Previous | Next

Fall 1992 · Vol. 21 No. 2 · pp. 65–67 

Recommended Reading

The Environment and the Christian

Spencer Estabrooks

The following articles stand out from my last fifteen years of questioning regarding the theoretical roots of our ecological “crisis” and my attempts to understand biblical teaching and Christian theology in relation to this issue.

AWAKENING TO THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS

It is the eloquent, penetrating, and calm but anguished statements of North American native people regarding their relationship to the land, their sense of what is happening to it, and to them, and why, which have awakened my whole being to environmental concerns. Statements, especially those made at the end of the 19th century by native people when they lost their heritage to the invading Europeans, carry a strong impact. These statements have convinced me that the issue of relationship to the created world is not only a matter of external, objective action but also a matter of an essential and inner healing of the integral and inseparable place of human beings within the rest of creation, and the rest of creation within human life.

Menno Wiebe, “Making Peace With the Earth” in Seeds magazine, 1, no. 2 (Jan. 1981). {66}

Menno Wiebe is Director of Native Concerns for MCC Canada. The article is probably best obtained through that source since Seeds magazine is now defunct. Menno Wiebe gathers some of the current statements by native spokespersons and spiritual leaders and powerfully shares their importance for Christians.

Thomas Berger, Northern Frontier/Northern Homeland. The Report of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry (James Lorimer and Co. Associates, 1977), vol. 1, pp. 93-113.

Justice Berger’s famous commission by the Canadian government on the impact of the still largely intact culture of the Dene and Inuit peoples of the Western Arctic, and of the proposed Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, contains excerpts from the testimony of the native people about their relationship to the land. These statements are profoundly moving and thought-provoking.

THE HISTORICAL AND THEOLOGICAL ROOTS OF OUR ECOLOGICAL PROBLEMS

George Grant, “In Defense of North America,” in Technology and Empire; Perspectives on North America (Toronto, House of Anansi Press, 1969), 26 pages.

Grant, recognized as one of Canada’s foremost political philosophers before his death in 1986, examines in particular the Calvinist Protestant heritage which conditioned those who came to the New World. He describes the primal and shaping encounter of that mindset with the land. That encounter undergirds our present struggles and is now part of us all, whether Roman Catholic, Protestant, secular humanist, or atheist.

Lynn White Jr., “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” Science CLV (March 10, 1967).

This well-known and much-debated essay has been reprinted many times (e.g., in Francis A. Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology, Tyndale Publishers, 1970). Despite generalizations, assumptions, and inaccuracies challenged over the past two and a half decades by others, Lynn White, Jr. nevertheless poses the fundamental question of why scientific-technological use and abuse of nature arose in a civilization strongly shaped by Western Christianity, but not in the civilization which was penetrated by Eastern Christianity. He extends the question of the relationship between the environmental problems and {67} religion beyond Protestantism to the whole Western heritage.

Phillip Sherrard, The Eclipse of Man and Nature: Enquiry into the Origins and Consequences of Modern Science (U.K., Lindisfarne Press, 1987), 124 pages.

In a somewhat abstract and at times difficult style, Sherrard nevertheless probes very deeply the theological developments in Western Christianity, particularly the writings of Augustine and Aquinas, which “partially eclipsed the full understanding of man and his destiny” and opened the way for the modern secular scientific worldview. And this worldview represents, in Sherrard’s estimate, “an ever-accelerating dehumanization of man and of the forms of his society, with all the repercussions that this has had, and is still having in the realm of nature.”

Issa J. Khalil, “For the Transfiguration of Nature: Ecology and Theology” (esp. the last half of the article), and Daniel Rogich, “Ecological Soundings in Eastern Christian Mystical Tradition” in Epiphany, Vol. 10, no. 3 (Spring 1990).

The unique perspective of the Eastern Orthodox Christian theological/spiritual heritage regarding “the environment” and its relation to the Divine and human are probed and shared in these two essays, including the ways in which this heritage differs from the Western theological/spiritual tradition. The transfiguration of nature and the transfiguration of ourselves as human beings through union with the incarnate Jesus Christ and worship of the Triune God for the transformation of the passions are the alternatives offered by Eastern Christianity to our present approaches to environmental issues.

BIBLICAL TEACHING

Jacques Ellul, “The Relationship Between Man and Creation in the Bible,” in Seeds, Vol. 1, no. 2 (January 1981), a shortened translation of the original article printed in French in Foi et Vie 73, no. 5-6 (December, 1974): 137-155.

This remarkable article, in some ways a surprise for those familiar with Ellul’s other writings, has many common features with the Eastern Orthodox Christian understanding of the relationship of humankind to nature, in particular the notion of human beings as priests within and on behalf of the created order. This article is an excellent effort to read Scripture on this topic without modern Western theological glasses, and opens up many fresh avenues for reflection.

Spencer Estabrooks is adjunct professor in philosophy at Concord College (formerly Mennonite Brethren Bible College), Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Previous | Next