Over the last few years I’ve developed an interest in theology and the environment. Jesus and the Earth is based on four lectures given by James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool. Where most Biblical scholars turn to the Old Testament to find Christian teaching on the environment, Jones has chosen to focus on Jesus. After all, if Jesus is the embodiment of God on earth, nothing will demonstrate God’s view of the earth better than Jesus’ attitude to the world around him.
But that leads Jones to asking questions such as what was Jesus’ attitude to the earth, what, if anything, did he say about the environment, is there a divine ‘earth-ethic’ to be found in the Gospels? One of the great things about this book is that Jones is not an expert academic theologian, instead the book is written for ordinary people with the right balance of information and reflection to comprise a beautiful devotional work. Each of the four chapters ends with discussion points thereby enhancing the study-group value.
Chapter 1, influenced by Walter Wink explores the humanity of Jesus as the “Son of Man.” He suggests that the Earth as God’s “footstool” signifies a “touching place” where the divine presence is immanent.
Chapter 2 explores Jesus and consumption – “the Son of Man comes eating and drinking.” Jones explores how “the history of Christianity has been blighted by those who have denied the essential materialism of creation and the gospel.” I am reminded of George Macleod’s question: “What’s the matter? Matter’s the matter!” meaning that a spirituality that cuts off incarnation into the material world is an abstract and useless spirituality.
Chapter 3 deepens this immanent and incarnate spirituality, exploring “the earthing of Heaven”. Thus, “to desecrate the earth and despoil the soilis no just a crime against humanity, it is a blasphemy.”
Chapter 4 explores the Christian spirituality of personal and cosmic regeneration and recreation. But this is not abstract theology. Jones grounds it all back down into parish ministry. “A parish is a a corner of God’s creation … with people of good will we work within this boundary for the holistic transformation of the neighbourhood, for its regeneration spiritually and physically.” Bearing in mind the post-Toxteth riots history of the witness of Liverpool bishops, both Catholic and Anglican, these are words with a credible track record: as he concludes, “The parish is the arena for the earthing of heaven locally.”
For those who insist on practicality, Jones’ discussion section at the end of this last chapter includes a list of things that an ecologically aware church can do – buying “A” rated electrical appliances, etc., but the strength of this little book is that it points to these things as steps on the way, but sets them in the big spiritual picture.