Christianity Introduction

Religions of the World and Ecology Series

Christianity and Ecology Volume

Dieter T. Hessel and Rosemary Radford Ruether, eds.

Introduction: Current Thought on Christianity and Ecology”
Dieter T. Hessel and Rosemary Radford Ruether  

Increasing numbers of Christian theologians and ethicists are responding to the environmental challenge as the world gets hotter, stormier, more unequal, crowded, violent, and less biodiverse. Their response to a pervasive ecological and social crisis comes none too soon, since this crisis will deepen in coming decades and will reach maximum stage at next century’s midpoint. Exponential growth curves in resource depletion, production, pollution, population, migration, gene manipulation, and species extinction will reach a point where they either crash disastrously or moderate and stabilize sustainably. The most probable scenario is a combination of overshoot and collapse and a wise change of course, mixing the clashing realities of deep suffering and hopeful living.

What will Christian ecotheology and ethics contribute to the struggle to secure the well-being of the earth community in these freighted times? This collaborative book underscores a pivotal human obligation, in every place and pursuit, to express respect and show care for Earth as God’s creation and life’s home, while seeking justice for biodiverse otherkind as well as humankind. Toward that end, eighty leading Christian scholars, together with concerned observers, gathered at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on April 16–19, 1998, for a conference on “Christianity and Ecology” organized by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim at the Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions. Papers presented and discussed there, and published here, show the impressive range of work being done to reexamine and rediscover elements of scripture and tradition and to refocus and re-present Christian theology and ethics in ecologically alert terms.

Because Christianity’s multiple traditions take competing and cooperative forms, and convey emphases that can be constricting or liberating, the authors of these essays were asked to do three things: 1) to explore problematic themes that contribute to ecological neglect or abuse and/or suppressed elements in the traditions that can make a positive contribution to ecological-social healing; 2) to discuss new emphases needed in Christian theology or ethics; and 3) to identify praxis implications for church and society. They were also enjoined not simply to review past developments, but to offer constructive insights, building on the last one-third century of ecumenical Christian thought about the ecological crisis.1 Their contributions to this volume should acquaint a much wider audience to the fact and progress of significant ecotheological and ethical reflection—a development of religious thought that is not yet widely understood and appreciated, even in the churches or among Christian scholars. This volume, by featuring many key scholars grappling with this subject matter, offers a unique, comprehensive discussion of the responsive role of Christian faith.

Ecotheology first surfaced noticeably in North America through the Faith-Man-Nature Group convened by Philip Joranson in 1963 with support from the National Council of Churches.2 That initiative was stimulated by pioneering thinkers, such as Joseph Sittler, whose 1961 speech to the World Council of Churches called for earthy Christology and greater emphasis on cosmic redemption. The turn toward environmental theology was also influenced by the prophetic nature writing of Rachael Carson, in Silent Spring (1962), and by the movement toward participatory environmentalism, which received early expression in the Port Huron Statement (1962) of Students for a Democratic Society.

In retrospect, we can see that a few Christian thinkers anticipated, and then a larger number joined, Lynn T. White, Jr., and other environmental philosophers to grapple with the disastrous assumptions underlying modern philosophical and religious thought. The development of ecological reflection by Christian theologians since the l960s parallels the critique that has come from philosophers and scientists about the problematic of the modern era at the close of the millennium. But theologians and religious ethicists are in the best position to evaluate the negative and positive contributions of the biblical and Christian traditions to this crisis. These scholars recognize that the ecological challenge confronts biblical exegesis and Christian theology across the conservative-liberal spectrum, on an even deeper level than was discerned in liberation, Black, and feminist critiques of recent decades.

Emphases of Christian Ecotheology and Ethics
First, Christian theology has rediscovered that all of the earth community is valuable to God, who continues to create, sustain, and redeem the whole. God, understood in wholistic, organic terms, relates directly to and cares for the well-being of everykind, not just humankind. Otherkind exist to enjoy being in their own right, not only to function as companions or helpers of humankind.

Christian faith and ethics are being reoriented by the knowledge that the cosmos (and this planet) bodies forth the power, wisdom, and love of God. Christianity in the modern period almost lost interest in the revelatory power of the natural world and reinforced the tendency to set humanity over against nature in a manipulative, polluting way of life. Contemporary cosmology rediscovers the universe and Earth’s nature to be a dynamic relational system—in Thomas Berry’s term, a “communion of subjects” with whom humans are to live fittingly.

Second, adequate ecotheology explores the complex relation between cosmology, spirituality, and morality. It is necessary to rethink Christian cosmology, God’s relation to the world, and the vocation of humanity, with ecological seriousness from “the ground.” Cosmologies built on Greek philosophical dualism must be deeply recast in the light of both the new “universe story” and a recognition of the way the older cosmologies were themselves rationalizations and justifications of human domination over otherkind.

The ecological challenge brings new dimensions to theological revisioning that received little attention across the modern theological spectrum. Now, all who do theology must reconsider how to speak more meaningfully of theological symbols, such as God, creation, soul/body, Christ, sin, evil, salvation, and eschatology, in a world facing deep environmental challenge.

Third, deep Christian thinking on this subject is shaped not only by ecological awareness, but also by a melding of sacramental sensibility and covenantal commitment,3 both of which are required for sustainable community. The goal is not to supplant sociocultural critique with ecological motifs. Sound Christian environmental thought and practice builds on the reenvisioning of theology by social justice movements and it deepens them by placing them in the context of ecological crisis. The result is not ecology versus justice, but theologies and ethics of “eco-justice,” including specific foci, such as theologies of ecofeminism and of environmental racism that explore the link between ecological integrity and social justice.

Fourth, in eco-justice theology, the plight of the earth and of people, particularly the most abused, are seen together. Eco-justice theology and ethics are the focus of several recent publications.4 In this spiritually grounded moral perspective, all beings on earth make up one household (oikos), that benefits from an economy (oikonomia) that takes ecological and social stewardship (oikonomos) seriously. Eco-justice provides a dynamic framework for thought and action that fosters ecological integrity with social-economic justice. It emerges through constructive human responses that serve environmental health and social equity together.

Christian thought of this kind challenges both religious beliefs and rituals that are preoccupied only with human salvation and expressions of grassroots environmentalism that are indifferent to socioeconomic justice. The basic norms of eco-justice ethics include:

  • solidarity with other people and creatures—companions, victims, and allies—in the earth community, reflecting a deep respect for creation;
  • ecological sustainability—environmentally fitting habits of living and working that enable life to flourish, utilizing ecologically and socially appropriate technology;
  • sufficiency as a standard of organized sharing, requiring basic floors and definite ceilings for equitable, or “fair,” consumption; and
  • socially just participation in decisions about how to obtain sustenance and to manage community life for the good in common and the good of the commons.

These norms illumine a biblically informed imperative to pursue in reinforcing ways what is both ecologically fitting and socially just. Solidarity comprehends the full dimensions of the earth community and of interhuman obligation. Sustainability gives high visibility to ecological integrity and wise behavior throughout the resource-use cycle. The third and fourth norms express the requirement of distributive and participatory justice in a world that has reached or is exceeding resource, pollution, and population limits.5

Anticipating an Ecological Reformation
The essays in this volume announce that an ecological reformation, or eco-justice reorientation, of Christian theology and ethics is now prominently on the ecumenical agenda. The need for ecological reformation arises from fundamental failures of Christian and other religious traditions: to adapt to the limiting conditions of life; to recognize intricate and interdependent relationships involving humankind with the rest of nature; and to respond with benevolence and justice to “the theological and biological fact of human kinship with all other creatures.”6 Ecologically reformed Christian theology will reinterpret basic doctrinal themes in ways that integrate ecological insight and value and reconceive Christian ethics to effectively encompass human relationships with other beings in the biosphere. Ecologically attuned faith and ethics should utilize knowledge gained from contemporary biophysical sciences and foster eco-justice praxis concerned with reducing consumption and adopting habits of sustainability, while encouraging the positive responsibility of government to protect the commons, preserve biodiversity, advance human environmental rights, limit population-consumption growth, curtail polluting technologies, and distribute the costs equitably.

An ecological reformation of religion and ethics intersects, rather than competes with, struggles for racial and gender justice. With enlightened awareness of both nature’s rights and human rights, Christianity must recycle some inherited categories that are socially and ecologically dysfunctional. For example, it is time for Christians to discard the pattern of colonial thinking and gender hierarchy that the church built into its doctrine of creation and that defined the popular map of social relations (for more, see Rosemary Radford Ruether, “Ecofeminism: The Challenge to Theology,” in this volume).

A reformation for the sake of eco-justice rereads scripture as a basis for critiquing theological tradition and reviving the right relatedness of faith. Reinterpretation of scripture and critique of tradition has resulted in “an ecumenical consensus that has moved decisively beyond the views which secularized nature as an object for domination and justified careless and destructive ‘subduing’ of the earth.”7 In theology transformed by ecological awareness, the paradigm of mastery over the earth is replaced by a new model of healthy human-earth interrelationship that has biblical resonance.

An ecological reformation redefines faithfulness—that is, the human vocation—within common life, including politics, where ecology and justice flourish together, or not at all. The focus is on right relatedness, earthy virtues, and action for the earth community. The objective is to specify human obligations, or our shared vocation in every place and pursuit, to express respect and care for Earth as God’s creation and everykind’s home.

A reformation for the sake of eco-justice also produces fresh ecclesial self-understanding of the church’s role in ecumenical Earth. A church committed to eco-justice ministry will foster liturgical reform responsive to what God is doing as Creator, Christ, and Spirit.

But at this late date, despite the engagement of environmentally active members, most of the churches remain quite slow to meet the environmental challenge. The exciting prospect of Christianity’s ecosocial transformation contrasts sharply with the reality of sluggish ecclesial life and rigid theologizing. A majority of Christian communions and theologians on every continent still think and act with old pictures of the world and of humanity’s place therein, rather than refocusing on the worldview, liturgy, and praxis of eco-justice. Yet, there are signs that significant elements of this world religion are converting to the service of the earth community. The essays in this volume emphasize constructive resources of Christian theology and ethics to guide movement in that direction.

Here we confront an important issue: Is the religious defect regarding the environment within Christian faith itself or in particular expressions of church life and thought? Most ecotheologians and the majority of the contributors to this volume focus on the latter. They, and we, refuse to condemn Christianity per se as anti-earth, or simply to overthrow its symbol structure. But we agree that some (often dominant) expressions of this world religion are toxic or are at least complicit in earth destruction. So, following the logic of ecological science that something in the environment is degraded wherever species of plants and animals are threatened, theologians reflecting on the environmental challenge discern that some forms of religious thought, ritual, and practice are unhealthy and threatening to the earth community.

Christian theology played a key role in ecological and cultural malformation by giving impetus to the modern, rational, scientific conquest of nature. Now it can contribute to achieving a sustainable human-earth relationship by utilizing the relationality paradigm of contemporary physics and ecology and connecting it effectively with the eco-justice sensibility of biblical thought. Toward that end, this volume presents leading-edge essays and respondent commentaries on Christianity and ecology (using “ecology” to refer to natural and cultural systems facing pressure from resource extraction, polluting technologies, urban development, population growth, unbridled consumerism, and political-economic domination).

Topics Discussed
The contributions to this volume show how to recast Christian beliefs and ethics in terms of their combined ecological and social significance. They construe the subject broadly and often reflect interdisciplinary awareness in exploring eco-justice theology ethics, biblical exegesis, and praxis. The essays are grouped in five parts:

  • Creator, Christ, and Spirit in Ecological Perspective
  • Vision, Vocation, and Virtues for the Earth Community
  • The Universal and Particular in Ethics and Spirituality
  • Toward Global Security and Sustainability
  • Christian Praxis for Ecology and Justice

In the lead essay of part one, Elizabeth Johnson discusses cosmological dimensions of a living faith that is reexamining the doctrinal tradition and rediscovering creation. She explores why both Catholicism and Protestantism in the modern period lost interest in the natural world and set humanity over against nature in a “violently ruinous” way of life. Both the challenge of modern science to traditional cosmology and the renewed Augustinianism of the Reformation served to focus Catholic and Protestant theologies on an anthropocentric individualism no longer connected with a vision of cosmic community. Johnson then highlights the positive leads offered by contemporary cosmology for rediscovering nature as a dynamic relational system inclusive of the human species. And she points to some new challenges to the religious symbols and Christian praxis.

Her respondent, Gordon Kaufman, pushes the critique further. He sees the fundamental anthropocentric model of God in the biblical tradition—a volitional agent acting in history—as a major impediment to an integration of theology and ecology. To address this problem, Kaufman calls for a new nonanthropological model of the Divine perceived as the “serendipitous creativity” of the universe.

This section’s second lead essay, by Sallie McFague, proposes that Christianity is actually well supplied with christological perspectives, in the prophetic, sacramental, and wisdom traditions, as well as eschatological, process, and liberation theologies, that can be extended to address ecological issues. McFague outlines the features of an ecological Christology that views “God with us” in full sacramental and prophetic dimensions. She draws out the praxis that eco-Christology implies, illustrating it in terms of the costly responses needed from Christians to meet climate change.

Kwok Pui-lan affirms this but notes that social and cultural location diversifies the ways Christians interpret scripture and find eco-justice insights therein. Asian Christians, like herself, have not suffered the split between humanity and nature in the same way as Christians in the West. Asian Christians are also suspicious of the imperialist uses of themes such as the “cosmic Christ.”

Mark Wallace presents an earth-centered model of the Spirit, or nature-based pneumatology, as the power of life-giving breath (ruach)continually working to transform and renew all life-forms. He recovers earth-centered biblical images of the Spirit as “a healing and subversive life-form—as water, light, dove, mother, fire, breath, and wind.” Wallace finds that nature enfleshes God’s trinitarian love and draws out the implications for cruciform living in a sinful, suffering world, especially “the killing fields of urban America.” Wallace also suggests that a theological vision of the Spirit incarnate in suffering nature also renews in cosmic terms the issues of how one can speak of God suffering and dying.

Eleanor Rae affirms Wallace’s emphasis on the immanent Spirit in nature but questions the usefulness of emphasizing the suffering Christ and salvation history. Rae draws attention to Wisdom Woman as a crucially important biblical image of the Spirit and to the process theology concept of a consequent God as a powerful response to creation’s suffering.

John Chryssavgis complements Wallace’s model by providing a Greek Orthodox perspective on the Spirit and on the sacredness of creation. He proposes that, in the world of the icon, heaven and earth, spirit and body, interpenetrate, restoring communion between God and the natural world. In the icon God is incarnate in matter, and matter becomes a vehicle of the Spirit. He also suggests other themes of the Orthodox traditions, such as apophatic (mystical, aesthetic) theology, which can be useful for ecological reflection.

Rosemary Radford Ruether concludes this group of essays by showing the historical development of the worldview dividing mind and body, God and nature, that underlies theologies of domination. She then sketches an ecofeminist reconstruction of Christian belief about the self, soul/body relations, finitude, evil, redemption, God, Christ, and revelation. Heather Eaton responds to Ruether by emphasizing the seriousness of the flight from finitude and mortality and critiquing the justifications of domination in Christian theology. Eaton outlines the steps toward a deep transformation of theology needed to become woman- and nature- friendly.

Part two opens with an essay by the noted “geologian” and cultural historian Thomas Berry, which calls for an appropriate human response to the new universe story. Berry reviews the historical origins of deep-rooted human alienation from the earth and Christian estrangement from the universe and points to positive leads in Christian thought for rapport between humans and the rest of the natural community. Our “great work” is to support a new pattern of human presence on the planet.

Louke van Wensveen engages in a dialogue between the “dirty virtues” of nature conservation and the virtue tradition of Thomistic ethics to show both the usefulness and the limitations of this tradition for an ecological ethic. She suggests going beyond the limits of the Thomistic worldview by doing as he did rather than according to what he said in his time—that is, by integrating the new worldview of the science of our time. Steven Bouma-Prediger affirms van Wensveen’s direction and seeks to show the usefulness of biblical stories in providing key themes for an ecological virtue ethic.

Early challenges to the Christian tradition by thinkers such as Lynn White saw the Bible, and particularly the theme of “dominion,” as a major cause of ecological crisis today. Biblical exegetes have responded to this challenge by exploring both alternative ways of reading such themes as “dominion” and alternative traditions within the Bible itself to shape an ecologically positive vision of the relation of God, humanity, and nature. By such exegetical quests they cut away the overlay of modern anthropocentric interpretation, exposing how much scripture has to offer as a guiding resource for life with the rest of nature.

Theodore Hiebert engages in this kind of evaluation of the creation stories of Genesis. He shows that the tradition of dominion in Genesis 1 cannot just be explained away as a benign concept of “stewardship.” Rather, it reveals the worldview and social location of its priestly authors who saw the human relation to God in the light of their own view of themselves as unique representatives of divine sovereignty, set apart from and over the rest of nature. But this is not the only perspective on the God/human/nature relation in Genesis. The quest for a more ecological anthropology should consult the Genesis 2–3 tradition where humanity and the rest of nature are all seen as sharing a common substance as “earth creatures,” made from the same soil and all sharing the Creator’s vivifying breath. This tradition reflects the worldview of the farmers of Israel and is more conducive to an ecological solidarity of humans with the rest of creation.

The concluding book of the New Testament, Revelation, offers particular challenges to an ecological theology with its apocalyptic vision of God’s destruction and re-creation of nature. Theologian Catherine Keller views as ecologically problematic the vision of salvation in this book in which “there will be no more sea.” She sees this theme as reflecting a deep negativity in aspects of theological tradition toward the “watery deep” as the symbol of chaos, often associated with the female body, that is to be abolished in order to “save” the world. By contrast, she suggests that a nature-friendly theology must come to terms with chaos and integrate it into our worldview, rather than seek to abolish it. Mary Ann Hinsdale appreciates Keller’s method as “truly ecological in its attempt to reuse, recycle … and renew the text/tradition” while also opening it up to resonant contemporary art, music, and ritual. She finds it to be a model of fully ecosystemic theology, rooted in human experience of the “depths” of the sea, that would nurture appropriate Christian practices.

Barbara Rossing takes a sharply different view than does Keller of Revelation’s possibilities for ecological theology. She sees hostility to the “sea” and the quest to abolish it as a sociopolitical, not an ontological, symbol. The sea represents the trade economy of imperial Rome, and its abolition is a part of creating a restored human environment rooted in a restored nature. By abolishing the imperialism of Babylon (Rome), with its vast system of injustice to humans and exploitation of nature, a renewed world where God dwells in our midst is envisioned, empowering us to struggle for eco-justice in society.

Part three reexamines some basic tasks of Christian ethics to meet the environmental challenge. James Nash and Cristina Traina explore an ecologically sensitized and reformed natural law approach that can challenge and overcome the strongly anthropocentric views of nature and hierarchical moral teachings dominant in church tradition. After a careful critique of that tradition, Nash recommends following nature in the sense of “ecosystemic compatibility,” or fittingness that accommodates biological limits and cycles to assure sustainability. Traina’s response complements Nash’s discussion by emphasizing natural law’s theological character, concerned with “fulfilling temporal ends in a way that advances or coheres with transcendent ends.” We use our reason and creativity to shape ourselves and our surroundings for the common good within physical limits and social possibilities, as well as “within the transcendent bounds of our ultimate telos.” Our responsibility is to understand the places of humans and other entities with the global ecosystem and then to fit into its directionality and order.

Daniel Cowdin focuses on the moral status of otherkind in Christian ethics. His essay is informed by recent environmental philosophy and surveys the theological state of the question. He notes that the life and sentience approaches to the moral status of otherkind fit more easily into the Christian narrative than does a land ethic. But, following Aldo Leopold in extending moral obligation to the land, human activity should enhance, not jeopardize, ecosystemic integrity, stability, and beauty, while also caring for individual organisms and creatures, informed by the promise of “new creation.”

Zoologist Calvin DeWitt concentrates on such biblical texts as Job 40:15–24, celebrating Behemoth (the hippopotamus), in God’s second speech from the whirlwind. What at first was seen merely as a target for arrow, bullet, or harpoon, is so marvelous and beautiful and fit to its habitat that only its Maker has “author-ity” to extinguish its life or its kind. Otherkind are the handiwork of the Lord. Respectful people behold them thankfully and “con-serve” them in their habitats.

Other chapters in part three highlight the aesthetic dimensions of ecotheology. Douglas Burton-Christie, following the lead of Amos Wilder, discusses “creative theopoetics” to revitalize Christian theology—especially its understanding of the Word Incarnate—by revisiting its own most profound mythic and poetic resources and paying attention to the insights of contemporary nature writing. Peter Lee engages in a dialogue between Christian and Chinese traditions on the ideas of goodness, beauty, and holiness, showing the complementarity of the two traditions on these themes. Heup Young Kim affirms Lee’s efforts to synthesize Christian and Asian traditions, but he finds the mystical and sacramental traditions of Christianity more helpful than the rationalist forms of Protestantism that Lee has employed for this purpose. Kim also calls for a more critical look at the imperial and paternalist aspects of the Chinese tradition and the need to integrate social justice with cosmic harmony.

Paul Knitter leads us toward deep ecumenicity, which is concerned with finding common ground on a common earth: “The more deeply religious persons become ecologically attuned, the more effectively they will become ecumenically connected.” We have an ethical challenge to elaborate a way of acting in the world for the good of earth community. Religions provide the foundation by envisioning the sacred, fostering ethical reflection, and engendering political responsibility.

Several essays in part four focus on meeting urgent environmental problems with Christian ethical discipline. Ian Barbour explores the contributions of science in understanding human environmental impacts and fostering awareness of ecological interdependence. Scientific insights converge with religious thought in affirming respect for all forms of life and in expressing the need to become stewards of life’s continuity. We are called to respect the evolutionary wisdom and divine activity embodied in the natural world, to be accountable to the common good and future generations, and to foster a communal and less resource-consumptive vision of the good life.

Daniel Maguire declares the world religions are in default for failing to address the realities of the population-consumption explosion. He critiques the influence of religious natalism, environmental racism, and sacralized marketism on the attitudes and behavior of affluent Christians in particular. Susan Power Bratton and James Martin-Schramm point the way toward constructive responses in the church’s ministry and in social policy.

David Hallman surveys the role played by the ecumenical movement in grappling with human-induced climate change—a fundamental problem of justice and ethics precipitated by the rich industrialized nations, with disproportionate consequences on poor developing countries and future generations. William French and Preston Williams concentrate on public policies for sustainability. French examines some of the forces driving the global growth agenda and emphasizes the stake that Christian communities have in promoting ecological sustainability. In the policy arena, he urges the promotion of green (or carbon) taxes to help restrain unsustainable patterns of resource and energy use, habitat destruction, species extinction, and population growth.

Patterns of religious thought and ritual function to provide a binding sense of what on Earth is sacred and the role of humans therein. If that is what concerns religion, then we find ourselves in the throes of a life-and-death struggle between historic world religions that fostered “oikonomia” and an ultramodern religion of “economism,” as John Cobb labels it,8 that depletes the world’s natural “resources” for profit and fosters “consumption” for happiness at the expense of sustainable communities and biodiverse ecosystems. The church must become more engaged with protecting natural places and building community while resisting false worship of a universal, “free” market system driven by globalized capitalist investment.

What pattern of ecclesial and social praxis is needed to meet the environmental challenge? The final group of essays, part five, focuses on the churches’ role in eco-justice ministry and citizenship. Larry Rasmussen opens this section with an important overview of the church’s eco-justice mission in an increasingly urbanized society. That mission, in his words, is to address the social and ecological questions together for the sake of comprehensive sustainability in a time of economic “globalization,” in which nature, knowledge, and culture —all life’s human and nonhuman communities—are being recast.

Praxis for ecology and justice involves participation in earth stewardship, for example, through Zimbabwaen tree planting by earthkeeping churches in Southern Africa as described by Marthinus Daneel. Martin Robra’s response emphasizes that the earthkeeping ministry of African Independent Churches exemplifies the cultural adaptability of Christian symbols. It also challenges the way Christians in the North have accommodated to the culture of domination. The Zimbabwean example enjoins churches everywhere to develop “practical consciousness” that results in a lifestyle of ecology and justice.

Praxis involves environmental justice organizing in North American communities, as Vernice Miller-Travis illustrates in her narrative account. Praxis also requires more focused religious leadership, the subject of the chapter by William Somplatsky-Jarman, Walter Grazer, and Stan LeQuire, who describe the work being done among and by Christians in the United States through the National Religious Partnership for the Environment.

Patricia Mische reminds us that eco-justice praxis is instilled through a communal ethos and habits of earthkeeping at local and bioregional levels. Praxis also involves reform of liturgy and spiritual practice; and it includes nonpartisan political advocacy, as exemplified by civil society organizations, such as Global Education Associates.

Part five is followed by Rosemary Radford Ruether’s concluding essay on the centrality of eco-justice in authentic Christian witness. For Ruether, this is not a new or marginal emphasis for Christian life and thought; rather, it is central to a full understanding of the church’s mission as witness to and participant in God’s redemption of creation.

This volume on Christianity and ecology appears roughly a one-third century after Christians began to rethink biblical exegesis, theology, and ethics for planetary well-being. It illustrates much of the major work being done by Christian scholars to meet the environmental challenge. We trust that the creative spiritual and moral insights in these essays will encourage readers and churches to strengthen and deepen an emerging, vital consensus that the gospel calls Christians to be engaged, with others of good will, in a healing struggle for the well-being of everykind and of diverse communities under increasing ecosocial stress.



1 For well-documented critical surveys, see the overview essay and annotations of Peter W. Bakken, Joan Gibb Engel, and J. Ronald Engel, Ecology, Justice, and Christian Faith: A Critical Guide to the Literature (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995); and chapters on state-of- the-art scholarship in Theology for Earth Community: A Field Guide, ed. Dieter T. Hessel (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1996).
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2 Early Christian scholarly work by the Faith-Man-Nature Group, exemplifying “The Greening of Religion,” is described in Roderick F. Nash, The Rights of Nature: A History of Environmental Ethics (Madison, Wisc.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989) 87–120. For an ecologically aware history of Christian doctrine, see H. Paul Santmire, The Travail of Nature: The Ambiguous Ecological Promise of Christian Theology (Philadelphia, Pa.: Fortress, 1985). An overview of North American ecumenical Christian environmental response since the 1960s is provided by Dieter T. Hessel, “Where Were/Are the U.S. Churches in the Environmental Movement?” in Theology for Earth Community: A Field Guide (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1996) 199–207.
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3 Rosemary Radford Ruether, who introduced this distinction in Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), discusses it further in the conclusion to this present volume.
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4 See, After Nature’s Revolt: Eco-Justice and Theology, ed. Dieter T. Hessel (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 1992); Good News for Animals? Christian Approaches to Animal Well-Being, ed. Charles Pinches and Jay B. McDaniel (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1993); “Concern for Creation: Voices on the Theology of Creation,” in Tro and Tanke, ed. Viggo Mortensen (Lutheran World Federation) 5 (1995); “And God Saw That It Was Good”: Catholic Theology and the Environment, ed. Drew Christiansen and Walter Grazer (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1996); “Eco-Justice and the Environment,” in American Journal of Theology and Philosophy 18, no. 1 (January 1997) ed. Jerome A. Stone; and Stephen Bede Scharper, Redeeming the Time: A Political Theology of the Environment (New York: Continuum, 1997).
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5 For a discussion of these eco-justice norms, see Dieter Hessel, “Ecumenical Ethics for Earth Community,” Theology and Public Policy 8, nos. 1–2 (summer/winter 1996): 17–29.
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6 James A. Nash, “Toward the Ecological Reformation of Christianity,” Interpretation 50, no. 1 (January 1996) 5–15.
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7 See Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, “Creation in Ecumenical Theology,” in Ecotheology: Voices from South and North, ed. David G. Hallman (Geneva: World Council of Churches Publications; Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1994) 103.
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8 See Herman E. Daly and John B. Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future, 2d ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994).
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    Copyright © 2000 Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School.
Reprinted with permission.  
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