GAFCON Jerusalem 2018
Human flourishing and the mission of the church.
The Christian vision of human flourishing
In my opening remarks I explained why the concept of human flourishing is important for the mission of the Church and sketched out the understanding of human flourishing put forward by a range of non-Christian philosophies and religions.
The picture of flourishing in Psalm 1.
I shall now go on to consider what an alternative Christian view of flourishing looks like. I shall begin by looking at Psalm 1, since this is a section of the Bible which directly addresses the issue of what it means for a human being to flourish. If we ask what a flourishing human being looks like then Psalm 1 tells us.
Psalm 1 runs as follows:
‘1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff which the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.’
This Psalm can be divided into two parts.
The first part is in verses 1-3. In these verses the man who is described as ‘blessed’ in verse 1 is said in verse 3 to flourish like a well-watered tree which produces a harvest of fruit at the proper time and whose leaves never wither because of drought. Just as this tree prospers so also it is said of the blessed man ‘In all that he does, he prospers.’
These verses also describe the characteristics of this flourishing man, first negatively and then positively.
Negatively, (1) he ‘walks not in the counsel of the wicked,’ That is, he does not ‘follow their advice rather than the guidance of God.’ (2) He does not stand ‘in the way of sinners,’ that is, share their way of life.’ (3) He does not sit ‘in the seat of scoffers’ by ‘making light of God’s law which ought to be one’s delight.’
Positively, ‘his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.’ In other words, what he delights in is what God wants and this is what he constantly thinks about. Furthermore as the parallel verse in Joshua 1:8 indicates, this is not ‘merely an intellectual exercise, but, above all, it is a study of the will of God for the purpose of doing it.’
The second half of the Psalm, verses 4-6, describes the fate of the ‘wicked.’ By the ‘wicked’ the Psalmist means the godless, those who lack the characteristics described in verses 1-3. They fail to flourish but are ‘like the chaff which the wind drives away.’ During the corn harvest in Old Testament times the corn was thrown into the air with the chaff, the dray scaly protective casing of the gain, being blown away by the wind and the heavier grain dropping to the floor to be collected and stored for subsequent use . Chaff is thus a metaphor for all that is useless and transitory and this is what is being said about the life of the wicked. ‘They are thought of as having become worthless in themselves, and their life as empty and without permanence.’ 
Objections to this picture.
So far everything seems nice and clear. If we take Psalm 1 as our basis we can construct a nice simple division between two types of human beings, the ‘blessed’ who reject sin and live in obedience to God, and so flourish, and the wicked who don’t and whose lives are therefore worthless and impermanent.
However, if we delve more deeply in to the biblical witness we find that things aren’t quite that simple. The Bible itself raises two objections to this view of human life.
First, it would appear that the sinfulness of the human race means that the category of the blessed as described in Psalm 1 is an empty category. It has nobody in it. We are told in Psalm 14 verses 2-3, for example, that:
‘The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God,
They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one.’
Secondly, as the write of Ecclesiastes testifies, experience calls into question the notion that the blessed flourish and endure while the wicked pass away. As Ecclesiastes 9:2 puts it:
‘… one fate comes to all, to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As is the good man, so is the sinner; and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath.’
How the Christian account of flourishing answers these two objections.
How can we respond to these two objections, given that God’s word in Holy Scripture cannot contradict itself?
If we start with the issue of the universal sinfulness of the human race, a good place to begin to respond is with the words of St. Paul in Romans 3:21-22. In the previous section of Romans, 1:18 – 3:20, St. Paul explains that both ‘all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin’ (3:9). However he then goes on to declare in verses 21-22:
‘But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.’
What these verses tell us about is a righteousness, a state of being in the right before God, that is not dependent upon what we do (‘law’) but which is given by God to all who have faith in Jesus Christ. As the Lutheran scholar Anders Nygren puts it:
By faith in [Christ] we are recipients of the righteousness which comes down from God. It is not an inner quality of our own, but an active intervention by God by which he transforms our existence and renews its circumstances. Formerly the wrath of God from heaven pursued man who was doomed to death. Now through Christ the heaven of righteousness and life stretches out over all who believe. By the grace of God man is included in God’s own righteousness. 
According to Romans, therefore, if we have faith Jesus Christ we stand before God as righteous, just like the blessed man in Psalm 1, even though in ourselves we are sinners. How can this be? To start off with, we need to recall that there is one exception to the otherwise universal tale of human sinfulness, one person who perfectly fulfils the picture of the blessed man in Psalm 1. That person is Jesus Christ. As Eric Costa notes:
‘Literally speaking, there is only one person who thoroughly fulfils Psalm 1, whose delight is fully in the law of the Lord, who never walked in the counsel of the wicked, whose works always prosper, who is in himself ‘the way, the truth and the life’ of the righteous.’ 
Having made this point, Costa then comments further:
This is encouraging, because if I look at Psalm 1, then look just at myself, then look back and forth a few more times, I begin to wonder whether I can truly consider myself among the congregation of the righteous. But if I look to Jesus Christ with faith as the one who fulfilled Psalm 1 for me, then in him I have the full assurance of the benefits mentioned in the Psalm.
But how can I have this assurance on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ? Because, as Martin Luther puts it, drawing on the imagery used by St. Paul in Ephesians 5:21-33, through faith I am married to Christ. I therefore become one flesh with him and so my sin is his, but his righteousness is mine. Listen to Luther in his great tract of 1520 The Freedom of a Christian:
‘The third incomparable benefit of faith is that it unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom. By this mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul become one flesh [Eph.5:31-32]. And if they are one flesh and there is between them the most perfect of all marriages, since human marriages are but poor examples of this one true marriage – it follows that everything they have they hold in common, the good as well as the evil. Accordingly the believing soul can boast of and glory in whatever Christ has as though it were his own, and whatever the soul has Christ claims as his own.’
This is good news, says Luther, because
‘…his righteousness is greater than the sins of all men, his life stronger than death, his salvation more invincible that hell. Thus the believing soul by means of the pledge of his faith is free in Christ, its bridegroom, free from all sins, secure against death and hell, and is endowed with eternal righteousness life, and salvation of Christ its bridegroom. So he takes to himself a glorious bride ‘without spot or wrinkle, cleansing her by the washing of water with the word’ [cf, Eph. 5:26-27] of life, that is by faith in the word of life, righteousness and salvation.‘
Furthermore, through the work of the Holy Spirit the righteousness that Christ has achieved for me by coming, and dying, and rising, and uniting me to himself through faith begins to become manifest in my life as I start to live as the person God made me to be.
In the words of John Webster:
‘The Spirit… is the agent of those divine acts through which the creature really does become in full integrity what it is destined to be. The Spirit gives life, acting in and upon the creature in such a way that the creature attains its full stature, filling out its history in completion of the divine purpose. This gift of life is also the gift of holiness, as the Spirit makes actual and effective in the creature the blessing for which the creature has been livingly singled out and reconciled.’ 
This work of the Spirit does not mean that we will in this life ever cease to be sinners, ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’ (1 John 1:8). It does mean, however, that over time the objective righteousness and holiness we have in Christ will become increasingly reflected in our life and behaviour as we live for God within the particular vocations to which he has called us, a process which will be completed in the world to come when ‘we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2).
In summary, we can thus say with Luther that the Christian is ‘simul iustus et pecattor.’ In myself I am a sinner, but in Christ and through faith I am the blessed man of Psalm 1 and this reality is becoming reflected in my life through the work of the Spirit.
As the Evangelical commentator Thomas Scott comments, this means that when someone becomes a Christian he has ‘new desires, pleasures, hopes, fears, sorrows, companions, and employments: his thoughts, words, and actions are changed: he enters upon a new state and bears a new character.’  However, this is not something that he can claim as his own achievement. Rather, it is the achievement of God in him. To quote St. Paul in Ephesians 2:8-10:
‘For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’
In response to the suggestion in Ecclesiastes that in reality ‘one fate comes to all’ what we have to note is that this is only true in the short term (which is what the writer of Ecclesiastes is describing).
Psalm 34: 34-36 declares:
‘Wait for the Lord, and keep to his way, and he will exalt you to possess the land; you will look on the destruction of the wicked.
I have seen a wicked man overbearing, and towering like a cedar of Lebanon, Again I passed by, and lo, he was no more; though I sought him, he could not be found.’
As the Book of Revelation makes clear, these words will find their fulfilment at the end of time when those who are righteous through Christ will indeed ‘possess the land’ by entering into the life of the New Jerusalem in the ‘new heavens and the new earth’ in which they will dwell forever with God, worshiping him and reigning with him, and ‘and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away’ (Revelation 21:1, 4, 22:3-5). However, as the Psalmist says, the unrighteous will not be able to be found, because they will be permanently excluded from the new creation and consigned instead to the ‘lake of fire’ (Revelation 20:15) which is St. John’s symbol for the total, irrevocable and eternal destruction of the wicked, equivalent to Jesus’ description of the ‘furnace of fire’ where ‘men will weep and gnash their teeth’ in Matthew 13:41.
The Christian vision of human flourishing is thus an eschatological vision. It says that this world is not all that there is. Human life does not end with death. Beyond death there is judgement and for the blessed who are righteous in Christ there is eternal fulfilment in the world to come where the river of life flows through the midst of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:1-2).
The Christian view of flourishing and other religions and philosophies.
That, then, is the Christian vision of flourishing. If we compare it with the vision of flourishing put forward by the other religions and philosophies we have looked at we find a series of contrasts.
- First, unlike secular individualism, the Christian account declares that it is not possible for people to flourish in any way they choose. There is only one way for human beings to flourish and that is to become righteous through faith in Jesus Christ and to live a life pleasing to God in consequence.
- Secondly, unlike secular individualism and Marxism, the Christian account says that flourishing is not something that can finally be achieved in this world. Only in the world to come will we fully become the people we were always meant to be.
- Thirdly, unlike Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, Christianity says that you only get one shot at flourishing. It is what happens in this one life on earth between birth and death that determines whether or not you will flourish in the world to come.
- Fourthly, unlike secular individualism, Marxism, non-theistic Hinduism, classical Buddhism, and to a large extent primal religion, the Christian account insists that you cannot leave God out of the picture. Christianity declares that to flourish human beings need to be rightly related to the God who created them and that only he can make this right relationship possible.
- Fifthly, and following on from the previous point, whereas all the other religions and philosophies we have looked at say in different ways that flourishing happens through what we do, Christianity insists that flourishing is a result of what God in Christ does for us. As St. Paul says, eternal life is the ‘free gift of God’ (Romans 6:23).
Even in Sikhism, which stresses the grace (nadar) of God, ‘man has to strive in order to deserve His grace’  Only in Christianity is flourishing something that happens from beginning to end through the totally undeserved grace of God
Given these sort of contrasts, Christians involved in mission need to think about the best way to explain and commend the distinctive Christian vision of flourishing to those of other faiths and philosophies. As an example, Canon Chris Sugden will now go on to explain how he would go about explaining the Christian vision of flourishing to someone who was a Hindu.
 A A Anderson, Psalms 1-72, Grand Rapids and London: Eerdmans/Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1981, p.59.
 Ibid, p.59.
 Ibid, p.59.
 Ibid, p.60.
 Ibid. p.61.
 Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980, p.152.
 Eric Costa, Reformation Theology, 14 February 2008,
 Martin Luther, Three Treatises, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978, p. 286.
 Ibid, p.287.
 John Webster, Confessing God, London and New York: T&T Clark, 2005, p.128.
 Thomas Scott, The Holy Bible with Original Notes and Practical Observations, London: J S Jordan 1802, Psalm 1.
M B Davie 16.6.18