Critical Essay

Six traits of a pluralist Christian vision of human flourishing

Can Christianity make universal claims without being exclusivist?

Nearly all Christian accounts of flourishing life share one important feature that has become unpalatable for many today: they claim universal validity. A Christian vision of flourishing life addresses every person and the entire world. Notwithstanding humanity’s and the world’s lush diversity—or, better yet, in that diversity—the “new creation” is one; the “heavenly city,” though made up of many dwellings and neighborhoods, is one; the “kingdom of God,” though having many diverse regions, is one; “God’s home” is one. Therefore, the vision of flourishing is one.

The singleness of this vision implies more than that everyone ought to live it out. All humans and all life on the planet are interdependent, an interconnected ecology of relatedness. The image of home expresses this vision, perhaps, better than any other in the Bible. For one person to truly flourish, the entire world must flourish; for the entire world to truly flourish, every person in it must flourish; and for every person and the entire world to truly flourish, each in their own way and all together must live in the presence of the life-giving God.

The universality of this vision of flourishing pushes against an important cultural sensibility prevalent in the contemporary West. Many of us have come to think that categories of “true” and “false” do not properly apply to religion. Instead, we assess religion in aesthetic or utilitarian terms, placing a religion as a whole, or aspects of its teaching and practice, on the spectrum from attractive to repugnant or from useful to harmful. We do the same with accounts of flourishing life more broadly. A particular account may be good or true for me but need not be good or true for you or someone else; and if it is good or true for me today, it need not be so tomorrow.