As Long as the Earth Endures – Review
As Long as the Earth Endures, edited by Jonathan Moo and Robin Routledge, February 2014. Apollos (Inter-Varsity Press), 256 pages, ISBN 978-178359-038-4. RRP £17.99 (paperback)
This book will engage fruitfully for theologically informed Christians who both look to the Bible as the definitive basis of their faith and who recognise the need to reflect seriously on contemporary ecological challenges. But others, like this reader, for whom experience and a response of wonder to it are the basis of faith, may feel more comfortable with this book when it addresses the empirical realities of our environment rather than when it delves deeply into detailed Scriptural exegesis.
Most of the chapters are revised versions of papers originally delivered at the Tyndale Fellowship Triennial Conference in 2012, which took the perspective ‘that discussion begins with biblical and theological reflection and (then, perhaps) moves to its particular application in the ‘real world’.’ (p.31) Yet to be fair, and despite the rather definite origins of this book, it does actually display quite a healthy range of perspectives.
Alister McGrath sets a good tone in the opening chapter. We should begin, he says, by trying to see things as they are, which is as God sees them. But that means for us to start in trusting the Christian revelation, the ‘compelling vision of reality’. My empiricist prejudice was troubled by that, but then more than reassured by McGrath’s emphasis on how if we widen our vision to include its full comprehensiveness it forms a ‘big picture’ – which is exactly how I feel the Scriptures help me in my wondering at all we experience of this world. ‘We need to be captivated by its comprehensiveness’, he suggest, ‘by its richness, by its capacity to make sense of things and to offer hope and transformation.’ (p.32f)
David Baker takes a close look at the first two chapters of Genesis and finds there some strong reasons for our more conscious caring of creation (and, I was pleased to read, with suggestions of divine approval of a vegetarian diet if not an absolute insistence on it!). Robin Routledge continues examination of this part of the Bible, asking whether human original sin involved the whole of creation too. Jamie Grant and David Firth examine some psalms, Firth especially the psalms’ understanding of God’s Spirit, concluding that God’s active presence is to be found in every aspect of the environment. Jonathan Moo moves on to discuss the biblical promise of this world’s restoration, in contrast to the experience of its degradation, as the hopefulness which can be the distinctive Christian contribution to the environmental movement. Sean McDonough sees even in the destruction occasions for the hopefulness, as our learning of hard lessons, the holistic process of the world’s continuing development, and the purging of various evils, all preparing for its ultimate transfiguration.
So we emerge from this rigorous theological ramble into what for me is the warmer sunlight of David Rainey’s chapter drawing on the writings of Jurgen Moltmann. Moltmann’s less propositional and more poetic theology encourages us to think of all existence as being in the God who is both its creator and sustainer, so that God is to be found participating in every aspect.
After Moltmann, Graham Watts’ following chapter on the environmental implications of Colin Gunton’s Trinitarian theology rather darkened the path again for me, to be honest. However let me assure you that the value of this book is made beautifully clear in the final chapter by Sam Berry, and in what was the sermon by I Howard Marshall in the concluding worship at the Conference placed here as the Afterword. Berry summarises the history of Christian environmentalism, but warns that our commitment is often far more pragmatic than it should be, failing to engage as we might with stronger theological convictions: ‘Creation care is not an optional extra for enthusiasts, but is inseparable from our calling as Christians.’ (p.235) After all this I Howard Marshall provides a sane and stabilising point of departure: ‘the challenge to us to go on thinking, discussing and acting in this area of Christian living, to settle what are the priorities, and to get on with doing the best we can here and now without waiting for complete solutions’. (p.248) And isn’t that our calling as Christians?
By Andrew Norman CJN