by Denis Edwards
Introductory Essay by Celia Deane-Drummond
This book, written by a priest and Roman Catholic theologian, captures the essential reasons why the field of ecotheology has grown and blossomed over the last quarter century. The author argues, however, that it is through a return to the work of ancient theologians that we find the inspiration to think more deeply about God and humanity’s relationship to creation. The book starts with the practical reasons why theology needs to take on board ecological issues, searching its traditions for resources that profoundly challenge ways of thinking that cut the human person off from its creaturely base. The special place of humanity in the created world is still affirmed, according to this view, but it is seen in relationship and in kinship with other creatures, rather than set apart from them. The cosmic evolution of the earth is briefly mapped out as a way of situating the more focused discussion on human beings.
Instead of considering the Holy Spirit as active just within the human community, this book advances the ancient idea that the Spirit is the giver of life and the breath of God in the created world. The relationship with science is discussed at this juncture, in as much as this view can be seen as compatible with an understanding of the world as evolved and evolving. The model of the working of the Spirit is one who accompanies the creature, and one who gently enables the birth of the new, in a way analogous to a midwife. Such an analogy both preserves the integrity of the creature, while giving the Spirit a particular role in the ongoing evolution of creation and creativity.
The focus now turns to the role of the second person of the Trinity, namely, Jesus, and his image as one who is both deeply incarnate in the material world, and the Wisdom of God. Edwards restricts his discussion of Wisdom to Christology. The relationship between Christ and evolution is not discussed in any detail, though this is drawn out in other work. (See Deane-Drummond’s Christ and Evolution: Wonder and Wisdom, e.g.) He draws on a combination of Eastern and Western perspectives in order to argue for an understanding of the Trinity that expresses itself through the diversity and interrelatedness of all creaturely being.
A chapter on future hope points to ways to connect Christian eschatology with ecology. The last few chapters are more practical with respect to the role of the Church in creating patterns of worship that facilitate this way of thinking. The book is written with flair, is highly accessible and is not only a work of systematic thought, but also points to its relevance for ecclesial practice. It leaves out the socio-political and economic discussion that informs much ecotheology and a discussion of the particular hermeneutical and contextual issues, such as the dynamic of local and global, that are often important for thinkers in the Western tradition, areas that are covered in more detail in Deane-Drummond’s Ecotheology, for example.