Creation Care

I am on vacation this week in the Minnesota north woods. My parents have had a place on a lake since I was 3 (early 1960’s) and I’ve been spending time here ever since. When I was young (i.e. until I left the state for graduate school) bald eagles and loons were unheard of on the lake (about due west of Duluth), although I did see loons further north in or near the Boundary Waters. Today loons are ubiquitous here (apparently an indication of improved water quality) and there are frequent eagle sightings. I was out on the lake this week and an eagle flew to a tree nearby looking for prey. The great outdoors really is great!

Douglas and Jonathon Moo have a new book and DVD set exploring Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World. The video lectures are fascinating and well done, I watched the first 12 of 14 episodes on our drive to Minnesota for vacation. Unfortunately a warning should be present in large print wherever it is sold. I purchased the DVD hoping to use it for an adult education class at church next year (at full price from Amazon rather than the cheaper price now advertised at Zondervan). Unlike many DVD’s sold by Zondervan, public use in a church is explicitly prohibited for Creation Care – although I had no intimation of this when it was purchased and only realized it because I usually do read the fine print. It turns out that these lectures are part of Zondervan Academic’s online or self-paced study courses and are for individual use only. This is unfortunate because we need to good resources to explore the topic in our churches and this set would be a great option. Suggestions anyone?

Now to the book and videos. The book is titled “Creation Care” rather than “Nurture of Nature” or “Upkeep of Environment” for a reason. Using the word creation rather than nature or environment keeps the focus on theology rather than anthropology, on God rather than on humans (or plants and animals). The word nature “is sometimes used to refer to a semi-deified “mother nature,” with any idea of a personal God left to the side. … On the other hand, “nature” is often thought of in a purely mechanistic way, as something separate from God and open to manipulation at human whim. Both of these views depart rather significantly from the biblical view of the world as God’s creation.” (p. 25)

Environmentalism and environmentalist can conjure up images of radical movements and political positions. Daek green “religion” that view a world without human participation as very good. But Doug and Jonathan suggest that this is only a minor concern. “The biggest downside for the word is that it tends to make human beings the focus of attention.” (p. 25) While the earth is a good environment for humans it is also valuable in its own right.

Our cosmos is not merely the accidental by-product of chemical and physical processes. It is something our God called into being, something he created for a purpose, which is nothing less than to bring glory to the One who created it. Speaking of “creation care” – rather than for example environmentalism or “nurture of nature” – rightly anchors our topic in a Christian worldview, appropriately privileging theo – logy over anthro-pology. (p. 26)

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A Green Bible?

The Bible isn’t “Green.” That is to say, it doesn’t directly address the environmental issues of our day. It does provide guidance however. Several years ago I posted on Iain Provan’s book Seriously Dangerous Religion including a post looking at the view of creation presented in the Old Testament. It is worth a new look before moving on to Moo and Moo on Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World.

A long title to this post could be “What the Old Testament really says about our relationship to the rest of creation … and why it matters.” That is a bit of a mouthful though. The short title could be simply “Earth Keeping.” This isn’t some conservationist piece, trying to fit the Old Testament into a modern “Green” narrative. Rather Iain Provan tries to dig past many recent misinterpretations to look at the view of creation presented in the Old Testament narrative. There are many ways to get this wrong. Green narratives, consumption narratives, and curse narratives all get important things wrong.

So what does Provan see as a better approach, more faithful to the text and the original context? What does the Old Testament have to say about earth keeping?

First – the world was not created for humankind. It doesn’t exist solely for our benefit. Humans are produced from the earth … the same as all other animals, and receive the breath of life possessed as well by the other animals. All creatures, and indeed all of creation, has a God-given dignity that is not dependent upon human beings.

Psalm 104:10-23 makes this clear: all creatures have their own purposes and destinies under God independent of their relationships with us. The book of Job returns to this same theme in its closing chapters (38–42), as a suffering Job is pressed to recognize that his is not the only show in town. God has many creatures (other than humans) to look after, each living its life quite independent of Job and not sharing Job’s concerns. It is significant in relation to this point that the conclusion to the creation week in Genesis 1:1–2:4 occurs not on the sixth day with the creation of human beings but on the seventh day, when God “rested.” It is Sabbath rest, not the creation of humanity, that completes creation and brings it to its fullness. (p. 223)

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Moving Forward

In John 18:36 Jesus responds to Pilate’s questioning “are you the king of the Jews?” saying My kingdom is not from this world. … But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”(NRSV) Many English translations have of of this world, and some have both of this world and of here, leading the impression that Jesus is saying that his kingdom has little concern with worldly things. Not so, say Jonathan Moo and Robert White in the concluding chapter of Let Creation Rejoice: Biblical Hope and Ecological Crisis.

Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world, but it most assuredly is for this world. He came to seek and save the lost, to inaugurate the kingdom of God, to atone for the sins of the world on the cross, to redeem and reclaim a suffering creation and to prepare the way for the renewal of all things – of which his physical resurrection is the sure and certain sign. In this time between his resurrection and return, Jesus; followers have work to do. (p. 163)

Climate change is a divisive topic. Many are convinced that the danger is very real others express significant doubts. The form the arguments and disagreements take is probably the most significant part of the problem between scaremongers and head-in-the sand deniers it is hard to know where to turn. I’ll put my cards on the table – denial is a head-in-the-sand approach, of this I have no doubt. Whether the scaremongers are right, how fast things will change, … this isn’t clear. Our climate is complex and we don’t have all the parameters under control. Models for prediction of the future contain a fair number of estimates and approximations. But the world is finite and the activities of 7.7 billion people are making a difference.

So what is a “Christian” response to the question? This isn’t a question the Bible deals with directly in any fashion. Any response has to be gleaned from the whole sweep of scripture. We don’t have a Green Bible to turn to for guidance.

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Inerrant or Trustworthy?

In the final chapter (actually an epilogue) of The Bible in a Disenchanted Age: The Enduring Possibility of Christian Faith, Walter Moberly digs biblical literacy and a Christian privileging of the bible. In his discussion he uses the example of camels, harking back to news reports several years ago (2014) that camels provide a serious sticking point for Christians. Moberly refers specifically to a blog at the Guardian: The Old Testament’s made-up camels are a problem for Zionism. Camels are mentioned in Genesis although there is no evidence for domesticated camels in the region until a much later date (ca. 930BC). In fact, I was asked about the controversy and posted some thoughts back when it was hot. You can see the original post here if interested: The Mighty Mysterious Camel.

Moberly suggests that the controversy, and the claim that camels are a serious problem, demonstrates an unfortunate level of biblical illiteracy. First, the absence of camels was not a new discovery – he notes a reference in a book ca. 1949 commenting that the absence of evidence for domesticated camels may indicate that the references in Genesis are anachronistic. It made the news in 2014, but has been a subject of discussion and investigation for many decades. But more than this the whole tenor of the discussion is on the wrong foundation. Moberly suggests three possible approaches to camels in Genesis. The intent isn’t to resolve the issue, but “to give some sense of the ways it can be responsibly tackled without resorting to sensational claims about “error in the Bible.” (p. 185)

1. Perhaps the mention of camels is not anachronistic – but camels may have been a rarity with a wealthy man having a few as a prestige symbol. This is the solution suggested by Nahum M. Sarna in his JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis originally published in 1989.

A solution to the problem may perhaps be sought along other lines. Certain bilingual Sumerian-Akkadian lexical texts from Mesopotamia equate a domesticated animal called “a donkey-of-the-sealand” with a dromedary, thus proving a knowledge of the latter in southern Mesopotamia in Old Babylonian times (ca. 2000-1700 B.C.E.). Moreover, the scribes knew to differentiate between the dromedary and the Bactrian camel, and a Sumerian text from that period mentions the drinking of camel’s milk. The original habitat of the camel seems to have been Arabia. It is likely that the domesticated camel at first spread very slowly and long remained a rarity. A wealthy man might aquire a few as a prestige symbol for ornamental rather than utilitarian purposes. This would explain their presence in Abraham’s entourage, their nonuse as beasts of burden, and their special mention in situations where wealth and honor need to be displayed, as for instance, in Genesis 24. (p. 96)

This provides a potential solution, camels were rare but not unknown and used only for special occasions. Moberly notes that “although conjectural it is a plausible conjecture.” (p. 184) Continue reading

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The Challenge of John’s Vision

The book of Revelation also known as the Apocalypse of John can be rather hard to understand. It is, after all, apocalyptic literature – a form a bit ‘interesting’ in the Old Testament prophets and every bit as ‘interesting’ here. I don’t usually worry too much about the book, or try too hard to make sense of it. This isn’t to say it should be ignored or bypassed (I’ve listened to it several times through over the last couple of years along with the rest of the Bible) – just to say that the appropriate interpretation seems somewhat obscure for the most part. But it is a book worth some consideration, so I turned with interest to the chapter in Let Creation Rejoice: Biblical Hope and Ecological Crisis by Jonathan Moo and Robert White where they look at John’s vision.

The view that shapes their interpretation is that the vision of John describes a redemption and renewal of creation rather than a destruction of all things. This vision starts with the song of praise to the Lion of Judah, the root of David, the Lamb who was slain and is able to open the scroll.

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.” (5:9-10)

Here as elsewhere in John’s vision, Christ’s atonement does not serve to open “escape hatches” for the redeemed to ascend to heaven; rather Christ ransoms for God a people, a “priestly kingdom,” who will reign on earth. … In the light of the death, life, resurrection, and future return of the incarnate Christ, readers of John’s Apocalypse are enabled to see this world through new eyes and to go about the work to which God calls us: to be here, As Wendell Berry’s poem at the head of this chapter suggests,

As we have never been before,
Sighted as not before, our place
Holy, although we knew it not. (p. 147)

The book of Revelation is a book of hope, and John’s vision with its upheaval, chaos, and judgment is “the inevitable consequences of the encounter between God’s righteousness and the forces of evil and injustice.” The victory has been won, but we await the final restoration.

Babylon the Great. Chapter 17-19 of the Apocalypse deals with the fall of Babylon the Great – that is Rome. Rome was the empire, it was the power of this world for of John and his original audience. The references within the book are many and they wouldn’t be missed by the ancient reader. It was Rome who destroyed the temple leading to the death of thousands. It was the Roman emperor who was venerated and worshiped as a god. It was Domitian who referred to himself as “our Lord and God.” The prostitute Babylon the Great of chapter 17 rides a beast with seven heads … which are seven hills. Rome was built on seven hills … the connection isn’t explicit, but it isn’t actually hidden either.

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Acts, Diversity – and Comments

This is the final post in a short series on the book of Acts, was written by a Christian colleague (JAG) who teaches in the School of Social Work. Both his professional expertise and his personal experience as a second generation immigrant shape his understanding of the book and bring insights that will help all of us read the book better. He presented the material in a well received class at our church. Today he wraps up answering some questions that have been raised in comments. RJS

These posts were my first attempts at blogging. After the fact I realized that, unlike teaching in Sunday school or the college classroom, this blog’s conventions allows fewer opportunities for dialogue. And so, to clarify: My over-arching point, not original to me, is Rah’s notion of Triple Consciousness – second generation immigrants have an ability to “code-switch” languages and cultural frames of reference.

My personal stories at the start of each lesson, especially in person, are meant to reinforce Rah, as well as align with Social Work’s “Professional Use of Self” (at times in Sunday school, this led to the icebreaker taking longer than expected). Extending Rah’s notion, this ability to move between cultures and languages is not exclusive to children of immigrants. I have had Third Culture Kids in my classes: Their experiences and that literature indicates similar competencies. However, these skills are not innate and can be developed. Note in Acts 6, that in the entirely Jewish church, the Seven Deacons, all Jewish men, appear to code-switch between Hebrew and Greek, presumably language and culture, in order to serve the widows, identified in the text as “Hellenistic Jews.”

Stephen, whose name is listed first among the deacons, is martyred at the end of Acts 7. I find Rah’s notion to be a helpful framework in interpreting the subsequent chapters, as those associated with Stephen, especially Philip and Paul, are scattered and minister to increasingly diverse populations.

One comment asked if “fresh off the boat” was pejorative. Unpacking this phrase, I hope, will be a useful way to help us think more deeply about code-switching, languages and cultural frames of reference. Context matters. Is the speaker a gourmet using the phrase to describe the dinner menu at a seafood restaurant or an immigration officer interrogating human border-crossers who may or may not have documentation? In addition to any pre-existing power dynamics between groups, it is also important to have some idea of how the phrase is understood by the group the phrase is purported to describe. Often there is a historical element to in-group usage: The cultural meanings of “gay” and “queer”, for example, have shifted over time.

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Cosmic Catastrophe?

2 Peter 3 is a well known passage concerning the Day of the Lord. A vision of the judgment to come and the effect this judgment will have on creation. Scoffers doubt that the end will come, and focus on their own evil desires. 2 Peter warns the reader…

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (3: 5-7, 10-13, NIV)

On the surface this passage is hard to reconcile the vision of Paul, that all creation is waiting in eager expectation for the day when it will be liberated and brought into freedom and glory.

Jonathan Moo and Robert White, Let Creation Rejoice: Biblical Hope and Ecological Crisis, dig into this passage. Why should creation rejoice given the end portrayed by Peter?

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