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What theological decisions do we need in the discussion about the climate catastrophe? What works and what no longer works at all?

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Anthropocene – our eco-theological blind spots and the climate crisis

On November 18th In 2022, Andrew Perrian wrote here: Our eco-theological blindspots and the climate crisis Here is the German translation with comments and suggestions for discussion.

While looking for a discussion about a theology of the climate crisis, I came across a brief summary of the work of Gijsbert van den Brink, Chair of Theology and Science at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The post is by Matthew Wiley and is titled "Life in the Anthropocene: Christian Theology and Climate Change".

It doesn't go very far or very deep, but the three questions that van den Brink highlights in reflecting on the challenge of developing a robust theological anthropology are very important to me.

But then we could also according to ours theological blind spots ask, which leads us to van den Brink's three questions and some initial thoughts in response.

  1. From a theological perspective, does the so-called Anthropocene represent a new era?

I think the answer to this must be yes, but the cycle of "ages" is complex. The predominant narrative in the Bible is that of the kingdom. Its main arc stretches from the destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon's Temple by the Babylonians to the prophesied overthrow of Rome as the highest expression of pagan resistance against the God of Israel, its Christ and its people.

As I explained in the previous post, there are some clear developments in the history of the Kingdom: the shift in the center of gravity from the East to the West, from Greek idolatry to Roman political power, from the earthly to the heavenly Jerusalem. But the central question remains the same: How will YHWH deliver his people from their enemies and rule over the nations through them? The solution is of course found in Christ's speech in Philippians 2:6-11 - see my new book In the Form of a God: The Pre-existence of the Exalted Christ in Paul.

Western Christianity has been the massive historical fulfillment of this narrative, whether you like it or not: the "happy ending" is never as happy or as "eternal" as it is supposed to be. This long "age" of eschatological fulfillment has come to an end in the last few hundred years with the collapse of the Christian worldview and the inexorable rise of a secular rationalist humanism. The final judge of all things is not God, but humanity. Or so it seemed until to be like this recently….

It now appears that we have reached the pinnacle of humanism and the natural order is about to take its place as judge of our technologically empowered hubris.

The age of secular humanism was quickly overtaken by the traumatic arrival of a new geological era known as Anthropocene Scientifically speaking, we are at the end of the 11,000-year-long Holocene that was so wonderfully conducive to human flourishing. From a biblical perspective, nothing on this scale has occurred since the Flood. So what are we to make of an anthropology whose basic premise is: Be fruitful, multiply, replenish the earth, and rule over all living things?

These historical and geological developments that are taking place are as important theologically and eschatologically and therefore missionally as anything that happens or is intended in the Holy Scripture.

  1. Can the model of stewardship no longer be saved?

The stewardship or "creation care" model is the standard theological solution to environmental degradation. It has less biblical support than we might think, but I think it is theologically and morally valid in principle. The problem is that it is too late for a well-intentioned theology of ecological sustainability.

On the whole, I would argue that the Bible has much more to say about the failure of "stewardship models" and modes of regeneration. Much of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament assume that the preservation of Israel's life in the land fails because of "sin." Monarchy, temple, and law fail as the God-given means of preservation. The stewardship model breaks down; the result is crisis - invasion, war, destruction, exile, and so on; and then a prophetic-apocalyptic mode of theology sets in.

The general consensus here is that we'll be lucky if we can keep temperature rise below 2.5℃ by the end of the century, let alone 1.5℃. Our conservation systems are not working.

The challenge facing the Church as the world suffers the birth pangs of the emerging Anthropocene is: to recognize the inadequacy of the stewardship model and to develop a prophetic-apocalyptic theological response.

  1. What biblical themes that highlight the interrelationship between human and non-human creation should be emphasized today?

This is a little disappointing. It looks like an attempt to me failed model of stewardship to continue – a step back instead of forward. Van den Brink is quoted as saying:

Once we recognize that the glory of God in creation is found not only in the human species but in the intricate interconnectedness of all its diverse life forms, we can come to a renewed understanding of our human task to promote that diversity, instead of frustrating them.

While this is good news for those parts of the church that still believe that the Creator God has little lasting interest in what he created, the world has moved on. I doubt that this is the time to look for the glory of God in creation, even in the interconnectedness of all its life forms - except perhaps insofar as we are all caught up in the same catastrophe. If we are looking for relevant "biblical themes," then I suggest we start with the "wrath" of God.

As I have said, the Bible has much more to say about the destabilization of a society or civilization and what comes after it than about stabilization, and it finds God most at work in this process.

An email from the Evangelical Alliance in the UK this week said that in current economic conditions the church "must seek to show an unruffled presence". This is even more true for the priestly people of the living God as we grapple with the impacts of climate change.

The questions I asked Andrew back then are still relevant today

Dear Andrew,

This short articles could be a sober beginning of a new Perimanian concept of (un)hope in history 🙂 or much better: historically based hope instead of the mystical eschatological concepts of neognostics that we embrace in our time 🙂

You will probably love it. The historical-narrative approach could be the much clearer and post-colonial, inspiring 3rd way of theology/eschatology…

And J. Moltmann would have had fun if he had known this approach in his time (1967). So times change, knowledge is highly context dependent and we become disappointed/smarter over time.

His quick answer:

Thank you, Helge. A few immediate thoughts.

First, I can't help but feel that Miguel A. De La Torre is a privileged American (admittedly born in Cuba) who speaks on behalf of a liberal elite. We hear from Walter Benjamin, Foucault and Moltmann, but at least in this piece we do not hear the voices of the hopelessly marginalized brutalized by colonialism.

Second: The problem of Eurocentric colonialism is caused by the problem of anthropogenic environmental disaster replaced. It's time to move on. We just watched the Earthshot Prize ceremony. Four of the five award winners come from formerly colonized countries or communities. They do not embody the kind of repressed hopelessness that De La Torre describes. We should recognize that the Earthshot Prize is a product of Western influence and funding, but I think it demonstrates global energies and an ingenuity that goes beyond De La Torre's outdated Marxist criticism.

So yes, as you say, times are changing...

My, Helges Conclusion:

How does it look today, September 15th? 2023, out? The youth around Greta are once again calling for demonstrations in the squares and streets. Has perception and theology developed further in your environment (with you?)?

There is more about the coming upheavals (deep adaptation of Bendel) and the historical-narrative perspective can be read here from our laboratory...


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