Dr. J. Bradley Chance, Professor Emeritus of Religion, William Jewell College
For this course we will use the following as a working definition of spiritual flourishing: Spiritual flourishing is the process of seeking a rich and satisfying life through the pursuit of four inter-connected attributes and actions: personal authenticity, interpersonal relationships, social engagement, and wisdom.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus alludes to a “rich and satisfying life” when he says:
9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10: 9-10 [NRSV]).
“Abundantly” in the quotation above is a translation of the Greek adjective perissos. The adjective can also mean “more than sufficient” and “over and above.” Most English versions, like the NRSV, translate the word perissos using a variation of “abundant,” though a survey of all the English versions reveals various attempts to capture the richness of this Greek word. I believe the translation offered by the New Living Translation captures best all the nuances of the word perissos:
9 Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life (John 10:9-10 [NLT]).
We refer above to four attributes and actions that contribute to a life of spiritual flourishing: the pursuit of personal authenticity, interpersonal relationships, social engagement, and wisdom. These paths of pursuit regularly intersect with each other, though we will give focused attention to each path in our four lessons.
Personal Authenticity— “To thine own self be true”; that’s how Shakespeare summed up “personal authenticity.” We will explore historical characters such as Peter and Paul and fictional characters from Jesus’ parables to see the importance of both candid self-appraisal and self-disclosure. Such candor is crucial for authentic personhood, which expresses itself in living openly, honestly, and lovingly.
Interpersonal Relationships—Life requires participating in numerous relationships with other people, which can be made even more challenging when one attempts to live openly, honestly, and lovingly. What does the intersection of personal authenticity and interpersonal relationships require? We will focus on features of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and other teachings of Jesus and the Apostle Paul to address this question.
Social Engagement—Interpersonal relationships take place under the larger canopy of social, cultural, and political influence and pressure, what the New Testament consistently refers to as “the Powers.” Jesus and his earliest followers did not embrace an ethic that left any needed transformation of the Powers to God alone. Rather, God’s people were to be instruments that engaged and even challenged the Powers. We will explore the radical implications of confessing Jesus as “Lord and Savior” in the context of the Roman world, Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem, and some of Paul’s teachings relating to social engagement. And we will ask ourselves about the contemporary relevance of these radical implications.
Wisdom—Wisdom is not simply knowledge, but practical insight about life that is based on both knowledge and the insight that comes from life’s experiences. Spiritual flourishing that yields a rich and satisfying life will require wisdom. We will explore two broad approaches to wisdom in the Bible: conventional and unconventional or subversive wisdom, giving focused attention to Jesus as a teacher of unconventional wisdom and some insights from unconventional, contemporary theology—insights on living that regularly challenge ordinary common sense, but can provide a pathway to a rich and satisfying life.
Thursdays, March 9, 16, 23, 30
Second Baptist Church; Hosted at William Jewell College
Pryor Learning Commons Room 112, Liberty, MO 64068
Brad Chance graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in religion. From there he graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, then went on to receive his Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Duke University. Chance taught at William Jewell from 1982-2021.
Chance was reared in the Baptist tradition was ordained by a Baptist church in Wake Forest, which was in association with the Southern Baptist Convention. After the joining the faculty at William Jewell, he joined Second Baptist Church, Liberty, where he was an active member for more than 20 years. In the later decades of the last century, the Southern Baptist and the Missouri Baptist Conventions moved increasingly toward fundamentalism. Around this time, he began to explore other traditions through which to express his faith. He eventually was confirmed in the Episcopal Church at Grace Episcopal Church in Liberty. He and his wife, Holly, recently moved to Independence and, since that time have renewed their exploration of faith communities.