Faculty to explore meaning of human flourishing

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

The One Foundation Lunch and Learns for 2021-22 will have implications that go right to the core beliefs of Grand Canyon University’s academic and spiritual mission.

Titled “Human Flourishing: Embracing Our Purpose,” the monthly gathering for faculty in Room 132 of the Technology Building “will explore the human condition by unpacking what the Bible says about human nature, purpose, calling and vocation,” according to the overview for the series.

The idea was hatched in a series of meetings involving GCU President Brian Mueller and his academic leaders. The question that kept coming up: How can One Foundation encapsulate the sorts of things GCU does?

“We’re not just like a think tank where we sort of abstractly think of things and pontificate and brainstorm,” said Dr. Jason Hiles, Dean of the College of Theology (COT). “Brian insists on there being some sort of practical mechanism. As he starts to think about what we’re trying to do with students and what we’re trying to accomplish as a university, ‘human flourishing’ is, for him, a way of encapsulating in a couple words the sort of thing that we’re promoting, that we’re about, that we’re moving forward on.

Dr. Jason Hiles

“He had us work on a long statement that defines human flourishing, connects it to the Christian worldview and moves toward One Foundation as something we’re doing together as a university.”

That statement is still under review, but the first Lunch and Learn – scheduled for noon Monday – will kick off the six sessions in this academic year. All six will include two panel discussions, and Monday's topic is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Little known fact: The “One Foundation” name for the series is partially a reference to the foundation Jesus laid out in what is considered the most famous sermon in history.

“The Sermon on the Mount is obviously Jesus’ primary, most basic teaching,” said Dr. Daniel Diffey, scheduled to be part of the first panel along with two other COT faculty members, Brett Berger and Dr. Robin Thompson. “He talks a lot about what it means to relate to God and to relate to others, and He ends the Sermon on the Mount with a discussion of what you build your foundation on.

“If you want to truly flourish in this world, you have to be, first of all, devoted to God and devoted to others. Jesus talks about the two great commandments as loving God and loving others. Those are the things we’ve got to get right. Otherwise, it’s all for naught.”

Jena Akard of the College of Education, Dr. Moronke Oke of the Colangelo College of Business and Richard Busby of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions are scheduled, as the second panel, to share how human flourishing applies to their areas of expertise.

Jena Akard

Akard said the draft statement on human flourishing evoked these questions:

“From the education perspective, how do we teach as professors and then how do we help our students teach to help promote human flourishing in their own classroom? Maybe they’re even in the public education system. So what does that look like with the strategies that we use or how we teach?”

It puts GCU in an important position.

“The Christian worldview changes things for us,” she said. “I love that, because we’re a Christian university, we can talk about how we apply that because not everybody is in the same place. God made us all unique, which also is in the human flourishing statement. How do we do this differently?

“I’ve learned from my students about how I can develop my relationship with God, and I hope that one day they will say the same about me: ‘Well, I learned from Akard …”

The “human flourishing” concept, just by its very name, is misleading, Hiles noted.

“It’s certainly not a philosophy of comfort or a philosophy of happiness,” he said. “When you think about human flourishing, you almost have to back up and ask, ‘What is a person? What is a human being, and what are humans designed to be or to do?’ In other words, is there purpose woven into the fabric of who we are?

Dr. Daniel Diffey

“When GCU says ‘Find your purpose,’ there’s a leaning into the Christian worldview, even in that little pithy slogan, that actually makes sense. It’s discovered, not created. We’re not the creators, we’re the creatures. There’s a right way to live with it. God has plans and purposes for us, and we have to be intentional about looking into discovery.”

Diffey, who primarily teaches the Old Testament, pointed to the “great command” in Deuteronomy 6:4:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

“It’s the most famous passage in the Old Testament, and it’s the one that Jesus quotes when asked what the greatest commandment is,” Diffey said.

Moses repeatedly told the Israelites to love and obey God. Not that they listened.

“We see God pursuing His people with patience and love, and His people, at every corner, are rebelling and honestly choosing death over life,” Diffey said.

Spin it back to today’s world and GCU’s mission. One Foundation will give faculty answers to this question, Hiles said: “How would I shape my character so that I would actually be able to live in peace with others and in alignment with God and His purposes?”

He added:

“When you connect that to GCU, you’re connecting specifically to a sense of calling. It’s not simply that I come up with what I want to do with my life – that I pursue my own ends and my own purpose. There’s something beyond me, something bigger than me, a purpose that’s transcendent.

“One Foundation is all about instilling a sense of calling and purpose in the life of students in connection with academic disciplines and specific vocational trajectories. It’s almost like Brian’s bringing things full circle in the conversation.”

Monday’s session will be available via livestream.

Dates, topics and links for future sessions:

Oct. 18: “Flourishing in the Late Modern World”

Nov. 15: “Flourishing through Following Jesus”

Jan. 24: “Flourishing within an Academic Discipline”

Feb. 28: “Flourishing within a Chosen Vocation”

March 28: “Flourishing in a Fallen World”

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Providing a strong Foundation for Christian teaching

GCU Magazine: Survey: GCU's Christian foundation is far-reaching 


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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

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