Monday, November 24, 2014

Christian Humanism

R. William Franklin and Joseph M. Shaw, The Case for Christian Humanism. Eerdmans, 1991. ISBN 978-0-8028-06062

Readings in Christian Humanism edited by Joseph M. Shaw, R.W. Franklin, Harris Kaasa, and Charles W. Buzicky. Fortress Press, 2009. Originally published 1982. ISBN 978-0-8006-6464-0

I have to confess that until a few years ago I had very little knowledge about Christian Humanism. I was familiar with the idea of secular humanism. However, I was also familiar with the Humanism of the Renaissance. I discovered that Christian Humanism was an important topic, so I chose these two books two learn more about it. The first book describes what it is and the second book is an anthology of readings on the subject from the ancient world to modern times.

It might be best to offer a definition of Christian Humanism. The authors in The Case for Christian Humanism provides a preliminary definition early in the book: "Christian humanism points to the deep interest in human beings, their life, well-being, culture, and eternal significance that belongs to the Christian faith. Central to that faith is Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God and brother to every human being. Christian humanism shares with other humanistic philosophies the desire to protect and enhance human existence, but it is unique in finding the source and goal of human powers in God the Creator, Redeemer, and Spirit" (5).

The authors argue for the importance of Christian humanism for Christians today. They think some Christians falsely believe that all humanists are anti-god. In contrast, the author argue that many humanists are Christians and that "it is possible to be a Christian humanist" without watering down the faith. The authors note, "Christians who are humanists have not added some liberal twist to the Christian faith but have listened to what the biblical message has to say about human concerns" (5). Christian humanism affirms that the creation is good, though fallen. God calls us to redeem his fallen creation. Second, it emphasizes the incarnation of Christ.

The Case for Christian Humanism is divided into four parts: Part I: Affirming Christian Humanism; Part II: Biblical Teaching; III: Worship; Part IV: Theology. Part one describes Christian humanism. Part two provides the biblical background of Christian humanism. Part three shows how Christian humanism is found in worship. The last part shows how the doctrine of God provides light on Christian humanism.

The second book, Readings in Christian Humanism provides readings from major authors on the topic of Christian Humanism. The authors note, "this book presents a selection of writings on humanism from the perspective of Christian faith. The authors state in the introduction that "Christian humanism is the interest in human persons and the positive affirmation of human life and culture which stems from the Christian faith."

The book is divided into six parts including an epilogue. The first part looks at Jerusalem and Athens: Plato, Aristotle, and the Bible. Part two includes writings from the first four centuries of the church. Some of the authors included are Justin Martyr, Jerome, and Augustine. Part three covers the Middle Ages. Authors included in this section include Anselm and Aquinas. Parts four and five include writings from the Renaissance and the Reformation. Writers include Petrarch, Erasmus, Luther and Calvin. Part six covers from the the seventeenth century to modern times. Some of the authors included are Pascal, Milton, Bunyan, Wesley, and Walker Percy.

The authors provide an introduction at the beginning of the book and present introductions to each section. The authors provide the essential features of Christian humanism in the introduction:

1. Human nature under God.
2. Human sinfulness.
3. An orderly universe.
4. Human responsibility.
5.The human will and its freedom.
6. Community.
7. Human gifts and talents.
8. History and human destiny.

 Reading through the book I was pleased with the selections. The selections were worth reading as an end in itself. However, one could see through readings that covered over two thousand years how Christians and others have affirmed life and human flourishing. This is a rich anthology that is well worth the time spent reading it. The authors show that Christian humanism is a vital tradition that must not be lost.

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