Reconstructing a political theology of nature theological holism

In this part, we come to the last movement in the dialectical passage of this study: the dynamic yet critical articulation of Christian theology and political ecology culminates in a Trinitarian reading of un/natural humanity oriented towards the triune God. This chapter offers a theological grounding of the key concepts of sociality, temporality and spatiality: that is, a Christological ecosocial ontology. In chapter 8, the discussion moves into pneumatology. As the operation of the Word is always with the Spirit, I develop the transcendental of openness by seeking to explore how the ecological relations given determinate content in this chapter are to be construed as dynamically drawn towards and oriented towards fellowship. An ecosocial ontology, in other words, is always directed either towards the greater richness or intensity of community or towards patterns of alienation, fragmentation and breakdown. Lastly, I hold to the view that Christianity is not best understood as a set of beliefs but instead as a way of life, and thereby as participation in the community of disciples. Thus, in chapter 9, I discuss, as one way of completing a political theology of nature, participation in the eucharist as the principal political resource that Christianity offers in and for an ecological age. Throughout, I shall indicate how the adventure in political ecology of the previous four chapters clarifies the theological eco-anthropology proposed in this part and assists in the development of a political theology of nature.

The theological orientation of this inquiry has been secured from the outset by the concept of the common realm of God, nature and humanity. Presenting a theological holism, the common realm has as its central premise a dialectical unity in which all three actors are oriented towards each other, yet asymmetrically. As I sought to make clear in chapter 1, my position affirms the creator/creature difference but regards that very difference as the source of differences in the creaturely realm. Moreover, the concept of the common realm also indicates that nature and humanity are best understood in mutual co-explication with the concept of God. The difference between creatures and the creator is the difference that enables the identification ofwholes and parts, unities and differences in the crea-turely realm. In this connection, I am intrigued by Michael Welker's argument that the standard 'model of production and dependence' should not, on biblical grounds (that is, by reference to Genesis), be understood as an adequate doctrine of creation. Welker argues that the doctrine of creation has been colonised by this understanding of God's creative activity in which God's activity and the theological understanding of creation have been unduly simplified. In my view, however, Welker's highly important conclusion, which I discuss below, can be supported only by creatio exnihilo. Or, to put the matter more weakly, I do not think that the notion of God's creative activity as the tradition has construed it points towards a monistic interpretation of the creaturely realm, as Welker seems to think.1

A preliminary attempt to make good such a bold claim was offered in chapter 2: I argued that a philosophical theology must, in order to do justice to the world and to God, think in terms of unity and difference in understanding both God and world. As a unity or unifying force, God secures the unity of the world: nature (including humanity) has its source in the activity of God. God is present as its ground to all parts (humanity and nature) of the unity of the world. To think otherwise on either point would be for the whole or the parts to compete with God. Such a competition would, of course, breach the rule of God's freedom secured by creatio ex nihilo. I argued from these theological grounds that fixing the zones of nature and humanity, and their interactions, is a task made more difficult by reference to the God who is activity, ground and force. Although unity in difference of the world is secured by reference to the differentiated unity ofGod, a detailed programme ofthe demarcation ofthe world into nature and humanity does not follow from this theological judgment.

However, such epistemological reticence on the relations between humanity and nature is, finally, unhelpful. In such indeterminacy, neither

1. Michael Welker, Creation andReality (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), pp. 6-20 (quotation from p. 12).

political nor practical agency are well or truly founded. If we are to act differently, or desist from acting, in this manifold of unity and differences, some further specification is required. After all, the four inquiries of part II report efforts to persuade us to think about unity and differences in very precise ways. In support of this aim of further specification, I proposed the four transcendentals ofbecoming, unity, sociality and openness. Thinking about the common realm, I argued, was properly secured by understanding reality as unitive, social, open and in the trajectory of becoming. And the theological warrant for such a view is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In a further move, I argued that the transcendental of sociality is best ascribed metaphorically to the Word in creation, liberation and fulfilment.

What does it mean to maintain that the frame and ground of the created order is social? I offered a very brief answer in chapter 2: affirmed are continuities between humanity and nature. In developing the terminology of whole and part, one such whole comprises the relations of humanity and nature. Analytic to the notion of sociality are spatiality and temporality: the otherness of nature in temporal becoming. These three notions - sociality, temporality and spatiality - are my attempt to present afresh the material commitments of Colossians 1.16-17:' - all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together' (NRSV). The creating of the creaturely through Christ, in whom the creaturely has its unity, is to be understood in terms of sociality, temporality and spatiality within a differentiated whole. In a terminology developed for an ecological age, the wisdom of Christ may be restated: all parts and wholes participate, as social, in a unity which disassembles and recomposes into wholes and parts through the temporal and spatial dynamics of creatureliness. This activity is the agency of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, according to the interpretative principles which I am calling transcendentals, set out in chapter 2, it is important to note that order, relations and temporality are capable of transformation. The order is already dynamic, but not unstable; disorderly, but not disordered. Such ordering is, finally, to be traced to the life of God.

These are the theological commitments that have informed the critique of political ecologies undertaken in part II. They will be developed further in Trinitarian fashion through this part. To begin, we may note that, in recent Trinitarian theology, two tendencies are evident: on the one hand, a stress on the importance of a Trinitarian account of the economy of salvation; on the other, an emphasis on the importance of the inner-Trinitarian relations of the immanent Godhead for true knowledge of and right action in the world.21 affirm both these tendencies but wish to develop them in a particular way.

On the first tendency, the four transcendentals do indeed emphasise God's presence in the economy of creation: the form of the presence of God lies in the unity, sociality, openness and becoming of the parts and whole(s) of the world. Furthermore, these transcendentals can be 'drawn forward' in theological interpretation to present creaturely reality as social, temporal and spatial. And I have noted that the transcendentals may be appropriated to the persons of the Trinity: unity to the creator, sociality to the Word/Logos and openness to the Spirit. Such an account, I have argued, denies a naturalism in which the world is regarded as self-sufficient, thereby excluding God; and a solipsism in which humanity never truly encounters nature and so regards itself as sicutDeus. Yet there is truth in both these aspects: for naturalism insists rightly that humanity is in nature; and a certain type of idealism affirms rightly that nature exceeds our knowledge and control. The theological transcendentals and the ecosocial ontology are attempts to honour the truths ofnaturalism and idealism yet overcome these towards the common realm ofGod, nature and humanity. The triune economy of grace in creation has thereby been the subject of this adventure in philosophical theology.

On the second tendency - that is, the significance of the inner-relations of the triune God - my position is ontologically bold yet epistemologically cautious. In chapter 2, I argued for the importance of differentiation in God. Yet I stressed there also that such differentiation is not the same as the differentiation in the world. Furthermore, I emphasised the importance ofascribing unity, sociality and openness to the Trinitarian persons. Yet I also stressed that such an attribution is metaphorical: for we cannot know what we mean when we say this. However, the becoming of God is genuinely social: the attempt to imitate the sociality of God is both gift and responsibility in the economy and is pleasing to God in God's own life.

Thus the world is not to be deduced from the inner-Trinitarian relations ofthe Godhead. Instead the approach adopted here is to draw in anthropological and natural matters yet correct them theologically. The task of theological criticism is to show how God is present despite the attempts

2. See Catherine Mowry LaCugna, GodForUs:The Trinity and the Christian Life (San Francisco: Harpers, 1991); Hodgson, Winds of the Spirit; Jurgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God (London: SCM Press, 1980); Colin E. Gunton, The Promise ofTrinitarian Theology (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1991); John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985).

in human knowledge and practice to obscure that presence. For the identity of God revealed in Jesus Christ is a Trinitarian identity. As Trinitarian, God invites consideration of God's Trinitarian, that is, non-identical, presentation. Thus the creaturely identity bestowed by God upon the world follows after this non-identical God: human identity is not to be found in nature but then neither is it not to be found there. The end of nature is not to be found in humanity but neither is it not to be found there. God's identity is not to be traced to the world but neither is it not to be traced there. In sum, the implications of the resurrection of Christ-in-nature are radical: in Christ, we have the reordering of humanity-nature out of the Trinitarian life of God. How is this to be thought.?

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