Joy and Human Flourishing

September 7-8, 2012

In common usage, joy is often thought of as simply an intense, positive emotional state, but what sort of emotional state is joy, if it is one at all? What can a robustly theological account of joy offer a culture in search of fulfillment, and to what extent is joy the very crown of a flourishing life?

In our consultation on happiness, participants agreed that happiness is not a fleeting emotional state but a feature of a flourishing life, a life that is lived well and that goes well. In our 2012 consultation, we began by exploring joy as the emotional side of happiness. Some contemporary psychological accounts share the common idea that joy is one of the constellation of emotions that makes up happiness. But, if so, what kind of emotional state is it?

Joy, unlike happiness, is a frequent theme of the Scriptures and is consistently associated with salvation. In the Psalms and the prophets, for example, joy is the proper response to God’s saving activity. And in the Gospel of John it is the result of union with Christ. The apostle Paul joins together joy and peace on a number of occasions, conceiving of them as the effects brought about by the power of the Holy Spirit. Still, on the whole, joy has not been a prominent theme in the works of major theologians. Karl Barth, who claimed that joy is an anticipation of eschatological fulfillment, is more an exception than the rule. Consultation participants aimed to rectify this gap in the theological literature, pursuing a thoroughly theological reading and looking particularly to those streams of thought which understand joy less as a surface emotion and more as an abiding state—and even as a state of the world (as in the phrase in a parable about the Last Judgment: “Enter into the joy!”)—and then examined this state’s connection to the flourishing of human beings.

The 2012 consultation on Joy and Human Flourishing was integral to the launch of the Theology of Joy and the Good Life project.

Papers from this consultation have been published by Fortress Press in an edited volume: Joy and Human Flourishing: Essays on Theology, Culture, and the Good Life.


Contributing Scholars

Charles Mathewes
University of Virginia

Charles Mathewes is the Carolyn M. Barbour Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. He was the editor of The Journal of the American Academy of Religion and of the third edition of the Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics. He is also the Chair of the Committee on the Future of Christian Ethics by the Society of Christian Ethics.

Charles Mathewes, “Toward a Theology of Joy

Jürgen Moltmann
University of Tübingen

Jürgen Moltmann is the Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the University of Tübingen. He was a member of the Faith and Order Committee of the World Council of Churches and also the Robert W. Woodruff Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology at Candler School at Emory University. He won the 2000 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion for his book The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology.

Jürgen Moltmann, “Christianity – A Religion of Joy

Mary Clark Moschella
Yale Divinity School

Mary Clark Moschella is Roger J. Squire Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling. Prior to joining YDS in 2010, she taught at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., for ten years. Beore that, she was a pastor in United Church of Christ congregations in Masschusetts for thirteen years. She coleads the Study Group for Religious Practices and Pastoral Research in the Society for Pastoral Theology. She serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Childhood and Religion.

Mary Clark Moschella, “Calling and Compassion: Elements of Joy in Lived Practices of Care

Marianne Meye Thompson
Fuller Theological Seminary

Marianne Meye Thompson is George Eldon Ladd Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. She is also an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church USA. She has been instrumental in developing advanced-level interdisciplinary courses that integrate biblical interpretation with other disciplines of the theological curriculum. A member of the Stuidorum Novi Testamenti Societas, she has participated in various projects at the Center of Theological Inquiry, including “The Scripture Project” and “The identity of Jesus.”

Marianne Meye Thompson, “Reflections on Joy in the Bible



The God and Human Flourishing consultations are sponsored by the McDonald Agape Foundation.