IT IS claimed that the best-loved verse in the Bible is John 3.16, which is often understood as “God so loved human beings that he sent his only Son Jesus Christ into the world . . .”. The Greek word cosmos, however, reminds us that the incarnation happened because God loved the whole of his creation, and that includes non-human animals. This book seeks to explore what the implications of the incarnation are for both human and non-human animals, when so often Christians have viewed the incarnation as being only salvific for themselves.
It has been said that theologians answer questions that nobody else is asking, and readers may wonder why the author begins by asking why God chose to become incarnate in a human rather than a non-human animal. He addresses that first question to answer the second question: what are the implications of Christ’s human incarnation for non-human animals, in terms of their redemption, and our relationship with them.
The book aims to be a systematic theology of the incarnation, but one that fills a theological gap by examining how incarnational theology applies to non-human animals, and what, therefore, our ethical response should be.
The author, Kris Hiuser, examines the doctrine of the incarnation through the work of four great theologians, and provides a thorough analysis and critique of each. He devotes a chapter to each: “Anselm of Canterbury and Sin”, “Gregory of Nyssa and the Image of God”, “Maximus the Confessor and Microcosmic Constitution”, and “Barth and the Representative Covenantal Partnership”.
He also mentions other less well-known theologians and their theological models based on biblical principles by which humans might better relate to non-human animals. I should have liked the author to fill another gap by examining also the writings of Duns Scotus, an important theologian who took a radically different approach to the incarnation and atonement, and influenced the Franciscan attitude towards creation.
This is a scholarly work arising out of the author’s doctoral studies at the University of Chester, where Professor David Clough and others are engaged in serious academic studies in animal theology. Their contribution in educating Christians about animal issues is much needed, since animal theology is rarely taught in theological colleges, or from pulpits. During public worship, animals are rarely mentioned in prayer — sometimes not even at harvest festivals. As the author reminds us, however, some 60 billion animals are killed each year for our consumption, which raises serious ethical and welfare issues.
The author concludes by stating that there is still much to learn about the proper human relationship with non-human animals, and the implications this has for our own self-understanding as humans. He recognises that the field of animal theology, though a relatively new one, is a growing one, because in studying our relationship with nature, “our capacity to become more fully who we are made to be becomes an ever more real possibility.”
The Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS is a former Bishop of Monmouth.
Animals, Theology and the Incarnation
SCM Press £70
Church Times Bookshop £63