Written by Wes Bergen. Media added by Sean McFarland.
Risking an understatement, the 2nd annual McAllaster Scholars lecturer and New Testament scholar Dr. Richard Bauckham is an academic giant. Allow me to run through his credentials: in addition to teaching at Cambridge University, publishing nine books in New Testament studies, over fifteen articles in the same field (mind you, all just since I was born), and lecturing the world over, Dr. Bauckham is also the recipient of Christianity Today’s 2007 Book Award, a member of no less than the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the ultra-prestigious British Academy. Dr. Bauckham spoke to a well-attended crowd in Whitlock recital hall Thursday night of the essential connectedness of Christianity and ecology.
“We are silencing the praise of God,” he somberly concluded to a taken-aback audience. It was impossible to come away from Dr. Bauckham’s address “Faith in an Age of Ecological Destruction” without an awareness of an immense weight on our collective shoulders: the weight of nothing less than the calculating, sinister, systematic destruction of the environment.
Dr. Bauckham’s lecture revolved around the question “Should Christians care about biological and ecological destruction?” His affirmative answer came from his reading of Genesis 1-3. Here, God pronounces the creatures “good” and the whole of creation – the sum of its parts – “very good.” Dr. Bauckham suggested that God’s declaration of creation’s goodness also implies a divine appreciation of creation. The inevitable conclusion is that God is thankful not only for each individual human life, but also for the lives of each plant, animal, insect, and fungus.
This is truly profound. And while I want to add that it’s beautiful, I can’t. I actually find this unsettling. I am – we are – woven into layer upon layer of systems that rack the environment well beyond what is necessary for our survival. Our systems recklessly hurt the creatures whose existence God is thankful for. We carelessly ruin the things that give God joy. What’s worse is that there’s not much we can do about it, since the problem exists in the way our society is organized. It’s a systemic issue. To echo a question posed in the Q & A segment: what sort of politics can help us re-structure our society?
There is no ready-made answer to this question, but we do have the scriptures. Dr. Bauckham told us how Genesis lays out in no uncertain terms our relationship is to Earth and other creatures. Earth – another of God’s creatures – literally gives and sustains our lives. It provides us with food and water, a hospitable climate (hard to believe this time of year), timber, metals, and other resources for our sustenance.
Though we are amply provided for, we must show a “caring responsibility” toward other creatures, both living and non-living. We have God-given “creaturely limits” which we exceed at the expense of other creatures. Dr. Bauckham’s go-to example here is the “desertification” of vast swaths in the Atlantic Ocean, where something akin to mass extinction is the necessary result of our overfishing to satisfy the demand for seafood. When we step beyond our limits, we can only cause harm.
In a poetic allusion to Psalm 148, we are reminded that the very being of creation – the very fact that material objects exist – is a song of praise to God. All creatures, with humans as the only exception, praise God by doing what they were made to do. The worship that the rest of creation is continually engaged in is an invitation for us to set aside our insatiable desire for more and replace it with a loving submission to our “creaturely limits.”
This lecture was sponsored by the McAllaster Scholars under the faculty sponsorship of Dr. Kent Dunnington. Dr. Bauckham is the second lecturer to visit Greenville College at the invitation of the program behind last year’s speaker Dr. Stanley Hauerwas. McAllaster Scholars Lectures are some of the most academically rigorous lectures hosted by Greenville College, and are an excellent opportunity to be exposed to important contemporary issues in Christian scholarship. The 3rd Annual McAllaster Scholars Lecture will be held next fall.
Dr. Richard Bauckham and Dr. Ben Witherington III discuss why Christianity needs to be understood as a historical faith and how this makes all the difference.
Video by Seedbed