In the Interlude 1

We earth-dwellers are in the interlude between ecological constraint and ecological catastrophe. Formerly our powers were so limited we lived on earth inside natural constraints; the scientific and technological revolutions, while blessing us immensely, have also given us capacities to exploit creation. We are in the interlude. This interlude observation is from George Monbiot as quoted in Richard Bauckham’s newest book, Living with Other Creatures: Green Exegesis and Theology (Baylor, 2011).

How do we live in the interlude? How do Christians live in the interlude?

It is easy to get into an argument about global warming, but there’s not much argument about what the Christian nations did to the forests of Kenya and Haiti (see Paul Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains). The name of the game was exploitation, and it was this kind of exploitation that led to the potentiality of the ecological catastrophe. But Bauckham shows that Genesis 1:26-28 has nothing to do with exploitation.

1. To be made in God’s image is to be appointed to stewardship, exercised on behalf of God and with accountability to God. If we read this text in light of the rest of Scripture, we see that humans are not just in a vertical relationship between God and creation but as horizontally related to creatures. (I first saw this in Francis Schaeffer’s little book on ecology when I was a college student.) The neglect of the horizontal is the “great ecological error of modernity” (4).

2. Humans, in Gen 2:7, are “earthy”: Adam is one with the ground as one from the ground. Notice that humans are created on Day 6 but humans do not get a day to themselves. They are created with other land creatures.

3. Humans are not the climax of creation; they are created on Day 6 but the climax is Day 7 where God rests. So God is the point of creation, not humans.

4. Humans are to rule, but the idea of ruling/kingship in the Pentateuch is to rule as brother (Deut 17:14-20) and not as one above or over. No tyranny here!

5. The order of creation is established before Day 6 and Day 6 does not alter the order of Days 1-3. Humans are made to dwell in and care for divine order within creation. Part of this is that humans are told to let creation sustain animal life too (Gen 1:29-30). This is a “massive restriction of the human dominion” (6).

6. The Noah story shows us that humans are to preserve species, meaning humans are to care — like God — for created beings.

7. And the sabbatical instructions of the Pentateuch show that creation is to be left alone and to be respected; it is not constant use or exploitation, but respect for in order for creation to restore itself. The wild animals get to eat too (cf. Exod 23:11).

So Bauckham sees these principles at work: humans are to care for creation; creation is theocentric; humans have a horizontal relation with other creatures; humans have a right to use within the constraints of respect for creation; and humans are to let nature be — restraint with intervention.

Then Bauckham examines God’s deconstruction of the hubris of Job (humans) in Job 38-39 where Job is exposed to his utter ignorance as God puts Job in his place. We know more than did Job, but we remain as ignorant of life’s mysteries as we are knowledgeable of the same. The more we learn the more we learn we don’t know.

Bauckham sketches two other themes: humanity as within the community of creation (the horizontal in Psalm 104) and the praise all creation gives to God (the vertical in Psalm 19).

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://unveiledface.blogspot.com/ Mick Porter

    Never thought Monbiot would be quoted in a theological book, but glad to hear it! This is a really important topic and Bauckham’s the man to tackle it.

    I saw a documentary on the Rift Valley in Ethiopia, and they showed the effects of churches coming in, calling people to stop worshiping the creation, but then basically instilling a consumption ethic that was causing rapid degradation of the land. So sad, hope this kind of resource can help some thinking to be shifted.

  • phil_style

    Thanks for looking at this title! As an environmental professional who is also a christian, this book will be a welcome addition to my library, some professional/personal crossover!

    This is going straight into my amazon basket ;)

  • http://disorietedtheology.wordpress.com Paul A.

    I just finished reading Bauckham’s “The Bible in Politics,” the 2011 revised edition, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and he touched ever so briefly on some of these points in that book, as well. Glad to see he’ll be fleshing them out even further!

  • E.G.

    Excellent! I love to see books like this. And there are more and more of them these days. I hope that this one has a Kindle version soon.

    As an academic biologist, and a Christian, I get tired of people attempting to draw me in to the ongoing, and going-nowhere, discussion about origins.

    I have taken to saying this to folks when I sense that they are trying to pull me in that direction:

    “Well, that is an interesting discussion, and Christians can have many and nuanced views on it. However, I think that the more important biological discussion that Christians of all viewpoints should be having is one of the care and conservation of God’s Creation.”

    This generally stops useless arguments in their tracks and often leads to some very valuable discussion.

    I have recently read a couple of other books that seem (at least from this blog post) to cover a lot of the same ground in a very readable way.

    They are:

    Sleeth’s “The Gospel According to the Earth”

    http://www.amazon.com/Gospel-According-Earth-Good-Green/dp/006173053X

    and

    Sabin’s “Tending to Eden”

    http://www.amazon.com/Tending-Eden-Environmental-Stewardship-People/dp/0817015728

    Both are available in Kindle format. Sleeth’s book covers the theology in lay terms and gives practical day-to-day advice.

    Sabin’s book is also theological with a further emphasis to social justice here and abroad as it relates to environmental stewardship.

    And both are just excellent storytellers.

    So, thanks Scot for starting this series. I truly appreciate it.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    I think you mean Tracy Kidder’s excellent biography of Paul Farmer & his work, Mountains Beyond Mountains. :) Farmer’s book, Pathologies of Power, also touches on the politics /money that work against health care for the poor and protection of the environment.

    #6′s restriction is an interesting slant on Gen. 1:29-30. I hadn’t considered it from that angle, although I think I intuitively go there as a Christian concerned for our environment, and the environment of our progeny. Healthy ecological cycles sustain one another, and we can see the destruction where things have gotten out of balance because of human violations of the environment. (I wouldn’t care to drink from the reservoirs near Frackville, PA, for instance.)

  • http://www.plantwithpurpose.org Doug Satre

    E.G, thanks for the book recommendations. I would add Jerod Diamond’s outstanding Collapse. Though not from a Christian perspective it is a cautionary tale as to the ultimate results of the failure of creation stewardship and of what happens when economic growth is pursued without a long term regard for resource conservation. Sabin’s book is invaluable in understanding the impact of environmental degradation on the poorest of the poor and what can be done to empower poor communities to both conserve their environment and meet their basic human needs.

  • Morton White

    Dear Scott,

    May I have your permission to use this article in a not for profit ‘green’ newsletter with credit given to you its author?

    Rev. Morton White
    Pendleton, SC


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