Life Worth Living Book Summary - Life Worth Living Book explained in key points
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Life Worth Living summary

Miroslav Volf, Matthew Croasmun and Ryan McAnnally-Linz

A Guide to What Matters Most

4.3 (356 ratings)
19 mins
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    Life Worth Living
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    The Question with Many Answers

    If you’re reading or listening to these words, there’s a good chance you’re alive. We can all agree on that, right? But what does it mean to be alive? What responsibilities, if any, does this gift come with? Here we begin to find ourselves at a point of divergence, for there are many schools of thought on what it means to live a good and ethically sound life.

    Whether or not we have responsibilities as human beings is part of what the authors call “the Question.” Really, the Question is made up of many different, interconnected questions, such as: What matters most? What does a flourishing life look like? And, who do we answer to?

    Before we dig into the philosophical and theological ideas behind the Question, let’s look at the process we’ll be taking along the way. We can start by considering one of the biggest parts of the Question: What is worth wanting?

    You can think of the process as something akin to a deep-sea dive. You want to go down, past the realm of automatic, reflexive action, and proceed through self-reflection in order to reach self-transcendence. Here, we can determine what you see when you think of a full and flourishing life. Remember, we’re not asking, “What do I want?” But rather, “What is worth wanting.” What would make life fulfilling and meaningful to you?

    Now, as with any deep-sea dive, once you discover what is truly worth wanting you have to come back to the surface. Back to action. This is important because the point is to live a life that reflects this understanding. Sure, you might be able to tell people what’s important to you, but do your actions support your words?

    Before we move on, let’s look at one more fundamental part of the Question: Who are we responsible to? To frame it another way, you might ask yourself: Are my actions subject to judgment?

    This is an essential question because it will help you to spot the differences in the various philosophical and theological theories that we’ll touch upon. As you might imagine, this question can also be answered in different ways.

    As a handy shortcut, the authors use the old Smokey the Bear saying, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” to highlight the three primary modes of responsibility. 

    First is the “only you” part. In this scenario, you are the primary agent of responsibility. But then there’s the forest, which you can think of as the sphere of your responsibility – your family, your community, the world around you. Finally, there’s old Smokey himself. He’s the authoritative figure. The rule giver and the judge. If you want to make meaningful choices in life, you’ll want to at least consider all three of these responsibilities: yourself, those around you, and the possibility of a higher power.

    In the next sections we’ll start to look at some more compelling visions of the good life, and see how the great philosophical and theological minds answer the Question.

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    What is Life Worth Living about?

    Life Worth Living (2023) is about discovering your own vision for a meaningful life. It offers a wide spectrum of philosophic and theological ideas in order to better understand what is most important to you, and how to turn that understanding into action.

    Who should read Life Worth Living?

    • Anyone who’s ever wondered about the meaning of life
    • People interested in theology and comparative religion studies
    • Curious minds looking for inspiration and guidance

    About the Author

    Miroslav Volf is a professor of theology at Yale Divinity School, where he is also the Director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. He is also the author, or co-author, of numerous books dealing with religion, faith, and compassion including The End of Memory, and the award-winning Exclusion and Embrace.

    Matthew Croasmun is a lecturer at Yale College, as well as the Director of the Life Worth Living Program at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. He is also an author, having written The Emergence of Sin, and co-written For the Life of the World with Miroslav Volf.

    Ryan McAnnally-Linz is an Associate Director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. His other books include The Home of God, and Public Faith in Action, both of which he co-authored with Miroslav Volf.

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