November 18, 2009
Ecologies of Grace: Environmental Ethics and Christian Theology by Willis Jenkins is a book which begins by recognizing the difficulty of making environmental imperatives “intelligible to Christian communities.” He writes “climate change places new dimensions of society in moral jeopardy” and asks “but how is that preachable on Sunday mornings?” (p.3) He intends to trace strategies of ethical response to environmental challenges and then explore theological resources that can help their cause.
In a brief survey of secular emphases beginning with Lynn White’s 1967 article on “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” in which the church was indicted for unhelpful anthropocentrism he ends with sociologist Laurel Kearns three ethics or models among Christians in the US: eco-justice, stewardship and creation spirituality. This kind of triad (or trinity) will reappear often in this book in slightly shifting forms and shapes. (p.19) These forms broadly relate to three different theologies of grace: sanctification, redemption and creation. In turn we might recognize the various emphases of Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Jenkins ends his introductory chapter with a personal story about his grandparents farm being annexed to allow the expansion of the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. As someone who is not altogether familiar with the ethical discussion and debate that is the basis for much of this work, I find having a specific ‘case’ or ‘situation’ in mind helps me to evaluate what I am reading.
So questions for discussion include: a) can you think of personal stories that raise questions of environmental ethics? b) Do you share my suspicion that theologies of salvation might make it easier for many of us to engage the conversation at an existential level? Why or why not?