This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2013 vol. 170 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Living with Other Creatures: Green Exegesis and TheologyBaylor University Press, Waco, TX November 1, 2011
This book collects several studies from Richard Bauckham on the Bible, Christian tradition, and how Christians should treat the environment. In the first part of the book Bauckham addresses Lynn White’s article “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” (Science 155 : 1203–7), which largely lays the blame for current ecological ills at the feet of Christianity. According to White, Christianity, an anthropocentric religion, propagates a view that the earth is a resource to be exploited for the benefit of man. Similar critiques have been leveled against dispensationalism. Many have criticized the dispensational eschatological position that the present world will be destroyed and be replaced with a new heavens and a new earth. This implies, it is charged, that since the planet’s destruction is imminent, its resources can be exploited with little regard.
Bauckham responds to White’s criticism by arguing that this view of the environment and the relationship of humans with nonhuman inhabitants does not present a biblical perspective, but reflects a reading of Genesis 1–3 in the context of the Enlightenment. The Bible actually presents a relationship of humanity alongside the creation worshiping God together. Dominion in this context means that humanity serves and cares for the creation. The Bible is theocentric rather than anthropocentric. Bauckham argues that modern perspectives of Italian Renaissance humanists and Francis Bacon, who envisioned the potential of domination over nature for human benefit, have impacted interpretation of Genesis 1–3. As a result the concept of dominion has shifted to mean domination and exploitation. Rather than caring for the creation, people have viewed the creation as a resource. Bauckham looks at Christian traditions before the Enlightenment to show that Christians viewed animals as co-created beings offering praise to God along with humans.
The second part of the book addresses the New Testament’s teaching on animals and the creation, particularly in Jesus’ own teaching and in Revelation. First, regarding Jesus’ teaching, the Gospels contain little that addresses how humanity should relate to animals or the world; however, Bauckham argues that Jesus’ position can be determined through implication. Bauckham points out that the ecological context of Galilee in which Jesus lived would have influenced His outlook on the environment. Judaism anticipated a time in the coming kingdom when there will be peace between animals and humanity. Bauckham views Jesus’ understanding in light of this context. The only explicit statement about Jesus’ relationship with animals is Mark 1:13. This text reflects Isaiah 11:6–8, which describes the inauguration of the kingdom and the future peace between creation and humanity. For the topic as a whole, further attention to pertinent Old Testament passages would be helpful. Second, regarding Revelation, Bauckham argues that the four beasts in 4:6b–8 represent all the animals worshiping together. In addition, he gives several examples throughout the book that show how the church appropriated these traditions outside the modern influence of domination.
Ultimately today’s ecological issues differ significantly from the ecological issues of the first century. Because of this gap the New Testament is largely silent about questions being raised today. Nonetheless Bauckham shows part of how the Bible relates to today’s ecological questions. The strength of the book is in Bauckham’s grasp and challenge of a modern hermeneutic and the impact that it has had on exegesis.
—Benjamin I. Simpson