Urban eco-mission – review

Author: | Date: 7 December, 2013 | Category: Book Reviews | Comments: 0

Urban eco-mission: Healing the land in the post-industrial city, by Paul Ede, April 2013. Grove Books, 27 pages, ISBN 978-1-85174-861-7. RRP £3.95 (ebook)

Paul Ede’s booklet of 27 pages provides an easily digestible well-argued case for mission in the west to embrace environmental transformation. Ede is a leader of the Clay Community Church in Glasgow and uses as a reference point the activity of his community in greening brownfield sites.

The introductory chapter asserts that Christian ‘earth-keeping’ is an important mode of ethical reflection, with the implication that such reflection flourishes only when grounded in a community which is committed to environmental transformation.

Substantiation for this position is provided in Chapters two to four of the six chapters. The starting point is recognition, in the mode of Michael Northcott, that modernity has alienated humanity from nature, and this is supported by the diagnosis of Richard Louv that we experience ‘nature-deficit disorder.’ Paul, writing in Romans, is referenced to make the point that our ‘experiences of creation can be foundational for opening us up to the possibility of the divine’.

The thesis of the book is around bringing together a theology of salvation with an ecological theology. Conceptual frameworks for this include Michael Rosenzweig’s identification of ‘reconciliation’ ecology (i.e. behaviour modification for maximum benefit) as opposed to ‘restoration’ ecology (an ecology which promotes the reclamation of damage) or a ‘reservation’ (specific site) ecology. Also noted is Northcott’s line of ‘theocentrism’ which ought to replace ‘biocentrism’ and ‘anthropocentrism’. The argument then jumps quickly to Willis Jenkins’ example of revivalist tree-planters in Uganda which provide an example of a methodology for action.

Ede agrees with Loren Wilkinson and Stephen Bouma-Prediger’s view of ‘Christ as the new Adam’, with Christ succeeding where Adam failed. Firmly rooting itself in Trinitarianism, the question is asked: ‘To what extent is the Spirit of Pentecost the same Spirit that brooded over the waters of creation?’ The ‘obvious’ answer, Ede suggests, allows us to ‘connect’ creation, redemption and the activity of the Spirit.

Seven biblical passages are reviewed in chapter four which point to the purpose of creation being concerned with healing and reconciliation of the land as well as the people, and this leads to the assertion that the biblical call is to ‘heal the divorce that modernity has instituted between nature, humankind, the city and God’. After reviewing Richard Bauckham’s concern that an unmodified understanding of ‘stewardship’ will remain anthropocentric, Ede suggests the alternatives as the biblical model of hospitality and a serious recognition of the ‘Holy Spirit’s desire to be present in creation as a healing force’.

Turning to the practical issues of ‘earth-keeping’ Ede recognises the picture offered by the mustard seed metaphor in Matthew, and the need for patience in slow processes. He points out that the action and processes allow for discussions around personal faith. Ede then wrestles, but only briefly, with the idea of either developing a new urban theology which rejects the ‘dualism of city versus nature’, or of appropriating either African or Celtic traditions which embrace wider domains than modern western theology.

The disappointment, if there is one, is that the practical subject matter confines itself to industrial ‘leftovers’ rather than perhaps being more generically concerned with the whole urban realm. Little is said of the nature or experiences of the actions in Glasgow, indeed more is said about African tree-planting actions and experiences. No other examples of community action are provided. However, the practical learning from this activity is secondary to the theological reflection, and the book provides a wonderfully succinct starting point for anyone interested on a revised salvation theology which encompasses environmental concerns.

John Parkin


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