The Battle Over Human Nature | Does God Have a Wonderful Plan for My Life?
Welcome to the May issue of The Worldview Bulletin! Below, Paul Gould and Paul Copan, in separate essays, examine different aspects of what it means to be human from biblical and philosophical perspectives. Gould argues for the importance of recognizing a distinct human nature, and Copan unfolds the implications of Revelation 2:17 for the unique purpose God has for each of us. David Baggett begins a series in which he evaluates the reasons why Bart Campolo (son of noted Christian sociologist and evangelist Tony Campolo) underwent a deconstruction of faith, and Melissa Cain Travis kicks off a series critiquing David Hume’s criticisms of the design argument, which are still prevalent today. We conclude with a collection of interesting news and notable book deals!
Seek First the Kingdom,
1. Dallas Willard on the Battle over Human Nature
by Paul Gould
2. Does God Have a Wonderful Plan for My Life—or Just for Human Life in General?
by Paul Copan
Please see the second email for Part Two of the newsletter.
Dallas Willard on the Battle over Human Nature
By Paul M. Gould
One of the fault lines in culture concerns the question of humanity. What does it mean to be human? Is there a nature—an essence—to humanity that grounds our flourishing? Are we made in the image of God or are we organized mud (as Sean Carroll wonderfully puts it)? Many of the political and social issues of our day are fundamentally metaphysical: battles over the nature of reality, including the nature of God and humans. Of course, the battle over human nature relates to our spiritual formation (or deformation) too. It makes sense then why the enemy has sown confusion and doubt and strife regarding the question of our humanity. In this month’s Worldview Bulletin, I’ll consider Dallas Willard’s discussion in his wonderful book on spiritual formation, Renovation of the Heart, as we consider the question of human nature.
In our disenchanted world, there is no place for essences. Anything goes—and, of course, anything follows from such a falsehood. As a result, as Willard notes, culture has become characterized by “rage.” This is truer today than it was when Willard wrote in 2002: “[The idea that human beings do not have a nature] becomes a part of the unchecked political and moral rage against identity that characterizes modern life.” And, “This is a rage predicated upon the idea that identity restricts freedom.” If we have essences that determine our ends/purposes/teleology, then there are limits to what I can do and what I ought to do, and such limits are an anathema to a culture (including, rather unfortunately, a Christian culture) that prizes individual freedom above all else.
Willard thinks that the battle over human nature reveals two things. “First, it tells us that the issue of human nature is of great importance—too important for us to leave alone. We must deal with this if we are to have anything useful to say about spiritual formation and about the spiritual life that Jesus brings.” I agree. And this is why philosophy is SO IMPORTANT! The battle over the nature of humanity is a philosophical—and theological—battle. Christian philosophers are on the front lines here and humans flourish to the extent that we first understand what it means to be human and then how we’ve been created to “run on” the power of the Spirit.
“Second, [the battle over human nature] tells us that the confusion now publicly prevailing over the makeup of the human being may not be due to its inherent obscurity. Rather, it may be due to the fact that it is a field where strongly armed prejudices—assumptions about what must be the case, ‘don’t bother me with facts’—prevent even well-intended people from seeing what, at least in basic outline, is fairly obvious, simple, and straightforward.” This too is an important lesson. The battle over human nature is not just metaphysical, it is spiritual. There are forces aligned against humanity that work for our demise and destruction. If you want to better understand the spiritual nature of the battle over humanity, I recommend C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. The book, written in 1945, is prophetic. If we fail to understand the nature of humans, we become vulnerable to cultural “conditioners” or manipulators, and eventually, we lose our humanity (for more on this, check out season six, dropping in early June, of the Eudo Podcast. Our season six topic: C. S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy).
So where can we go from here? Again, Willard is instructive:
This current state of affairs may prevent otherwise thoughtful people from seeing the value of what has traditionally been regarded as the best of “common sense” about life and of what has been preserved in the wisdom traditions of most cultures—especially in two of the greatest world sources of wisdom about the human self, the Judeo-Christian and the Greek, the biblical and the classical.
This is a great place to start. For in the Western tradition, we find a picture of human flourishing. Humans are created to flourish by being rightly related to God, self, others, and our end/purpose. Moreover, the Greek and Christian tradition has delivered to us a seven-fold picture of what that flourishing looks like. The flourishing person is a certain kind of person, a person that exhibits the virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, faith, hope, and love (for more on this seven-fold picture of human flourishing, check out season two of the Eudo Podcast on the virtues and vices).
Today, there are many important social and political battles over the sanctity of life, the nature of marriage, and the questions of gender, race, and sexuality. All of these questions, however, are rooted in a deeper question: is there a human nature and if so, how does that inform how we ought to live? My challenge: dig deep, into philosophy and theology, spiritual formation, and the life of the Spirit for your flourishing and the flourishing of all.
 Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002).
 Ibid., 28.
 Ibid., 28–29.
 Ibid., 29.
— Paul M. Gould is an Associate Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Director of the M.A. Philosophy of Religion program at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He is the author or editor of ten scholarly and popular-level books including Cultural Apologetics, Philosophy: A Christian Introduction and The Story of the Cosmos. He has been a visiting scholar at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School’s Henry Center, working on the intersection of science and faith, and is the founder and president of the Two Tasks Institute. You can find out more about Dr. Gould and his work at Paul Gould.com and the Two Tasks Institute. He is married to Ethel and has four children.