Eco-Justice Ministries
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Preaching on Genesis 1
Four extended quotations

There are six pages related to the "Preaching on Genesis 1" resources:
Index &
Introduction
Two Different
Creation Stories
Exegesis of
the Text
NRSV Formatted
to Show Structure
Sermon Themes &
Worship Tips
Extended
Quotations

Four significant passges are reproduced here to provide the preacher with additional depth and variety in understanding central themes in Genesis 1.

Lynn White The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis
Originally published in Science magazine, 1967 -- the entire essay is found at many locations on the web, including here
The highlights were added by Peter Sawtell

This essay has been widely quoted and widely disputed. Even so, it gives voice to the perceptions of many both inside and outside the church about Christian theology and the environment. You will see that some of his history is dubious, and his biblical theology is flat out wrong. It is worth reading this selection because it does reflect what many people through history have through Christianity believed.

What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them. Human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our nature and destiny--that is, by religion. To Western eyes this is very evident in, say, India or Ceylon. It is equally true of ourselves and of our medieval ancestors.

The victory of Christianity over paganism was the greatest psychic revolution in the history of our culture. It has become fashionable today to say that, for better or worse, we live in the "post-Christian age." Certainly the forms of our thinking and language have largely ceased to be Christian, but to my eye the substance often remains amazingly akin to that of the past. Our daily habits of action, for example, are dominated by an implicit faith in perpetual progress which was unknown either to Greco- Roman antiquity or to the Orient. It is rooted in, and is indefensible apart from, Judeo- Christian theology.

What did Christianity tell people about their relations with the environment? While many of the world's mythologies provide stories of creation, Greco-Roman mythology was singularly incoherent in this respect. Like Aristotle, the intellectuals of the ancient West denied that the visible world had a beginning. Indeed, the idea of a beginning was impossible in the framework of their cyclical notion of time. In sharp contrast, Christianity inherited from Judaism not only a concept of time as nonrepetitive and linear but also a striking story of creation. By gradual stages a loving and all- powerful God had created light and darkness, the heavenly bodies, the earth and all its plants, animals, birds, and fishes. Finally, God had created Adam and, as an afterthought, Eve to keep man from being lonely. Man named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them. God planned all of this explicitly for man's benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man's purposes. And, although man's body is made of clay, he is not simply part of nature: he is made in God's image. Especially in its Western form, Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen. As early as the 2nd century both Tertullian and Saint Irenaeus of Lyons were insisting that when God shaped Adam he was foreshadowing the image of the incarnate Christ, the Second Adam. Man shares, in great measure, God's transcendence of nature. Christianity, in absolute contrast to ancient paganism and Asia's religions (except, perhaps, Zorastrianism), not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God's will that man exploit nature for his proper ends.

At the level of the common people this worked out in an interesting way. In Antiquity every tree, every spring, every stream, every hill had its own genius loci, its guardian spirit. These spirits were accessible to men, but were very unlike men; centaurs, fauns, and mermaids show their ambivalence. Before one cut a tree, mined a mountain, or dammed a brook, it was important to placate the spirit in charge of that particular situation, and to keep it placated. By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects.

 

Stanley Hauerwas & John Berkman A Trinitarian Theology of the "Chief End" of "All Flesh"
from the book Good News for Animals? Christian Approaches to Animal Well-Being

In Christian theology, the last thing creation does is to serve as an explanation [of how things came to be]. Rather, creation is a christological and an eschatological affirmation that derives from the Christian confession that the God who has discovered us in Jesus of Nazareth, the God who intends for us to share in God's peaceable kingdom, is a saving God from the beginning. Rather, creation is part of a narrative of fulfillment. From our conviction that God redeems all of creation we leart that God, having created all things, wills that all things enjoy their status as God's creatures.

As for how Scripture is thus to be read, this means that a Christian understanding of creation cannot be guided first and foremost by Genesis 1 and 2. These passages must be read in the light of our redemption in Christ and our end in the kingdom of God, to which we are guided by the Holy Spirit. More specifically, we cannot understand creation solely in terms of Genesis 1:31 "Behold, it was very good" but must read this passage in conjunction with Romans 8:19-21 and Isaiah 11, that the original creation must be understood in relation to the present bondage of creation and the dawning eschatology of the new creation.

In light of the scriptural witness that humans and other animals share in the ultimate end, which is God's peaceable kingdom, we thus believe that each and every creature is created to manifest God's glory. Animals do not manifest God's glory insofar as their lives are measured in terms of human interests, but in terms of their end to manifest God's glory.

- - -

At this point, we realize that our understanding of how we are to rule over animals is directly connected with how we understand God to ruling over us. If we are to throw off the view that dominion means domination over other animals, we must turn to a Trinitarian understanding of what it means for us to be in the image of God.

The "image of God" of Genesis 1 cannot be read for Christians apart from what im means for us to be the "image of Christ." Ultimately, true likeness to God is not found in the image of God found in Genesis 1, nor even in our present striving to live in the image of Christ, but will only come at the end of time, when we shall see God face-to-face.

Thus, our lives are to display this functional understanding of the image of god. In Genesis 1, the image of God is part of the vision of a peaceable creation, both between human and animal and between animal and animal, a peace where it is not necessary to sacrifice one for the other. Similarly, for us to live as the image of Christ means to live according to the call of the kingdom of God. In Gethsemane in taking up the way of the cross Christ shows us clearly that the way of the kingdom of God is not the way of violence. Finally, the ultimate end of our strivings, the peaceable kingdom of God, is where we shall finally live in true shalom with all creatures of God.

 

Holmes Rolston, III Creation: God and Endangered Species
The full essay is available on the web.

Genesis! Take that word seriously. In the Hebrew stories, the "days" (events) of creation are a series of divine imperatives that empower Earth with vitality. "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, 'Let there be . . .'" (Genesis 1.2-3). "Let the earth put forth vegetation." "Let the earth bring forth living things according to their kinds" (Genesis 1.11, 24). "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures" (Genesis 1.20). "Swarms" is, if you wish, the Biblical word for biodiversity.

A prolific Earth generates teeming life, urged by God. The Spirit of God is brooding, animating the Earth, and Earth gives birth. As we would now say, Earth speciates. When Jesus looks out over the fields of Galilee, he recalls how "the earth produces of itself" (Mark 4.28) spontaneously (in Greek: "automatically"). God reviews this display of life, finds it "very good," and bids it continue. "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth" (Genesis 1.22). In current scientific vocabulary, there is a dispersal, conservation by survival over generations, and niche saturation up to carrying capacity. The fauna is included within the covenant. "Behold I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you" (Genesis 9.5). In modern terms, the covenant was both ecumenical and ecological. Earth is a promised planet, chosen for abundant life. Adam's first job was to name this swarm of creatures, a project in taxonomy.

The Bible also records the first Endangered Species Project--Noah and his ark! That story is quaint and archaic, as much parable as history, teaching how God wills for each species on Earth to continue, despite the disruptions introduced by humans. Although individual animals perish catastrophically, God has an "adequate concern and conservation" for species--the species come through. After the Flood, God reestablishes "the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations" (Genesis 9.12-13). Humans are to repopulate the earth, but not at threat to the other species; rather, the bloodlines must be protected at threat of divine reckoning (Genesis 9.1-7). The Biblical authors had no concept of genetic species but used instead the vocabulary of bloodlines. The prohibition against eating the blood is a sign of respect for these bloodlines.

 

From James Nash, Loving Nature, pp. 102-3

[In] recent years, dominion particularly has become a major pejorative in the ecological complaint against Christianity. Antidominionism has been a main plank in the platform of those who accuse Christianity of being an antiecological religion. But what do these concepts mean historically? And in light of recent bludgeonings, can the be revived for our time?

The complaints against the concepts of image and dominion are somewhat surprising in the light of most of Christian history and its Hebraic roots. Both the divine image and human dominion are rare concepts in the Old Testament, and are associated exclusively (except, in the case of dominion, for Ps. 8:5-8) with the P segments of genesis. Neither apparently had significance in the rest of the Old Testament. The concept of divine image appears ten times in the New Testament, and is used as a means of interpreting Christ or relationships to Christ, and never in an ecological context. Dominion in the sense of Genesis 1 is absent from the New Testament.

In subsequent Christian history, dominion in an ecological sense was widely assumed, but it was certainly not always or generally the dominion of exploitation. In his extensive study of Jewish and Christian interpretations of Genesis 1:28 from biblical antiquity to the Reformation, Jeremy Cohen concludes: "Rarely, if ever, did premodern Jews and Christians construe this verse as a license for the selfish exploitation of the environment. Although most readers of Genesis casually assumed that God had fashioned the physical world for the benefit of human beings, Genesis 1:28 evoked relatively little concern with the issue of dominion over nature."


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