Life Worth Living: Faith, Flourishing, and What Matters Most with Dr. Miroslav Volf

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Dr. Miroslav Volf

Miroslav Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and is the Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.

Episode Summary

Miroslav Volf (Yale University) wants to reorient theology around human flourishing. For too long, theology has left practical transformation and lived experience out of the picture. But when we draw together Christian faith and spirituality within a holistic framework of understanding who we are, why we’re here, what we’re called to, and how we should live—we’ll find a life that is truly worth living. (Includes a meditative spiritual exercise by Dr. Pam King, “Creating Space.”)

Show Notes

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“Love of God, love of neighbors. Seek the kingdom, the good of the world. And in that good of the whole, your own good. And be attuned to what is around you in joy and also in sorrow.” (Miroslav Volf) We’re in a crisis of meaning. It’s like our existential compasses are off kilter. Uprooted from faith, social, and civic communities—the very institutions that once supplied narratives, a sense of identity, and belonging. But meaning and purpose are central to our spiritual health and therefore thriving. And theology comes into play because psychologists are more concerned with how meaning is made descriptively—looking at the cognitive and affective processes of our brains and behavior. Whereas theologians are concerned with prescriptive meaning, commenting normatively about how we should live. This episode features renowned theologian Miroslav Volf (Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School / Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture) and author of the bestselling book, Life Worth Living: A Guide to What Matters Most. We need stories of love and hope to define our lives. And much of Miroslav's life's work has been devoted to understanding what constitutes a life worth living. In our conversation, he shares about a God who is with us, who is loving, and who created us for love, calling us to an active role in the flourishing of this world. In this conversation, we discuss:
  • How to discern what really matters and how to be intentional about a life worth living
  • The need to challenge the hyper individualistic assumptions of our day, focusing on thriving life as a life of connections and convictions
  • Spiritual health as dependent on our relationships with one another, with God, and creation
  • Spiritual practices that quiet, create space, and slow us down—allowing us to attune a broad and secure space for human becoming and unfolding
  • Miroslav speaks openly and vulnerably about his own experiences of faith, suffering, hope, and flourishing
  • Learn more about the Yale Center for Faith and Culture
  • Check out Miroslav’s best-selling book, Life Worth Living: A Guide to What Matters Most (co-authored with Matt Croasmun and Ryan McAnnally-Linz)
  • Reorienting theology around the concept of human flourishing
  • Honor everyone, love God, love neighbor, seek the kingdom, stay attuned in joy and in sorrow
  • Crisis of meaning and the need for deeper reflection on what matters most
  • “We need stories of love and hope to define our lives.”
  • Interdisciplinary research in psychology and theology
  • Miroslav reflects on his early life in 1970s Croatia (then Yugoslavia)
  • Anthony Kronman’s Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life
  • Miroslav’s early faith: “Jesus is alive.”
  • “His experience was that people who believe are idiots, that they can't know anything, that they are these parasites that want to undermine whatever the society's trying to do. And so that was my first initiation, so to speak, in the public living of my faith. … but, it was also beautiful.”
  • A way of life that is worth suffering for—holding a treasure.
  • “Another occasion where we were actually beaten and chased out of a village that was completely communist-dominated. And we kind of disrupted it by … We spoke about Jesus … and they chased us out of the city to beat us up … and then we had this kind of sense of joy.”
  • Practices vs Reflection
  • Moral practices and felt experience
  • “There's always a kind of excess beyond what we can actually say, what we can describe, what we can explain. We stutter often when we try to—especially describe experiences like joy or like suffering. They're beyond the words. That's the beauty of them—giving oneself to them.”
  • Miroslav Volf on thriving
  • Thriving is framed around three elements of human experience: agency, circumstances, and emotions—knit together through the lens of the kingdom of God and Christian imagination
  • Agency: Love God and Love neighbor.
  • Circumstances: “Thy kingdom come” vs “give us this day our daily bread”
  • Emotions: Attune to the world. “Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.”
  • “Love of God, love of neighbors. Seek the kingdom, the good of the world. And in that good of the whole, your own good. And be attuned to what is around you in joy and also in sorrow.”
  • Primordial goodness: Goodness is always prior to evil.
  • Spacious public faith and Christ as the key to flourishing life
  • Christ as a moral teacher and exemplar
  • The “aliveness” and presence of Christ
  • “I often don't experience God.”
  • Martin Luther on faith: Christ as a gem, encased in our faith
  • Church fathers on the presence of Christ as “heated iron in fire”—the heat doesn’t come from the iron but from the fired—similarly, God heats us from within.
  • Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation
  • Porous boundaries and our nature as relational beings
  • Jürgen Moltmann’s autobiography A Broad Place
  • “Religion really cramps our style… But in Miroslav's theology, personal wholeness in Christ is spacious and freeing.”
  • Exodus 3: God promising to lead Israel out of bondage and constraint and into freedom and a broad space
  • Love
  • Relational image of God and relationality
  • God as ultimate lover—”God loves us while we are still so far away”
  • Life Worth Living: A Guide to What Matters Most
  • Christian faith and pluralism
  • Articulating a coherent answer to what it means to live a life that’s worthy of our humanity
  • The Recipe: “You can’t put all the ingredients together as you wish. They have to fit together.”
  • “We make truth claims.”
  • “I think we go wrong when we don't honor people's own search for truth. The whole book is about having truth-seeking conversations about something that has a claim upon your life. And argue with others, but argue in such a way that honors everyone. And so for me, this is a kind of central Christian conviction that comes straight from the Bible, from 1 Peter. Short commandment: Honor everyone. That's what I need to do. Whatever they do, whatever they think, especially honor those who've spent so much time trying to think through some of these issues as many of the figures have that have, that are not necessarily Christian.”
  • “Honor everyone.”
  • Nurturing the ascetic practices of self-reflection and discipline
  • Spiritual exercise by Pam King: Creating Space
  • Teresa of Avila and the Interior Castle
  • Relationality, reciprocity, and mutual flourishing
  • Robin Wall Kimmerer in *Braiding Sweetgrass: “*All flourishing is mutual.”
  • “Human thriving isn't thriving when it's the expense of other people's thriving.”
  • “And it's a kind of strange paradox. At our disposal, but it's all reference to me and to my experiences. … We have a really narrow scope of concerns.”
  • Mary’s Magnificat: “God coming and taking the mighty down from their thrones and transforming the entire world.”
  • “What I want is the expansion of the horizon of concerns. Our horizon of concern is the horizon of God's mission in the world. God’s mission is our mission.”

About Miroslav Volf

Miroslav Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and is the Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. He was educated in his native Croatia, the United States, and Germany, earning doctoral and post-doctoral degrees (with highest honors) from the University of Tübingen, Germany. He has written or edited more than 20 books, over 100 scholarly articles, and his work has been featured in the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Christian Century, Sojourners, and several other outlets, including NPR, On Being with Krista Tippett, and Public Television’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. His books include Life Worth Living: A Guide to What Matters Most,  Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, Allah: A Christian Response, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World, Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World, For the Life of the World: Theology that Makes a Difference (with Matthew Croasmun), and The Home of God: A Brief Story of Everything (with Ryan McAnnally-Linz).  

About the Thrive Center

About Dr. Pam King

Dr. Pam King is Executive Director the Thrive Center and is Peter L. Benson Professor of Applied Developmental Science at Fuller School of Psychology & Marriage and Family Therapy. Follow her @drpamking.  

About With & For

  • Host: Pam King
  • Senior Director and Producer: Jill Westbrook
  • Operations Manager: Lauren Kim
  • Social Media Graphic Designer: Wren Juergensen
  • Consulting Producer: Evan Rosa
Special thanks to the team at Fuller Studio and the Fuller School of Psychology & Marriage and Family Therapy.


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