Summer Reading Group: Flourishing

Contemporary debates about religion, broadly speaking, fall into two categories. Some are theoretical in nature, dealing with the truth of certain beliefs and narratives held by religions? Do the gods or God exist? What is God like? Did a particular event happen as described in this or that text? The other set of questions is practical, dealing with the relevance or value of religion for living. Is religion relevant for living life well? Is religion a force for good or evil in the world?

This year’s Spectrum Summer Reading Group will focus on the latter set of questions and, in doing so, explore an even more basic issue: the nature of human flourishing. What does this look like? Is it possible? Can it be measured? Is there some universal standard that applies to everyone?

We’ll be exploring and discussing such questions (and more!) by engaging Miroslav Volf’s latest book, Flourshing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World. In a world of rising, global fundamentalisms, politicized faith, and secular humanisms, Volf, professor of theology at Yale Divinity School and director of its Center for Faith and Culture, has his work cut out for him; despite very real challenges, he argues that “a vision of flourishing found in the quarrelling family of world religions is essential to thriving and global common good” (2) or, to quote the Bible, “One does not live by bread alone” (22). Provocatively, he claims, “Trying to live by ‘bread alone’ kills both us and our neighbors” (22).

In addition to providing an overview of the book, in the introduction Volf discloses his location as a Christian scholar, recounting his experience growing up in Yugoslavia as a Pentecostal. Considered a sect by larger, more recognized religious communities, Pentecostalism, similar to many Adventist communities, was a stigmatized minority. Interestingly, the church of Volf’s youth also placed heavy emphasis on the second coming of Jesus and this raised interesting tensions with the theme of the book. Does holding such a belief result in an otherworldly escapism that is unconcerned with doing anything about flourishing here and now?

Not if waiting is properly understood, Volf argues. He explains that there is an appropriate passive side to waiting; it’s the opposite of being a force “seeking to impose itself on the unwilling” (11). But waiting is also active. Inspired by Jesus:

We celebrate and enhance what is good in us and around us, we repair what is broken and ameliorate what can be perfected; and occasionally we pull back from what is intractably toxic and evil (12).

Christians who hope in the coming of God and understand the true nature of waiting, are to be “neither idle nor coercive but always engaged” (12).

While I appreciated Volf’s nuanced analysis, I was also left wondering if as a community, we’ve properly understood the nature of waiting. My own experience is that the second coming often serves as an excuse for not seriously doing anything other than wringing our hands. I also wondered, practically, what it looks like to be properly engaged in today’s world, with all the challenges we’re constantly made aware of and overwhelmed by.

I’m looking forward to reading what Volf might suggest regarding such issues in upcoming chapters and discussing these and other matters in upcoming weeks here as a group. Here’s the reading/posting schedule, we’re planning to follow:

July 13 - Introduction/invitation (Zane Yi) July 22 - Chapter 1: Globalization and the Challenge of Religions (Yi Shen Ma) July 29 - Chapter 2: Religions and the Challenge of Globalization (Brenton Reading) August 5 - Chapter 3: Mindsets of Respect, Regimes of Respect (Keisha McKenzie) August 12 - Chapter 4: Religious Exclusivism and Political Pluralism (Ryan Bell) August 19 - Chapter 5: Conflict, Violence, and Reconciliation (Lisa Clark Diller) August 26 - Epilogue: God, Nihilism, and Flourishing (Ron Osborn)

As in past years, you’re invited to order or download your copy of the book and join in the discussion. Feel free to leave a comment below if you’re planning to do so.

Zane Yi is an assistant professor of religion at Loma Linda University’s School of Religion where he teaches courses in philosophy and theology. He serves as an officer in the Society of Adventist Philosophers.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7554

These are questions for the United NAtions Or the Ivory Tower. Not where the tire hits the road. the world is facing a pandemic of hate, fear, hunger, and pain. The major part of the US budget is for building killing machines. I suggest that the opening piece be a reading of the Man With the Hoe. TZ

Much of the time we see in the Seventh day Adventist church NO Wringing of Hands.
Just not seriously doing anything. Remaining seclusive, Remaining reclusive.
Isolating ourselves away from our Babylonian friends and neighbors.
WAITING! WAITING! WAITING!

  1. For the shaking. So ALL the “bad Adventists” will leave us perfect ones alone.
  2. The manifestation of the Holy Spirit [what ever THAT looks like].
  3. The big time of trouble, so the sinners will receive their just retribution.
  4. Christ returning the 2nd time.
    WAITING! WAITING! WAITING!
    Living in the future instead of the Here and Now.
3 Likes
  1. Good book. Thanks for choosing it!
  2. In my view, It is too uncritically comfortable with globalization. Not wholly “priestly,” it could be more more “prophetic” in both senses of the term.
  3. There are indeed universal preconditions for human flourishing (food, for instance) that roughly correspond to Maslow’s hierarchy. Nobody can flourish without the “lower” needs being met. Governments should stay away form the very highest ones lest they become dictatorial.
    Thanks again!
5 Likes

Great to hear from Dr. David R. Larson.

By all means…summer read. A summer that something will happen if nothing happens. Beware of books which flourish with hereditary donors those that no one reads and those that no one ought to read have led some to learning and others to madness. Must the Ocean trust the Sea.

Ordered and on its way so a bit behind and will catch up. Is there a special place for discussion or posting replies for each week’s reading? First-timer. Thanks! Looking forward to it!

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Your comments and feedback are always welcome below the article here on the Spectrum Website. The reviews will also be posted on social media, and responses are welcome there too.

Hi Ernie, we’re just getting started so you shouldn’t be to far behind. This week introduced the book and covered some of the ideas in the introduction of the book. This Friday there will be a post on Chapter One and group participants are welcome to respond to that or share their own insights and questions from the chapter. Each we’ll proceed in like manner until we finish the book. Looking forward to your hearing your insights. Welcome aboard!