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Hark to creation groaning

02 October 2008

The environmental crisis is a moral and ethical one, warns Ghillean Prance

Celia Deane-Drummond

Darton, Longman & Todd £14.95 (978-0-232-52616-5)
Church Times Bookshop £13.45

reviewed with

Canterbury Press £12.99 (978-1-85311-898-2)
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

THE FACT that several new books on the theology of creation care are emerging shows that the Church is waking up to its responsibility for promoting environmental ethics and behaviour. These are two of the most recent books, and they have quite different niches within this area.

Deane-Drummond’s book is a more didactic one on eco-theology as applied to all environmental situations, and is an excellent review of much of the existing work on the subject. It covers a wide range of Christian writers, from her own Roman Catholic tradition to that of Protestant Evangelicalism.

Four fascinating chapters discuss eco-theology from the four points of the compass. North is mainly from American writers, and on deep ecology; South is from the liberation-theology movement; East from the Orthodox tradition; and West from European writers such as Murray Bookchin and Michael Northcott.

This will be a most useful resource for anyone teaching courses or studying eco-theology, and for ministers seeking a review of the writing on the subject.

Atkinson, on the other hand, applies his theology to the single environmental topic of climate change; and his approach is much more drawn from the scriptures than is that from other writers. This book is centred on the theme of the Covenant. It provides much data about the facts of climate change, interspersed with the theology; whereas Deanne-Drummond does not try to give details of the envir­on­mental situation.

Atkinson’s book is more geared to the general reader, and provides a good theological reason why we should all be addressing the issues of climate change — because of our Covenant relationship to creation as Christians.

Both of these books cite some key scriptures, such as Romans 8, in which St Paul talks about the groaning of creation, and also the hymn to creation of Colossians 1, which speaks of Christ’s relationship to creation. Both writers link ecological issues closely with those of justice.

Both cite Pope John Paul’s 1990 address on the environment, which said that action “must be grounded in morality and ethics: in a sense of solidarity with the developing world and future generations; a belief that humankind has a duty of steward­ship towards nature; and, perhaps most critical of all, a belief in secur­ing a socially just balance of re­sponsibility between rich and poor”.

Also in common is a strong em­phasis on the theology and observa­tion of the sabbath. The final chap­ter of Deane-Drummond, on the praxis of the theology, after she has reviewed much of the writing on eco-theology, is a call to live by the sabbath principle, which leads to a transformation and renewal of the Covenant that is so clearly ex­pounded by Atkinson.

We need to heed the message of these books, that the environmental crisis is a moral and ethical one, and that Christianity has much to say about our responsibility to address issues of justice and envir­on­ment actively from a solid theological base.

I found both volumes informa-tive and useful. I would have found an index helpful in Atkinson’s book, since I found myself frequently using the good one in Deane-Drummond’s.

Professor Sir Ghillean Prance is a former Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

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