Creation nature

I have already advertised my commitment to the basic shape of Christian doctrine throughout this argument. In connection with the doctrine of creation, this involves a commitment to two rules of theological thinking. First, that creation is the free, unconstrained act ofGod. Creation is to be understood not as necessary but as contingent: traditionally, this rule has

48. Consider, for example, the work of process theologians such as John B. Cobb, Is it Too Late? A Theology of Ecology (Beverly Hills, CA: Bruce, 1972); David Griffin, God and Religion in the Postmodern World (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989); Jay B. McDaniel, Of Gods and Pelicans: A Theology of Reverence for Life (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989) (at least in the area of metaphysics) and, especially, Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (New York: Harper, 1959), and The Divine Milieu (New York, Harper, 1960). James B. Gustafson's A Sense of the Divine (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1994) may also fit here.

49. Examples in this area abound: see Sallie McFague, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (London: SCM Press, 1987) and TheBody ofGod:AnEcological Theology (London: SCM Press, 1993); Rosemary Radford Ruether, Gaia and God: AnEcofeminist Theology ofEarthHealing (London: SCM Press, 1994); Matthew Fox, Original Blessing (Santa Fe: Bear & Co., 1983); Leonardo Boff, Ecology and Liberation (New York: Orbis, 1994); Gordon D. Kaufman, Theology for a Nuclear Age (Manchester University Press, 1985).

been glossed as creatio ex nihilo. In other words, God creates out of God's freedom and will; there is no pre-existing material nor any resistance to God's will. Creation in its entirety is the result of God's action. 'God's relation to the world is like this: not a struggle with pre-existing disorder that is then moulded into a shape, but a pure summons.'50 Creation is the free decision of the social God: a gratuitous action. God has no 'need' of creation; creating is rather an action of God's love. When God wills to be not-God, creation comes to be. Against pantheism, the world is contingent, that is, not necessary; it is thereby truly other to God.

Second, the order of creation is dependent on God's act. The act of creation is not to be understood as concerned only with a beginning but also with the middle and the end of the world. Creation is never to be understood as an immanent, creative process; the notion of natura naturans is, in line with mainstream Christian commitments, hereby rejected. In sum, the world is internally related to God: it exists, and continues to exist, on account ofGod's loving purposes. An account ofcreation that is externally related to God, as in deism's interpretation of creation as machine, is ruled out.

It is likely that this creatio ex nihilo has its source in Israel's understanding of the activity of God in the covenant. 'The cosmic order and origin were traced back to the God of salvation history, and thereby unlimited power came to be seen in God's historical action', argues Wolfhart Pannenberg.51 Similarly, Rowan Williams traces the theme of creation out of nothing to Israel's return from Babylonian captivity:

This deliverance, decisive and unexpected, is like a second Exodus; and the Exodus in turn comes to be seen as a sort of recapitulation of creation. Out of a situation where there is no identity, where there are no names, only the anonymity of slavery or the powerlessness of the ghetto, God makes a human community, calls it by name (Is. 40-55), gives it or restores to it a community. But this act is not a process by which shape is imposed on chaos; it is a summons, a call which establishes the very possibility of an answer.52 Moreover, in Christian tradition, there can be no discussion of covenant or deliverance except by reference to Jesus Christ (cf. John 1.1-18). Thus creation is always understood to be an event related to incarnation. For incarnation has to do with the liberation and transformation ofcreation.

50. Rowan Williams, On Christian Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), p. 68.

51. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1994), 11 ,p. 11.

52. Williams, On Christian Theology, pp. 67-8.

In other words, creation is understood to be a Trinitarian action; creation is the external action of the triune God.

Why, then, do I describe this book as an inquiry into the theology of nature rather than into the doctrine of creation.? Further, what might the relation be between the concepts, 'nature' and 'creation'?

When, in conversation, I have tried to explain the thesis of this book on 'nature' to others, one of the most popular questions has been: 'what about creation?' How does the concept of'creation' relate to the account of 'nature' proposed here? And interlocutors have become impatient when I have been unable to give them a clear answer. Yet, there are reasons, bound up with the history of the doctrine of creation, why people pose the question and why in the past I have been stuck for an answer. These reasons further complicate, as I hope to show, an inquiry into the theology of nature.53 First, one of the reasons why the question 'what about creation?' proves difficult to answer is that one interpretation of creation has been to see it as a context for asking questions of salvation. Such an approach is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called 'methodism': the search for every opportunity to convict people in their sins. Thus to ask a question about creation is to ask about the context of the drama of salvation. What is being inquired after is the affirmation of the reality of free will, the ubiquity of sin and meaningfulness of human action. A question about creation is, it transpires, a question about the possibility of, the need for and the capacity to respond to, grace.54 Or, in a more defensible version of the same approach, creation is construed as preparatory for the purposes of God. 'If theology is primarily concerned with the Trinitarian God as purposive', Daniel Hardy writes, 'creation is the condition for the realisation of the purposes of this God, and receives its reality from the realisation ofthese purposes'.55 Attention to these purposes then becomes the primary concern rather than a direct inquiry into the conditions, possibility and potential of the world. In response to the concept of'nature', people ask after 'creation' in order to draw nature within the reconciling dynamic ofsalvation.

Yet there is a further, none the less intimately related, use of the word 'creation' which has recently become popular: Max Oelschlaeger's Caring

53. In reflecting on this matter, my thinking has been clarified by the important essay, 'Creation and Eschatology' by Daniel W. Hardy, in God's Ways with the World: Thinking and Practising Christian Faith (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1996), pp. 151-70.

54. Precisely such a view of creation is operative in 'philosophical' forms of theodicy: see John Hick, Evil and the God of Love (London: Macmillan, 1966).

55. Hardy, 'Creation and Eschatology', p. 154.

for Creation is a good example.56 This further sense again wishes to affirm a context. In this view, creation functions as the origin of a legitimating narrative and thereby as a normative basis for considering the environment. As Oelschlaeger suggests, the narrative of Christianity affirms the meaningful telos of history and offers a different story than the dominant narrative of modernity, that of utilitarian individualism.57 But, as Daniel Hardy notes, the reading of creation is here always indirect: the attempt to understand the detail of creation as the gift of the creator God, which must involve an account of the creator and the creature and their interaction, is here avoided by attention to the pragmatic utility or function of such accounts. Which, we might add, in the long run harms the vitality of Christian faith as serious questions about the truth of Christianity are sidelined by concerns as to its relevance (as if the latter can be decided without reference to the former).58

I do not, in the first instance, inquire into creation as the condition of salvation nor as the origin of a legitimating narrative. In addition, I am not dealing with nature in the sense of'all that is', a 'totality' - although the concept of creation does carry such a meaning.59 Hence my description of this book as a theology of nature. Yet even the description 'theology of nature' is too general. For the reality of nature is various. My argument is predicated upon a direct inquiry into nature by the political and social sciences. I am concerned with a particular zone of creation: the interaction between humanity and non-human nature. That is, it is possible to treat nature in a number of dimensions: physical, evolutionary, social. The term 'creation' obscures such multiplicity. I intend to focus on only one zone: nature as it enters or impinges upon the social sphere, in political and social description.

Last, as part of an inquiry regarding the transformation of theology itself, we must look at the relation between creation and nature at the metatheoretical level. The conflation of these two concepts may also be

56. Oelschlaeger, Caringfor Creation.

57. Rosemary Radford Ruether's Gaia and God is a further excellent example. In her opening chapter, Ruether summarises three accounts of different creation stories and inquires after the normative messages (concerning hierarchical relations and so forth) which can be read off such creation stories.

58. See, further, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Toward a Theology of Nature (Louisuille, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993); Introduction to Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1991).

59. Hegemonically so, such that all discussion of Christianity and nature is presumed to be a dialogue between theology and the (philosophy of the) natural sciences. This book is intended to be a contribution to a dialogue, but in a different direction.

understood as the attempt by Christian theology to get some purchase on modern developments in the adventures of the concept of nature (outlined above, pp. 8-16). To ask the question: what is the relation between creation and nature.? is to seek a way of drawing the concept back into the doctrinal shape of Christianity towards the maintenance of the relevance of Christianity. To work to subsume the concept of nature under the rubric of creation is to suggest that Christianity has some pertinent resources from its long history of thinking doctrinally about creation. The problem here, as noted above, is that - under the pressures of our decisively modern circumstances - it is not clear that Christianity enjoys easily available resources from its own traditions.60

From this conflation of'creation' and 'nature', significant confusions follow. One way of interpreting the important work of Sallie McFague would be along such lines: because the Christian God is a creator God, Christianity must have something to offer concerning the redemption of nature; nature and creation are convertible terms. Yet, although McFague holds to this claim, she also stresses that our circumstances are novel ('I believe that our time is sufficiently different and sufficiently dire that theologians must not shrink from the task of thinking boldly and imaginatively'61). What is the result? The character of the Christian contribution is unclear. 'Creation' and 'nature', it transpires, are not convertible terms. Christianity is thereby found, despite its emphasis on creation, to be lacking resources in the face of the newness of our current problems in relation to nature. The conclusion follows inexorably: new models of God are required.

Furthermore, the theological imperative - based in the ancient traditions that speak of God's world-relatedness to which Christianity is both heir and contributor - to offer some insight into the ecological crisis prompts the turn to the 'creation stories' allegedly told by the natural sciences. Because such scientific explanations operate at the logical level of the 'universal' of physical nature, no attention is required to be paid to the distinctiveness of humanity. The important dimension of nature at the social level is obscured. Hence the reasoning behind the steady emphasis in McFague's work on the place of humanity in nature now becomes clear. Thus a reductionist emphasis (legitimated, but not warranted,

60. See Pannenberg, Toward a Theology of Nature, pp. 72-3; Louis Dupre, 'The Dissolution of the Union of Nature and Grace at the Dawn of the Modern Age', in Carl E. Braaten and Philip Clayton (eds.), TheTheology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1988), pp. 95-121.

theologically) correctly stresses the continuities between humanity and non-human nature but marginalises the specification of humanity's otherness to non-human nature. Hence the meaning of humanity is underde-termined which, in turn, eclipses what is in urgent need of specification: the distinction between humanity and nature.62

I am thereby holding to the term 'nature' in order to stress that attention is here focused on direct inquiry of nature in social and political description. Nor do I wish or intend to offer a new legitimating narrative of nature: to treat creation stories as normative and subsume the relations between nature and humanity under such normativity. Nor do I assume that nature and creation are convertible terms. Instead, the theology of nature offered here, based on the assumption that theology is obliged today to produce new concepts to speak of the relation between nature and grace, is political-ideological, predicated upon a direct inquiry on nature.

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