After Nature’s Revolt Is a collection of essays edited by Dieter T. Hessel. “The contributors to this book share three assumptions. First, the world faces unprecedented environmental peril that will have profound ecological and social effects. Second, this situation exposes major problems in the (Western) Christian tradition and stimulates theological-ethical rethinking to meet the future. Third, the church has a special mission and responsibility for eco-justice in these times (p2).” To some degree I agree with all of these assumptions. However as you will see, I do not believe the tradition needs as much rethinking as they do. One statement I can agree with is that “Covenant theology and statutes expect eco-justice to be done. Exodus 23, Leviticus 19 and 25, plus Deuteronomy 15 emphasize the religious obligation of faithful people to give animals Sabbath rest and to let the land lie fallow at least once every seven years (p11).”
John Cobb, Jr wrote the first article titled, “Postmodern Christianity in Quest of Eco-Justice.” In it he says, “All are in God and God is in all. Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from God’s participatory knowledge. When we inflict suffering on a whale, God suffers with it. When we make possible the healty functioning of the biosphere, God enjoys the vitality (24).” The beginning of that statement reeks of panentheism, which is unnacceptable for an evangelical like myself. But then he goes on to say, “These practical and attitudinal changes are rooted in the postmodern theological rejection of the dualism of body and mind. That does not mean that here is no distinction between bodily and mental activity. But all experience is both physical and mental. There is no mere matter and there is no mere mind. The extended and thinking substances of Descartes do not exist. This means also that the dualism between human beings and other animals is not real. They, too, are at once physical and mental. And, indeed, we cannot draw sharp lines between animals and the other creatures tha make up our world with us (p25).” I disagree. Humans are very distinct from animals, in that there were no suitable helpers for humanity to be found among the animals. God chose humans to have a special relationship with in his garden, and to be his image-bearers (Gen 1-2).
Larry Rasmussen wrote the 2nd article, “Returning to our Senses: The Theology of the Cross as a Theology for Eco-Justice”. One interesting statement that he makes is, “The meaning of finitum copax inifiniti is simple enough: God is pegged to the earth. So if you would experience God, you must love the earth. The infinite and transcendent are always dimensions of what is intensely at hand. Don’t look up for God, look around. The finite is all there is because all that is, is there (41).” From this statement and another on p42, he asserts that Luther was panentheistic (Luther said the latin phrase). But, this one interpretation of the phrase seems to be at odds with much else that Luther said. It seems to be a case of letting the ambiguous small phrase replace the un-ambiguous volumes of things that Luther said.
The third and final article to be reviewed today was written by Paul H. Santmire, “Healing the Protestant Mind: Beyond the Theology of Human Dominion.” As you may have guessed he calls into question what he percieves as the dominant Protestant trend of God as the monarchical creator, and humanity having dominion over creation.
He says, “By the time of Karl Barth, the Reformers’ the-anthropocentric focus had been systematized, especially by theologians who wrote in the tradition of Immanuel Kant and Albrecht Ritschl. Such thinkers taught that God cannot be known in nature, and they often implied that God cannot even be encountered in nature (p62).” Having only read one work by each of those authors, I cannot comment accurately about them “often” making those type of comments. He goes on to say, “One difference [between new eological thinking and old] becomes immediately apparent. In keeping with the promissory character of the metaphor of migration to a good land, and in response ot the eschatology that shaped the teachings of Jesus and the theology of Paul, the final fulfillment becomes the integrating construct in this ecological theology, rather than the eternal beginning as is the case in Barth’s thought (p70).” If you have read elsewhere in my blog, I believe that an evangelical’s philosophy of ecology (or doctrine of ecology if you want) grows out of their doctrine of creation. I see it as a subset of creation-theology.
Santmire goes on to call for changes in the doctrine of God. “This God creates a space within the divine being, withdrawing to allow the cosmos to have its own place. In this schema the cosmos is not dominated by a distant and therefore overpowering divine otherness, as some Protestant images of God, including Barth’s, have sometimes suggested. This God is one who is most characteristically revealed in the humility of the cross, whose power is weakness. This is a God who can enter intimately and immediately into an interactive history with all creatures, not one who controls them like puppets (p72).” To me, this sounds too close to open-theism, which is unacceptable to me and most other evangelicals (at least members of ETS).
One of the most ambiguous statements is when he is speaking of redefining humanity’s relationship with nature. Instead of domination by humans (as he labels the Protestant view), he calls for an “I-Ens, the the latter pointing to a relationship of contemplation and cooperation with nature (75).” He says this in the context of a discussion which concludes that humanity cannot have an I-thou (Martin Buber’s terminology) relationship with nature. So, he invents his own category so as to avoid the I-It relationship. This isn’t a bad idea. I actually agree that we as humans need to appreciate nature more. But, he fails to substantially explain what this difference looks like, and leaves the reader confused.
The rest of this review will come in another post later…

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