Christian Humanism

(Jessica Henkaline) #1

Hi, friends. I’ve been in many conversations w/a millennial who is reluctant to label himself but seems to identify as a humanist. I have found common ground w/his beliefs and as I’ve studied humanism in an effort to understand and connect better I discovered a worldview called Christian humanism. I agree with much of what it believes (at least the traditional view anyway) but don’t know enough about it.

Is anyone familiar with this worldview? Is there an article that you’ve found helpful? I hate humanism in that it glorifies mankind and yet denies God and the dignity of all mankind to the sacrifice of self.

For those familiar with Christian humanism, do you see any disconnect in glorifying man through glorifying God? As I grow in Christian theology, I’m learning that with God, the more I seek His glorify and the less my own, the more He glorifies me, to an abundance! The Bible teaches that humility precedes honor which sounds disdainful but it makes possible more of the life of Christ to manifest in our lives. That the life of God would be lived through me to bring about positive, bold, fearless, “limitless” change in my life and those of his people impacting the world around us is staggering! Oh blessed humility of man and the necessity of God!

Thank you for your feedback and direction!

(SeanO) #2

@Jessica_Henkaline I am not very familiar with the term, but a little googling turned up two ways of defining it that I think are helpful to consider. I will label them “Supernatural Christian Humanism” and “Naturalist Christian Humanism”

I think “Supernatural Christian Humanism” seems to be Biblical in that it accepts the reality of God and His revelation through Christ. “Naturalist Christian Humanism” looks at God and Christ as mythological beings and tries to strip humanitarian principles out of the Bible while denying the existence of God, miracles or anything else supernatural.

As far as I can tell, “Supernatural Christian Humanism” just means loving people because God loved us. I don’t see any danger in that belief. “Naturalist Christian Humanism” is really secular humanism in disguise and is a denial of Truth - an obvious error.

Personally I would never use a vague term such as this one to describe myself, but in the “Supernatural” sense it seems harmless. I think you would need to talk to the person who used to and probe their own understanding of the term before coming to any conclusions.

The New World Encyclopedia had an interesting overview of the history of the idea:

  1. Supernatural Christian Humanism
  1. Naturalist Christian Humanism

“The view that we describe and expound here is a Christianity that has dispensed with the mythological framework in which Christianity has been past down to us and is therefore a non-theistic religionless Christianity that emphasizes the humanity of Jesus and is guided by a belief in human freedom, individual conscience and rational inquiry.”

(Jessica Henkaline) #3

Thank you, @Sean_Oesch, for these articles and your insight. They confirm what I’ve found to be true so far and gives a bit more comparative material to secular humanism.

There’s such a plethora of terms and range to worldviews that I appreciate the peace and simplicity of Jesus as “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jn. 14:6 ESV.

(SeanO) #4

@Jessica_Henkaline Yes - I understand Paul said to become a Greek to the Greeks and a Jew to the Jews - and a humanist to the humanists, that by all means we might win souls to Christ.

But I feel that when an adjective is followed by a noun - the noun holds more weight. Christian humanism seems to place the emphasis on humanism - a humanist who is influenced by Christianity. It seems to me that Christ must be at the center if it is to be called Christianity at all - so “humanist Christian” or “Christian who values humanist ideals” seems more appropriate. Or perhaps another phrase I have not thought of…

(Keldon Scott) #5

Thank you both for a discussion that I was absolutely ignorant about. I am with Sean in being careful with vague terms. I really appreciate your attention to detail @Sean_Oesch. Happy New Year to you both.

(SeanO) #6

Happy New Year!!! The Lord bless and guide you now and evermore! May your families be blessed from the youngest to the oldest with renewed peace & glory in Christ!

(Jessica Henkaline) #7

@Keldon_Scott, Happy New Year to you as well! And thank you for your thoughts.

(Jessica Henkaline) #8

@Sean_Oesch, to me, being a Christian and understanding Jesus’ teachings includes these humanist ideas so simply Christian is the proper term. But as Keldon pointed out, and you for that matter, adding this adjective can help bring clarity to a misunderstood or vague term. Thank you for that insight.

Happy New Year to you and yours as well!

(Brian Weeks) #9

Hi Jessica!

I admire your heart here. You’re going to great lengths to try to better relate to this person for the glory of God and I love it.

I’m not sure I understand what you mean here, but would like to if you could help me.

Also, what would say your goal is in learning about Christian humanism? What are some of the things this gentleman has said that lead you to believe that he’s a humanist? And, by humanist, I’m assuming secular humanism. Is that correct?

Again, Jessica, I love your heart here and your desire to share the gospel with this gentleman. I pray that your engagement moves him closer to Christ.

(david payne) #10

Preface: my questoin, as always, is “whom do you trust, and for what?”

That being said I have had interest in this topic as well for a long time but like most things I get lost in all the voices. My first encounter with the topic was through a long-standing literary publication called Image Journal ( , a part of something called the “Center for Religious Humanism” (note the expansion from the speicific “Christian” to “Religious”). The editor of the magazine, Gregory Wolfe, has written widely on this topic. In one such article he points to another article which he states is “A comprehensive and balanced article on Humanism”:

We are made in God’s image and He delights in us when we most delight in Him. Part of what it means to be made in His image is our ability to join in the creative process, though derivative, and in it create beauty. In this aspect I go along with Image Journal’s course, and beauty should point one to God, i.e. Jesus. But we do not neglect or discount the human, God’s creation. Would that lead to Gnosticism? Neither should we glorify humans more than God. Regardless, it still gnaws at me that many want Christianity to be an additive process, not just “Christian” but “Christian Humanist”.

Thanks for the topic. I look forward to the thoughts of others and hope we’re not all overwhelmed with the amount of matieral to read…

(Jessica Henkaline) #11

Hi, @Brian_Weeks! Good to hear from you. Thanks for jumping in on this conversation to help steer us in the right direction.

To try and give a condensed answer to your first question about my quote “Do you see any disconnect [in Christian humanism with] glorifying man through glorifying God,” let me quickly clarify that I’m not making a claim for man to deity such as Jesus makes in John 13:31-32: “…Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.”

But it shows a connection to Jesus’ glory and God’s glory because Jesus is God. In humanism (and you’ll have to help me here), I understand it to be a system that seeks for the betterment of humankind and the world as a whole through the power and intellect of man. To me, it’s a system that seeks to glorify mankind. But clearly this is futile because Rom. 1:21-22 tells us “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give him thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” And again in Rom. 8:20-21: “For the creation itself was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

So the answer isn’t to be found with man or in creation. In John 17:1-3: “…Jesus…lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Here is the answer to the world’s problems.

John 17:4, 6, 8b, 22-24 goes on: “I have glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do…I have manifested your name to the people…and they have kept your word…and know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me…The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see (Greek word meaning “to observe w/sustained attention” and includes the idea of entering into and experiencing something) my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

Just from this passage alone, we read about the glory Christ has given us believers now and how that’s lived out to God’s glory by believing His Word, accomplishing the work he has for us, and walking in unity and love (see also Jn. 7:38-39 & Eph. 1:9-10) as well as giving us a future glory for his glory (see also Eph. 1:11-14).

If Christian humanism is to be a viable term at all, it has to seek the glory of man through glorifying God. If there is a disconnect between either seeking mankind’s glory or seeking God’s glory without the other, it is not truly Christianity and humanism is futile.

(Jessica Henkaline) #12

@Brian_Weeks, in answer to your next question about how I know that my friend is a secular humanist, is his labeling everything as ideology, his search for truth in science and things being logical, believing in the hope of humanity in humanity, only crediting success on humanity and not any other supernatural source, agreeing with Christian values but not faith, relativism, evolution, concern for this life vs the afterlife…

However, he has so many contradictions to this “core” belief that it’s frustrating. I don’t know if it’s a millennial thing but he blurs the line on so many beliefs and thinks that’s acceptable. It’s a journey in trying to understand him, help him come to some kind of truth, and love him in the process. Thank you for any advice you can give me.

(Dave Kenny) #13

Hi @Jessica_Henkaline

Is this young man an intellectual? Is he a heavy reader? If so, the history of german philosophy and politics from about 1850 - 1950 would give him a really good solid look at what a fully empowered “state” looked like. There was a very strong belief in the modern thinking and the political power brokers that the ideal state could be formed and the world could be bettered through it. Truly, the grit and muscle of humankind could bring us to a utopian place. As we all know, this experiment failed miserably. Given his age, it is possible that he hasn’t been introduced to some recent world history… however, some millennials are very well read

Regarding some support for the description of Christian Humanism that @Sean_Oesch found for us:

  1. The single best philosopher/Christian human rights writer I have ever read is Nicholas Wolterstorff. Because he is a philosopher, his books are hard to read for those who are not accustomed to academic reading. However, his theological treatment of Human Rights from a Christian and biblical perspective is second to none. There is no question that he would strongly support that Christians everywhere and at all times are to be committed to human flourishing and that it is in fact our Christian duty to see it through, and to fight all forces against the betterment of humankind. His best summary can be found in his book Justice: Rights and Wrongs

  2. The most ancient people and interpreters of God’s word and will would be the Jewish people and it is clear throughout their history that they have adopted human flourishing (and their individual flourishing) as a part of their vocation to humankind. The betterment and development of the world and of our species is non-negotiable in Jewish theology (and I would endorse that as a Christian). If this intrigues anyone, the place to start your research is to dig into Jewish theology surrounding Shabbat (Sabbath). Stick to the orthodox and rabbinic views for the most representative sample.

  3. In my experience, there is a direct link between our individual view of eschatology (what we believe the Bible teaches about the end of history and the return of Christ), and our POV on human rights, human flourishing, the role of Christians in government etc… There are some interpretations of the ‘end times’ that Christians hold that can lead to a demotivating position on Christian Humanism

  4. Orthodox Christian theology recognizes the dignity of Humanity. While we have likely all received more than enough sermons about our depravity and worm like status due to our sinfulness and our helpless status before God, we could use a few more sermons reminding us of our place and eventual destiny in the cosmos. As image bearers, redeemed through Christ, we are adopted as kin of God himself… not even the angels can make this claim. There is much to say about this… but this post is already long enough :slight_smile:

Just some thoughts…


(Brian Weeks) #14


Thank you for all of the detail you shared. Your additional thoughts helped me better understand where you’re coming from here. It’s clear that you’ve given this a lot of thought, all with an eye towards the supremacy of scripture - something I’ve always enjoyed about you.

As I see it, there are some things that are laudable in Christian humanism - for one, the intrinsic and equal value of all human beings. However, for me, using the term “humanism” tends to place too much of an emphasis on the ability and, therefore, glory of man to save himself. And, since this is, at its core, the exact opposite of what the Christian worldview claims, I think that using the term “Christian humanism” tends to introduce more misleading confusion than clarification and commonality. If I’m not mistaken, I can sense your hesitancy to affirm this philosophy as a whole in order to build a bridge with this gentleman and I think you’re wise for this.

The simple addition of the word “humanism” to “Christian” seems to suggest that the Christian worldview is insufficient and needs further help. I don’t think any of us here believe this and I’d count myself among you. I think there is enough of a commonality between this man’s worldview (if, in fact, he affirms classic secular humanism) and the Christian worldview to begin a robust and relatable conversation without having to appeal to Christian humanism.

One of the first things that comes to my mind - as I’m sure has already come to yours - is that we emphatically agree that every human being has intrinsic and equal worth. And exploring where this comes from - and where it cannot (evolutionary naturalism, scientism, postmodernism, skepticism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism) - might be one approach to open up a conversation surrounding something on which you both strongly agree.

What are your thoughts? I’m looking forward to others’ thoughts here as well.

(Jimmy Sellers) #15

I posted this some time back but I think it is relevant to the conversation .

“’Christian’ is the greatest of all possible nouns and the lamest of all possible adjectives”
Gregory Thornberry, the President of Kings college.

For me Christian is not a sauce it’s the steak. A good steak doesn’t need sauce. :smile:

(SeanO) #16

@Jimmy_Sellers Haha - I like it. Every time I eat steak I’m going to think of that now…

(Jimmy Sellers) #17

I want to throw a curve ball on this topic. Following the idea of flourishing and with that the idea of being human.
On flourishing let’s think shalom and to support that from Cornelius Plantinga Jr.

“The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”

So think the garden.

With that in mind let’s bring alongside that thought with Roman 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” , and ask what is this “glory of God?” For me is has always been the goal to shoot for and as a sinner I always failed miserably. But NT Wright maintains that this “glory of God” is not our goal to achieve (in our broken human condition) but this is what glorifies God when we (his created image bears) fulfill his intended purpose of Genesis 1-2 and become fully human and live shalom.

This is an after thought, but to be clear this shalom is the results of faith in the finished work of the resurrected Messiah and that new creations promised through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of this human.

(Dave Kenny) #18

Hi Jimmy. I love it. It doesn’t feel like a curve ball on my comments, rather it feels like an expansion of my point on bullet 2.

Were you hoping to draw a greater contrast from one of my ideas?


(Jimmy Sellers) #19

Maybe a change up was what I had in mind. I wasn’t looking for contrast just a slightly different angle with the glory of God as the pivot between image bearer struggling in our own power and image bearer flourishing in His power.

(SeanO) #20

I think a simple question that can begin to address God’s glory in human flourishing is - “Who gets the glory when society prospers?”

There is the story of a farmer who lived near to the local parish. This farmer happened to have the best crops in the area. He also happened to be an atheist / pragmatist. So every year he challenged the pastor to show him even one parishioner whose crops were better than his and he claimed that proved their prayers weren’t working - especially when they had a bad year. “You prayed all year and your crops failed - I worked hard and used my brain and mine prospered. Plain common sense it is. Nothing divine.”

Those who glorify man think God must prove His existence through miracles. The one who glorifies God realizes all creation testifies to God’s glory and that His goodness, love and power are self-evident (Romans 1).

In Matthew 16:1-5, Jesus tells the religious leaders they can discern the weather, but not the things of God. Likewise, this atheist farmer and those who glorify man may be very skilled at their work, but they lack spiritual discernment.

The demand for miraculous signs is a sign that people exalt themselves rather than God.

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.