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A Call for Christian Humanism

A Call for Christian Humanism



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Published by e4unity
This is part of a lecture tracing the history of Christian humanism as practiced by the early church as part of the interpretation of the Christian life. The author argues that an understanding of this concept can aid us in our modern world.
This is part of a lecture tracing the history of Christian humanism as practiced by the early church as part of the interpretation of the Christian life. The author argues that an understanding of this concept can aid us in our modern world.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: e4unity on Jun 06, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Bibliotheca Sacra 143 (
.Copyright © 1986 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.
Thinking like a ChristianPart 3:A Call for Christian Humanism
D. Bruce LockerbieThe novel
The Great Gatsby
ends with Nick Carraway, thenarrator, musing on what he calls "the last and greatest of allhuman dreams."
It is that, certainly: the
, asF Scott Fitzgerald writes; but it is also the
, theprimary dream. Anthropologists and students of myth recognize itas such; even casual readers of the Bible find this same dreamtracing its way from Eden to Mount Ararat and beyond to a mid-night conversation between a Pharisee named Nicodemus and anitinerant Teacher from Nazareth. This "last and greatest of allhuman dreams," this first and foremost aspiration, is the dream of starting all over again.Other similar expressions are in use, such as "turning over anew leaf, " "making a fresh start, " "creating a new identity, " "achiev-ing a new consciousness." The hope contained in these terms isthat, somehow—by an act of the will, by a physical uprooting fromone location to another, by a deliberate change in behavior—newconditions can be formed that will lead to a happier life.In specifically Christian terms, this experience is provided forby the new birth—being born again. The gospel offers this hope inspiritual rebirth by faith, regeneration, and renewal. Indeed Chris-tians look back to their time of rebirth; but they can also look forward to a time when God the Creator will fulfill His promise tomake everything new, the
("restoration") of proph-ecy and apostolic preaching.195
196 Bibliotheca Sacra - July-September 1986
Defining Humanism
This is God's plan, to be performed in God's time. But to theGod-denying secularist, for whom there is no supernatural dimen-sion, no ultimate power outside this natural sphere, "God's plan"and "God's time" are nonsense. If anything new is to come about,says secular man, it will happen only because human beings them-selves achieve it. This certainty, this self-assurance, stems from thebelief, declared by Protagoras in the fifth century
that "man isthe measure of all things."
This is the philosophy of the egocentricself, the vanity that exalts the individual over any other authority.Even his Greek contemporaries—the playwright Sophocles, forinstance—recognized the heresy of Protagoras, who also wrote,“About the gods I have no means of knowing whether they exist ordo not exist or what their form may be.”
 If, then, the concept of God is at best irrelevant, if humaningenuity is all there is to rely on, there is no course open but toestablish the supremacy of human values and the legitimacy of human claims to control human destiny. This is the attitude popu-larly known as humanism; but because that word has been soloosely used and abused in many quarters, the term "secularhumanism" may be used. This is the dogma that exalts the humanbeing as the god of this age. For secular humanism is the religion of the contemporary culture. It has its own shrines and cathedrals,its idols and icons, its scriptures and creed, its hymns and bumperstickers. All these proclaim belief in a naturalistic universe definedby time and space, denial of any supernatural or eternal reality,denial of human accountability to a personal and transcendentGod. The magazine
Free Inquiry
condenses the creed to a sen-tence: "Secular humanism places trust in human intelligencerather than in divine guidance."
 A serious blunder is being made by well-meaning Christiansin the pulpit and the classroom, before television cameras, and inwidely read books. This is the common practice of assuming thatall humanism is the same as secular humanism, that the historictradition known as "Christian humanism" is an oxymoron, acontradiction as puzzling as "liberal Republican." To give theproper setting for this point some broad strokes of historical surveyneed to be made.
The Roots of Biblical Humanism
Christians trace the revelation of truth about God to the his-
A Call for Christian Humanism 197torical Chaldean whose willingness to trust the God of the cove-nant resulted in the righteousness of faith. All believers are the"sons and daughters" of Abraham, his spiritual descendants (Rom.4:12; Gal. 3:29). But Christians are therefore also heirs of cultureas well as heirs of faith. Yahweh's covenant with Abraham did notinvalidate the patriarch's need to eat and sleep. His tents prospered,his flocks increased, his wealth and power expanded. Abrahambecame the associate of kings, as well as being priest of Mamre andBeersheba, the stout-hearted father on Mount Moriah. Further-more those covenant promises of God were to be fulfilled throughan ever-enlarging penetration by Abraham's children. "Yourdescendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,"said the Lord, "and through your offspring all nations on earth willbe blessed, because you have obeyed me" (Gen. 22:17-18,
).Clearly the call of Abraham to leave the culture of Ur and trek the Fertile Crescent to Canaan was not a call to cultural isolation. Itwas a call to reestablish an order of living in which God's authoritywas supreme, a call to thinking and acting on godly principles, acall to living in full obedience and full delight. The same must betrue for Abraham's spiritual descendants today. Christians arecalled not only to the test of faith but also to the blessings con-comitant with faith. Believers have inherited the rich legacy thatbegins with recognition of God and continues through mankind'sunique relationship with God as Creator and Lord. From this samelegacy springs the revelation in the written Word and the incarnateWord, the doctrine that "God was in Christ reconciling the world toHimself' (2 Cor. 5:19). From this legacy of faith, new hope bringsdignity to all of life, dissolving the old fear of death; a new regard forall persons—men and women, husbands and wives, parents andchildren, masters and servants—eliminating the old bondage topride and caste. From this legacy a new social order evolves, inwhich Jesus Christ is Lord. Wherever this recognition obtains,that domain becomes known as Christendom; the cultures thatcome under the saving knowledge of the gospel combine to form away of life that may be called a Christian civilization, marked by aconsciousness of the Cross and the empty tomb.From the beginning of Christianity's influence on the Mediter-ranean world, some 250 years before the Emperor Constantineproclaimed the church as his own, its role as conservator of socialand domestic values has been clear. In a culture where the homeand hearth were, first, honored in the worship of patron goddesses,then debauched in fornication at temples, Christian apostles and

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