Thinking About God’s Creation

Thinking About God’s Creation May 16, 2012
Autumn Evening on Eagle Lake, by Courtney Perry

I’m thinking and reading a lot about creation right now, in preparation for year two of the Christian Spirituality Cohort that I have the great joy of leading for Fuller Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry Program. (Another time I’ll write about what a joy it is to be in community with these 10 students.) In year one, Lauren Winner and I led the class through the history and theology of Christian spirituality; next year, Craig Detweiler and I will be teaching about spirituality, film, and fiction.

This year, my co-teacher is Brian McLaren, and we’re taking the cohort into the far north woods of Minnesota, to canoe in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, outfitted by Boundary Waters Experience. Our subject matter will be Christian Spirituality and the Doctrine of Creation.

One of the things I like most about Fuller’s DMin program is the aggressive amount of reading required of the students: 4,500 pages per year. That’s a ton of reading, especially for people who are working full-time jobs in ministry. It takes an enormous amount of discipline, but I have yet to field a single complaint about the amount from a student.

Just to make you jealous, the required reading list is below. I’ve broken the books into three categories, with Moltmann’s creation theology serving as our ur-text. Every one of these books is worth your time.

Moltmann, Jürgen, God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1985)

Group A

Baukham, Richard, The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2010)

Fretheim, Terence, God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005)

McClendon, Systematic Theology: Volume Two: Doctrine (chapter 4 only) (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994)

Tanner, Kathryn, God and Creation in Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004)

Watts, Fraser, Creation: Law and Probability (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008)

Welker, Michael, Creation and Reality (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000)

Group B

Berry, Wendell, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (Commonplace, 2003)

Bryson, Bill, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (New York: Anchor, 2006)

Leopold, Aldo, Sand County Almanac (New York: Ballantine, 1986)

Muir, John, Journeys in the Wilderness (Edinborough: Birlinn, 2009)

Olson, Sigurd E., The Singing Wilderness (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997)

Thoreau, Henry David, Walden (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009)

McKibben, Bill, Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet (New York: St. Martin’s, 2011)

Group C

Goodwin, Craig, Year of Plenty: One Suburban Family, Four Rules, and 365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in Pursuit of Christian Living (Minneapolis: Sparkhouse, 2011)

McLaren, Brian, Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008)

McLaren, Brian, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in Twelve Simple Words (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2011)

The topics that we’ll be considering include God’s ongoing creative activity (creatio continua), and the BWCAW is the perfect setting, I think, to investigate that. The ultimate question — and the one that is guiding my theological life these days — is how involved is God in the world, and how responsive is God to human communication?

This question will form the backbone of my next book, Why Pray?, and it will be the centerpiece of the cohort’s ten days together. What is the intersection of God’s creative activity and human spirituality?

Maybe I’ll come home with some answers…

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  • Thanks for sharing this. I’m working on a PhD at Luther in the area of spiritual formation and the Missional church and this bibliography is helpful. I look forward to your book on prayer.

  • rob

    No Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in there?

    • No, what book should I have included?

      • rob

        There are three that would be good to consider as far as primary source material:

        Pierre Teilhard De Chardin: Writings – by Ursula King
        The Phenomenon of Man – PtDC
        The Divine Milieu – PtDC

        There are others who have taken his work and expanded/updated it:

        Teilhard de Chardin – The Divine Milieu Explained: A Spirituality for the 21st Century – Loius Savary
        The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-first Century – Thomas Berry

        I’m not suggesting building an entire curriculum off of his thought, but it might be good to introduce students to it. It’s pretty well known in creation spirituality thought.

        • hans

          I endorse the following text complied by a colleague of mine [Chair of the theology department at U of St. Thomas (MN)]. I believe it was inspired by his trip to the BWCA. The reflections are meant to be short so as not to detract the trip from enjoying nature – instead of reading the whole time. I had some students use it for an interfaith/interreligious trip to the BWCA last fall:

          Never hurts to connect to the land and its native ancestors – in this case the Ojibwe.

          I also like the works of Belden Lane (St. Louis University) and Douglas Burton-Christie (Loyola Marymount U-LA) on theology of place.

          I am sure Teilhard and Thomas Berry are always good too, as mentioned above.

          • hans

            of course, Thomas Merton is a master of recognizing the sacramentality of all things – an article that I am working on as a part of 3-part series on pansacramental spirituality.

  • JoeyS

    I would add some Eugene Peterson, maybe Christ Plays in 10,000 Places [sic]. Wendell Berry is always great reading.

    When I was at the Boundary Waters (using equipment provided by BWX, btw) I read Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems and some Rilke – both of which I highly recommend. Poetry is a great way to open your heart to wonder.

    • Yes, poetry is a great idea. This syllabus shows just how prosaic I am.

  • ME

    “how involved is God in the world, and how responsive is God to human communication?”

    I was taught to pray when I was 6. I’ve routinely received responses from prayer and believe God is active in the world. By routinely, I mean around once or twice a year when responses are very obvious.

  • MikeWood

    Wow, I wish I was one of those 10 students! Thank you for the reading list. Would enjoy reading about this adventure someday…

  • T. Webb


    So, almost everything they’re going to read has been written in the last five years, and almost all of n the last ten? There’s nothing worth reading that’s older? Even pre-20th century? Just wondering. I head that C.S. Lewis once said that only reading the most recent things is “chronological snobbery”.

    Thanks, Tim

    • Gary

      “Tempororcentrism” or “chronocentrism” it’s called.

      If one thinks about it, even briefly, to have a good theology of place requires having a good theology of space-time and thus requires reading *from* various places, *from* various times, *about* various places, *about* various times.

      In reading, one learns more about the author, about the author’s place, about the author’s time, than what the writer is even trying to write about outside himself or herself.

    • JoeyS

      Walden was written pre-20th century, I believe.

    • Almost all of the reading last year was in classics. This year, I want the students to wrestle with contemporary writers. No apologies for that.

      • T. Webb

        Tony, Thanks for the explanation. Appreciated.

  • Gary

    Beyond bookish secondhandedness, get out and walk, hike, run, paddle, float, sail through creation. You have pages per year bolded. Sad that steps per year is not.

    For Muir, the mountains call. For Hesse’s Siddhartha, the river. For Bryson, the trail. For Thoreau, the pond. For Berry, the soil. For Chardin, everything.

    Tony, it’s not just *why* pray. It’s *where*. And *how*.

  • rob

    Also, Beldan Lane’s The Solace of Fierce Landscapes is a tour de force in desert spirituality.

  • Awesome.. as an MDiv student at Fuller Im averaging 4800 pages a year (1200 a quarter)*.. nice to know I can pump the breaks on reading once I go post-grad.**

    *Not a joke.
    **Joke. take it easy err’body.

    • You can tell I’m a grad student by the crap editing I did on that last comment. Damnit.

  • Thanks for sharing this great reading list. I appreciate and applaud your exploration of creation theology. I’ve experienced a large void in people who can appreciate and engage with this.

    I’ve taught ‘Theological Ethics and the Environment’ at Fresno Pacific University (Mennonite Brethren) in Fresno, CA. For our class project a few years ago, we partnered with the Unitarian Universalist Church in town and put on the Earth Day event for our region. For the students it was a wonderful experiment in working with folks with different beliefs but who shared a common goal of taking care of creation.

    If any of your students would like to connect with someone who was in vocational ministry for 12 years and is now working in renewable energy (photovoltaics specifically), send them my way. I’d be happy to talk with them.

  • Looks like a bunch of fun. The Fretheim book is freaking amazing! Why no John Cobb or Process theology? John was only the first person to write an eco-philosophy, it ties it directly to your theological question, and everyone that reads John Cobb in class goes home happy!

    • If you wanted to add a second lady then Catherine Keller does some amazing stuff in “The Face of the Deep” which is a post-structuralist process doctrine of Creation.

  • Evelyn

    My first response to your class is “Wow. What a way to ruin a perfectly good nature experience.” By this I mean that it seems like you’ll be viewing nature through some sort of a christian/theological lens WHILE you are on the canoeing trip. I think that the best way to approach this subject is to ban all discussion of theology while you are on the trip and just immerse yourself in the experience of nature and then talk about the theological implications when you get back to the classroom.

    Thanks for the reading list.

  • david james

    Great list.

    I would add Catherine Keller’s, The Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming.

    • YES! Tony doesn’t need his book list looking like the male version of C21 (jk). Oddly enough the MLP seminaries I have been a part of wouldn’t accept a syllabus with such little diversity on author list. I guess Fuller doesn’t have the same requirements.

  • Good choice on Wendell Berry’s Art of the Commonplace. In that volume I heartily recommend the essay ‘Christianity and the Survival of Creation’. I wish every Christian would read it. Also check out the new book from Norman Wirzba and Fred Bahnson: ‘Making Peace with the Land’ from IVP. They are teaching from the book’s subject matter at the Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation – Summer Institute that is coming up. I’m going and will blog about it soon. I think it’s a really important book for the Church at large as we reconsider our theology of GOD as Creator and how we should be rightly related to His Creation.

  • toddh

    Great stuff! Looks like a fantastic course.

  • Would love to see Bonaventure ans Duns Scotus on the reading list. Creation care is writ deeply into the historic life and traditions of followers of the way.

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