Living with other creatures
Green exegesis and theology
Heads and tails
LIVING WITH OTHER CREATURES
Green exegesis and theology
By Richard Bauckham
Paternoster. 252 pages. £15.99
ISBN 978 1 842 277 409
We all live with other creatures. While restacking the wood pile this morning, I awoke an adder from its cool damp sleep. I decided to let it alone and when I came back after lunch it had slithered off.
I think Richard Bauckham would approve. His aim in this collection of essays is ‘the praise of God the creator and renewer of his whole creation and an end to the war of aggressive conquest that modern humanity has waged against God's other creatures’ (p.xviii).
This is the fruit of 25 years of reflecting from the Bible on how we should relate to the rest of God's creation. Eight of the essays have been published before, but nowhere very accessible, and it is good to have them. Included is ‘the only extended treatment of Jesus and animals that anyone has published’ (p.xvi) — surely a subject close to the heart of British Christians?!
These are topped and tailed by two new pieces. The first puts us in our proper place in God's world. The last attempts a biblical and theological case for preserving biodiversity, and so acts as a fitting conclusion.
This is scholarly work and well endowed with footnotes. Bauckham interacts freely with thinkers as remote in time as Francis of Assissi, and as remote in theology as Matthew Fox. It is not a light read, but it is rewarding.
There is some repetition between essays. And at times Bauckham is too accommodating to biblical critics. But, positively, he is not deterred from engaging in detailed exegesis of individual texts and expanding them to far-reaching theology.
I would say that there are four major arguments Bauckham presents. Three concern the true teaching of the Bible: (i) man's dominion has limits; (ii) all creation praises God; (iii) we should preserve biodiversity for its own sake. The fourth is historical, a response to Lynn White's charge that Christianity is to blame for environmental destruction: (iv) the blame belongs rather to the Renaissance and Francis Bacon.
The big point that Bauckham always circles back to is that we humans are part of God's creation, not set apart from it. The other creatures are our fellow creatures. We are not the lords of creation; it is not even sufficient to think of ourselves as stewards, although we are that. The creatures relate to their Creator without our mediation. It is humbling to even consider if God might get more pleasure from the croaking of a frog than from my prayers (p.147).
My one major query is that he leaves a gaping hole where there ought to be the federal headship of Adam and Christ. We have ties to the rest of creation that are not discussed. All creation came under the curse because of Adam's sin — why? The world was made through the Son of God, but it shall also owe its rebirth to the Son of Man — so will not the creation look to a man as Creator? All creation waits for the consummation when we shall be revealed in our splendour — so how will we relate to the creatures then?
This is an important book. Anyone who ventures to declare what the Bible says on green issues really ought to get to grips with the case that Bauckham makes. He has convinced me.
The overall effect is to put us back in our place. We Christians have fallen, along with our culture, into thinking of God's creation as being at our disposal, for our exclusive use. We have seized a sphere in which we act as gods. The sooner we repent, the better.