Monday, December 21, 2009

On the World's Largest Stage: Narrative, Heroism, and the Ecologium in Global Climate Change (pt4)


The theme of the kingdom of God is the theme of creation restored to and flourishing in its relationship to the creator. It is the end of the alienation between created things and the realignment of the duality between world and God. And it is the placement of experiencing, imaging, and narrating humans within a creation of which they are not the final measure. Simultaneously, it is the full movement of humanity into their fully responsible roles as the ones who image God and creation alike. The theme of the kingdom of God is that which tells humanity what it will be like to be re-created re-creators and the exalted satisfaction that must result. It is a necessary corrective to the dominant narratives.

The earlier vision of the earth representing heaven in Scholastic fashion has long been exposed as overly authoritarian and confining, as an excess of human rather than divine directive. Yet the modern narrative that replaced it has also been exposed as overly arrogant and incautious, as an excess of human freedom against God and, now, God’s creation. Finally, the postmodern narratives may well be eventually exposed as overly cynical and insubstantial, as human limitation pushed over into human hopelessness and helplessness. This last is the experience of many people, and it is an implicit abdication of human responsibility.

It is not the experience of the kingdom of God. Though they may play a part in its rancorous becoming, the dominant narratives which describe God over and against the world, humanity against nature, or people always divided against themselves have no place in the kingdom of God. Nor do they have a place in the story of global climate change, as a principle theme of that story is the theme of nature responding unpredictably to human agency, a category which all the other narratives have not fully understood. The chaotic nature of global climate change implies for the first time a freedom not only of humanity and of God, but also a freedom of the world. Global climate change is an awesome statement of the world’s own subjectivity. It is a reactive subjectivity to be sure, but the capricious nature of climate change implies a category that a new narrative of God, world and humanity must consider: that creation itself will be an agent of the future and an actor within God’s salvific story. The story of climate change is the story of the stage itself come to catastrophic life.

The kingdom of God, with its roots in Hebraic scripture describing the land and its creatures in precisely such vivid and reactive terms, stands poised to readily absorb this element. And it stands to include it within the new story of God and world and humankind as it directly embraces them – because the kingdom of God is love, and the love of all creation. And what is love, after all, if it is not human direction, freedom and limitation all embraced in right proportion and degree? In the kingdom of God, the creatures themselves sing praises to the creator, and the elders and the martyrs sing with them.

The kingdom of God is the vision of the election, not of narrowing selections of humanity, but of all creation; it is the reselection of all things in new categories which might not precisely match the old – in Christ, for example, there is no male or female, and the lion lies down with the lamb. The realization of the kingdom of God is the revelation of “him who loves and freed us…and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.” The kingdom of God is the kingdom of enduring trust in God’s provision, the kingdom of God’s pervasive presence, and the power and the glory of the all- consuming, all-consummating Sabbath.

Thus, we recreating humans will not be the summit of the recreational kingdom of God, but we will certainly be its foundation. The revelation of the kingdom begins precisely with the suffering servants of the church and proceeds decisively and intricately toward the extinction of all darkness and the proclamation that God will be the light of the everlastingly recreated world. This recreation proceeds apace, and in precisely the opposite direction in which creation first occurred –not in order to undo it but to redo it in the image of Christ. And the kingdom image of God in Christ is the image of humanity directed toward the service of God through and for God’s creatures, freed to employ human talents liberated from sin and its contaminating effects, and graciously limited by the realization of our place within creation and our trust in God’s provision. The story of the kingdom of God is the story of what it’s like to be recreated.

It is also the story of what it’s like to be holy, because it is the story of what it’s like to image God – and whatever else the image of God might be, it is certainly holiness. The experience of God is the experience of holiness and the realization of our created state. The experience of the kingdom of God is simply the extension of this experience unto all created things. “Holy, holy, holy” is the song the creatures sing and the everlasting Sabbath is the all-consuming, all-consummating day of holiness. It is the vision of the sanctification of all things and the extinction of the alienation that leads unto corruption and to death. The holiness of the kingdom of God is the holiness of teeming multiplicity, of everlasting and exultant multitudes welcoming the descent of the new Jerusalem, the holy city coming down from heaven and the everlasting exuberance of the experience of the holiness of God, who is the new temple of God’s own kingdom.

The vision of the kingdom of God is the vision of world and God and humanity no longer divided but realigned, distinct but entwined in holy flourishing. It is the vision of God touching all creation, all creation embracing God and humanity caressing in love all the natural world. The story of the kingdom of God is the story of where salvation leads. It is also how the story of global climate change might end – in full consummation of God’s own promises and in the full restoration of humanity and world to God.

But it is not the only possible end. There are other futures less desirable – one of these being the catastrophe of the ecologium into which we are currently heading. The gap between these possibilities produces much of the tension in which we live, and much of the tension of the biblical and climatological narratives alike. For while we know we live in an inescapable story, we do not yet know what kind of story it will be. Much is determined only by the outcome, and while we must certainly be living in a drama, we have yet to learn whether it will be wonderfully comedic or devastatingly tragic. It may well be that the promises of God have such weight that they cannot help but come into fruition.

On the other hand, they might not, and our position as always and already within the story means that ultimately we cannot know. What we do know is that either way, our position as the servant foundation of the kingdom means that much depends upon us. The characters themselves always have much to say about a story and its resolution. Thus, the story of global climate change does not need magic, and it requires no dues ex machina. But it does need heroes. And it needs them very much.


The story of global climate change must have, in good Aristotelian fashion, a beginning, a middle, and an end. I have tried to suggest a very broad outline of this here. And I have tried to detail, with more specificity, some of the themes that must predominate in an undeniably Christian narrative of the emerging catastrophe: creation and fall, faith and humility, holiness and law, love and the promises of the kingdom of God. I have no doubt done so in ways specific to my tradition and my own particular perspective, and no doubt others might suggest different emphases and imply different solutions.

But I also have no doubt that the emphases implied by Wesleyan and Anglican tradition, articulated by process and continentalist philosophy, and affirmed by contemporary biblical exegesis at least touch upon rudiments of catholic Christian faith. And I hope that these things might suffice for some accord. The crisis of global climate change is precisely the sort of crisis that requires a catholic Christian spirit, and the way into the coming of the kingdom of God surely cannot be the alienating thinking that has so marked the internal strife of Christendom. Indeed, the rigid boundaries between denominations for the last several hundred years may well prove to have been a luxury of that collapsed reality. It seems doubtful that we can afford them now.

Besides, the very nature of heroic thinking is that which disregards immediate and self-interested problems in favor of the larger and longer good. And the story of the created and coming kingdom of God is precisely that story which produces heroes. The premodern, modern and postmodern narratives concerning God, world and humanity all constrict, distort, or condemn human agency to the point where it cannot healthily function. And it has been precisely these narratives that have throughout the centuries produced the ignorance, greed, and cynicism that has caused and perpetuated the current climatological crisis.

But the narrative of the love of God and God’s creatures founded in the Hebrew Bible, expressed in Jesus of Nazareth and promised in the revelation of the kingdom of God is precisely the love that gently guides, dramatically restores and transformatively blesses human nature into its fully recreated potential. It is love that makes the most powerful human agents, and love is what those human agents are for. It is love that breaks though the indecisive paralysis produced by the senseless multiplicity and sterile duplicity of our Western culture.

‘What, then, are we to do?’ is the perpetual contemporary question. But the answer is both simpler and more enduring than we might believe. If Christians are right that God so loved the world that he sent his only son, only sane response is to so love his son and the world that we love God back. All else must be secondary. All paths directed toward this end must be sacral and must certainly be blessed. The secret of the kingdom of God, after all, is that it lies within us. The heroes of the kingdom of love cannot be isolated individuals but must surely be a teeming multitude, a whole host of witnesses to the atrocities that humanity commits against love and love’s dominion.

In the story of the coming of the kingdom of God, each and every participating human person gets to be a hero in Christ. And if the biblical solution to the crisis is always broader than the inclinations that led to the crisis, then there must surely be more right answers within the kingdom than there are wrong answers outside of it. The narrow way leads unto the broad boulevards of heaven. In every case, the loving must only be heroic, and the heroic must only be

Already, for example, there have been two main types of heroism suggested: the idealistic, quiet and renewed ascetism which opts out of the capitalist and industrialist systems that have produced global warming, perhaps best displayed in the elegiac film Off the Map; and the pragmatic, hard-hitting, and tireless advocacy of the Green movement, perhaps best exemplified in the unflagging person of Ralph Nader. Neither of these are wrong, as one maintains the idealist vision necessary for a comedic resolution to the drama of climate change, and the other insists on the realism that prevents a tragic outcome of our story.

The disadvantage of these solutions is that they are entirely secular proposals, and one can see already the problem of dualities within the environmental movements. The benefit of a Christian narrative concerning global climate change, however, can be the addition of an embracing, conciliatory and humbling perspective for all who decide they love the world. We already have at least one prospective hero in saint Francis of Assisi. I submit that we embrace saintliness in the Protestant fashion, and become many more heroes in the sacred cause of serving God through his creation.

I might have seemed throughout these pages to suggest that the kingdom of God is synonymous with a comedic resolution to the current drama concerning the climatological crisis, and that the story of salvation is essentially equivalent to and coterminous with the story of the ecological movement. This very simply is not the case. The realm of the ecologium can be no more ultimately salvific than the realms of the politicum, ecclesium or economium have ever been or ever could be. Rather, as with all of these domains, the mandate of the kingdom of God is precisely that which is expressed in and through the structural realities of human endeavor.

I have simply argued that the agents of the kingdom of God must act within the ecological realm as surely as they must act in the political, economic, and ecclesial ones and that the kingdom of God includes all of these. It is not that the kingdom of God is a healthy ecology free of climate crises but only that there surely cannot be a kingdom of God without one. It is only another area of the stage, another act written into the script and only recently re-imagined.

But it is a crucial one. Certainly no honest Christian could contemplate clouds of pollution and claim that they manifest the glory of God, or understand the greed that strips the land of irreplaceable resources to be humanity manifesting Christ in loving liberty. And certainly no Christian would suggest that the unending desertification of Africa and the despoiling of American topsoil through petroleum-fueled monoculture is sanctification written large across the land. Through these no more souls are gained, and many more will be lost as the world’s supply of fresh water and arable land decreases.

Rather, it is to the overwhelming and intractable nature of these problems that the cynics among us will appeal. They will say that the problems are so pervasive and complex that surely there can be no substantial change and that we will either continue or we will not, independent of our efforts.

But I have deliberately written the problem of global climate change in very broad terms precisely because its nature is so systemic, so all-embracing and so much intrinsically about the human heart. It is only as humanity as touched all things that our sins have corrupted vast amounts of the creation. And it is only as our technological power of alienation has increased that we have forsaken our theological power to work within creation for the common good.

But it is precisely that theological ability that Christianity can convey, and it is precisely the transformation of hearts and minds that Christianity has perpetually addressed. The hope that a Christian narrative of climate change can convey is the hope that all of this is absolutely new, and that the solution is always and already at hand. Such hope must be even more urgent than our crisis, and its delivery is precisely that which we are loved and empowered to impart.

On the World's Largest Stage: Narrative, Heroism, and the Ecologium in Global Climate Change (pt3)

Crisis and Climax

The story of the crisis of created humanity is the story of the crisis of selection. This crisis disrupts creation by corrupting it. The selection, the separation that leads to flourishing becomes the alienation that is annihilation. Adam and Eve die when they stop saying ‘we,’ step outside their limitations, and seek dominion over all creation rather than satisfaction within it. There is no crisis but this crisis, and no evil that cannot be attributed to it. Every graceful human separation becomes a graceless human fall.

The separation of primal goodness from primal goodness for the purpose of fecund multiplicity becomes the division that erupts in humanity’s distrust, malice, and murder. Such crises are telling because they illuminate both the nature of continuing calamity and the nature of the possible solutions. They tell us that we want to believe in God’s provision and that we want to trust that God is with us, but that we ultimately fail to do both. They tell us that we yearn for Sabbath and for our rightful separation within creation but that we instead opt for that which is violently opposed to faith and to humility, to being of the earth.

When the humans as a whole fail to represent either creation or God, God elects a tribe to represent humanity to itself, to be a holy nation and a priestly people. The Biblical account of Abram is the beginning of this separation and its subsequent corruption and aftermath. It begins promisingly as Abram trusts God sufficiently to leave the land of Haran and go he knows not where, and it continues in hope even when Abram learns that God will grant the land to his promised children rather than himself. Abram only builds an altar to mark the place as holy, set apart by him for God and vice versa. Abram will not only be good but will also be blessed, will be separated and holy by being added unto. The God that spoke to Abram in Haran also speaks to him in Canaan, and God does not mold the chosen people from clay but will provide them from Abram’s own loins. With Abram and through Abram God will produce another teeming multitude; the God of Abram is again the Sabbath God of power-for and power-with creation.

But Abram does not take the subsequent famine as a Sabbath; he does not trust in God’s provision. Rather he leaves the land partitioned for him and goes to Egypt for supplies. Therein he consorts with domineering Pharaoh, lies about his wife’s identity and tacitly condones Pharaoh’s male and female human slaves. None of this was promised, and Abram has defied his separation within humanity by taking advantage of Pharaoh, implicitly prostituting his wife for food, and collaborating with a power-structure that defies human limitation. This is the prototypical crisis story.

Any account of human calamity true to the biblical spirit will include alienation, enmity, deceit and distrust and domineering arrogance. The emergence of God’s selected people from Egypt, while more well known, only reiterates this story on a grander scale, as the Decalogue which details the elements of Hebraic separation within the world presages idolatry, continuing distrust in God’s providing Sabbath, and the failure of the chosen people to separate themselves from entangling and unholy political structures, even within the land that God does in fact ultimately set aside for them. The eventual fall of the house of Israel is the fall of Abram writ large, and is the fall of Eden inscribed on more numerous hearts. It is this essential and patterned experience of fall that the story of global climate change must relate.

The calamity of humanity is our failure to share in God’s gracious work. We opt out of creation when we defy Sabbath and claim unto ourselves our ability to provide, breaking the envelope of human limitation. But that has not changed the nature of creation or ended God’s purposed work—only God can do that. Rather, the genius of the creation story is that creation contains the possibility of its own solution. It is nothing extraordinary but is in fact the return to primal business as usual.

This can be a powerful part of the story of global climate change – many might argue that global industrialization and the emergence of a world market that feeds on the exploitation of human and natural resources is necessary, but no one is ever going to argue that it is historically the norm. The story of global climate change is simply the story of the human fall writ in unprecedented proportions and somewhat distorted by the scale. It is not the story of our created state. It is not the story of our promise. But it is the story of human choice and consequence. It is the story of what happens when humans abandon God’s work and opt instead entirely for our own.

The solution, of course, is suggested by the biblical theme of repentance, of turning away from ourselves to address the proffered work of God. The invitation has not been rescinded. If anything, it has been increased. Just as God’s response to the fall of Abram was Abram’s gracious separation from Lot and reiteration of the covenant, so God’s response to the first Israelite anxieties concerning provision in the wilderness was the blessing of the law that detailed the nature of the holiness they were to accept. God’s work is salvation, and salvation always builds; deliverance from Egypt is deliverance for the purposes of remembering, worshiping and imaging God. The crisis that provokes our indignation can become the crisis that wakens our consciousness.

Instead of asking why calamity is happening to us we can opt out of participation in its continuation and opt into discovering its remedies. Repentance and the salvation it leads to are creational acts because they reorient humanity to its proper place within the partitioned paradise, within nature’s teeming multitudes. When God’s promised people promise to obey, they hear commandments concerning the holiness of God and God’s face and name, holiness of humans in their marriage, parentage and in life itself, and the holiness of the created world in its Sabbath and in its provision. The holy nation is to create a holy and separate culture; this is the nature of the blessing and God’s added work. The people of God becomes a holy nation when they begins to fear God and do not touch the mountain God set aside as God’s own dwelling place. Goodness begins again when humans simply accept their limitations.

But the holy nation is not to be consecrated simply for itself but is instead is to be for other nations, as a blessing to them. The shape of God’s work is expansive and expanding. God always adds more characters. When the priestly nation fails the solution will not be abandonment of the program but the separation and the holiness of one man to image God to the nation that was to image God to humanity and thus to all creation. When the priestly nation itself fails to recognize the image, the solution will be for the holy one to embrace all humanity directly. The motion of salvation is always outward. The solution to the crisis is always broader than the situation that led to the crisis. Creation increases, sometimes by staggering degrees.

The climactic ethics of Jesus of Nazareth is the salvific ethic of reverence for life. Creational holiness is concern for the welfare of God’s created creatures. It emphasizes humanity but never excludes that which is not humanity. Human beings only have much more worth than the many sparrows of the parable if the individual birds themselves have value. Goodness, after all, is always goodness-with. The law included in the story of global climate change must be the law of reverence for all life. To the areas of human experience subject to God’s mandates – politium, ecclesium, and economium— the story of creation must add also the domain of ecologium. Without the teeming of the ecological household, after all, there is no human thriving whatsoever. We must recognize that the God that touches all things is that God that loves all things and is touched by them.

The law of love written into the story of global climate change must be the law of love written across all creation. The only biblical duality, after all, is that between creation and creator. No other duality is credited good, as delineation exists precisely for the purpose of fecund relationship. Alienation between humanity and nature will never contribute to human thriving or the love of God. Human domination over heavens and earth will never contribute to creational exuberance, but only destroy the stage upon which all life plays. The law of love for all creation, on the other hand, invites participation in the ungoing work of the holiness of Jesus Christ. It is sharing in the kingdom which Jesus Christ claimed to be at hand.

The climax that solves the calamity of selection is the election not only of all people but of all created things. It is the vision of the community of communities of communities created by God, proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth and hoped for by the prophet Isaiah. It is the provisioned pearl of great price, and the Sabbath extended into eternity. It is that for which all creation groans. Such a satisfaction must be included in our story, but must primarily be anticipated. Both the biblical and ecological narratives must advocate our place within them and within their open nature. Living in the climax, we must look to the future for final hope and satisfaction, for the ultimate realization of the transformations the crisis and its solution have brought about.

On the World's Largest Stage: Narrative, Heroism, and the Ecologium in Global Climate Change (pt2)

The Scene

The story of salvation is the story of human experience of God. It necessarily includes all human experience, because there is nothing accessible to us that is not accessible to God and there is nothing accessible to us without experience. Experience is the primal human truth. But it is formless, fragmentary and unrealized outside of story and cannot be understood apart from encapsulating narrative.

To formulate the story of global climate change is to formulate our contiguous and comprehensive experiences of the world as such and within the drama of God and humanity – our experience of creation as well as salvation, and, as I will later argue, our experience of sanctification as well. To form the story of global climate change, then, we must understand the primal experience. We must be able to tell what it is like to be created. We must understand the opening scene.

In the beginning there was everything – or, more precisely, the place where everything would be. There was not a small egg which grew or a god who died to provide its body or a heaven of perfect forms, but there was ‘when God created the heavens and the earth.’ That which God first creates is that which will contain all things. God first creates the envelope in which all matter and light and life will be. God first builds the scaffolding, or the foundation, of creation. God, in other words, first creates the stage, and the stage will hold all things. There will be nothing in the drama that does not occur upon the stage. No character or image or plot will ever escape the canvas on which God draws or writes or makes it; this is simply a function of creation and creativity –although, of course, the canvas itself can always be transformed.

Humans, we must note, do not precede the stage. Nor are they first upon it. They are not the reason for the drama or the stage, which exists solely to please its creator. At first, the stage does not do so because it is formless and void – it is empty, shapeless, and without boundary. Every movement of God is away from this chaotic stasis. Separation, division, and limitation will be direction of all things. Even Eden will be paradise, partitioned.

God separates creation not from God’s self but within creation’s self, moves creation from sterile unity toward teeming delineation. God populates the stage with distinctive abundance and delineation. Separation is not a movement away from God but is a movement by God; it is precisely God hovering over the face of the waters that precedes God calling light into being and separating it from darkness. Creation is God’s investment. And this is the primal creational scene: God calls into being, God separates elements of creation, God sees that it is good, and God proclaims that it is so.

Please understand, God does not declare it good and thus make it so; rather, God recognizes the created thing as good and then announces God’s own realization. The creation holds integral to itself its own created value, in each of its delineations. God repeats this for effect. And God anticipates humanity in creation with increasing complications of form – plants and beasts being more complex than each and all of the previous things that they themselves rely upon. The story generates its own excitement. Human beings are not first, but they are prepared for. They will be its dominant theme. They will just be so within the canvas of all created things. They will rely upon all created things, as all created things have done before them.

Much has been said about the imageo dei, and the story of global climate change would add little to it, save this: it is surely representational. “Let us,” says God, “make man in our image” – and immediately makes humanity divided, male and female. The issue of course is not the nature of the sexes but the internal division within humanity itself. All is partition. Even singular God refers to multiple identities within one image, and the experience of creation is the experience of fecund multiplicity. To be created humans is thus to reveal the likeness of God to creation and to represent to God the likeness of the created world.

And the image of God in humans is not distinction from creation except in the grace added unto us: the blessing of dominion. It is limited domain, not over the land or the seas or the heavens themselves, but only over the creatures that dwell within each of them. It is the dominion of domestication, the last link of a long chain which begins with plants: “to everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” The image of God is not a departure from creation; it is rather a separation within and a culmination of all that has gone before. Humans in their image and dominion are not an exception to creation – they are an exaggeration of it.

To be created is to be within creation, and to be created is to respond to the creator. All other things respond by being, by being called into being. We respond to God’s call by imaging God, by representing God; that is what the imageo means. What, then, is this God that we are to imagine? First, the God of the story of creation is not God-over; rather, God is God-for. The goodness of creation exists independently of God’s estimation, and the power of the God of the creation is precisely the power to create, to establish the flourishing of life. Secondly, the God of the story of creation is God-with. Creation is God’s investment, and God touches all things. There is nothing that is without God. God is not God removed but God present and drawing nearer through creation and especially through humanity, though not ultimately so.

Rather, the primal image of God-with and God-for the entire contiguous chain of creation is the image of the Sabbath. This is the creation that culminates created humanity and completes the ecological chain of being. This is the experience that the story of global climate change must pay careful attention to. Our narrative must tell the story of the good creation remembering that it is God’s and that its goodness is primal and integral. It does not need humanity or human work to flourish. It needs rest. So do the humans who image creation to God, and vice versa. All the Sabbath day is holy, and all the on the Sabbath day is whole.

The story of global climate change must relate the contiguity of humanity within creation and delineate the purpose of humanity’s partitioning within it. Its narrative must itself image the power of human dominion and its profound and necessary limitations, the very core of which is Sabbath. Sabbath is what happens when the stage is itself sufficient. Sabbath is the essence of what it is like to be created. The completion of creation is the respite of God’s satisfaction, God’s restraint from further creativity. God has called into being and all being has responded. God has moved into creation and called it very good. The creation is satisfied because God is satisfied. The experience of creation becoming has become the pleasurable experience of God. There is now only a little time to wait. All the actors are on the stage. The curtain has come up. There will be a crisis.

On the World's Largest Stage: Narrative, Heroism, and the Ecologium in Global Climate Change (pt1)


In the beginning there was story. There would be many things adapted from the story and many additions to the story, but without the story there was nothing and there was nothing that was not in the story. The beginning was the narrative of the generation of all things by God. But the story did not end with the beginning and gained new elements as it grew. There was nothing good that could not be added to the story, and nothing great that could not be accredited to God. The humans in the story are called good and credited to God, but then, so is everything.

And not all that the humans did could be called good. Within the story emerged alienation, anxiety, and confusion. The tragedies compounded, as such are wont to do, and to them God added further good, which is what God always does, though the humans did not always see it. But this, too, became part of the story as various solutions were proposed , adopted, and denied. But God’s climactic solution was to increase the goodness to such degree that the world itself could not understand it. Many could not accept this and many more were opposed, but those who did accept it also added it to the story, because there is nothing too wondrous for God. And this wonder became the way some of the humans lived, as they tried to respond to God’s excessive goodness within the world, within themselves, and within the narrative that contained them – because now they knew what the story was about.

Today, of course, we could be telling a different narrative. We could be telling the story of the same humans standing upon the edge of a precipice that they themselves have built, and stepping over it largely of their own volition. We could be telling the story of a people so corrupt with greed and ignorance and arrogance that they actually tried to swallow the world on which they lived. And we could be telling the story of a blessed generation sacrificing its promised children to the Molochian fires of the very economic idols to whom they accredit all of their prosperity, but blaming God and God’s good world for the iniquity responsible for the desertification that threatens to spread beneath their very feet.

We who understand our place in the story could be telling all of these things. But for the most part we are not. We are silent because we believe that the crisis of global climate change is the dominion of the scientist. We are silent because we believe that global climate change is a function of its facts and that it can be measured by the veracity of volumes of carbon dioxide or the measure of its mercury. We believe that truth lies in its mathematics – and wonder why we cannot change.

We should know better, of course. Our narrative contains numbers, to be sure, but the measure of truth for us is not quantitative, but qualitative, and our proximity to it lies not in our accuracy, but in our sincerity, in our wakening desire to share in God’s salvific story. So this paper is not going to argue the reality of global climate change or articulate its causes or its cures. Such things are always deniable, even when they are not genuinely debatable and certainly outside my area of expertise. For the purpose of moving the discussion forward, this paper will assume that climate change exists, that humans are at least in part responsible, and that some cure is consequently possible. It is going to assume that nothing humanity can do lies outside of God’s dominion or God’s salvific story. And it is going to assume that this story is knowable to everyone.

This paper calls for nothing less than an undeniably Christian narrative concerning global climate change. This paper asks that Christian stop waiting for scientific and Enlightened validation of the moral truths assumed by scripture – that choices have consequences, that mortal capability implies moral responsibility, and that freedom and desire must not extend beyond their limits – and proclaim them by extending the drama of our salvation to include categories previously unconsidered.

Such a narrative need not be alarmist, though it must be prophetic as it addresses powers not yet called to account for their disregard of God’s practices. Fortunately, such a novel chapter in our story already contains many of our familiar themes: hubris, chastening, humility, and the directive acts of God. In a way, global climate change is the function of precisely nothing new. This paper will propose some of our story’s likely elements, extrapolating from what we know. And we know a great deal, because our narrative is very long and very rich and very old. We people of the book should not deny ourselves our own persuasive power. And we should not be slow in making our appeal.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

In the Hollow of His Hand: The Ecological, Eschatological Vision of John B. Cobb (pt3)

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
Proverbs 29:18

Both process and Wesleyan theology are fundamentally human-centered systems of thought. That is, whatever the scope of their eventual theological tasks, they both locate the solutions to their deepest problems within the human person. More specifically, they both happen to do so within the category of experience. This is both Whitehead’s grand metaphysical unification and Wesley’s famous epistemological addition to the means of knowing God.

Though the experiences they describe are obviously non-identical – Whitehead, unlike Wesley, dropped out of the Anglican church – Whitehead cited Wesley among his examples of religious experience. It can hardly be coincidence that both Whitehead and Wesley, against cultural backgrounds of scientific empiricism, asserted non-sensual experience as a efficacious means of discerning ultimate reality.

The difference is that, while neither Whitehead nor Wesley placed their experiencing human within an anthropocentric universe, the followers of Wesley have, and the followers of Whitehead very much have not. Methodists might, then, take Cobb’s contribution as corrective Wesleyan gain. Philosophically, we already prefer the non-anthropocentric universe. Perhaps now we can do so theologically as well.

In his first treatment of ecological issues, Cobb boldly writes: “The ethics of reverence for life is the ethics of Jesus, philosophically expressed, made cosmic in scope, and conceived as intellectually necessary.” This is because human holiness is conditioned by our regard for the holiness of life. Along with God in the opening of Genesis, we “perceive that the subhuman world is good.” On this point Cobb is quite emphatic: “In the creation story it is not said that God declared creatures to be good. On the contrary, God saw that they were good. Jesus makes the same point when he says that we are more valuable than many sparrows. ” In God’s eyes, both we and sparrows have intrinsic value.

Yet both Matthew and Genesis suggest that that value is non-absolute. Much as in process philosophy, worth is gradated; God in Genesis includes creation in the same terms, and God for Jesus clearly weighs us with the sparrows. The issue of the imageo dei, then, Cobb contends, may well be one of emphasis rather than negation; Genesis tells us that we are made in the image of God, not that nothing else is.

The effect of all this is in both biblical and process theology is simply to exorcise the dualism of humanity and nature and replace it with the duality of creation and God. Only God is holy, but everything else is of real worth, albeit of varying degree. The vision of process and biblical thinking alike is that all that is has reality, subjectivity, and value. Thus, the love of all creation, with all things rightly appraised, is not sentimental nonsense, but saintly vision akin to that of Francis Assisi.

The vision of the Kingdom of God is the vision of communities of communities of communities. In God’s vision, we are not the summit of this chain. We are its foundation. It is in and through the service of creatures that God is served. “To say that we love God when we do not love God’s creatures is to lie. In serving the least of our fellows we minister to Christ…all that happens in the world also happens in the divine life. All that we do to creatures, we do also to God.”

Our dominion is our effect upon God’s creatures; we have it whether we would ask for it or not. What we have taken as absolute grace seems to have been all along our conditioned responsibility; the upside-down kingdom must truly be at hand.
And the consequent call of our current awareness is to join evolutionary progress rather than participate in the wanton destruction of species including our own.

Nature is not static, but dynamic and developing in a history not so unlike our own – and not now separable from it. Evolution details Genesis by describing how we are good along with all creation rather than as opposed to it. Humanity and nature are brethren at present and into the future; as such we need and keep and heal each other so far as we are able. We are, after all, all living in the same house – ecology means structure of the household. We are all entering God’s kingdom. We are all, in every moment, embarking on the same adventure.

The success of this mutual endeavor, being such, is not assured. Cobb admits that the growth of the developing world advances the clock which measures how quickly the ecological crisis will come, and that technology may well be insufficiently advanced to meet the coming challenge. More, many of our classically liberal solutions to systemic problems have failed to affect ongoing realities at all, and often made them worse. Our sense of omnipotence has been a disastrous, if luxurious, illusion. But Christians ought to be well acquainted with realism from their own moral experience, and the Christian faith has always been that which flies in the face of objective hopelessness.

Christian pragmatists can lobby for legislative reform even as Christian idealists critique the system of ecological iniquity by opting out of it ; there is hope for both because there is need for both and because the crucified God is precisely the one who makes all things new. Secularly, our continuing support for the decentralization of power in democracy can become our advocacy for the decentralization of power in the economic systems that crush God’s creatures.

Christians can challenge monolithic agriculture with cooperative capitalist ventures and claim spiritual rather than economic growth as our best national product. We can preserve wilderness for its own sake and ask what sort of world would contribute most to God. Christians, always and everywhere, can pray and work for the longer and larger good. The honesty that calls for repentance can also be the love that calls humanity out of its narrow self-interest and deathly, rote behavior.

Persuasive power-for need be no less influential than manifest power-over, though we can expect no specific outcomes; that is precisely what our sympathy with poverty entails. The poor, after all, never get exactly what they want. But they are often pleasantly surprised.

The ultimate Christian vision, the final focus of our lives, cannot be our selves. Our best vision of any justice must certainly be God. And for too long have we stopped at saying Caesar is not God and failed to say God is not Caesar. But God for Jesus is not the distant Almighty Father but the Abba whose absence was the epitome of desolation.

God for us is the God who dies and lives, who suffers with us and we with him, who both destroys and fulfills our past, who always influences but never determines our future, who insists on our responsibility by always urging us forward but never holding us back, who “calls us into intensified life, heightened consciousness, expanded freedom, and more sensitive love.”

And God with us, whom we hold in the tenderness of our hands and the hollows of our hearts, but whom we surely can never determine or contain, is no delusion but is rather a healing component of ourselves that pours outward from our hearts and hands in love and into every atom of the universe.

In the Hollow of His Hand: The Ecological, Eschatological Vision of John B. Cobb (pt2)


Cobb prefaces his 1995 book on Wesleyan theology, Grace & Responsibility, by calling it his attempt to ‘come to terms with’ his own theological tradition. It is his attempt to move Methodism forward by returning it to its past, notably Wesley’s ability to measure and encounter his own time. For Cobb, this is the spirit of Wesley.

For Cobb, ‘sizing up’ and meeting our own times are the means for the revitalization of a Methodism that almost certainly would have disappointed Wesley himself. He specifically links the book with his series of lectures ‘Wesleyan Theology and Process Theology,’ admits that he uses a process hermeneutic when approaching Methodist thinking, and explicitly writes here as a process theologian. Clearly Cobb himself did not and does not see process and Methodist theology as entirely distinct.

Cobb opens in classic Wesleyan fashion with a discussion of sanctification and grace but presses the point forward by connecting these to our contemporary sense of moral feelings aroused by crisis. These experiences provoke us because they challenge our unacknowledged sense of providence; they imply the secular location of causes in history and nature rather than in God.

But Cobb contends that this is only true if God exists explicitly outside the world. If one emphases God’s immanence, however, “God can then be seen as a factor in the explanation of events without being the sole cause of what happens.” Cobb then emphasizes Wesley’s focus on the salvation that leads to holiness, a process in which God is present and active, as God is involved in the entire creation. Cobb writes: “To whatever extent Wesleyans follow Wesley in seeing God as working within the world, we will want to identify that work and consider how we can share in it.”

The shape of this work is expansive and expanding. Following the other Reformers, Wesley began with the salvation of the individual and pressed outward to the salvation of all who would accept it; his addition to this was his emphasis on the sanctification that was “a present thing, a blessing which, through the free mercy of God, ye are now in possession of.”

Part of this is the healing, the restoring of the normative human condition which Cobb rightly posits as an aspect of Wesleyan salvation. And Cobb is careful to show that this healing moves in the same direction that Reformation salvation does: outward. He notes that Jesus healed more people than he forgave. This ultimately works out toward the whole universe as described by Romans: “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains.”

This, then, is for Cobb the Wesleyan relation of God to the world: efficacy expanding outward in love. Wesley could not reconcile a loving God electing for damnation anymore than he could condone a theology which might excuse poor diligence in seeking holiness. Hence, Wesley’s vision of the Holy Spirit as God’s gracious presence in all people. But Cobb notes that for Wesley, the Holy Spirit was not primarily a presence of authority but a healing constituent within human nature itself. Writes Cobb: “The Spirit was the principle of life itself, of all understanding, of which is called conscience, and of every impulse to do good…God does not enter a person from without and take possession because God is already, always, a constitutive part of that person.”

This is the Spirit that in Wesley and in Cobb inspires the goal of perfect love which “inevitably and spontaneously expresses itself in service of others.” But it does not do only that. As Cobb quotes Wesley’s “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount”:

God is in all things, and…we are to see the Creator in the glass of every creature;… we should use and look upon nothing as separate from God, which indeed is a kind of practical Atheism; but with a true magnificence of thought, survey heaven and earth and all that is therein as contained by God in the hollow of His hand, who by his intimate presence holds them all in being, who pervades and actuates the whole created frame, and is in a true sense the Soul of the universe.

Though Wesley did distinguish between matter and living things in a way that current post-Newtonian physics does not, Cobb notes that his principle is clear: the power exercised by a self-moving creature results from God’s presence in it. The only difference between Wesleyan thinking then and now is that this principle applies to the entire universe: “Nowhere in the course of events does God function as the sole cause... the interactive character of the relation between God and creature…can illumine the whole creation.”

The love of God and neighbor now also extends also to the cosmos. Indeed, Cobb reminds us that “Wesley did not think of power in the abstract sense. It is the power to create, to govern, and to save, and all these are acts of Divine Love.” For Wesley and for Cobb, power is always power-for, and Cobb notes the contribution of the Wesleyan Randy Maddox, for whom “a God who did not take into account the changing response of humanity would cease to be unchangeably just and gracious.” So also, Cobb seems to imply, we cannot not have power-over creation but must have power-for it, and extend to it the love due a part of God so tender and intimate as the hollow of God’s hand.

This love is our responsibility. In Cobb and in Wesley we can be aware of God and become responsible to God through our spiritual rather than our bodily senses. This is not, Cobb is quite clear, the sort of strong emotional senses which Wesley himself seemed to lack and even denied having, but rather experiencing in a religious way, selecting elements of experience in particular ways and assigning them specific interpretations. These spiritual senses connect us to experience in such a way that we become responsive to the God of our experience and change our behavior accordingly. Thus, writes Cobb, “There is non-sensory perception of God all the time.”

We also become responsible through law. For Wesley and for Cobb the crucial law is not the morality of the day or the Hebraic legal code but, particularly, the rigorous demands of Jesus, especially those on the Sermon on the Mount. And for Cobb our responsibility to that law is even greater, as Wesley’s listeners lacked power to effect much change beyond their own persons. But for us now, especially in democratic societies where citizens participate in the legislative process, we are also responsible for its effects – and called to love through it.

This is a Wesleyan law and gospel, which Cobb applies for the sake of all creation: “We are pursuing collectively the path that leads to destruction. Nothing can be more urgent than that the Holy Spirit show us the way that leads to life and gives us the strength to repent of our now dominant practice of seeking short-term profit at the expense of our children and grand-children.”

Such is Cobb’s explicitly Wesleyan thinking on creation and responsibility as such. What are we to make of it? First, it is quite clearly process thinking. Not for nothing does Cobb emphasize Wesley’s determination to take account of his present world; process philosophy is certainly an attempt firmly in that tradition. And not for nothing does Cobb reject both Deist aversion to divine involvement and our own secular materialist notions of causality; process theology answers precisely both of these movements. And again, Cobb’s vision of outward-looking human moral agency is certainly the effect of process thinking’s own vision of all matter being charged by God, in both senses of that electric term.

But we ought to note also the specifically Methodist character of Cobb’s contributions to process theology itself. First, Cobb’s location of process thinking within the mind-body dilemma tells because that problem structurally parallels the faith-works problem that Wesley thought to solve with his theology of the heart. Both Methodist and process thinking are fundamentally theories of unification; they explicitly attempt to reconcile two apparently disparate ways of describing what we must intuitively regard as the same fundamental and experienced reality.

Also, the effect of Cobb’s unification of the mental and physical poles of God as an entity in process theology is to unite God via some synthesis. It makes God whole. Where Wesley wants to heal the human individual, Cobb the Methodist seems to want to heal Whitehead’s God. More, Cobb’s move in this regard is precisely the move which allows God to be more comprehensible to ordinary human understanding (if God experiences as we experience, then we can understand God through that experience) which seems an emphatically Wesleyan move. Finally, God’s consequent ability to improvise via the mental pole in relation to the datum of the physical pole is indeed consonant with the Wesleyan God of Randy Maddox, who takes into account the dynamic responses of the creatures whom God loves.

Nor is it inconsequential that Methodist Cobb places God omni-spatially where Whitehead very much does not; one need only refer again to the excerpt from Wesley’s ‘Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount’ to realize the resonance of this in Wesleyan thinking – and vice versa. The pervasiveness of God’s presence in process theology sounds very much akin to God’s prevenient grace in Wesley.

In both systems, it is because God is fundamentally with us that we can do anything, and Cobb’s addition of God’s decisively sustaining all activity to Whitehead’s merely including it is a salient Wesleyan point. For Cobb and Wesley both, God continues creation for a reason; both process and Wesleyan theology are, after all, forward-facing faiths. God lures us into our initial aim or into loving holiness.

Our hope lies in God’s decisive aim for a beautiful, healthy adventure into our promised and holy future, one which God will share with us and which we will share with God – and now, we understand, share with all creation as well. It is to that vision of fulfillment that we now turn.

In the Hollow of His Hand: The Ecological, Eschatological Vision of John B. Cobb (pt1)


In 1969 the noted process theologian John Cobb experienced ‘a major turning point’ in both his Christian and professional life. His reading Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb at the prompting of his son joined his Christian faith with his lifelong passion for justice and a new concern for the global human community.

Within only a few years, Cobb came to believe that “a truly repentant Christianity could provide the underpinnings of the needed change.” But it would not be until 1992—23 years later – that the United Methodist Church as a whole would produce its statement Environmental Justice for a Sustainable Future to call for ‘a vision of ecological justice for all creation.’ And it would do so without citing Cobb.

Yet by the time Cobb wrote his first treatment of environmental issues in 1972, he had already been for the overwhelming majority of his life a Methodist born to Methodist missionaries, at one time so pious that fellow students depicted him in a cartoon as having halos to spare. Whatever the disparities between that devout youngster and the sophisticated academic he was to become, and regardless of his own ambitions to seek truth accessible beyond confessional communities, it can hardly be that a lifelong career of Methodism – some forty-odd years when he penned the first of his ecological works – failed entirely to impact the man.

It certainly cannot have failed to impact his thinking. Yes, his original faith may have been shattered by his first experiences studying at the University of Chicago, but only one result of those experiences was the Whiteheadian process theology that he would embrace for the entirety of his teaching career. The other results of this intellectual transformation were his membership in the North Georgia Conference, his part- time pastoral care over six Methodist churches, and his founding of a seventh.

Considering the veritable simultaneity of these seminal movements, if we are to see Cobb’s thought as anything but unnaturally disjointed, we must affirm that his process theology is not only profoundly Christian but in some way uniquely Methodist, and that his movement toward ecological thinking is no less so. Indeed, it is by being both teleologicaly and structurally Methodist in character that the process theology of John B. Cobb presents an image of graceful responsibility which already answers that later call of The United Methodist Church for a vision of ecological justice.


Cobb significantly locates the origin of Whitehead’s thinking within the mind-body problem of classical philosophy. Whereas previous solutions have sought to either claim the primal reality of mind in idealist Platonic fashion or to claim the primal reality of body in materialist Aristotelian fashion, Whitehead’s metaphysics seeks to ‘subsume the duality under some more comprehensive unity.’ That unification would be in the nature of primal human experience itself, as it comes to us in ‘discrete and indivisible units’ beyond the human capacity to analyze directly.

Because these momentary ‘occasions’ are so un-analyzable, they impart to us more than sense experience even as they constitute that experience as such. Indeed, sense data contribute to experience only the ‘physical pole’ of actual occasions, while our experience of occasions requires ‘some quality not present in the data…introducing an element of novelty.’ This originality, contributed by the experiencing mind through ‘eternal objects,’ Whitehead appropriately named the ‘mental pole.’

Together these physical and mental poles form a unique occasion dependent upon its antecedents but promising a novel future as it anticipates successive occasions. Thus, experience in process philosophy thus becomes the cascading “synthesis of syntheses of syntheses of the simple elements of which it is composed.”

The significance of this cannot be overstated. Experience is everything; the ‘actual occasions’ which constitute experience become the ‘actual entities’ which “are the finally real things, the ultimate individuals.” Apart from them, “there is nothing at all.”

Individual occasions build upon each other in systems of increasing complexity: interconnected occasions become a ‘nexus’ which, when interdependent, becomes a ‘society’ which, when temporally contiguous and successive, becomes in turn the ‘enduring object’ that, in molecular form, becomes the ‘corpuscular society’ that in specific instances forms the living cell. Those societies that have no specifically organizing part become plants, those that do become animals, and all have subjectivity unto themselves in simultaneity but become objects in time to the experiencing human soul.

This soul is itself a society. It is composed of all the occasions which form the life history of the person, a center of experience contiguous through time. While natural, it is remarkable in its experience of consciousness, its mentality. It is a living person. Like all other societies of occasions, the soul is both constituted by its relations to the occasions of its past and open, through its mental pole, to a novel synthesis between that past and the future disclosed in its initial aim.

The human person achieves the requisite high degree of contiguity between successions of occasions via language, consciousness, and historical construal. In other words, the living soul is no accident but is, in fact, an adventure, an exercise in human freedom.

Such liberty is anything but absolute. The adventure of the self remains responsible to the occasions of its past even as it decides precisely how it will embrace those occasions according to the invitation of its subjective aim. The human is free to realize varying degrees of his or her initial aim and to adapt that aim through future successive occasions. What no human can do is escape the moral objectivity of values, the greatest of which is beauty, that which gives intrinsic value to occasions of experience.

This beauty is the harmonization of complexity, and its strength is increased through the increase of harmony and complexity alike. It is a social goal, and all civilizations attempt, succeed, and fail to realize beauty in varying degrees. This does not lessen its importance for them or for their individuals, as morality in process thought “always has to do with taking into account the larger rather than the more limited future.”

Now the greatest beauty and the most unlimited future by far is God. Whitehead’s “ultimate physical reality…underlies and expresses itself in every concrete occurrence” and “envisages possibilities both in pure abstraction and in their relevance for actual entities.” In other words, to become actual, the indeterminate aims of the mental pole must meet the determinate data of the physical pole.

Restriction is the price of value, and Whitehead called this principle of limitation or concretion God, the object of all worship. God is supremely good rather than metaphysically ultimate. God is the becoming of all things rather than their being. God’s agency is the completed and ideal harmonization of the cosmos rather than the bestowal of created things themselves. God experiences the world and must include in God’s self a synthesis of the total universe.

Thus, neither God nor world has independent ontological priority, but God is increasingly realized as world and life press on toward greater complexity and harmony – and in their appetite for beauty as such. Because no experience passes away in God, God remains everlasting, but whereas God constantly envisages the novel and creative aspects of becoming, God is never static and adds unto God’s self the totality of all experience.

Such is the Whiteheadian metaphysic with which Cobb and other process thinkers fundamentally agree. But it is Cobb’s specific refinement and extension of this thinking that has been deemed most Christian. By aiming for greater philosophic coherence, Cobb has made Whitehead’s God more catholically approachable for traditional believers as well.

A brief summary of these amendments must suffice.

Cobb’s first addition to Whitehead is to revise God’s primordial and consequent natures as an actual entity – God’s mental and physical poles – to be not separable and comprehensive, which Whitehead attributed to God alone, but cohesive and synthetic, as in all the rest of process thought concerning actual entities. God is thus for Cobb not “inexplicable in terms of the principles operative in the system.”

From this, Cobb also proposes that God’s initial aim is not solely primordial but is in fact a hybrid of God’s ideal appetite and the prehension of each new occasion; God’s future is more alterable than in Whitehead and more like human future itself. God for Cobb much more than for Whitehead endures as a consequent nature through time that constantly adds new elements. Cobb’s God thus becomes “temporal…a living person…defined by a temporal relationship among actual occasions.”

Third, where Whitehead remains silent on the issue of God’s relationship to space, Cobb completes the outstanding question by choosing for the omni-spaciality of God “including the regions comprising the standpoints of all the contemporary occasions in the world.” God for Cobb is everywhere, even as God remains a temporal and living person. This has more than passing significance for creativity, as God will create as humans create; God will create with them, instead of being simply a principle of creativity itself. Cobb’s God becomes more present and involved.

Thus, when Whitehead posits that the eternal objects which contribute to the mental pole of all experience are uncreated, and the initial aim of God can be no other than the initial aim of the occasion itself, Cobb asks precisely why all this must keep happening, if all occasions are fundamentally contingent. Whitehead’s creative God can do little more than harmonize something like Aristotle’s prime matter. But where Whitehead sees God as subordinate to the creativity of experience as such, Cobb asserts that the only satisfactory explanation for continuous creativity is God’s radically decisive role.

Though God’s creative experience includes our own, it is not limited to it. Though God for Cobb and Whitehead alike factors along with prehensions of previous occasions to influence precisely what each occasion becomes, God for Cobb is the sole factor for each occasion’s general becoming. Cobb thus moves closer to Whitehead’s somewhat sporadic vision of God as “the creator of all temporal entities.”

The effects of these additions to Whitehead upon process theology have been well documented. What has not been so closely observed is why Cobb might have thought to make them at all, beyond a simple desire for greater philosophical coherence, and why he came to suggest these specific alterations where others have gone in quite different directions. I propose that the answers to these questions can be found in a parallel mental arena in which Cobb was also continuously engaged, but of which he was by intellectual persuasion much more reluctant to speak : the ongoing tradition of Wesleyan theology in America.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Into Holy Vocation: Separation and Sabbath in Four Biblical Texts (pt3)


To understand the holy kingdom of God one must also understand Patmos. Naturally, much again has happened between Sinai and the Revelation to Saint John – most notably for Christians, of course, the life, death and resurrection of Christ. But we have also seen the fall of the people of Israel immediately after Horeb and the eventual fall of the holy, priestly city of Jerusalem in 587 BCE. What occurs at Patmos is thus simply the culmination of God’s creative, separating and sanctifying purposes no longer tied to a specific people or land, but rather bound to a particular covenant with and faith in Jesus of Nazareth, the Galilean.

The revelation is of “him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever;” it is the revelation of the culmination of God’s activity in the world. The kingdom is at hand in the persecuted believers in Christ, those who believe that Jesus is the one sent by God to bring about God’s dominion. And our priestliness is again a right response to the saving work of God. Service is a right response. Our trusting faithfulness is foundational, but it is not ultimate.

The kingdom is not complete but comes from the heaven in which the ‘living creatures’ sing ‘Holy, holy, holy/ the Lord God the Almighty’ and in which the elders sing: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God/ …for you created all things.” The culmination of God’s purposes is not the destruction of creation but creation’s veneration for its creator: “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, ‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!’”

To this kingdom, everyone comes – “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne” – and the effect, the fruition of the kingdom, is equally remarkable: “a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

The kingdom is founded by the faithful but crowned by God; we in Christ bring God’s kingdom to the Father, who consecrates it with the new Jerusalem and begins a new creation. This kingdom does not need a temple because “its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” Nor does it need the light of sun or star, because “the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” The kingdom is life: “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’”

A few final observations must suffice. First, the order of creation is reversed: neither humans nor Sabbath are last but are in each case first. The trust of Sabbath, the trust that endures persecution, is the trust that separates God’s people within the world for God’s chosen purposes. It does not remove them from struggle but promises their victory over strife and their place in the kingdom, which is as its foundation. The servants at the bottom of most nations become the prized foundation of the kingdom of God. The martyrs murdered by nations become the exalted witnesses of God.

When they are raised, the work of God’s fruitful kingdom is no longer difficult and might be called Edenic. And all the creatures which listened by being in the first creation now sing of their creator; indeed the singularity of Patmos is its ensemble characteristic, as all participate in and add to God’s fruitful kingdom. And once again Patmos does not mark the terminus of God’s holy work, but only God’s immediate companionship within it, and the healing, lively and luminous nature of the work of the continuous exaltation of creator God.

Whatever else it might be, the image of God is holiness. The priestly nation is called “be holy, for I am holy,” and this call is reaffirmed by and after Christ. Thus our identity is both our image and our vocation; we are set apart not to be lords of all creation, but to serve it and thus to serve its creator. And we are to serve it by being holy, by being our selves – holiness, after all, is that which lets all creation thrive, which brings the kingdom of God to its fruition. The representation of God on Earth is servant-dominion, bounded grace, and restrained, covenantal fecundity and creativity, because that is the only version of those things that recognizes the nature of God’s work as creator and thus the only version of such things there is. Such is the purpose of the one who was and is and is to come. And so such is our purpose to recognize, continue and participate in its consummation.

Into Holy Vocation: Separation and Sabbath in Four Biblical Texts (pt2)

Genesis 12: 1-20

But goodness, to be sure, is not greatness, and God continues to work. Just as humanity represented in synecdoche the relationship between God and creation in Genesis 1, so does Abram represent vocational humanity in Genesis 12. And God begins the work by separating, as God says to Abraham in Haran “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house.” Goodness separates from goodness for God’s appointed purposes, for God’s ordering of creation. Again there will be a place: as ‘Eden’ marked the created order, so now another location will mark the new nation that Abraham is about to become.

But much, of course, must happen first: Abram must go where he does not know. Abram must listen trustfully to God. And he does; Abram goes forth. The Sabbath-man is in Haran, not in rest as such but, rather, in Abram’s obedient trust that God will provide, which is what Sabbath means. From him will come ‘a great nation,’ and so not only Abram but also his offspring will be separated, set apart by God: “I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

On this point turns world history; never before has God appointed anyone to treat with humanity as humanity was once established to treat with the rest of creation, and God will choose no one in the same way that God chooses those of Abram’s line. Goodness is no longer solely inherent but now is also added unto: “you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” And it is God’s first promise since the re-creation following the flood story, God’s second step to the initial vow that God will not again destroy. God will now also bless. God will treat with those people that Abram treats. God will walk with Abram as Abram walks with God toward Canaan, the land that God has promised.

Yet Abram of course does not immediately know this promise, and God promises it only to Abram’s descendants, and not to Abram himself. Abram is not the summit of God’s promise; he is simply its foundation. He is its genesis, and all his progeny will depend on his trust in God. The drift of Abram’s line and of Abram himself will be from nomadic chaos into ordered fecundity and multiplicity. Abram, perhaps not knowing precisely this but certainly heeding the promises of God, appropriately builds an altar, a holy place in Canaan, the land that God finally shows him.
Shechem is marked and set aside by Abram for the day that his progeny will inherit the holy, promised land.

But if the goodness of the heavens and earth in the creation accounts presaged a fall of the male and female human, so too does the trustfulness and faith of Abram presage a fall of a second man and a second woman – namely, of course, Abram and his wife. Trust in God throughout the course of one’s own separation from other goods is difficult to maintain. Thus, a famine draws Abram out of the land and into Egypt, where God never tells Abram to go. There he accomplishes a deceit by convincing Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s that Sarai is his sister rather than his wife. It is a movement from trusting in God’s providence to consorting with Pharaoh’s power. It is the cease and desist letter Abram implicitly files concerning his continuing separation from that which all others rely upon: the good work of human hands. The text says of Pharaoh, Sarai, and Abram: “for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female slaves, female donkeys, and camels.”

But Abram was given no dominion over animals; he was given dominion over nations, in his ability to bless them and to be a blessing through his promised people. Here Abram journeys far from his vocation; instead of holy partition he insists on unholy alliance with domineering power and accepts Pharaoh’s dominion over human slaves (which certainly was not promised) whom the text explicitly notes as “male and female,” and whom are counted right along with the livestock. If ever there was a despoiling of creation, this seems to be it.

Fortunately, however, God has not departed from God’s good word: “the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.” Cursing Abram with ill-gotten goods, Pharaoh himself is cursed by God with ‘great plagues’, the promise is fulfilled, and with Pharaoh’s rebuke perhaps lingering in his ears, Abram is sent away. The separation begins anew. Though it will take many deviations, some of them as unholy and unfulfilling as Abram’s sojourn into Egypt, the becoming route of God’s promised people into holy Canaan has begun.

Exodus 19-20

Much happens between Abram at Haran and Israel at Sinai, not the least of which, of course, is the long bondage of Abram’s promised offspring in Egypt. They too have been sent out, separated – if anything they have gone from Egypt with even greater curses, greater plagues, and greater desolation unto Pharaoh and his household, of which presumably nothing remains. Yet it is with their imposed dalliance that Abram’s people Israel, and now Moses, must continually contend.

The people of Israel have been ‘unholy’ because they have not been separate. They have for their entire lives relied upon the system of power Pharaoh subjected them to and have thus not listened, or had the opportunity to listen, to the promises of God. The effects have been witnessed in their frequent complaining to Moses concerning provisions and in their apprehension concerning their well-being and, often, their very lives. This naturally must be corrected. They must once again be set aside. Sinai marks another turn in world history as the people Israel become a priestly nation, a people of the Sabbath. Sinai marks their consecration, and Sinai begins their vocation – which is holiness itself.

The covenant which marks God’s promises to Abram has been iterated and reiterated many times, and decisively spoken to the Israelites in their liberation from slavery in Egypt; it is God’s remembrance of God’s promise and God’s people that initiates their deliverance and Moses’ call to start with. God rightly tells Israel “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” and rightly proclaims “if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.” Sinai simply and sharply punctuates the ongoing work of God’s creative investment with Abram’s descendents; it does not begin or fulfill it. But it is precisely the covenanting at Sinai that separates God’s people for God’s purposes. They are in the wilderness, and can rely on no other. They are in the desert, and can turn to no one else. They can begin to be in the proper frame of mind to listen, to trust, and to be.

Their vocation is no small separation: “the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation,” says the Lord. But it is the appropriate response of God’s people to God’s holy work, and they affirm “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.” This begins their consecration. They are washed and set apart not only from other peoples but from God and God’s mountain, God’s holy place. God comes “in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear,” and cautions Moses to “set limits for the people all around, saying, “Be careful not to go up the mountain or to touch the edge of it.’” This is not, to be clear, the separation of alienation but precisely the separation that allows relationship rather than that which instigates annihilation; breaking through the limitations is expressly linked with death. This caution, this prohibition, is that which will allow God’s people to listen, to trust, and to become a holy nation.

The contents of the covenant are of course well known. They are the Decalogue that details how the Israelites are to live, how they are to be holy both now and in the future, promised land. The fiery experience of God speaking directly and publicly is, also, to establish Moses’ authority as God’s representative, to consecrate him as a priest among the priests – a vocation that he will in this very text fulfill. But precisely as the theophany here indicates, the ten mandates are no less signal for their simplicity or familiarity; indeed it is precisely these traits that might ingrain the commandments into the heart and soul of any listener.

If framed positively, the ten words of God to the people in the Decalogue indicate a delineation of holiness, and continue the separation of good from good. God is holy and is to be separate from other gods; God is not to be worshipped through idols as other gods are; God’s name is holy and is not to be taken for an ordinary word or, worse, a curse; the Sabbath is holy and not to be a day of work for slave, beast, alien or Israelite; parents are holy by virtue of their progeny and their connection to the land; life itself is holy and not to be taken voluntarily; marriage is holy fecundity and not to be broken by adultery; property is evidence of holy God’s provision and not to be stolen or wrongly desired. Here, in sum, it is precisely as though an entire created order were being affirmed as good, set aside by God, and consecrated as Israel’s priestly vocation.

The effect of all this on the people of Israel is likely predictable and perhaps even good. It is too much for them. Their fear of God becomes such that they fear for their lives; they say to Moses “‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.’” They understand the distinction between a God who might have thus far seemed to serve them, and the God whom they now will serve as God’s own possession. They and they alone are the people that fear God and thus have begun the road that leads to holy wisdom. They understand Moses’ role as priest and thus have an allegory for their own vocation: they are to faithfully mediate God to the world. They are not the culmination of God’s covenant with creation. But they are its foundation and its demonstration. Through them will flow God’s relationship to other nations and to the broader world. Upon these priests God will build a kingdom.

Into Holy Vocation: Separation and Sabbath in Four Biblical Texts (pt1)

Human beings do not begin the Bible. We are not its primary subject, nor are we its essential protagonist. In the beginning there was God, and in the end God will come again, and throughout God remains the mover of most significant events. Yet humanity is the dominant biblical theme, and the Bible is, on the whole, for us. Its texts and its narratives are given us, even as we have participated in their making and even as we who hold these words as holy confess that scripture has warrant beyond ourselves, that we are not the sole authors of the truths that shall sustain us.

The genius of the biblical narratives concerning Eden, Haran, and Sinai is that they present the same picture of the cosmos, and, more significantly, of the natural world as personified in land and related to our vocation. We are not the beginning of the land, nor are we its terminus. But we are certainly the dominant created theme, and the land is given us to shape – though we are not, to be sure, the sole authors of our environment, and we cannot subject it to our whims.

The land, like the neighbor and the scriptures that tell of both, has warrant independent of our perspective. And, respecting these, it is the emerging vocation of holiness that shapes these dramatic texts, the desired and desirous lives of the children of Israel and, I will argue, the very nature of our relation to the world itself.

Genesis 1:1-2:4

“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth” describes the initiation and order of creation. The heavens and the earth come first. All else will be built upon them or will be alterations of them. All else will be part of them, and apart from them there will be nothing. This is the creation of all that is – not its summit, but indeed its very foundation and its ordered context. From heaven and earth, everything else will emerge.

“The earth was formless and void” describes the unformed, chaotic character of a heaven and earth without God. It is creation without boundaries, without separation, and thus without limitation – and God will create precisely in the opposite direction. It is separation and division that will mark the created order represented in Eden; although of course the first creation account makes no mention of Eden, its allegorical nature in the second text allows its use here as symbolic of the created order. Eden is paradise, partitioned. It is the intended result of God’s intensive work. It is where all of this is going.

From the beginning, to be clear, separation by God is not separation from God; it is precisely the spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters that precedes God’s pronouncing light, and God’s “(seeing) that the light was good,” and God’s separating light from darkness. Again, it is not that God declares the light to be good; rather it is that God sees that it is good. The light is itself actually good preceding God’s judgment and, certainly, preceding our own. It is as though a painter sees her portrait coming together in accord with her intent – or, even, perhaps, producing a happy accident.

Regardless, it is not as though the painter believes that the painting will satisfy only himself; it is that he believes the painting in and of itself is satisfactory. God hovering over the face of the waters is God’s face closing in, leaning toward a canvas and making assessments about the work.

This is the prototypical creation scene: God calls something into being, God separates elements of creation one from another, and God sees and proclaims the inherent goodness of God’s own work. It is repeated six more times, with little variation throughout the articulation of created things. It is true of the dry land and the waters; it is true of the fruitful plants and trees; it is true of the celestial lights of star and sun that make day and night; it is true of flying birds and swimming fish; it is true for creeping animals and cattle; and it is certainly true for the male and female of humanity. They are created by God, they are separated by God, and their goodness is proclaimed by God.

Yet unto them more of course is added. The text approaches humans with some anticipation; the creation scenes have been generally building in complexity and in immediacy to humankind – beasts being more intimately useful, after all, than heavens and earth as such. The male and female human are the result of a comprehensive, compounding process and on them the creation text lavishes its most detail.

Their creation is even the most detailed concerning the God who creates; “Let us,” says God, “make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” The God of the text is multiple or plural; at the very least God must be internally partitioned. But creation itself is increasingly about fecundity and multiplicity, and it makes sense that this would come from God and have relation to God.

So we must take the dominion given humanity to be similarly representative. Indeed, the famous imageo dei is often considered to be principally vicarious representation of God to the world. So, the dominion is not absolutist, because God’s dominion is not in absolute terms. Rather, human dominion is limited. It is not over the land itself, but only over the animals that dwell upon it. It is over creatures wild and tame and over seeding plants; the dominion is domestication. The primal human vocation is shepherding and gathering.

This presents another departure for humans within creation. Until this point, to listen to God’s speech was to come into being; to listen was to be. Now, when God addresses the male and female human, to listen is to do – or, more precisely, to be in a certain way: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion…See, I have given you every plant yielding seed…and every tree with seed…you shall have them for food.”

All living creation has been building up to humankind and is now for the male and female humans, with this important proviso: “And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” If all creation has led to humankind, humanity depends upon and with all creation; they are not separate from but are indeed part and parcel of it, though they have a special place within it.

Fittingly, then, humanity is not the culmination of creation, anymore than humankind was its beginning. Rather, the Sabbath is. The day of rest, completion and satisfaction crowns the created order and God’s creative act. Sabbath is the final creation, and humanity will be later called to participate in it. The ultimate Edenic vocation is restful trust in God, whatever tasks might come before. Sabbath is a day different from other days in which all creation remembers that it is God’s creation and that its goodness is satisfactory precisely as it is. Sabbath is a day set aside, separated, for being: the first holy day.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

On the Nature of Sin: Dissonance

'I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people,' said the man. 'You are wrong, of course. There are, always and only, the bad people, but some of them are on opposite sides.' — Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards!

“But what is sin? Is it a substance? An energy? Or is it just that pall of darkness I see hanging around all the girls?” – a joke I once told

Talk about sin for long enough, and sooner or later people will begin to think you aren’t talking about anything at all. While it is fairly easy to come to some consensus that the world is indeed somewhat and even massively wrong, even essentially and inherently corrupt, it is quite some distance to go from that to talking about why you believe that unbaptised baby will be sent to torment in hell for all eternity.

If you start talking about sin-stuff as opposed to grace-stuff and no one can see or touch or find any of it, it’s hard to get people to take you seriously that way. And rightly so. By its own account, all the talk about sin must be at least as corrupt as sin itself. These are only humans speaking and writing it, after all. Take, for example, the discussion of Adamic vs. tragic sin in this reading: Adamic? What happened to Eve, Evenic sin?

You mean she can be the lure that causes men to sin but cannot even structurally participate in the transmission of sin itself? Do you mean that we have to frame the discussion of sin as though all the transactions concerning the image of God were simply between Adam and Jesus and men really do get to play both sides? No wonder some feel that Christianity is all a man’s game. Theology certainly sometimes seems to be. The true miracle might be that women feel involved at all. But this is not to go on some proto-feminist rant.

This is to go down the road that asks why discussions of sin and grace always end up becoming discussions about power. It was not for nothing that I called Satan “she” the last time, which never seems to happen anymore, though I understand it was more a medieval thing. People think that as women gain more power that they’ll actually make better lives. There is even the notion that everyone’s lives might actually get better. And that might be – there are certainly indications concerning women’s education.

But that also might not be. The movement of women into the structures of worldly power might also be the movement of women into the systems that make it so that men are Christ and Satan alike, metaphorically speaking. For example, do you have a work enemy? I don’t, never have. Few men do. But ask any woman in America who she hates at work and she’ll tell you for the next three hours. And it never lets up. New job, new enemy. Sin. I’m not saying they’re not welcome to it.

But I think some of that torrent of sin-talk Sponheim spouts means that Christian men and women alike should be realistic going forward. Sin and power, or powerlessness. That’s the conversation. Leave Traducianism to the ages. I want to know, as the postcolonial writer Jamaica Kinkaid wants to know, why the powerless think the powerful are sinful and themselves sinless, the powerful think precisely the opposite way, and everyone fails to see the way they sin against God and against each other the whole damned time.

I want to know why people think that goodness wins because it is more powerful – Jesus with a flaming sword – while Jesus came much closer to burning on the sword of the cross and said that only God is good. I want to know why goodness cannot “win” simply because it is goodness, and why sin cannot “lose” precisely because it is not good. I don’t know if that’s original. But I do know that it’s sin.

And no, I don’t actually see a pall of darkness hanging around all the girls. More of a shimmering, golden effect, like an ever-present backlighting. But that’s another story.

On the Nature of Sin: Consonance

Way out on the galactic rim, out where the stars are far apart and all is dark and cold, an order of supernatural agents fights, precisely as it has always fought, in the very emptiness of space. They are not beings precisely, because they are mostly what they are not. They are un-beings. They are barely even agents, because they do far less than they undo.

Oh, their weapons change the very structure and nature of the universe, alter the laws by which this present order operates. But because they choose to undo that order with these weapons, they are themselves already defeated. Victorious, they will have no arena in which to be or do. They will have remade the universe in their image, which is nothing. They are the Undone, held together by the superabundance of their undoing.

And they are fighting toward the center of the sphere of time. They are fighting toward the core of all temporality, which is not a moment or a bang. It is not a beginning, thought it may be the place where all beginnings end. No, the center of a time is no event. It is a choice. Perhaps it is the only choice; it certainly was and is and will be the most important choice. But the Undone do not know this, because it is nothing like them. They are defiance. The choice at the center of time is something like surrender, and so they cannot know it. They only know that it may be their undoing, and so they attack it with the weapons that are destruction.

And their path is leading them right toward the Earth. The choice at the center of time is here. It may or may not have something to do with you. The Undone certainly suspect it does. As they come they infect everything they touch with their un-choice, with their Undoing. And the infection spreads. You are a little bit like them. When you choose the untrue choice you choose defiance and you choose against the choice at the heart of all time. And the universe changes, just a little bit.

You probably don’t notice, that is part of the undoing, but your neighbor probably does. Perhaps you say something unkind, the specifics do not matter. But because of you, it is now just fractionally easier for everyone to choose undoing than it was a moment ago. And the Undone creep just a little bit closer. And the universe slips just a little more, becomes slightly more undoing. You might say that this must have been happening for a very long time all over the world and everything must all be very hopeless, and you would be in some ways correct.

The infection has gone beyond pandemic. The sphere that holds all time shows many cracks. The Undone are soaring toward the core. It is nearly impossible to choose anything but them, to opt for anything but defiance. Their victory and the defeat of all the universe seems very much at hand.

But this, precisely, is the crux of the dilemma.

The sphere of time is and was and always will be much more affected by the occurrence of choices than by their duration, which is negligible. To put it another way, if you are particularly imaginative, you might be able to say that you undo because your ancestors undid, and this is partially correct. But it is much more true to say that your ancestors defied a thousand years ago because you defy today. And you are very much closer to the truth when you begin to understand that you are undoing today together, and that already you are conspiring in the undoing of tomorrow. Your choice undoes the way the universe is, was, and always will be.

The hope, of course, cannot be that you will somehow choose the choice at the center of time, that you will surrender to surrender. No, the hope is precisely that all these things are already concluded. The hope is that the surrender of time was and is and will be not to the Undone, which everyone sees, but to you, which no one could foretell. The hope is that the choice at the heart of time is the choice for you.

And because you would be thus be allied with and by and for the choice at the core of the sphere of time, and because the occurrence of events matters more than their duration, we hope that the cure will also be transmissible. The choice of surrender may already be spreading, and fast. After all, the sphere of time, unlike the Undone, is held together not the superabundance of its undoing, but by the overwhelming possibility of its becoming. Let us begin.

On the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910

If history can be caricatured as the pursuit of unintended consequences, the Edinburgh Missionary Conference can be counted as a turning point of Christian faith indeed. A mixture of causes and effects was already present in the very nature of the meeting. The president of the conference read greetings from Imperial German Colonial Office, the American president, and England’s King George V.

One must have gotten the sense that certain eyes and ears were watching – but whether or not they were watching for the advent of the Kingdom of God as the councilmen were is an answer best left for the ages.

What is a pertinent question is whether or not the councilmen were themselves to any degree watching for the same thing that the heads of state sought out: namely, the expansion of Western colonial power throughout the world. The year cannot have been inconsequential, and the talk of contesting civilizations and the immediate conquest of the world was about to be reiterated in the form of two world wars.

While the eight topics of gospel, mission, education, non-Christians, missionaries, their bases, and Christian unity did not address colonial aims directly, surely they might have together carried it. The missionary expansion of the century leading up to it, after all, had been decidedly colonial in flavor.

And the conference continued the persistent Christian trend of talking about people groups rather than talking to or with them: European Protestants comprised all but 18 of the 1,200 delegates. Small wonder than the conferees were divided amongst themselves as to whether Christianity was the last revelation of God or simply the best one: this was its triumphant ecumenical flavor.

The movement toward worldwide Christianity had begun, though one wonders if the delegates saw how very much the global churches were about to adapt rather than accommodate its European developments to non-white contexts. They ought to have. Missionary developments have always required indigenization and localization in order to bear fruit.

That Christianity was ready for such diffusion seems in retrospect apparent. The Enlightenment was ending the overt state interference that had plagued churches for some centuries – there were no kings or presidents actually in the room at this point – and replacing it with a rather more benign tolerance. More, the intermittent warfare that had plagued Europe for centuries was settling down as the nation-states grew in secular power and directed their own energies outward; it was precisely this outward-facing energy that would later pull missionaries along with it.

But for now the revivals were revitalizing Protestantism even as Napoleon’s humiliations of the Pope had eventually worked out a Catholic spiritual purification, manifest in the White Fathers and White Sisters. But the pietistic Moravian Lutherans had taken the onus of Protestant missionary zeal in the preceding century, and promoted the same focus on self- sufficiency for new converts that would serve Christianity so well in the countries of what would become known as the developing and Third World.

So by 1910 the churches were ready to think globally, and the preceding century had seen their more benevolent interests manifest in missional work such as David Livingstone’s antislavery in Africa and the energetic work of Protestant women, some of whom were even single. Such a diffuse expansion of Christianity had not happened since the persecutions, and the century leading up to Edinburgh had seen those persecutions in some ways renewed, as indigenous interests arrayed themselves against the zeal of many new converts. The numbers of these dead were and are staggering, and the casualties assured that, whatever the precise motives of the missionaries, the converts were certainly willing to separate themselves from worldly interests.

They were not, however, willing to sever entirely their ties with incumbent cultures and traditions, as the developments in Africa after Edinburg soon showed. Christianity was appropriated, not adopted outright. Consequently, the faith of the Two-Thirds world churches differs in no small and no few ways from the faith brought by the European missionaries, even as the numbers of their members continued and continue to soar. The Zionist movement combines confessional Protestantism with holiness teaching and Pentecostal healing to produce a Christianity compatible with the prophetic, exorcistic, ecstatic and ritually-oriented culture of much of Africa. Similarly, William Harris would preach destruction of fetishes, mass baptism, and healing to such effect and with such power that Africans came to note the premature deaths of those who opposed him. Such similarity is not to suggest that Africa is a unified culture, but is to suggest that a unity of law, observance, scripture, baptism, symbol and worshipping church may be developing on the continent.

That this is occurring also on the South American continent and Asia only means that Edinburg led not just to one translation of Christianity, but effectively to several. This diversity and diffusion the colonial-minded conferees could not have foreseen, and must perhaps be listed as its best salient unintended consequence.