Hey, Christians, Even Progressive Ones, Let’s Quit Being Ashamed.

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Recently I reviewed a book that I hoped I would love–Jennifer Ayres’ Good Food: Grounded Practical Theology. While there were admirable aspects to the work (I liked that Ayres spent time with Christians practicing various forms of sustainable agricultural and community food security projects) I was disappointed overall, not least because for someone doing Christian theology, Ayres seems remarkably suspicious of, well, Christian theology, which she claims has frequently been unduly anthropocentric.

For example, she criticizes theologian Karl Barth’s understanding of creation as “the stage on which the drama of the divine-human relationship will take place” of “exaggerat[ing] humanity’s role in the drama of creation, when in reality ‘we are by no means the whole show[.]’” She does not quote or cite Barth directly but relies on another scholar’s critique of Barth, which is unfortunate given that Barth’s Church Dogmatics, volume III, deals seriously with the question of humanity’s right to shed the blood of animals for our own needs and desires, among other decidedly non-anthropocentric creational concerns that complicate the idea that Barth regarded creation as a stage and nothing more considerably.

 Similarly, Ayres cites Lynn White’s influential 1967 article, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” as evidence that “theology does not offer an unambiguous ‘answer’ to the problem of the global food system.” I read the article in question, which is filled with claims (which Ayres does not cite) so sweeping and unsubstantiated as to defy credulity:

“Christianity [unlike paganism and Eastern religions] not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends.”

Perhaps it is not surprising that New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham’s 2010 book The Bible and Ecology does not appear on Ayres’s bibliography. Even a glancing look at Barth (or John Calvin, for that matter, to say nothing of the Psalms and Job) casts serious doubt on the claim that our ecological woes stem directly from the Bible or Christianity. Perhaps Ayres wants to avoid giving the impression that she has all the right theological answers, or that she is sufficiently critical of her tradition’s shortcomings, but oversights of this kind only undermine her case.

Why, I wonder, do so many thoughtful Christians ashamed of Christian theology, of Christian history, of Christian thought and action? Of course there is much in our history of which we should be ashamed. But there is also astonishing and inspiring courage, wisdom, and sacrifice that it would be a disgrace to forget.

I hate writing negative reviews. But if you’re interested, you can read it at the Englewood website here.

About Rachel Marie Stone
  • tom

    Oh, yes. I always feel quite uncomfortable when parishioners ask me to opine about a book that has been such a great blessing to them.

  • http://lauradroege.wordpress.com lauradroege

    In answer to your question about why Christians act ashamed of Christian theology, etc., here’s my initial thought. So much in our heritage (including theology, actions, history) is shame-worthy. But much isn’t. But the difficulty lies in how tangled up the shame-worthy things are with the praise-worthy ones, often residing in the same movements, and believed or acted by the same people. So when I, for instance, want to give praise to some particular aspect of Christian heritage, I have to be SO CAREFUL that I don’t seem to a casual reader to be praising all of it.

    (For example, I like John Piper’s thoughts in his book Don’t Waste Your Life, while I dislike/disagree with his thoughts about gender roles. But if I praise the first, and don’t add that caveat about my queasiness regarding his gender ideas, I risk having casual readers/listeners think that I’m wholeheartedly endorsing everything he says/preaches/writes. Some people would assume that because they aren’t careful enough readers or only hear what they want to hear.)

    It may be easier to ignore the praiseworthy than to risk a detailed analysis of certain issues, simply because the analysis would likely be long and difficult to write with the correct nuance and might be easily misunderstood. I don’t know if that’s the issue in this book; I haven’t read it. I hope this made sense. I’m sure there are other factors involved.


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