Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation – review
Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation, by Richard Bauckham
Darton, Longman & Todd, May 2010, 232 pages, ISBN: 978-0232527919, RRP £14.95.
Richard Bauckham is professor emeritus, St Andrew’s University, Senior Scholar, Ridley Hall, Cambridge, and Visiting Professor, St Mellitus College, London. This book, well described by its title, originated as the 2006 Sarum lectures, attended by this reviewer. Bauckham begins with a critical discussion of the stewardship model, aptly entitled ‘Stewardship in Question’. Bauckham discusses the profound meaning of the Genesis creation accounts, including the much-debated – and misinterpreted – Genesis 1.26-28. The whole Bible is about creation and, as his sub-title testifies, the Bible regards creation as a community of creatures. Bauckham notices the hints and echoes of ideal ancient kingship in Genesis, under God, with humans within the community of creation. A useful text is the beautiful passage in Deuteronomy 17, wherein God insists that people do not select a stranger as king but a brother. ‘One from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother’ (Deut. 17:15). In brief, as Bauckham insists in his subtitle, people are within, not above, the creation community.
Bauckham notes that the 20th-century progress myth has mutated to the globalised technological neoliberal project whereby humans can remake nature – and thereby destroy the Earth as our contemporaries, whether allegedly developed or ‘developing’, are doing. While climate change gets rather more notice from the complacent media, there is daily extinction of species and biodiversity, with destruction of beauty and quality of life. Bauckham therefore devotes a chapter to the realistic, challenging and humbling Book of Job which, when read carefully, puts us ‘in our place’. Bauckham explains that for Christians the Old Testament and the New form one integral Bible. The New Testament writers understood the Old as given. But they read its ecological teaching in the light of Christ risen, ‘The New Testament does not replace the Old Testament’s theology of creation, but it does read it retrospectively in the light of Jesus Christ’ (pp. 141-142). Psalms 104 and 148, with other psalms and prophets, include people within the community of creation, a community of praise of God in hope of future reconciliation and glory. Jesus’ oft-quoted words about the birds and flowers reflect his own familiarity with and acceptance of the symbiosis of creation especially reflected in the psalms and prophets, as do Paul’s famous words of expectation in Romans 8. Jesus, deeply grounded in the Old Testament, understood creation as a community of praise, on Earth as in heaven. The New Testament frequently uses the expression ‘all things’ which means the whole created community. Hope in the kingdom is especially compelling today as humans destroy Earth creatures, for Christian hope for reconciliation and community of ‘all things’ includes the wild and domestic animals we have known and loved here. In a final and hopeful chapter, Bauckham discusses Paul’s hymns in Colossians and Philippians and John’s prologue, as well as Revelation. Significantly in his Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Bauckham argues cogently that John the beloved disciple is an ‘elder’ eyewitness of Jesus’ life on Earth. I sincerely recommend this inspiring book.
Dr Edward P. Echlin, Honorary Research Fellow at Leeds Trinity University College; Fellow at Sarum College, Salisbury; Chairman Emeritus of Catholic Concern for Animals; and author of Climate and Christ, A Prophetic Alternative (Columba, 2010)