By the time you are reading this, SCSBC hosted its 24th annual Board Leadership Conference, centred on the theme “flourishing,” with keynote speaker Lynn Swaner, coauthor (with Andy Wolfe) of Flourishing Together: A Christian Vision for Students, Educators, and Schools. We also launched our Professional Support Networks around flourishing and use Lynn and Andy’s book as our guide. A few years ago, SCSBC published Guiding Schools to Flourish, coauthored by Henry Contant and Ed Noot. So, the word “flourishing” is very much on our minds, and I think it has become a bit of a buzzword in Christian education. I believe this to be a good thing. But what do we mean when we talk about flourishing in Christian education?
In Lynn and Andy’s book, they tie the idea of flourishing to the use of the Greek word zóé in the book of John. Simply put, zóé means life, but a more fulsome definition draws out the idea of not just life, but life in abundance – a flourishing life. The Gospel of John highlights this idea of abundance as the theme runs throughout its chapters. There is abundant fish and bread and abundant (and high quality) wine at the wedding. John chose only seven miracles of Jesus to include in his gospel, and I suggest they all have to do with “life.” Most explicitly, however, is Jesus’ proclamation, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly!” (John 10:10)
But what does it mean to live a life of abundance as followers of Jesus? I believe the idea of abundance in Scripture is directly tied to Paul’s oft-repeated phrase, “in Christ,” or en Christo, which calls us to live our lives as a people who are in Christ both individually and corporately. But even that phrase needs unpacking.
I see life in Christ as synonymous with flourishing. And for me, human flourishing is a life filled with an integrated rootedness in the corporate spirituality of the cross. As followers of Jesus, we are, by definition, people of the cross; people who, in Christ, are called to align ourselves with Christ in his victory, but also in His suffering (1 Peter 4). Because the work of the cross supersedes our current situations and is centrally linked to God’s work in the world, we are invited to play a part. The cross is quite literally the crux of the story! The late John Howard Yoder (1988) framed it this way, “people who bear crosses are working with the grain of the universe.” (p. 279)
We must be people of the cross instead of individuals of the cross. The salvation afforded by the scandalous love of Jesus is personal but never private. Salvation is offered to all of creation and is embodied fully in community. We are literally invited to be in Christ as members of the body of Christ. We manifest the redeeming love of Jesus in the world by participating in the body of Christ. We are to be known not by our amazing individual acts of spirituality, or by our outstanding individual faith, but by our love for one another. This is the corporate part of an integrated rootedness in the spirituality of the cross. We are never free to cancel, vilify, or dehumanize another – even if we disagree with them. A sound theology of the cross affirms a sound theology of image-bearing. The unifying power of the cross is far too strong to allow our petty brokenness to break its work in the world, as much as we try. In our current cultural moment, we need to remember who we are in Christ and how we have come to belong to the people of God. This corporate followership is central to our human flourishing, and it runs counter to the careerism, power, status, ego, individualism, and self-promotion that define our times and vie for space in our imaginations.
A fully integrated life is a full understanding of rootedness in the cross, of being fully alive in Christ. It is easier to apply the way of the cross to our faith and then to our families – a fragmentary or partial life in Christ. An integrated life of the cross applies what NT Wright calls “Messiah-thinking” to all of life, including our politics, consumption, recreation, and even our discourse patterns. Late Biblical scholar Ernst Käsemann (1971) argued that “the catchword about the ‘theology of the cross’ loses its original meaning if used non-polemically” (p. 35). If we annul and abuse the stark truth of the cross so that it no longer critically attacks dominating interpretations, our Christian sensibilities, and our comfort levels, our lives are no longer rooted in Christ. We guard against its diminishment via pop culture iconism, its elimination from authentic Christian discourse, and even its abuse to justify violence on the side of the oppressor. Ironically this is the opposite of its intended message in a time of the pax romana, the peace of Rome enforced with unfettered violence. Instead, we submit to its all-pervasive influence, constantly shaping and reshaping our lives and communities.
Finally, flourishing is fully realized in the spirituality of the cross; a spirituality that permeates all areas of our theology, a complete rearrangement of our values and priorities. A spirituality of the cross challenges our habits of compartmentalizing and routinizing our lives. It is anything but static and goes far beyond personal morality and, by the work of the Spirit, inspired a constant rethinking and reshaping of our life. I believe it also requires an active imagination, or a baptized imagination of constantly seeking how to live in the way of the cross. As Michael Gorman (2001) poses the question, “In what part of our life story is the story of the cross not being, or not being faithfully told?” (p. 382). Gorman highlights the creating reality of a spirituality of the cross. The “cross creates a new horizon, a new world” (p. 383), a world “characterized by stranger reversals” (Brown, p. 93). A spirituality rooted in the cross is both inspired by the cross and critiqued by it.
May we be profoundly mindful that this flourishing in us is a complete devotion to the way of the cross. May we be inspired by the spirituality of the cross, constantly conforming to the image of the one “who loved us and gave himself up for us.”
SCSBC Executive Director
Brown, Alexandra R. 1995. The Cross and Human Transformation: Paul’s Apocalyptic World in 1 Corinthians. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995.
Gorman, Michael. Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.
Holy Bible, various translations.
Käsemann, Ernst. “The Saving Significance of the Death of Jesus in Paul,” Perspectives on Paul. Trans. Margaret Kohl. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971. Käsemann refers to the cross in this chapter as “the signature of the one who is risen” (p. 56).
Swaner, Lynn and Andy Wolfe. Flourishing Together: A Christian Vision for Students, Educators, and Schools. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2021.
Yoder, John Howard. “Armaments and Eschatology,” Studies in Christian Ethics, vol. 1, no. 1. 1988. pp. 43-61