Concern for this world at heart of Judeo-Christian tradition

Published April 1, 1998

THE PEACEABLE KINGDOM is an ancient “last days” biblical motif, with this-worldly implications:

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)

Earth Day, an invitation to reflect about our planet and the need to protect it, is April 22. Each of these books is in its own way a reminder that a profound vision of ecological wholeness lies at the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition. At the same time, each of the authors seeks to bring that vision closer to our current reality.

Wisdom of the Earth

Visions of an Ecological Faith

by Gordon Miller

Green Rock Press

$19.95 U.S. (paper)

ISBN O- 9647007-1-9 Living with the Animals

The Community of God’s Creatures

by Charles Birch and Lucas Vischer

WCC Risk Publications

$11.95 (paper)

ISBN 2-8254-1227-9 Super, Natural Christians

How We Should Love Nature

by Sally McFague

Augsburg Fortress

$20.75 (paper)

ISBN O-8006-3076-9

Wisdom of the Earth represents the first in a projected two-volume series of considerable merit and beauty. Gordon Miller combines exceptional colour photographs of nature with a special collection of texts taken from the Old and New Testaments and the early church writings of Basil of Caesarea, John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo and John of Damascus.

Words and images link and animate each other, refuting the human domination theme of creation (only one current of the Christian narrative) with an alternate and appealing argument portraying the human as an interdependent partner and fellow steward of the web of life.

Of special interest is a list of organizations and educational centres in North America dedicated to dialogue between religion and environmentalism. Living With the Animals joins biblical lessons and essays relating humans and animals by theologian Lucas Vischer and scientist Charles Birch.

Vischer says, “We must establish a new relationship (between humans and) nature, and (between humans and) animals in particular. More and more people are coming to see that endangering the survival of animals could threaten the survival of the human race.”

Mr. Birch: “The great achievement of the Enlightenment was to build a theory of human rights that made possible enormous advances towards social justice. A great achievement of our time could be to extend the concepts of rights and justice to all living creatures, not only in theory but in the practice of a non-anthropocentric, life-centred ethic….”

Birch provides examples to prove that the extent of animal suffering around the world is immense. He calls for a universal code of intrinsic rights for animals and for a modification of consumer habits. Super, Natural Christians is the latest of Sally McFague’s superb treatises on eco-feminist models of theology. Its thesis is that Christian practice, loving God and neighbour as subjects, as worthy of our love , should be extended to nature. Christians should not only be “natural,” understanding themselves as of the earth, but also super, natural, understanding themselves as superlatively concerned with nature and its well-being.

Building on past themes, Ms. McFague argues that we should love nature because the Christian God is embodied. The sacramental tradition teaches that the world is valuable, holy, and a symbol of the divine. We need to love nature by paying attention to it, particularly to the difference we discover in it.

She claims that modern science has taught us to be objective observers of nature using an “arrogant eye” that breaks and trains the natural world to do our will and to exist for human benefit. What is needed is a “loving eye” that views the rest of creation as subject also. This subject/subject model is patterned on friendship and an ethic of caring which says in effect, “I am subject and live in a world of many different subjects” for which I have responsibility as a human.

Ms. McFague’s thesis lends most to a vision of an earth-focused peaceable kingdom. She suggests that the medieval cosmology was one in which animals and plants were integrated with human life. This synthesis was destroyed with the Reformation and the rise of modernism. She calls for a reconstruction of the earlier synthesis, but in a new way which she calls a super, natural cosmology for our time.

Each of these books contributes to the theme of peace, justice and the integrity of creation. The reader of these volumes will be reminded that caring for creation is not a fad but a matter of growing significance.


  • Wayne Holst

    Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for twenty-five years; he taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and, for 15 years, he has coordinated adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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