How We Got Here or Principles of Modern Thought: Full Potential

Here is the third post in a series on Stephen Clark’s five guiding principles of modern thought. The list with links to the previous posts can be found below.

The Principle of Equality
The Principle of Freedom
The Principle of Developing Full Potential 
The Principle of Authenticity
The Principle of Being a “Full-Person”

Here is Clark’s description of the third principle that drives modern thinking:

The Principle of Developing Full Potential or Achieving Self-Fulfillment-“This an individualistic principle closely related to the principle of freedom. Self-fulfillment and full potential become ideals under conditions of little social cohesion where each individual feels the need to watch out for himself…It emphasizes gifts and abilities rather than personal relationships. 

A principle of self-fulfillment cannot be found in scripture. The scriptural teaching presumes a cohesive communal lifestyle and sets forth an ideal of servanthood. The scripture allows Christians to seek reward, but the criterion for action is love, that is, laying down one’s life for the Lord and the brothers and sisters.” 

The thought here is that anything or anyone that prevents me from achieving what I think is my full potential is restricting  my freedom and ultimately harming me. People and things exist to give me fulfillment and make me happy.

Perhaps no principle on this list is as thoroughly rejected by Scripture as this one. The Christian life is one of love and service that is focused on giving of our life, time, money, and energy to others. A principle of achieving full potential runs hard against that truth. It is impossible to live like Christ and still be focused on achieving your full potential. Yet because this is the air that we breath we still function this way. Popular Christian preachers make millions promising people that if they come to Christ he will help them fulfill their potential. On a more day to day level, we assume that if I am not becoming who I think I ought to be then something has gone wrong.  How many “Christian” men have left their wives because they felt held back by them? How many college children reject their parent’s faith because it keeps them from “stretching their wings?” How many pastors have stopped preaching the hard truths of service and sacrifice so their people will be happy and feel fulfilled? How many young men enter the job force expecting it to help them fulfill their potential? How many young ladies bear children for the same, ungodly reason? The Christian life is one of service. The minute we make our personal satisfaction and fulfillment the goal then have abandoned the narrow path.

I would add that when we follow Christ we will ultimately find happiness and satisfaction. We were made for God and in him we will be filled. But that satisfaction comes from the well-done at the end. And that well-done comes from living for Christ, dying to self and serving others. It does not come from putting our own personal fulfillment at the center of our existence.