Question: "What is Christian humanism?"
Answer: The term Christian humanism has been used to refer to a wide range of views, some of which are more biblical than others. In general, humanism is a system of thought that centers on human values, potential, and worth; humanism is concerned with the needs and welfare of humanity, emphasizes the intrinsic worth of the individual, and sees human beings as autonomous, rational, and moral agents. The extent to which this broad viewpoint is integrated with Christian beliefs determines exactly how biblical Christian humanism is.
There are various types of humanism, and it is good to know the differences among them. Classical humanism, which is associated with the Renaissance, emphasized aesthetics, liberty, and the study of the “humanities” (literature, art, philosophy, and the classical languages of Greek and Latin). Secular humanism emphasizes human potential and self-fulfillment to the point of excluding all need for God; it is a naturalistic philosophy based on reason, science, and end-justifies-the-means thinking. Christian humanism teaches that liberty, individual conscience, and intellectual freedom are compatible with Christian principles and that the Bible itself promotes human fulfillment—based on God’s salvation in Christ and subject to God’s sovereign control of the universe.
Christian humanism represents the philosophical union of Christianity and classical humanist principles. While classical humanists studied Greek and Latin writings, Christian humanists turned to Hebrew and biblical Greek, along with the writings of the early church fathers. Christian humanism, like classical humanism, pursues reason, free inquiry, the separation of church and state, and the ideal of freedom. Christian humanists are committed to scholasticism and the development and use of science and technology. Christian humanism says that all advances in knowledge, science, and individual freedom should be used to serve humanity for the glory of God. Unlike their secular counterparts, Christian humanists stress the need to apply Christian principles to every area of life, public and private.
Christian humanism maintains that humans have dignity and value due to the fact that mankind was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). The extent to which human beings are autonomous, rational, and moral agents is itself a reflection of their having been created with the imago dei. Human worth is assumed in many places in Scripture: in Jesus’ incarnation (John 1:14), His compassion for people (Matthew 9:36), His command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31), and His parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37). Paul’s allusions to secular writings (Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12) show the value of a classical education in presenting truth. The second-century writings of Justin Martyr also demonstrate the usefulness of classical learning in bringing the gospel to a pagan audience.
Christian humanists understand that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:3) and seek to grow into the full knowledge of every good thing for Christ’s service (Philippians 1:9; 4:6; cf. Colossians 1:9). Unlike secular humanists who reject the notion of revealed truth, Christian humanists adhere to the Word of God as the standard against which they test the quality of all things. The Christian humanist values human culture but acknowledges the noetic (i.e., intellectual) effects of man’s fallen nature (1 Corinthians 1:18–25) and the presence of the sin nature in every human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Christian humanism says that man reaches his full potential only as he comes into a right relationship with Christ. At salvation, he becomes a new creation and can experience growth in every area of life (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Christian humanism says that every human endeavor and achievement should be Christ-centered. Everything should be done to God’s glory and not in pride or self-promotion (1 Corinthians 10:31). We should strive to do our best physically, mentally, and spiritually in all that God desires us to do and be. Christian humanists believe this includes intellectual life, artistic life, domestic life, economic life, politics, race relations, and environmental work.
Christian humanism believes the church should be actively involved in the culture and that Christians should be a voice affirming the worth and dignity of humanity while denouncing, protesting, and defending against all dehumanizing influences in the world.
Christian scholars such as Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and Calvin were advocates of Christian humanism, although they did not call it that. Today, the term Christian humanism is used to describe the viewpoints of writers as varied as Fyodor Dostoevsky, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Christian humanism is biblical insofar as it holds to the biblical view of man—a responsible moral agent created in God’s image but fallen into sin. Christian humanism becomes less Christian the more it compromises with secular humanism, which promotes humanity to godlike status.