Review: Creation Care

Creation Care

Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural WorldDouglas J. Moo and Jonathan A. Moo. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018.

Summary: An survey of the relevant scriptures concerning how we might think biblically and theologically about the creation and our role in it, and the relevance of this teaching to current environmental concerns.

Many discussions about the environment get caught up in arguments about scientific findings and public policies. Often Christians end up fighting each other about these matters as well. What the father and son team of Douglas and Jonathan Moo offer is a study that takes us back to first principles. As Christians, our actions in the world ought not be informed fundamentally by talk radio, political party positions, or scientific papers, but rather biblical teaching, and the wisdom principles that arise from that teaching that we seek to humbly and prayerfully apply to all the activities of our lives.

This work serves as a kind of sourcebook for thinking about caring for creation. The authors begin by asking what we mean by the care of creation and contend that this ought matter to us because it matters to the God we love. They then explore how do we develop a theology of creation, and how we understand the evidence of scripture in light of theology, culture, and science. They suggest a “roundabout” model where understanding of text and these influences feed into each other.

The next seven chapters, the majority of the work, develop the teaching of scripture. They begin with the beautiful world God has created, that it is his and our beginning posture is one of joining all his creatures in worshiping his goodness. They turn to our place as members, rulers, and keepers of creation. In discussing dominion and the idea of subduing the earth, they suggest particularly the idea of “bringing the earth under the appropriate rule of those who bear God’s image,” a task that becomes even more urgent in a post-Genesis 3 world. This involves abad and shamar, working and caring for God’s garden. They explore Israel’s relationship to the land, their homeland, and yet owned by God and thus a gift and not a possession. Their use is shaped by sabbath and jubilee, as they trust God to sustain them in the land.

At the same time, they discuss the impact of the fall on a creation “subject to frustration.” All creation suffers because of our rebellion against God, yet the context of Paul’s reference is that God has acted to redeem and reconcile both us, and the creation. The incarnation reveals God’s care for the material creation. God in human flesh in the person of Christ reveals what it means to properly rule in God’s world as his image bearers, and died and rose to inaugurate the renewal of God’s loving rule through his reconciled creatures. They are part of the new creation accomplished through the resurrection of Christ that not only means new life for those who believe but a new heaven and a new earth. They deal with 2 Peter 3, often understood as “it will all burn,” and used to denigrate our care for what will be destroyed, and contend that this passage is best understood as speaking of refining and not destroying fire, consuming all that is dross and evil, preparatory to the new creation.

The last part of the book is a reflection on the relevance of this biblical material in our present time. They propose that caring for creation is an integral part of our gospel. They affirm our role as stewards accountable for good care of the creation, that is also shaped by the realization that our care for creation also is an act of caring for people, and their flourishing. Understanding the biblical teaching leads us into wisdom, which involves knowing and doing, using all of our knowledge of the world, much coming from science, to care for the world in ways that acknowledge God’s ownership, the earth’s goodness, is just toward all God’s creatures, in dependence upon God.

The authors include a chapter briefly summarizing current environmental challenges that require our caring attention: the loss of biodiversity, deforestation, the plight of the world’s oceans (depletion of fisheries, destruction of coral reefs, etc.), soil loss and developing sustainable agriculture, and our changing climate. They are measured in their treatment, providing peer-reviewed data. They conclude with the importance of putting creation into our teaching of new creation and putting ourselves into the creation. They commend five ways in which we might be AWAKE to caring for creation:

  • Attentiveness to the creation and its suffering.
  • Walking and de-emphasizing mechanized transportation.
  • Activism, often beginning in our own churches and communities.
  • Konsumerism: learning to step back from excess to enough.
  • Eating, through choosing food grown sustainably.

While others have covered this ground, Douglas and Jonathan Moo bring strong evangelical credentials and careful treatment of biblical texts to this task with a strong commitment to biblical authority. Because of this most of the work is formulation of the Bible’s teaching. It might be faulted on being short on practical recommendations, yet what this allows is for the reader to reflect on the theology of creation care and determine their own response, perhaps side-stepping politicized discussions.

I would love to commend this work for adult education in churches. The difficulty is that this is a more academic work than I sense many adults in the church willing to engage in an adult education program. The issue is less comprehensibility than comprehensiveness. The treatment of the biblical material is thorough and lengthy, more appropriate for a college or seminary level course. It also would be a good resource for a creation care task force in a church or Christians concerned about the environment who want to think Christianly about their activism. The authors do help us see what is distinctive about a Christian concern for creation and balance proper dominion with care and serving of the creation. They help us understand both how fallen human beings are the problem, and offer hope that as redeemed and reconciled new creations, we can care for God’s good world in anticipation of the new heaven and the new earth.

____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Subversive Sabbath

Subversive Sabbath

Subversive SabbathA. J. Swoboda, Foreword by Matthew Sleeth, MD. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2018.

Summary: An extended argument showing how keeping sabbath is a counter-cultural, subversive practice in every area of life.

Apart from Abraham Joshua Heschel’s classic, The Sabbath, I would consider this the best book I have read on Sabbath. In a world focused on relentless doing, Swoboda challenges the Christian community to take the sabbath commands as seriously as we do the other nine, observing it is the only command speaking of something as “holy” to the Lord. His argument is that to begin to take this seriously is a subversive act, and perhaps one of the most significant way the church can bear witness to the transcendent reality of God. He writes:

“How is the Sabbath subversive? The truth remains that Sabbath will be challenging for anyone to live out in our busy, frenetic world. Sabbath goes against the very structured and system of the world we have constructed. Sabbath, then, becomes a kind of resistance to that world. Such resistance must be characterized as overwhelmingly good. In other words, if Sabbath is hard, then we are doing it right. It is never a sign of health or godliness to be well-adjusted to a sick society….Relating to our world of death, ‘going along’ is a sign of death. Living fish swim against the stream. Only the dead go with the flow” (p. xi).

The book consists of four parts, each with three chapters: Sabbath for Us, Sabbath for Others, Sabbath for Creation, and Sabbath for Worship. Beginning with Sabbath for Us, the first chapter explores Sabbath and Time, and the marvel that the first day life for Adam and Eve was a sabbath, where they rested along with God, and how hard it is for us to do the same. Sabbath and Work calls us to establishing rhythms of work and rest and challenges our worship of work instead of a reliance upon God when we do not work that carries into our work. Sabbath and Health speaks into how often we cannot say “no” when God says “no” and invites us for our health’s sake to rest.

In Sabbath for Others, Swoboda begins with Relationships, and how Sabbath practiced together may overcome the isolation of our lives and strengthen community. In Sabbath, Economy and Technology, Swoboda challenges us to think about how we prepare for the Sabbath in advance, and how we might do so in ways that others also enjoy rest, and how to manage our technology so we step away from our screens (he just went from preaching to meddling here!). He takes this further in Sabbath and the Marginalized, considering the implications of practicing the Sabbath so that the poor, the marginalized, the under-employed also find rest.

Sabbath for Creation begins by focusing on the intricate balance of creation and how Sabbath neglected is part of the the degradation of creation. He proposes that Sabbath is the string that holds everything together and that Sabbath-keeping is earth-keeping. Sabbath and the Land focuses particularly on how land needs sabbath to be restored, fallow periods every seven years that enrich the soil to enrich us. Sabbath and Critters (!) focuses on how we treat our animals, even to the point of suggesting chickens get a Sabbath from laying, and that all our animals need rhythms of rest.

Part Four centers around Sabbath as Worship, the ways we glorify God in community and in the world. It is Witness, setting us apart as this weird, contrast society that might be intriguing to tired, burnt out friends. It is Worship, and sometimes what we sacrifice rest for tells us what we falsely worship. It calls us into the trust that believes by not doing but by resting, we will experience God’s care. It is Discipleship that helps clear out what should not be in our lives, that exposes the noise inside us in times of silence, and helps us rightly order our lives into a new week.

While Swoboda interacts with a number of theological writers, literary figures, and others throughout this work, as well as the scriptures, his own stories of trying and failing and learning and pressing into Sabbath practice made this reader want to follow him into what appears a richer fuller way found by stopping and resting. He doesn’t present Sabbath as a cure all, but does propose that this command/gift is God’s way of liberating us from our hurried, distracted, alienated, consuming selves. Not only does this help liberate us from our false selves; Sabbath helps us to meet the true God. I will close with this:

“We worship the God who invented the weekend. This is why biblical scholar Al Baylis contends that ‘Genesis 1 is one of the most remarkable put-downs ever administered.’ The biblical creation account essentially served as a theological rebuttal of all the other ‘gods’ who never allowed anyone to rest. In a restless world, Yahweh required rest. Again, imagine what kind of first impression that would have given to an ancient person’s understanding of Yahweh. The God of Scripture not only rests himself but invites the world to rest with him” (pp. 9-10).

____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Cardinal Peter Turkson on Caring For Our Common Home

OSU President Michael Drake, Cardinal Peter Turkson, and Dean Bruce McPheron

OSU President Michael Drake, Cardinal Peter Turkson, and Dean Bruce McPheron

On Monday, I posted a review of “Laudato Si’ “, Pope Francis’s encyclical on caring for our common home. This wasn’t by accident. I read the encyclical in preparation for a lecture at The Ohio State University by Cardinal Peter Turkson. He is the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and led the drafting of the encyclical. He is the first Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church from Ghana.

His lecture was an exposition of the encyclical, the distinctive of which is a call for an integral ecology that brings together both natural ecology and human ecology. He contended our relationship with God, each other, and the earth is intimately connected. Therefore, he stated that this is not an encyclical on climate change per se’, but rather a social encyclical that links our treatment of the earth and our treatment of the poor, who often suffer the most from environmental degradation even though they have done the least to cause this.

There were several things he brought out that illumined and enriched my own reading of the encyclical:

  • He mentioned that the characteristic word the encyclical uses for our relationship to the creation is care rather than stewardship, a term that is used only twice in the encyclical. While stewardship focuses on responsibility and answerability, care has to do with love, and resonated with my sense of how important it is that we recover a sense of and a love of place, particularly the place where we make our home.
  • He emphasized the encyclical’s call for an ecological conversion, and spoke of the need for the change of direction in our lives that comes with repentance from sin–strong words for a university audience. It struck me that this call penetrates to the heart of our challenge, which is ultimately not one of more scientific evidence, or just new technologies, as importance as these may be, but a fundamental change in our direction in how we think about both creation and our fellow human beings across the globe.
  • A third concept he discussed was that of justice, which he defined as “respecting the demands of the relationship in which we exist.” I can see the implications this has both for how we relate to the creation and to our fellow human beings. In terms of this encyclical, an injustice to one is really an injustice to both.

He concluded with his hopes that this encyclical and similar statements from other religious bodies will give the world’s leaders that backbone they need to reach a binding agreement on climate change at this December’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. I have to confess that he seemed more hopeful than I am of progress on this front.

The question I found myself wondering about is why there isn’t more talk of mobilizing Catholic and other religious bodies toward the kind of ecological conversion of which the encyclical speaks. There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, or 16 percent of the world’s population. The encyclical reaches out to the wider human community as well, and has been responded to with interest from other religious communities. How many people does it take before an idea of caring for our common home reaches the “tipping point”? It doesn’t seem to me that political leaders respond to documents, even if they bear the papal imprimatur. What they do respond to is movements of the people. Gandhi, King, Mandela, and Walesa all led people movements shaped deeply by religious principles. Might we not hope and pray and work for such a movement around what arguably is the most important challenge to face humanity yet–protecting our common home for our children?

Review: Let Creation Rejoice

Let Creation RejoiceLet Creation Rejoice: Biblical Hope and Ecological Crisis by Jonathan A. Moo and Robert S. White. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: A scientist and a theologian get together to assess both environmental trends and biblical teaching and contend that there are reasons for serious concern, concerted action, and because of the gospel, for hope.

I have an interesting collection of Facebook friends. On any given day, I can find posts predicting apocalyptic consequences for every living thing on earth because of our pollution of earth, water, and air, and equally ardent posts decrying all of this as “bunk”. Sadly, the discourse that seems to be occurring in the halls of government doesn’t seem much different.

What I find rarely taking place are thoughtful conversations between scientists and people of faith considering what we may learn of these things and our call from God from listening both to the book of scripture and the book of creation. This book is a wonderful step in that direction as a scientist and theologian have collaborated to give us an account that is at once challenging, and yet filled with hope, that both considers the data of researchers and the data of scripture.

Following an introductory chapter that decries both the apocalyptics and the deniers, the next two chapters summarize the “state of affairs” in our world today, considering human population growth, the decrease of biodiversity, the growing water crisis, concerns about nitrogen buildups due to artificial fertilizers, our food supply, and finally in a chapter to itself, the growing consensus among serious scientists of unprecedented CO2 buildup in the atmosphere, current warming trends, and, what seemed to me, fairly measured discussion of what might happen in the future.

The next five chapters consider relevant scriptures, both outlining why the creation is not rejoicing, and how it may, and ultimately will. Chapter 4 centers on Jesus’ proclamation of “jubilee” in Luke 4:15-16. Chapter 5 focuses around Romans 8:18-25 and the groaning creation longing for release, that will come along with the redemption of God’s people. Chapter 6 explores 2 Peter 3:10-13 and the common contention of “why care if it is all going to burn.”  The authors argue that the burning is one of removing the “veil” of heaven as well as purifying the earth, not consuming it all. It is meant as a warning of judgment that calls Peter’s readers to present faithfulness in all things, including stewardship of the creation.

Chapter 7 considers the coming of Christ as a thief in the night and the call to be responsible stewards ready to give an answer for our stewardship of the creation. Chapter 8, on the book of Revelation, has particularly trenchant remarks about “Babylon” whose wealth is built on the commodification of humans and at the expense of their lives, a warning to any great power that accrues the wealth of the world to itself at the expense of the labor and lives of others. The book closes with exhortation, challenge and hope. We are to live as those “not of this world”, “to always pray and never give up”, to not take refuge in excuses or rationalizations, and to live in love, joy and hope, realizing we can both anticipate the new creation to come in our acts of faithfulness, and yet that it will come as a gift of God and not a human accomplishment.

I was sobered as I considered that when I knowingly consume the earth’s resources in a way that subjugates others and contribute to conditions that lead to the death of others, I am complicit in slavery and death. Reading of God’s concern for his creatures in Genesis 9, I’m struck by how much we have to answer for concerning the extinction of so many creatures God has made. I can rationalize and deny in all sorts of ways. It seems like the only real course is to repent and lament and cast myself on the mercies of God and do what is set before me.

That’s where the hope comes in. God knows that our own feeble efforts to clean up our messes only lead to more mess, and that, while we can begin in a way that anticipates his new creation, our hope is that he will return to finish that work of renewal.

This book moves beyond the polemics to sober appraisal and a call to biblically rooted Christian faithfulness. Ultimately, its appeal is rooted not in the data of science but in the authority of the Bible. At one point one of the authors observes that a climate skeptic he talked to actually lived a humbler, more earth-friendly life stewarding God’s creation than he. It may just be that convincing Christians to live out their call as stewards of creation may be far more effective than arguments pro and con about climate science. This book is a good place to begin

You Lost Me, The Conversation about Creation Care

You Lost Me

This morning Ben posted his own particular take on the anti-science posture of the church including a coarse but pointed video with Louis C K.  Perhaps the most telling part in this video is the idea of God coming back and asking us why we didn’t take care of this incredible place that he has given us. I have to say that I scratch my head as to why that isn’t more apparent. In particular, I puzzle about why people who fight so much for the idea of creation don’t seem particularly interested in carefully tending that loving gift from God. I also wonder why those who identify as “conservative” don’t seem terribly interested in “conserving” the resources and the other forms of life God placed here. It honestly seems like a no-brainer to me! And, whatever the pros and cons of our current understanding of climate change, it just doesn’t seem terribly wise to conduct an experiment on the only planet we’ve got that could render it inhabitable for us. Prudence, if nothing else, suggests care in these matters. And if Christians comfort themselves with the hope of heaven, I think Louis C K has it right that we will have some pretty uncomfortable reckoning with the Maker.

The larger issue that Ben points up is that this is one more place where the church is out of step with many of his generation.  Kinnaman doesn’t really talk about this but I encounter many thoughtful people who have turned to the east because this worldview system at least affirms our “oneness” with all things.  I have questions about the efficacy of that worldview to address environmental issues but that’s for another post. Others pursue naturalism because they see naturalist scientists as the ones caring for the beautiful world they love. Many see Christians, mostly of my generation, opposing any efforts to address climate change and not wanting to even think of a more earth-friendly way of life, and they say…I’m out of here. The fact that our environmentalist “smackdowns” and our consumption lifestyle seem more important to us than the gospel and the people alienated by our lives and rhetoric says something about our priorities, and our hearts, it seems to me.

Most troubling is that in many of our churches, we have drawn our response to environmental concerns more from certain radio and TV outlets than we have our scriptures. Also,I realize there are ideologues on both “sides” of these questions. But as Ben said, I also know scientists who are not ideologues–they simply are collecting and analyzing data that give them cause for concern. You can probably find some of them at your local university. You might even have some already in your congregation who have never felt welcome to share their work because of the rhetoric they hear from other adults or even from the pulpit.  One of the ways churches might think of overcoming the “anti-science” perception Kinnaman talks about is to invite an actual scientist to come and talk about their research and what they are learning–particularly scientists in the environmental sciences. I would encourage that you do this not to argue or convert but to understand. Questions are good–questioning is a way of life for academics– as long as the questioning isn’t leading or accusatory. And I hope the adults in our congregations can be mature enough to realize that it is OK to listen to someone with whom we might not agree!

I think one of the implicit questions Kinnaman’s book and our discussion raises is “what matters more? To protect a way of life and to win arguments? Or to build bridges and engage discussions that may challenge us and open doors to win a new generation of people to the faith we cherish?” I think in this regard of the apostle Paul who wrote, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22b, NIV)