Today, even in its broadest usage, philanthropy is used to describe action originating not among gods but among human beings. The most well-known expression of philanthropy is not direct contact, warm relationship, or unwavering, unwarranted beneficence but rather the giving of money—typically in large quantities, and through intermediaries like foundations and nonprofit organizations.
Further, philanthropy is a word rarely associated with Christianity, either by Christians or non-Christians. That there are Christian philanthropists is of course widely acknowledged; that philanthropy is the essence or the core of Christianity is a statement that is simply never made. The philosophical ground has not been so much ceded as abandoned: for Christian and non-Christian alike, philanthropy demarcates turf distinctly human, not divine.
This is more than a curious etymological development. It is an invitation to examine whether the severing of the two concepts—Christianity and philanthropy—has impoverished and perhaps even distorted both.
(Excerpted from my forthcoming book, The Whole Life Offering: Christianity as Philanthropy, scheduled for release in January 2011.)