Welcome to the Crawl
Welcome to Theology Crawl! This year, we are meeting online to really try and unpack one big question…”How the heck did we get here?” 2020 has been a year of reckoning on a lot of fronts, and we want to take time to discuss how God-talk has often contributed to the many problems we are facing, and how better theology might help us navigate our way out.
This week, we are talking about how Christian approaches to nature have led to the destruction of our environment and how better Christian theology can help us work towards the repair of our environment.
Before you start, make sure someone gives The Spiel to your group.
- What is “nature”?
HISTORY: LYNN WHITE, JR. & THE HISTORICAL ROOTS OF OUR ECOLOGICAL CRISIS
Lynn White, Jr.’s article “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis,” published in Science magazine in 1967, argued that mass destruction of nature by humankind is an unintended consequence of religious viewpoints of nature. In particular, the viewpoints related to Christian theology as they were frequently applied, or misapplied, toward dealing with the natural world.The impact of White’s writings on the community of environmentalists, philosophers of technology, and religious scholars concerned with environmental issues was immediate and long-lasting. In the twenty years following the publication of “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” over 200 books and articles used White’s ideas as a focal point. His ideas penetrated the popular press, appearing in TIME, Horizon, and the New York Times, among others. Below is a quote from the article
What did Christianity tell people about their relations with the environment? While many of the world’s mythologies provide stories of creation, Greco-Roman mythology was singularly incoherent in this respect. Like Aristotle, the intellectuals of the ancient West denied that the visible world had a beginning. Indeed, the idea of a beginning was impossible in the framework of their cyclical notion of time. In sharp contrast, Christianity inherited from Judaism not only a concept of time as nonrepetitive and linear but also a striking story of creation. By gradual stages a loving and all-powerful God had created light and darkness, the heavenly bodies, the earth and all its plants, animals, birds, and fishes. Finally, God had created Adam and, as an afterthought, Eve to keep man from being lonely. Man named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them. God planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes. And, although man’s body is made of clay, he is not simply part of nature: he is made in God’s image.
THE MAIN QUESTIONS
- What do you think of White’s portrayal of Christian attitudes toward the natural world? Have you seen these sentiments in any of your communities of faith?
- Is the relationship between humans and the environment described by White how most Christians understand this concept?
- Is exploitation of the Earth a uniquely Judeo-Christian concept as White claims?
- Do you agree with his argument? Why or why not?
- Take a moment to read the section below (Theological Concept). Answer the following questions:
- How do you typically think about the process of salvation?
- How does the act of incarnation relate to non-human aspects of creation? Does it?
- What does it mean for the “cosmos” to be redeemed/saved by God?
- How might a cosmic Christology compliment other approaches to Christology? What does it offer? What might it miss?
- What other resources do Christians have in their theological and Biblical toolkits to address environmental degradation?
THEOLOGICAL CONCEPTS: COSMIC CHRIST & TIELHARD DE CHARDIN
Cosmic Christ // a Christological concept which understands Jesus Christ as the origin, beginning and end, or purpose of creation. This understanding tends to stress the ways in which the process of salvation is oriented beyond human persons.
The Christological conception of the “cosmic Christ” can be traced back to the Church’s earliest theologians. Irenaus, in Against Heresies, articulated a theory of salvation in which the entire created order was restored under the headship of Christ. Among modern theologians, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is most well-known as someone who advocates for this position. Below are few quotes from his work which summarize key points of the concept:
- Christ is Part of the Cosmos – “Christ has a cosmic body that extends throughout the universe.”
- God’s Love Extends Through and To Creation – ““Love is the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mystical of cosmic forces. Love is the primal and universal psychic energy. Love is a sacred reserve of energy; it is like the blood of spiritual evolution.”
- Redemption is a Cosmic Event – “Creation, incarnation and redemption are to be seen as no more than three complementary aspects of one and the same process.”
- Redemption is Ongoing – “Everywhere he (Christ) draws us to him and brings us closer to himself, in a universal movement of convergence toward spirit. It is he alone whom we seek and in whom we move. But if we are to hold him we must take all things to, and even beyond, the utmost limit of their nature and their capacity for progress. Of the cosmic Christ, we may say both that he is and that he is still growing.”
- But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. // 2 Peter 3:10
- The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas And established it upon the rivers // Psalm 24:1-2
- Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” // Genesis 1:26-28
- A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, But even the compassion of the wicked is cruel. // Proverbs 12:10
- You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. // Exodus 23:10-11
- But every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. // James 3:7
- Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! “And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? “If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters // Luke 12:24-28
- “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. // Romans 8:22-23
- He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. // Colossians 1:15-17
THOUGHTS FROM OTHERS
- Doth not all nature around me praise God? If I were silent, I should be an exception to the universe. Doth not the thunder praise Him as it rolls like drums in the march of the God of armies? Do not the mountains praise Him when the woods upon their summits wave in adoration? Doth not the lightning write His name in letters of fire? Hath not the whole earth a voice? And shall I, can I, silent be?” // Charles Spurgeon
- The gravity of the ecological situation reveals how deep is the human moral crisis” // Pope John Paul II
- Climate change is an issue that impels us to think about God’s justice and how we are to echo it in our world. // Rowan Williams
- We must accept that a number of conservative evangelicals, especially from older generations, will never support significant action on climate change, especially if it means signing a global treaty. // Lisa Vox
- We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it. // Wendell Berry
- Book: Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World // Moo, Moo, Lunde
- Book: Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action // J. Matthew Sleeth
- Book: The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance // Matthew Fox
- Resource: Fact Sheets: Environmental Health // World Health Organization
- Resource: Eight Christian Environmental Organizations // Kelli Mahoney
- Article: Where Christians Get Environmentalism Wrong // Jason Todd
- Article: Three Reasons Why Evangelicals Stopped Advocating for the Environment // Andrew Spencer
- Article: The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis // Lynn White, Jr.