Bible and Ecology

The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of CreationThe Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation 
Richard Bauckham

Waco TX: Baylor University Press, 2010




Christians have had something of a distant view of Creation — there’s always been this gap between humanity and the world, most often expressed through some sort of theology of dominion or stewardship. Richard Bauckham wants us to see ourselves relating to Creation as a matter of community. In The Bible and Ecology,  Bauckham gives a close reading to   reading of the  biblical texts relating to the natural world (e.g. Ps 104), to show how this world has an existence along with our relationship to God.  This treatment is good so far as it goes, but it does not really get to the role of nature in the thinking of ancient Israel; we are still at the level of the biblical text. The nature of the world outside of human habitation, this wilderness, is left relatively unexplored. For instance, at the close of Psalm 107, we read how God makes the arid country into a place of flowing springs, a place where people can build a city, sow fields and plant vines — the relationship with open land and habitation is thus more complex. Still Bauckham is right to emphasize the independence of Nature from the human world.

When he turns to the NT — the area of his specialization — he becomes very astute (thus the four stars — read this especially for the last two chapters).

What is missing? Although Bauckham has a sense that we live in an ecologically compromised time, he really cannot find a way to speak about it, in part because of his orientation to biblical exegesis, rather than theology. The significant discussion yet to be had is on how do we understand a world that is confessed as good, yet one that is clearly altered by human interaction. How do we sing the Lord’s song in a globally warmed land? Bauckham lays the groundwork for that discussion, as well as providing generous notes and a very in-depth bibliography.

Proof Texts and Faith

For a number of educated folk in the Christian Reformed Church, the resignation of John Suk from ministry hit hard. Was he right? wrong? His intellectual objection to the standards of the CRC were certainly part of it. In Losing our Religion,  Bryan Berghoef explores the problem and especially the difficulty of 16th century texts. What sort of authority can these have for the church today? He frames it in particular in the context of hermeneutics and the differences in exegesis between then and now, between a proof-text model and that of the present-day narrative theology. Two paragraphs present something of the problem:

For example, nearly every single point of doctrine in the Canons are made by quoting a single verse from varied and disparate sources like Ezekiel, Moses, Paul, and all too infrequently, Jesus. This ‘systematic’ approach to theology has been disregarded by the leading and best theologians today who prefer a narrative approach to theology in which the themes and storylines of whole texts are used, rather than the ‘hunt and peck’ method of proof-texting that can be (and has been!) used to justify just about anything.
So many of the doctrines we are demanding adherence to were ‘constructed’ out of verses taken out of texts that were not actually concerned with that particular point at all, when read in light of the whole.

The trade-off between narrative and proof-text theologies presents an implicit argument that should be brought out, why the new narrative theology is qualitatively better than older forms. This position is not so much argued as assumed. In a pragmatic sense it may very well better accommodate the patterns of our thinking, but that said, I’m not sure that is a sufficient base from which to criticize the Reformation texts.

(In a post-modern sense, I am not wedded to either view. The point is that the contemporary cannot be privileged without also establishing its superiority according to some criteria. Does there exist a final hermeneutic? I rather doubt it.)

Underneath, I hear an argument of sorts being advanced, that the latter produces better spiritual fruit, that it is perhaps generates a better spiritual connection. I want to respect that, although I find that discipleship — the process of conviction-action-reflection/worship seems a better path to spiritual fruit than hermeneutics (this is likely a left-over from my childhood Methodism).

So we come then to the matter of “proof-texts.” This strikes me as being particularly cultural, speaking more to present cultural dis-stances than of a process. The Forms of Confession are theological documents, not the result of biblical exegesis. Rhetorically, I would suppose that behind most of the points we could find pre-existing commonplaces of texts; this is not the invention of proof-texting. Rather I see two things going on: first an adornment: what we say theologically is adorned biblically, the citations not only providing a formal connection but in themselves asserting a Reformed conviction about life in the Word. We put on the texts not merely as manipulation (though some do this), but as a way of confessing, even promising that we ground our life in God’s Word.

Secondly, in a more political mode, the use of proof-text, of drenching our thoughts in Scripture is a way of asserting something close to the priesthood of all believers; it is a protest, a counter to priestcraft with its reservation of truth for the “educated” or the elite. In the Reformation period, such a use of Scripture was deployed against the elaborate typological or allegorical readings of the medieval and patristic period, this being part of the rising tide of a more reason/fact oriented western intellectual tradition. At the congregational level in Reformed circles, the proof text then is a way of socially keeping the domine honest. It’s a dialogic approach.

Finally, there is the matter of our stance. Proof-texting, the drenching of life with the Word — this is what “those other folk” do, the ones at the third-tier Baptist schools. We reserve the Bible for the big stuff, but not the daily parts of our lives; proof-texting (and our discomfort with it) is a class boundary. And yet. I don’t know how I can be aflame with God (to borrow from the Desert Fathers) without it.

Or as the song goes, humming to myself on my tasks:
Sweeter are thy words to me
Than all other goods can be;
Safe I walk, thy truth my light,
hating falsehood, loving right.

Biblical Justice

If the conservatives are all in favor of justice, then how do you walk away from where Sojourners goes?  Or more to the point, how do you know that a given Sojourners position is even wrong? Now a partisan has no problem with this, since that partisan stance guides the decision making (and the Bible provides the frosting). Left and Right.

If we are going to be biblical in our thinking, we can’t be ruling out one side or the other. At the same time we need to acknowledge that we are always bringing in something of our selves. Thus moving to a biblical view of justice asks three things: an ethical stance on our side, an appreciation for the ethical stance of the other, and Scripture that keeps challenging both sides. This allows us to pick up thorny issues, differ and not dissolve into civil war. When one side or the other so appropriates Scripture that it deprives it from the other side, then the cause of justice is lost, we will only see it as a reflection of ourselves.

Two Horizons

Aaron Vriesman

‎Discussions of the morality of homosexuality always go back to the authority of Scripture because, as Michael points out, it is consistent in both testaments on homosexual activity. The only way to biblically open the door to legitimizing homosexuality is to say that the biblical writers (esp. Paul in Romans 1) didn’t know what they were talking about as it relates to today. Therefore, that Paul and other biblical writers said about homosexuality is contextualized into ambiguity.

As to the argument you cited (we can paraphrase it as “that was then, this is now” TWTTIN), I too think this is one of the ways in which the argument for inclusion goes off the track. However an honest exegesis ought to at least explore how the social conditions diverge between our horizon and that of the text. That doesn’t mean that we discard the distant horizon, but at least to acknowledge the cultural distance and then test it as to how it applies now. The temptation would always seem to be to engage in a sort of anachronistic reading, an eisegesis that sees the present reality in the ancient text. That’s why we pay attention to the cultural background, not to get around a text but to escape the easy ratification of the Self. And just to be clear this danger of eisegesis comes in a raft of disguises from how we see questions of rich and poor to how we deal with marriage or sexuality.

Casualties of the Cultural War

‎*applause* He makes a good point… ppl have idolized a text to the point of becoming rigid, grinchy parrots, and display none of the attributes the same text recommends….
The Bible & Homosexuality: Enough with the Bible Already – Pomomusings
[I know many will not agree with this post. I know many will say I’m on the slippery slope, have rejected Scripture, thus rejected Christ, and I am teaching things against the Gospel. ..

I probably share some of your viewpoint, especially on the focus on displaying the attributes of Gospel living (tho’ I prefer the word “discipleship” or practices). A post like this always gets me nervous because it so often is the sort made as one is heading out the door, so to speak (not that the author is). As we go into the secular we let go of those things, and so we write something or pick up something that warrants as it were, the decision of the heart.

The tragedy in this struggle is the way that it not only sends some people out, but also hardens the hearts of those who stay in.

other comment: There’s much more to be said here. The underlying essay is one more instance of how biblical texts alienate as much as attract. The alternate to using text as club is not a wish-away but an openness to God and to the other person. If we are not shaped by the text, it is hardly likely that we will be able to respond; if we are not rooted in what God gives, we are also unlikely to be able to offer the spiritual hospitality that the person in front of us seeks.