David Atkinson is a member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, and has recently retired as Bishop of Thetford. Though his background is in organic chemistry and X-ray crystallography, several issues persuaded him to write Renewing the Face of the Earth, which has as its subtitle ‘A theological and pastoral response to climate change’. I am not sure that this subtitle does justice to all the information, arguments, suggestions and guidance which this little book contains. Nor am I certain that a price of £12.99 for a relatively small paperback book will encourage people to buy it and refer to it.
But they should. What I find so helpful in David’s writing is
- it is very readable
- he summaries issues with quotations and lists which make for ease of clarifying the different arguments
- the range of his own reading is wide, and he draws well from many sources, either in chunks of text to support his discussion, or in the references in footnotes
- at the end of the book is a useful list of books for further reading, and web sites for contacts
His initial chapter sets the scene, in terms of Global Warming and the urgency of the whole situation. Quoting various writers, reports and statistics David quickly builds up a picture of why we need to be concerned. His conclusion is straightforward: ‘Climate change is thus opening up for us – in ways which we would not have sought – questions about human life and destiny, about our relationship to the planet and to each other … about our values, hopes and goals, and about our obligations to the present and for the future. These are moral, spiritual and therefore theological questions.’ (p.28)
And then it is into a review of the whole covenant relationship. From Abraham and Moses, on through Deuteronomy, with major sections on justice (relating this to Amos) and Redemption; we get Genesis, not at the beginning, but as the creation context within which the covenant relationship is set; and a chapter headed ‘Sabbath: Covenant Joy’ which takes in issues such as life’s rhythm and lifestyle, worship, sufficiency, jubilee, health, Jesus’ Sabbath ministry, and so on. It’s a wide sweep, covered in sections which are short and to the point. Biblical references abound, often linking an issue from the past to a more general situation today. Passages from Isaiah and Jeremiah, for example, with images of drought and despair, are linked to comments such as: ‘It is the Deuteronomic theme again: where there is commitment to God and walking in God’s ways, there is the blessing of fruitfulness; refusal to walk in God’s ways leads to consequences which can affect the environment, even the climate.’ (p.123)
Of course, the New Testament events and relationships come into the picture that is being drawn. After Justice there is Redemption: the suffering Christ and his resurrection, the suffering creation and its hope; a new heaven and a new earth. Then it is on to the practical: ‘living as God’s covenant people’. For David ‘the covenant comes to its climax in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, where Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper, and supremely in his death and resurrection’. (p.140) In the Eucharistic liturgy the various themes with which David has dealt are seen to be brought together. ‘The Lord’s Supper underlines our sharing and identifying with the crucified Jesus Christ – and that must promote social transformation.’ (p.142). And so we are on to Mission and Discipleship, practical action and bearing witness.
The book is written from an Anglican point of view, as befits David’s background; at one point he says ‘We recall that the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops called on …’ (Er – no I don’t). But in fact, even the lists of goals set our by such bodies are helpful to those of us in other denominations. We are all in this together, and can learn from work done, and reports published, by many Christian groups.
It is the range of topics to which he refers, the sources from which he draws, and the challenge of its practical conclusions which make this book of particular interest and value to me.