of society and of history: his ultimate end is God Himself.” Dr. Bekker cited these sources to show the importance of the relationship between God and self.
Bekker also referenced Matthew 16:24, which states, “Then Jesus told His disciples, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (ESV). In the context of discussing the relationship between self and self, Dr. Bekker claimed, “Human flourishing must have as it starting point God Himself, otherwise it will end with mere self-fulfillment.” From Charles Taylor’s book, A Secular Age, Bekker noted, “The call to renounce doesn’t negate the value of flourishing; it is rather a call to center everything on God . . . a collaboration with the restoration of a fuller flourishing by God.”
Finally, regarding the context of others and self, flourishing is neither mere collectivism nor raging individualism. Flourishing starts with God, includes individual responsibility, and also focuses on the common good. Ephesians 2:18-22 says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God . . . being joined together.” In Caritas in Veritate Benedict XVI states, “God desires to incorporate us into this reality of communion as well: ‘that they may be one even as we are one.’”
Dr. Bekker described peace (shalom) and good as two biblical descriptors of human flourishing. Cornelius Plantinga describes shalom as “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight. A rich state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder and its creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights.” David Ford regarding good says, “In which case, the highest, most real, authentic or adequate human flourishing could include our aiming in our range of final goals at something other than human flourishing . . . Loving, worshipping God is the ultimate end.”
The Westminster Confessions asks, “What is the chief end of man? The response: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy Him forever.”
Dr. Bekker concluded his lecture by reading from Jude verses 24 and 25: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1:24, 25 ESV).
Dr. John Mulford, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and professor in the School of Business and Leadership, spoke on the topic of how work and life matter for the world around us. Dr. Mulford has extensive experience with developing entrepreneurs around the world.
He described “kingdom businesses” as an engine for transforming people and nations. These businesses honor God, operate by godly principles, show love, and achieve their full potential. He was careful to qualify that Christianity doesn’t equal transformation, believing in God doesn’t equal knowing him, and knowing God doesn’t equal obeying him. A Christian nation can have ungodly thinking, values, and behaviors.
God chooses to activate man to cooperate with him toward the transformation of his world. Entrepreneurship can be catalytic toward societal transformation. The majority of Dr. Mulford’s lecture was spent describing his worldview of business from the perspectives of the stomach (flesh), head (principles), and heart (God’s Holy Spirit). He described what various parts of business such as strategy, philosophy, product, marketing, power, trust, and wealth look like from these perspectives.
Dr. Mulford described some key components to what a kingdom business looks like a daily basis. These include excellence, service, calling, guidance, faith, prayer, and ministry. He concluded his lecture by describing the “sweet spot” of one’s calling as the nexus of passion, competence, and opportunity.
Dr. Jordan Ballor, research fellow for the Acton Institute and executive editor for the Journal of Markets & Morality, gave a luncheon lecture, “Does Economics Even Matter For Flourishing? Or, What Does It Mean To Be A Christian Bus Driver?” Dr. Ballor asked the audience to consider how you would respond if you were a bus driver and someone was running toward your bus after you left the bus stop. Would you stop for them or would you keep going? This question comes from Paul Heyne’s essays on the subject of the morality of economics.
Dr. Ballor described the “four P’s of God’s economy” as procreation (family), productivity (work), proclamation (church), and protection (government). He went on to describe the connection between work and economic productivity. He posed the question, “What kind of system best reflects the dignity of the human person created in the imago dei, unleashing creativity and innovation?” He went on to describe the implications for manual and skilled labor, goods and services, vocation and love for others, and cultural development of civilization.
Dr. Ballor argued that “economics can make you a better disciple.” Every believer has a stewardship responsibility. He outlined three economic fallacies that threaten good discipleship: the theory of limited good/zero-sum fallacy, that all competition is immoral, and that profit is immoral. Three economic realities that are a “boon” for good discipleship are the recognition of opportunity costs, that incentives matter, and that good intentions are not enough.
He concluded the lecture by noting that economics is important, but not all-important. Wealth just like any good gift from God, can be a significant temptation. Paul Heyne’s article in Religion & Liberty provided the closing thought: “The market is a faithful servant in America today, providing more and more of the good things that we want. That is no reason to cripple it. It is reason, however, to think more carefully about what we want.”
The event concluded with a panel discussion summarizing the day’s lectures and describing the implications for flourishing in the various disciplines. The panelists explored questions on technology, flourishing in the arts, and barriers that keep people from flourishing.
Audio from the event at Regent University will be posted here in the coming weeks. Our thanks to Amanda Morad at Regent who wrote an article about our event. You can read it here.