Christian Humanism — Can these two concepts be wed into one? Can we be both a “Christian” and a humanist? It would seem that these two philosophical positions compete for different ends and therefore could never be wedded without compromise on both sides. It would follow that a person could not be a Christian in the true biblical, historical, orthodox way and be a humanist (in the purest sense) at the same time.
Maybe we should start with some working definitions. It may be impossible to give a complete definition of either of these weighty terms. Please accept my simple descriptions of each, so we can consider whether or not they go together.
Christian: a follower of Christ and participant in the one, catholic and apostolic Church
Humanism: a philosophical system emphasizing the autonomous, thinking self
(I spend more time thinking/writing/reading/worshiping among Christians than humanists and yet I am more dissatisfied what my description of a Christian. Nevertheless, let these descriptions suffice.)
He is a quick contrast between the Christian and the humanist.
Christians subordinate the self under God.
Humanists elevate the self to the exclusion of any concept of God.
Christians know truth by faith.
Humanists know truth by reason.
Christians depend on outside revelation.
Humanists depend on inside rational processing.
Christians exist as created beings in the image of God (imago dei)
Humanists exist as thinking selves (cogito, ergo sum)
Christians believe human beings are essential evil in need of redemption.
Humanists believe human beings are good in need of education.
This brief survey does present a few points of similarity. Both groups believe in the worth and dignity of human beings. Christians find worth in humanity in that we were created in God’s image. Our worth comes from an outside, personal, creator God. Humanists find worth in humanity as an intrinsic value. Our worth comes from our own independent goodness and the ability to think and create a good society in which to live. On the surface it looks like Christians have something in common with humanists, but a second look reveals that these two positions have different starting places and different logical conclusions.
So why are so many Christians thinking and acting like humanists?
Perhaps it is because they are looking to be fully human. To be fully human is to be fulfilled, satisfied, to experience one’s full humanity. Sadly, some Christians have felt like the church is not a place where they can become fully human. When we reduce the Christian message to a quick ticket to heaven and an escape route from the bad place (sheol, hades, gehenna, hell, lake of fire, etc.), people are left wondering, “Is this all there is to life, preparing to go to the next life?”
The reality is the plan of the triune God is to make us fully human.
I have been reading Ken Kinghorn’s Christ Can Make You Fully Human and he has some wonderful things to say about this subject in chapter 4 entitled, “The New Humanity.”
Here are just a few excerpts:
Our failure to perceive the biblical ideal of a new humanity has consequently led us to a diluted form of Christian faith that tarnishes the image of Christianity, both for those in the church and for those who yet remain outside. pg. 46
Thus many Christians are looking outside the faith for human experiences, spirituality and a way to experience their full humanity, when all along a new humanity is what Jesus is offering.
God purposes to create a new humanity and both to declare us righteous and make us righteous. Scripture bears a strong witness that Jesus Christ can significantly transform the character of human life through the inner working of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament affirms that God can transform our affections and radically change us into a new humanity. pg. 49
Christian are not just those who are “Not perfect, just forgiven….” “Just forgiven” is that all we are as Christians…. “just forgiven.” The Scripture reveals that we are forgiven and declared righteous, but also that God the Father sends God the Spirit to transform us and make us righteous after the image of God the Son. We truly become a new creation…
This new creation does not dehumanize us, nor does it stifle our personhood; it forms the basis of a truly complete humanity. pg. 51
We become a truly complete humanity.
We become a completely true humanity.
We are made complete in our humanity (fully human).
We are made true in our humanity (authentic humanity).
Far from blotting out our individuality, absorbing our spirit, or diminishing our personality, the Spirit of Christ raises us into authentic selfhood. He frees us to discover and express our fullest potential. When Christ’s Spirit comes to dwell within us, we become genuinely human for the first time in our lives. Jesus Christ does not make us less human, but more human! pg. 52
God created us. He created our outside stuff (body) and our inside stuff (soul) and both are good. He is recreating our inside stuff (soul) so that we can be an authentic representation of Jesus in our own cultural context. And when Christ returns he will recreate our outside stuff (body) to be imperishable.
The more we are transformed to look like Jesus the more we will look different from each other, because we will each be a unique representation of Jesus.
Christ’s Spirit within us does not dehumanize us; the union of the human spirit and the Holy Spirit opens the way to our completed selfhood. Jesus as indwelling Lord makes us truly alive, fully Christian, and radically human.pg. 53
This message is the essence of the Christian gospel.
Jesus came to make us truly alive, fully Christian and radically human.
Jesus comes to make us truly alive, fully Christian and radically human.
Jesus will come to make us truly alive, fully Christian and radically human.
Can we truly be Christian humanists? I don’t think we can, but we can be “Christian humans”…truly alive, fully Christian and radically human in Christ.