We inhabit a lonely, anxious culture bent on pursuing instant and constant gratification at nearly any cost. In this context, what does a truly flourishing life look like? What are the conditions necessary for cultivating a flourishing life? And what are the spiritual disciplines and habits of the heart that refine within individuals the capacities for envisioning and then living into that flourishing?
At Karam Forum 2018, Andy Crouch addressed these questions in an unforgettable Economic Wisdom Project Talk entitled “A Pruned Life: Isaiah’s Posterity Gospel.” Reflecting on the Parable of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5, Crouch explains that the Lord is challenging the people of Israel, looking “at what Israel calls flourishing and [saying]: From one point of view in the system, it looks really good, but from many other points of view, it’s not good at all. From the long view of history, it’s empty as chalk on pavement. It’s not going to last.”
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Crouch speaks of the pruned life as the flourishing life, one that has been intentionally shaped along the contours of things that truly give life, and in faithful rejection of the false promises of fleeting pleasures. The pruned life is a life well-attuned to what holds genuine value, rich with the things worth passing down to generations that follow.
Crouch critiques what passes for flourishing in the current economy. Lower poverty rates, higher labor-force participation, rising wages and other measurements that economists and policymakers typically elevate to the top of the agenda are fine in themselves, but without a larger spiritual framework they are not sufficient or fully accurate standards of flourishing. In some cases, they might even serve to obscure reality, glossing over the fragility of our prosperity. On the one hand, if this seeming flourishing does not extend to the most marginalized and vulnerable among us, it is not true flourishing, Crouch argues. On the other hand, what is our prosperity for if individuals are discipled to be consumers, not producers of the good, the true and the beautiful?
We have been encouraged to value pursuits that submit us to “low-friction” demands while promising “high-margin” rewards. But, Crouch suggests, “all the low-friction, high-margin things in my life are constantly tempting me to just press play and distract me away from the very patterns of family life, community life, and institutions that could actually sustain something worth passing on.”
In such a context, what is the role of the church? Crouch proposes that the church ought to “pay attention in such a way so that we might know what components of the affluence we experience in the world are genuine.” This sort of flourishing, inspired by the biblical vision of shalom, is nourished by generative work, influence-stewarding institutions, and formative communities. These all remind us that on the other side of sacrifice lies the fullness of life that we experience only through high-friction, low-margin faithfulness.
Crouch reminds us that the Lord graciously invites his people to participate in his creative work of pruning, following him into “every part of the world of mere affluence and turning it into a vineyard.”
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EWP Talks on Ethics