Ecology And Eschatology: A Neglected Dimension -- By: Francis Bridger
TynBul 41:2 (1990) p. 290
Ecology And Eschatology:
A Neglected Dimension
At the conclusion of his 1989 Tyndale Ethics Lecture, Donald Hay posed the question: ‘Are there significant contributions from the biblical themes of redemption and the Last Things that should inform our discussion of these (environmental) issues?’1 In this article it is proposed to sketch some of the connections between ecology and eschatology which make it clear that Hay’s question can unequivocally be answered in the affirmative.
The first thing to note is that until recently, theological ethicists have largely neglected the eschatological dimension in ecological discussion. Paul Santmire has consequently characterised the development of Christian ecological ethics in terms of two approaches based on differing ‘motifs’. The first he designates ‘the spiritual motif’ by which he means that concern about earthly things is overtaken by concern about the spiritual or other-worldly. This, he argues, is the dominant idea to be found in John’s gospel and in Hebrews. The central thought or metaphor is that of ascent and the Christian’s vision is focused on the spiritual rather than the material world: ‘The Pauline vision of the Christian standing in solidarity with the whole creation at the very end is thereby eclipsed.’2 It is this motif which, in Santmire’s view, has dominated Christian history and which controls the thought of the majority of modern biblical scholars.
Over and against this Santmire sets what he calls ‘an ecological reading of biblical faith’ in which we see an ecological motif in Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom, in the apocalyptic theology of Paul and in the development of a
TynBul 41:2 (1990) p. 291
cosmic Christology. The frame of reference for an ethic of the environment thus shifts from creation to new creation. Eschatology becomes the critical category.
If contemporary Christian theologians took that kind of approach to biblical faith seriously. . .that could lead to a new birth of Christian thought about nature. The travail of nature in Christian theology could come to a blessed ending.3
If Santmire is correct, we are justified in concluding that with a few recent exceptions4 (of whom Jurgen Moltmann is the most notable) the treatment of ecology has centred almost exclusively on refining and developing a stewardship ethic based on the concept of dominion found in the creation na...
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