by Sallie McFague
Introductory Essay by Denis Edwards
Over a distinguished career at Vanderbilt Divinity School, Sallie McFague has made major contributions to contemporary ecological theology, building a body of work through her Metaphorical Theology (1982), Models of God (1987), The Body of God (1993), Super, Natural Christians (1997), and Life Abundant (2001). In her most recent book, McFague, now Distinguished Theologian in Residence at the Vancouver School of Theology, has distilled the fruits of her years of theological exploration and brought them to bear directly on the urgent issue of global climate change.
The book begins with the science, providing an account of the evidence for climate change, for human involvement in it, and of its predicted consequences, making use of the published reports of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. McFague then demonstrates that theology is necessarily involved in this global issue, since the church is called to an ecological catholicity, which involves being committed to a just and sustainable existence for all of God’s creation. The heart of the book follows, in a theological treatment of anthropology (Who are we?), the theology of God (Who is God?) and Christian economics (How shall we live?).
McFague criticizes individualistic religious anthropology that colludes with and reinforces the individualism of government and economics. She calls for an alternative ecological anthropology in which the human is understood in inter-relationship and inter-dependence with all of life and with all that supports life on our planet. Because our anthropology is deeply inter-related with our view of God, McFague considers various models of the God-world relationship, including the Deistic, Dialogic, Monarchical, and Agential, and finds them inadequate. She proposes instead the model developed in her earlier work of the world as God’s Body. This is a controversial proposal, which, as she recognizes, risks being understood in a pantheistic way. However, McFague does not lose sight of divine transcendence, but seeks to radicalize both divine immanence and divine transcendence. She appeals constantly to the incarnation, to a God who enters into the heart of flesh.
With her theology of the world as God’s Body, McFague argues for a Christian faith that is at home in the planet, which finds God in all that surrounds us, and which involves us as participants with God in the care of our planet and its inhabitants. While she consistently sees creation in terms of the incarnation, she contrasts creation Christianity with a redemption Christianity that she finds too focused on the church rather than the world. She brings together the sacramental and the prophetic into her own synthesis, which involves finding God in all things and a way of life that lives with limits. Along the way we are led to ponder what an alternative economics might look like and are offered important insights on how we might live well in our cities in ways that respect the gift given to us in the natural world.
The book ends on a hopeful note, with beautiful insights from Julian of Norwich, Gerard Manly Hopkins, and Sallie McFague herself, into the God who is always with us.