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A Compelling Theology ?

We must look after the environment.
We must reduce our climate change emissions.
Because if we don't, then future generations on earth will suffer.
Why is that a problem? Will not the earth be burned up? The earth is not supposed to last forever.
But we are not fulfilling Christ's command to love our neighbour.
I'm not convinced that this is a matter of 'neighbour'.
But people will suffer, especially the poor. God has a heart for the poor.
But surely God will recompense the poor in the next life.
The rest of creation belongs to God, not us, so we should not plunder it.
But did he not give it to us, under our dominion?

You can add other reasons why, if you like, but most of them invite a similar sceptical response. These two reasons are just two of several that have been adduced by Christians who want responsibility towards the rest of creation (environment, planet, animals, etc.), and believe we should adjust our lifestyles and societal structures in order to do so.

The imperative to look after the rest of creation seems rather like an eleventh commandment, tacked on to the famous Ten Commandments, "Thou shalt look after the rest of creation". As such, it is not very convincing. This is not only because the Bible does not include it in the Ten, but also because the reasons ordinarily given for why it is important are usually derived from beliefs, some of which are themselves derived.

So the imperative to look after the rest of creation is not very compelling. As a result, it is seen as optional in Christian belief, so that those disposed to accept it may do so, while those not so disposed do not need to. A similar thing may be said about many things to do with everyday life or the secular aspects of life. At the moment, there is an assumption that the ordinary Christian is not obligated by this imperative, and that those who feel obligated by it are the oddities, the ones doing special pleading.

This, for me, was a completely unsatisfactory situation. I long felt deep inside that the imperative to look after the planet is of God, and I wanted a more compelling theology. Because if it is not very important in God's eyes, then it should not be very important in mine.

I wanted a theology in which responsibility for the rest of creation is not an option tacked on by those who happen to like it, but is at the very centre of God's cosmic plan. It must be central in the very reason why God created in the first place and took pains to come into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. I wanted a theology that is so compelling that the ordinary Christian can be rightfully expected to believe they are obligated to change their lifestyle for the sake of the rest of creation. Perhaps this might take time, but eventually this theology should become mainstream, and be so compelling, that only the obstinate will resist it.

Just as happened in our attitudes to slavery. When William Wilberforce began his campaign to abolish the slave trade, most people accepted slavery as something 'natural' and 'necessary' to the economy; by the end most people believed that slavery was an evil. As Eric Metaxas commented [p.xv of his book Amazing Grace],

"What Wilberforce vanquished was something even worse than slavery, something that was much more fundamental ... he vanquished the very mind-set that made slavery acceptable. He destroyed an entire way of seeing the world, one that had held sway from the beginning of history, and he replaced it with another way of seeing the world ..."

(See comparison between climate change and slavery for more.) Why should we not expect that the mind-set that allows environmental damage to be acceptable may also be similarly vanquished? To do this requires not just good organisation and political will (themselves lacking) but a compelling theology.

In this New View in Theology I think I might have found such a compelling theology.

This page is offered to God as on-going work in developing a 'New View' in theology that is appropriate to the days that are coming upon us. Comments, queries welcome.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2009. But you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

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Created: 1 January 2009. Last updated: