MIROSLAV VOLF’S LATEST BOOK: FLOURISHING: WHY WE NEED RELIGION IN A GLOBALIZED WORLD AND SPIRITUALITY
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
Scot McKnight tweeted that Miroslav Volf produced a new book about what it means to live the good life (Yale Univ. Press, Jan 11, 2016). I grabbed it up on Audible.com and began listening because I need to beef up my “social context” for my doctoral Thesis proposal (then I had to buy the print version too). In self-interest, I need to present ‘why does our culture need classic spiritual practices today?’ I ask the question if our culture is languishing – are we busy at no good thing? Are we spiritual with a small “s” rather than deeply connect to the transcendent GOD, intimate with the unknown One? I propose we need greater intimacy with God and the 4th century desert practices (paideia) and its culture, largely ignored by Evangelicals, is the effective means of deepening one’s intimacy with God.
Volf teaches at Yale University’s Yale Center for Faith and Culture, and offers a popular undergraduate seminar called “Life Worth Living.” See David Brooks‘ YaleNews‘ Feb 23, 2016 interview with Miroslav Volf.
Here is a tasty quote of Volf from the YaleNews David Brooks’ interview:
"The danger is that students become experts in means but remain amateurs in ends, immensely adept in accomplishing discrete tasks, but lost when it comes to the art of living."
In other words, anyone with an iPhone can look up a bio of Karl Marx and his Manifesto and also YouTube videos of kittens doing dangerous funny stunts – and have trouble understanding which is more important for living the good life.
I believe Volf accurately assesses what some of us “older” Christians sense but cannot put our finger on, regarding ‘why does social media, the media, technology, science, and consumerism seem to degrade the human soul?’ We tend to keep quiet because we all know that it is just old people resisting change. But Volf shows that it may be due to globalization’s dehumanizing effects. And I will say it now, Volf also believe globalization is not evil but a powerful pathway to the good life – IF we can tolerate the voice of faith and religion. Spirituality and its transforming force makes us adept as the art of living.
From a spirituality vantage point “the good life” or “a life worth living” one’s intimacy with God is paramount to the good life. Of course, any personal spirituality that is not beneficial for others is not Christian spirituality. Personal piety is not the end, but rather the means to transforming the world around us.
Our secular spirituality, which should be an oxymoron but isn’t, believes religion should take a backseat to western culture’s moral exclusivism, and political exclusivism. Volf argues that far from Christianity or Islam being intolerant, it is globalization that wins the intolerance award (Volf, Flourishing, 100). This intolerance looks as mundane as social media’s dogma – everyone MUST be immediately socially connected – and as sophisticated, mildly-ignoring western affluent consumerism’s pervasive pull to consume at the expense others, including the environment. (I added a bit of my own stuff here.) Globalization is the most intolerant impersonal force on the planet today. Globalization may as well be today’s de facto religion.
As the Volf-Brooks interview quote above reveals, globalization is not necessarily producing the good life on its own. But when coupled with a particular religious exclusivism and political pluralism the good life is possible according to Volf (Volf, Flourishing, 160).
Not only do I find Volf’s book helpful for understanding the climate and culture of globalization’s force upon spirituality, but I find it extremely helpful for making sense of tolerance of hot topics such as gay marriage and dealing with radicalized jihad, that is, ISIS.
Volf makes that case that religion, far from being the pariah of the planet, fomenting war and violence, it is the historic and promising way to the good life. But is not just any form of religious expression. It is a very nuanced expression of conservative “religious exclusivism.”
I am not done with the book. I am stuck on chapter four… listening, reading, listening, reading. I wish I had someone to discuss and further explicate Volf’s thought. In the meantime, Thesis proposing pushes me to expedience, and I will leverage Volf’s comments on the historic supremacy of transcendence over the mundane for my own work. Thank you Professor Volf (and Professor McKnight). Volf, I wish I would have had you for my own MDiv at Fuller, and McKnight, perhaps I can take a course with you at Northern (after my DMin).
And I will finish Professor Volf’s book because I am excited to see how it ends. If you’re up for the challenge you may wish to read Flourishing as well.