Holistic Human Thriving and Spiritual Discernment

Written by Peter D. Spychalla, Ph.D., D.Min.
Associate Professor of New Testament & Spiritual Formation

My kids are sick of me using the phrase “holistic human thriving.” They hear me use it frequently. Whether it is the national news, trajectories for us to follow, or any issue, I am forever asking the question, “Does this foster holistic human thriving?” – for individuals, for groups, for communities, and for whole societies.

According to Scripture, God’s cosmic mission of redemption, reconciliation, renewal, restoration, and transformation in Christ repairs the brokenness in all domains of human existence and fosters holistic human thriving forever in the renewed heavens and earth. This pithy phrase – holistic human thriving – captures the heart of God’s mission in the world. It guides practical Christian spiritual discernment as we join God on His mission. It is a touchstone for wisdom — wise decisions, wise persons, and wise processes.

Wise decisions promote holistic human thriving: Decisions lie at the heart of spiritual discernment. Persons, groups, and communities daily face decisions, big and small. Oftentimes, the path forward is not clear. There may be a range of “good” choices, each with features that commend yet elements that give hesitation. How do individuals and groups identify and embrace options that align to God’s call for them in this world? Good decisions can be evaluated from many angles, according to many criteria, but I like to say that wise decisions promote holistic human thriving for individuals and groups.

Wise people pursue holistic human thriving: Spiritual discernment is not merely about making decisions. Rather, central to discernment is who we are becoming in the process. How are we drawing near to God, praying, maturing in virtue, paying attention, and being shaped in love and wisdom? How are groups and communities fostering honor, love, respect, forbearance, and social virtues as they together seek God? Decisions provide fertile soil for spiritual formation. Our loves, our affections, our volition, our emotions, our intellect, our relationships, and our actions are all deeply shaped during the process of discernment. Spiritual discernment, done well, forms wise people who pursue holistic human thriving for themselves and others.

Wise processes holistically attend to human thriving: The deep, diverse Christian tradition provides resources and approaches for spiritual discernment. Factors bearing on discernment include Scripture, theology, tradition, community, science, nature, experience, personal history, memory, reason, intuition, imagination, physical body, desires, spiritual affections, virtue, and spiritual practices. Wise approaches to discernment are broad and integrative. They pay attention to all these factors, consider the full scope of divinely-granted knowledge, and appropriately balance and unite insight from all areas of life. Hence, spiritual discernment is holistic in promoting human thriving.

Even if it drives a few folks in my household a little batty, I’m going to keep this phrase in my mind, on my heart, and frequently on my lips as I seek to discern well how to join God in His restoration mission in the world. I invite you to dive deeper into this topic at Urbana Theological Seminary this summer in my course “Spiritual Discernment for Individuals and Groups.” Together we will discern how to foster holistic human thriving – among persons, groups, and communities.