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Chapter 1

DENOMINATIONS in NORTH AMERICA

This chapter follows various immigrant groups from Europe to the American colonies, showing how
their differences and divisions in the 17th and 18th centuries and development in the 19th century
influenced the relationship between modern politics and religion. According to some estimates,
however, no more than 10% of colonists were active in any church. Of particular note is the concept of
“who is among the elect?” and what defines a sect.

The Puritans of Massachusetts arrived in the colonies to escape religious intolerance from England’s
state-sanctioned church. Like the Presbyterians of Scotland, they were Calvinist in their theology, but
the Puritans chose to retain authority over the local congregation, adopting the title Congregationalists.
They believed that only the “elect” could govern, essentially setting up their own theocracy. This led to
the establishment of criteria defining who was worthy to be among the elect and who was not. The
Puritans of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1648, decreed that God would give a recognizable sign of
election to those chosen to be saved; a spiritual experience that would attest to their salvation.

The original settlers were believed to have already passed this requirement, believing themselves
elected by their trip to the New World. Their descendants, however, upon reaching adulthood, were
expected to pass the test of election by testifying to a spiritual experience of their own. Any who were
unable to do so were eligible to remain within the community and participate in worship but could not
receive communion or hold any religious or civil office. Known as the “half-way covenant”, this became
a serious problem to the survival of the community as, by the third generation, the number of the “elect”
had seriously begun to dwindle.

By 1662, the problem was so acute that a synod was called which established infant baptism and made
communion available to everyone. They decided that all children of the covenant have a germ of grace
which must be nourished by the spiritual food of communion and allowed to grow to maturity. In 1699,
two Harvard tutors challenged that spiritual experience was too subjective a phenomenon to determine
church membership. Further disrupting the church, a group of Puritans chose to adhere to baptism
only after a mature affirmation of faith might be made. They were known as Baptists and eventually
were driven to settling the Rhode Island colony.

In the ensuing debate and division among the Congregationalists, England revoked the Massachusetts
colony’s original charter to stop its religious intolerance.

Congregationalists in Connecticut became alarmed at the intervention of the crown and moved toward
a more presbyterian form of governing, with synods of presbyters overseeing individual congregations,
although membership in the presbytery, which oversaw ecclesiastical affairs in the overall area, was
voluntary. The presbyterian movement in the American colonies grew to contain former New England
Congregationalists, new immigrants from Scotland or Northern Ireland, and the Dutch Reformed
Church.

Settlers in the Virginia colony, ostensibly members of the Church of England, did not arrive with
religious motives. Parishes were sparsely settled over large areas of land. Clergy were scarce and
often not of the highest quality. No bishops were sent to the colonies because there were no existent
dioceses and because it was considered unthinkable to send a missionary of such high stature to the
wilderness. Consequently, Anglicanism in the colonies could not be self-sustaining because it was
unable to provide a suitable ordained ministry.

The vacuum of leadership prompted the struggling American parishes to borrow the congregationalist
practice of placing local authority in the hands of a lay board of directors known as a vestry, which was
unheard of in England. Lay persons could exert considerable influence on the church through their
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theological and spiritual qualities, but the authority to govern rested elsewhere. The task of procuring
clergy for the church fell to the vestries. In Virginia, the legislative assembly installed a priest as rector
when the vestry sent them official notification that they had called him to that office. The priest then
could not be removed except for the gravest of charges, and then only by a long and difficult process.
Many vestries simply refused to send the official notification, keeping the priest on a temporary basis
indefinitely. Under such circumstances, a call to the American mission field was not attractive.

Finally, in 1693, the College of William and Mary at Williamsburg opened to train local students for the
Anglican ministry. However, they still had to journey to England to be ordained. And vestries were
reluctant to see their position of authority and prestige weakened by the presence of a bishop.

The Archbishop of Canterbury eventually authorized a foundation dedicated to recruit able priests in
England and support them in American mission. This group, known as the Society for the Propagation
of the Gospel in Foreign Parts or SPG not only served existing Anglican parishes but ventured into all
the colonies as well as wilderness establishments.

The Quakers, convinced that through the gift of the Holy Spirit they possessed the inner light of Christ
in their souls, dispensed with all versions of formal worship and met together in silence until one of their
members was moved by the Spirit to speak words of truth to the congregation. Although this simple
faith made their spiritual lives joyful and instilled them with a remarkable honesty, they were also
zealots who criticized what they saw as hypocrisy and idolatry in other churches and even disrupted
their worship. Consequently, they suffered reprisals, including corporal punishment. Eventually, they
were tolerated, but without a formal liturgy to carry their expression of worship, their descendants found
it hard to sustain the enthusiasm and commitment of their Spirit-filled parents. Membership began to
dwindle in reaction to their unwillingness to adopt the plain style of life and dress and strong pacifist
stand. However, the Quakers continue to exert a beneficial moral influence on American society.
Roman Catholics was a minority religion during the colonial period, except in Maryland, and among a
few families in Pennsylvania and New York. They had the same problems with the supply of clergy as
did the Anglicans. It was not until well after the establishment of the United States that large numbers
of Catholic European immigrants swelled the number of Roman Catholics.

A church is a religious body that tries, as far as possible, to include all members of society within its
ranks, with broad requirements for membership. A sect is more exclusive, accepting members only
from those who adhere to particular beliefs and practices that set it off, often in protest, from the
prevailing church.

For example, within the Anglican establishment in England, the dissenting Puritans were a sect. In the
American colonies, they became the established church, while the dissenting Baptists were a sect.
Several small German sects also immigrated. These were:
1. the Mennonites, who espoused pacifism, lived a life of austere morality, and practiced believers’
baptism,
2. the Dunkers, who were German Baptists who believed in baptism by immersion, and
3. the Schwenkfelders, Spiritualists who emphasized the Holy Spirit’s inspiration rather than the
written word of the scriptures. They became allied with the English Quakers in Philadelphia.

Eventually, the German Lutherans began an active ministry to the German-American Lutherans,
forming an American synod.

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THE GREAT AWAKENING

Summary
By the middle of the 18th century, Christianity in colonial N.A. awakened to a great evangelical revival (renewal of faith).
This period gave rise to missionary groups (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel; S.P.G.) of able pastors and teachers;
and the Methodist Episcopal Church (organized in Baltimore, 1784) out of the lethargic American Anglican Church where
being English meant you were Anglican.

In America, only the Baptists were gaining new converts when the 18th century opened. Rationalism (simple, common-sense
morality guided by human reason alone) and Deism (God acted once in creation; he is now absent in humankind’s history)
were in vogue by the elite (e.g. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine). This rationalist
world view sapped the vitality of English spiritual life. But most American colonialists remained untouched by a rationalist
world view. To them, what was important was to go to a church where they heard and spoke the language of the old country;
religious teaching and worship were not as important as fellowship.

In 1719 Theodore J. Frelinghuysen (1691-1748), a Dutch Reformed (Calvinist) pastor in New Jersey “visited families in their
homes, engaging them in conversations about deeper issues in their lives and praying w/ them. He preached about the reality
of sin and the grace of the gospel and called his hearers to take their Christian faith seriously.” It worked. His congregation’s
faith was awakened, and Christianity became an affair of the heart for them. Other ministers began following his example
reaching out to the people in the name of Christ. In 1722, five Congregationalist ministers in New England were convinced
by the S.P.G. that their ordinations were invalid. Four of them went to England to receive ordination by Anglican bishops and
returned to Anglican parishes in America; becoming Anglicans by conviction rather than heritage.

By 1730, Gilbert Tennent (1703-1764) and other Presbyterian preachers were using Frelinghuysen’s homiletic style: stir up
the terrors of hell and damnation, then preach the reassuring message of the gospel. It worked. In 1934, Jonathan Edwards
(1703-1758) achieved conversions appealing directly to Calvinist theology that taught salvation comes only as a free gift
from God. He preached a series of five sermons on the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

By 1740, George Whitefield (1714-1770), an Anglican priest preached not only to his own congregation, but from the pulpits
of other denominations and on the steps of the court house in the evenings. He represented a new kind of preacher – a person
who crossed denominational lines as though they did not exist and for whom any place was a suitable pulpit. He went on
preaching tours across the countryside, spreading “experiential Christianity” throughout the colonies, ignoring the theological
and cultural differences that separated the denominations. In 1763, Devereux Jarratt, an Anglican priest began a preaching
career like Whiefield’s encouraging Methodism, which began to spread throughout VA, MD.
THE CENTURY of REVOLUTION
Summary
The forces that altered the history of the world so jarringly during the later 18th and 19th centuries had been gathering force
for 500 years since Nominalism separated forever the relationship between faith and reason.1 Human intellectual inquiry

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William of Ockham (1285-1349), Franciscan monk; ‘Ockham’s Razor’: “universals (‘belonging to a name’) are constructs of the
mind…only individual things are real.” Reason can tell us nothing about God. Knowledge of God comes from revelation alone. The data of
faith is not relevant for the world of reason (EFM.3.19, 300-1).

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became independent of the revealed deposit of faith. Time honored beliefs and values that once provided certainty were now
questioned. The age of faith was over; the beginning of modernity brought in by the Enlightenment; which has only been
replaced by post-modernity in the 21st century as the ideals of modernity’s trust in human reason were shattered by WWI,II,
Holocaust, Viet Nam.

The 18th century Enlightenment spawned the republican ideas that shaped the Constitution of the U.S; the same rationalism
gave birth to dreams of reform and led to modernity around the world, inc.. the French Revolution (Bastille Day, June 17,
1789); Prince Klemens von Metternich of Austria’s idea of “balance of power” – stable national governments and an equal
distribution of power among nations.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) published Wealth of Nations in 1776 where he argued that the natural law of economics (“the law
of supply and demand” by which the natural balance among the forces of labor, rent and profits were achieved) could be
discerned by reason and that the business community would be guided by it. The Industrial Revolution was birthed in
England redefining wealth as possession of capital (since the beginning of civilized history wealth had been defined in terms
of land) and ushering in a new managerial middle class for whom money became the measure of wealth itself. England and
mainland Europe were linked by a telegraph cable in 1851, and a cable joined Europe and America by 1866.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) published The Communist Manifesto in 1847 and Das Capital in 1867 where he introduced a
Hegelian view of history called “dialectical materialism” where economic necessities come first before religion and faith: the
basic necessities of life – food, shelter, and clothing. All social, moral, and intellectual systems arise and undergo changes out
of these economic concerns.2

By 1868, unions in England formed the Trades Union Congress (T.U.C.) to address the unbalanced and inherent instability of
capitalism’s “law of supply and demand” to provide fair treatment for labor inputs. The T.U.C formed the Labor
Representation Committee (now known as the Labor Party) to help elect members of Parliament who favored labor’s cause.

2
Hegel: history is dialectic of thesis/antithesis leading to solution/synthesis. Where Hegel saw the dialectical process beginning w/
Absolute Spirit as thesis, evoking Nature as its antithesis, Marx reversed the order. Nature is thesis and Spirit arises as antithesis. For Marx,
history’s solution was a just society where labor (the proletariat) uses the power of the state to seize the means of production from the
capitalist class and manages the production and distribution of goods themselves (EFM.4.3, 38; 4.8, 99-102).
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CHAPTER 4
A PEOPLE WITH A MISSION

Missionary activity was marked by the assertion of the rulers of conquered lands and by the missionaries
themselves that they were uniquely qualified to represent Christian faith to non-believers. They put
themselves in exalted positions over indigenous peoples, failing to regard them as equal beings in God’s
creation. Their work was frequently the result of political and social maneuvering, coercion, and
intolerance. Even after the establishment of the United States, American religious groups jockeyed for
position in establishing themselves as the sole authority of Christian morality in American politics.

Prior to the Reformation, missionary activity was primarily by western Christians and was aimed at
Muslims in North Africa, Portugal, and Spain. Following the Christian reconquest of Spain and
Portugal, missionaries were sent with explorers to “bring the native peoples to the Christian faith”, from
the Western Hemisphere to Asia. In 1493, Pope Alexander VI enjoined the conquerors to instruct “the
indigenous peoples in good morals and in the Catholic faith.” The explorers organized themselves and
their missionaries along national lines and essentially worked in competition with each other.

After 1600, with the weakening of Spain as a political force, Protestant nations entered into exploration
and missionary work, with the English dominating the Caribbean and the Dutch in South America and
Indonesia. Their mission was “to win over the local population to the one and true God” and establish
their ruler’s religion as the religion of the land. They promoted western culture along with Christianity.
In keeping with this outlook, western leadership was favored over the raising of indigenous bishops and
other church leaders.

In the early 20th century, America’s mainline churches supported strenuous foreign mission activity
through global evangelism and social ministry on a lavish scale. While they contributed little to the
African mission field, which was dominated by the English and the Church of England, they profoundly
influenced Asia. Following acquisition of the predominately Catholic Phillipines as a result of the
Spanish-American War, the American Episcopal Church supported the episcopate of a Filipino off-shoot
of the Catholic church.

Often the message of the missionaries was unconsciously communicated that American technology and
the modernization that it brought was the logical outcome of a nation’s turning to Christ.

Within the United States itself, evangelical crusades swept across the nation in the 1920’s in a tidal wave
of conservative religious fervor. Politically, they succeeded in strict public observance of the Sabbath
and the creation of laws ensuring a day of “rest”. With their base in rural areas and small towns, they
also pushed through Congress a temperance act prohibiting alcoholic beverages as a means of moral
reform and attempted to stem the teaching of evolution.

A line of new churches, notably the Church of the Nazarene and the Assembly of God, experienced
growing dissatisfaction with the social respectability of Methodism, seeing it as too sedate. These new
movements promoted the power of the Holy Spirit to inspire them to activities such as ecstatic
utterances. Fundamentalists assert the supreme authority of the Bible, literally interpreted, and reject the
pentacostalists’ assertions of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Evangelicals, while conservative in the
interpretation of scripture, do not insist on literalism. The history of these groups is one of repeated
division in the hope of retaining a religious and moral purity that is usually defined according to highly
stylized standards. However, their common enemy in American life and in the mainline churches
continues to be what they see as immorality.

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Following World War II, with the dissolution of colonial empires, missionary extensions changed.
Where indigenous leadership arose, they remain strong, and the missions have become established
church communities. In other areas, Christian missions sometimes suffer from the history of Christian
intolerance and the resentments that it engendered in indigenous peoples.

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REVOLUTION IN PHILOSOPHY: FOUNDATIONS of RATIONALISM

Deductive Reasoning
Rene Descartes (1596-1650), a mathematician, advocated the use of deductive reasoning with the process he called
‘methodical doubt.’ 3 Descartes believed that the existence of God was a clear and distinct idea that he could not doubt.4
Francis Bacon (1561-1626), a politician and lawyer argued that first principles were only unverified presuppositions from
which no certainty could be derived. Both were attempting the same goal: knowledge of the physical world. Descartes was
the way of ‘idealism,’ subjective rationality. Bacon placed his confidence in the data of experience (Gk: emperios); his
method called empiricism. Modern science uses Descartes deductive method, as well as Bacon’s experimental method.5

How Ideas the Mind Has of the External World Can Be Trusted: Overcoming the Idealistic Impasse
Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), a Jew, thought that the universe is a single divine substance of which thought and physical
matter are two attributes. The human task is to understand reality of which we all are a part, and understanding it, to accept
our place in it. Gottfried Leibnitz (1646-1716) thought that Spinoza had made a mistake thinking that logic and fact were
the same. Something may seem logical, but not be factually true. Leibnitz said that subject and object are the same. All
knowledge is made up of innate ideas, always present within the units (monads) making up the universe and needing only
attention by human minds to be known.

Overcoming the Impasse of Empiricism that All Things can be known via Experiment
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) published Leviathan in 1670 where he argued that the first law of human life is to seek self-
preservation and self-assertion. Life, as Hobbes sees it, consists of war ‘of every man against every man’ and is ‘solitary,
poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’ The state comes into being as a result of a social contract by which individuals yield some
personal rights to a sovereign government whose task is to protect its citizens from one another as well as citizens of other
states. John Locke (1632-1704) denied the existence of the clear and distinct innate ideas which the idealists claimed lead to
certainty. How does experience lead to knowledge? Sense experience, Locke said, gives us data about the external world and
about our own internal life. But experience is limited, and the mind’s ability to understand it by reflection is uncertain.
Absolute claims are to be viewed w/ suspicion, and tolerance is a necessary virtue. Thus, government, he said, rests on the
consent of the governed, who establish it, by social contract, which never surrenders inalienable rights such as rights of life,
liberty, and property. Also, education should seek to enable rational enquiry, never to indoctrinate. David Hume (1711-1776)
said that knowledge is a matter of custom, not of truth. Mental habits make some principles seem certain when in fact they
are mere opinions.

3
A logical reliable process for thinking: (1) accept only self-evident ‘clear and distinct ideas’ as true; (2) divide every problem into its most
basic components; (3) move from the simple to the complex; (4) review every step and check for error.
4
He believed Anselm of Canterbury’s (c. 1033-1199) ontological proof: God is “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”
(EFM.3.18, 275).
5
Einstein’s theory of relativity, however, was arrived at using the inductive reasoning method; moving from knowledge of particular things
to general principles derived from them.
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KIERKEGAARD: EXISTENTIAL CHRISTIAN

Søren Kierkegaard (SIR-en KEER-keh-gard) [1813-55]: Danish philosopher; son of wealthy Lutheran parents; lived in
Copenhagen; father of modern existentialism (the position of man ‘existing before God’).

Kierkegaard’s vs. Hegel’s approach to reality. Hegel: believed that all of life could be described through a rational
synthesis using dialectic method of thesis/antithesis. Kierkegaard: understanding the important realities of life are not
amenable to this method; existence is always concrete and unique and may only be known through passionate involvement.
Paradox, not synthesis is the hallmark of real life: decision and commitment, not knowledge and detachment. Hegel wanted
to move beyond faith to understanding, to apprehend Christianity through rationalistic means. Kierkegaard says this is not
possible; Christianity requires faith, which is non-rational.

Two ways of life, ‘either/or’: Life is a either/or, NOT both/and (Either/Or: A Fragment of Life [1843]). Ways are “aesthetic”
and “ethical.” The aesthete responds to life on the immediate sensual level, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. This way is
futile; when the aesthete says “either/or”, it is an expression of indifference and failing to choose; the aesthete is allowing
one’s choices to be made by circumstances; thus not free but a slave to events. The ethical way of life is the way of choice;
choose either/or. Morality, the distinction between good and evil, becomes an issue only for those w/ the will to choose.

The ‘knight of infinite resignation’ and the ‘knight of faith’ (Fear and Trembling: A Dialectical Lyric [1843]):
Christianity as a way of faith is not logical. It is a paradox. In any rational sense, it is absurd. In faith, the universal ethical
standards can be violated for the sake of the unique individual (Abraham and Isaac). The way of faith does not emerge from
the dialectic of thought (Hegel). Faith requires a ‘leap.’

Kierkegaard’s view of subjectivity. The human task is to strive after truth, not to try and possess it in its wholeness. This
striving is a subjective activity, not an objective certainty. Thus, truth becomes the truthfulness of the striving, not the
certainty of the object known.

Kierkegaard’s definition of faith. Faith is a decision and involves the ultimate hope of happiness. Without risk there is no
faith. Faith is the contradiction between the infinite passion of the individual inwardness and the objective uncertainty. Thus,
being a Christian is not so much determined by the what of Christianity as by the how of the Christian.

Two forms of conscious despair. Despair, like faith is a religious notion and is sin: (1) the despair of weakness; not willing
to be oneself; (2) despair of defiance; I will become myself for myself by myself.
Christianity teaches me that I can rise above the sin of despair and simply follow Jesus. This is wrong. God comes to us as a
God-man – limited, humiliated, weak, rejected, and slain. Faith cannot be provisional.

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THE SPIRITUAL CRISIS OF MODERNITY: BELIEVING and BELONGING

Nihilism6 and cynicism7, products of modernity 8, caused a crisis of theology and faith in the 19th century. Anglicanism
responds to this crisis in faith by following the via media (the middle way) between the excesses of Protestantism and
papism: renewing the church; returning to the theology of the middle ages (‘the age of faith’: the truth of Christianity is
available to those who are open to the deeper dimensions of life); embracing a revival of liturgical and sacramental worship
(e.g. reintroduced use of vestments, incense, altar candles, chanting of offices, devotion to the Blessed Virgin, auricular
confession); and an emphasis on the Eucharist as the primary service of the church [from Oxford Movement (1833-1845) that
moved from Puritanical influences to a more Catholic sacramental piety; evolved from the Evangelical Movement, a social
reform movement instrumental in passing laws suppressing slavery (1833) and child labor abuses (1847)].

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) [University Sermons; An Essay on the Development of Chrisitan Doctrine], an Anglican
priest who later became a Roman Catholic priest helped shape both Anglican and Roman Catholic theology (i.e. theologians:
Hans Küng, David Tracy) as it seeks to address the world. Newman wanted “to rescue [human society] from its own suicidal
excesses” in rejecting religious authority and faith due to the “corroding, all-dissolving skepticism of the intellect….” He
believed that humans posses an ‘illative sense’ (conscience; the capacity for discernment) that provides us the capacity to
know God and God’s character personally, and accept Christianity as true. Real assent [to a relationship w/ God] involves not
just the changing of our minds, but reorienting the whole self. Faith is a moral matter in which the whole self is addressed by
God and requires a decision; this decision of faith is made in relation to a visible community of faith. The authority of the
church, with its scriptures, creeds, and sacramental ministry is the means by which the skeptical intellect may be brought to
the truth. In order to believe intelligently, one must have a faith community in which to belong.

Pius IX (Pope, 1846-1878), an Ultramontanist (the papacy as the major champion against state nationalism as supreme
arbiter of faith and morals), introduced the dogma of papal infallibility (1869) and dogma of The Immaculate Conception
(Mary, from the moment of her conception, was free from the taint of original sin), the first time the pope had single-
handedly promulgated dogma. Leo XII (Pope, 1878-1903) encyclical letter, Rerum novarium (Concerning new things),
offerd a sustained and reasoned argument for social justice w/in setting of private ownership – addressing the problems of
industrialization and the question of Marxism.

6
A 19th century philosophical view that rejects all religious authority, tradition, and morality.
7
Skepticism concerning anything that cannot be ‘proved’ via scientific knowledge (e.g. theology, faith).
8
Post-enlightenment period in Europe and America where people turned to science and technical progress as their religion; belief in
knowledge as certain, objective, and good. Modernism was thoroughly discredited in the 20th century by WWI,II, Holocaust, Cold War,
Viet Nam, environmental crisis, global poverty.
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THE SPIRITUAL CRISIS OF MODERNITY: BIBLICAL AUTHORITY IN CRISIS

For the searching and right understanding of the Scriptures there is need of a good life and a pure soul, and for
Christian virtue to guide the mind to grasp, so far as human nature can, the truth concerning God the Word. –
Athanasius, Incarnation of the Word of God9

Scripture is the canonized biblical witness concerning the identity of the triune God
God of the OT = God of Israel (YHWH – Tetragrammaton) = YHWH (‘the LORD’; Adonai
[Heb.]) + Logos (‘the Word of God’; Sophia/Wisdom [feminine]) + Spirit (rūah,
God’s power of life-giving breath [feminine in Heb.] who indwells and sustains
all Creation)
God of the NT = God of Israel (YHWH; theǿs [Gk.] Dominus [Lat.]) = the Father (Abba) +
Logos (‘the Word’ or Sophia/Wisdom incarnated as ‘the Son’ [Jesus, the Christos
and Kyrios]) + Holy Spirit (pneuma [neuter in Gk.], God’s life-giving power of
transformational healing)

Scripture – stories about God acting in History:


OT scripture (for Jews, Christians and Muslims) is comprised mostly of stories about God acting in the
History of creation and his chosen people to liberate them from oppression, suffering, and alienation
from His will. The unique aspect of this History that makes it unlike all other histories and religions of
the ancient world is that it has a telos (goal/meaning). For example, a telos of History is salvation; both
redemption of humanity’s and creation’s sinful condition and communion with God.10

NT scripture (for Christians) is comprised mostly of stories about God acting in the History of the
world to liberate humanity (both Jews and Gentiles) from oppression, suffering and alienation by
sending the Logos (Sophia/Wisdom) to bring “light into the darkness.” Jesus is the Word incarnate, the
‘Son of God.’ Jesus’ task as fully human and fully God is to do the Father’s will, whatever the cost. The
cost is crucifixion (living a cruciform life) and the result of following the Father’s will is bodily
resurrection, an eschatological (final things) event which ushers in the “Kingdom of God,”11 a whole
new salvific (general human quest for liberation and communion with God) History on earth for the
Kosmos (the sinful world of creation and humanity).

9
According to Athanasius (c. 296-373, Bishop of Alexandria), the reason to read Scripture was to be transformed,
but one was unable to read Scripture appropriately without adequate Christian character formation (possessing the virtues of
character: prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude) and the only means for Christian formation was participation in a
community of remembrance (the Church). “Scripture will not be self-interpreting or plain in its meaning unless we have been
are transformed in order to be capable of reading it….in order to recognize this Messiah, this crucified but risen Jesus, we
need training and instruction.” See Stanley Hauerwas, Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America
(Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1993), 37-8, 49.
10
For the Israelites, there was no dichotomy between history and nature as what later evolved during the
Enlightenment where history became a story of human striving against nature – “as a development within the historical
process.” In the OT, History described events, both human and in Nature, in today’s figuration: a “world of time and history
and emergence of evolutionary processes that extended from the first fiery energies of the universe through some billions of
years to the shaping of the earth to the emerging of life, and to the appearance of human consciousness.” See Thomas Berry,
The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988), viii, 27.
11
A polyvalent metaphor that evokes hope for a YHWH-centered History. See James D.G. Dunn, Jesus
Remembered, Christianity in the Making Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2003), 383-487.
10
READING SCRIPTURE THOUGH THE AGES

Reading for Transformation – from biblical times through medieval times


“Scripture was believed to be the most important of God’s providential gifts for ordering, understanding,
and making the world [world = History, which comprised nature (the created order; a Theophany
through which God speaks and “the object of God’s pleasure and delight.”) and history] accessible to
humans. Both history and nature were viewed “as one single area of reality under the control of God.”12
Scripture (interpreted theologically) presented a unified narrative through which people could develop
coherent views of the world.”13 Scripture was read for its literal meaning – what the text actually said,
and its allegorical meaning – its meaning as conveyed by symbolic and metaphysical use of language.
Interpretation (exegesis) of Scripture involved four steps: (1) lectio – the careful meditative reading of
the text for its literal and allegorical meaning; (2) meditation – deep rumination on its meaning; (3)
oratio – personal response in prayer to what had been understood; and (4) contemplation – the reader
surrenders to the action of the Spirit drawing him/her into the divine mystery through the meaning of the
text.

Reading for historical (mankind’s struggle against nature) Information – from the Enlightenment
(18th century) through 1960’s
In the mentality of the Enlightenment, nature and history became separate categories of understanding
the world, and historical concerns of Scripture interpretation took precedence over theological concerns.
The assumption was that humankind, using its rationality and scientific techniques, could comprehend
the world of nature and its history in “immediate or direct ways, apart from the lenses provided by
Scripture.” Scripture was read for its rational meaning – what the text’s correspondence was – with
what actually happened in history (higher criticism → historical criticism). The philosophical
underpinning of this way of interpreting scripture was modernism – the belief that human rationality and
knowledge (especially technology) would lead to salvation (the betterment of the human condition by
subduing nature). This mentality was also Deist in that its presumption was that God acted once at
creation to set history in motion, but is absent in the modern affairs of men (the framers of the American
Constitution were all Deists).

Reading for Transformation Again – post WWI, WWII Holocaust, Vatican II, Viet Nam War,
environmental crisis, global poverty (the ‘post-modern” period).
The fall of modernity in the later half of the 20th century undermined the dominance of historical
criticism and reopened possibilities for theological interpretation of Scripture. 14 The world had just

12
Norman Wirzba, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2003), 27
13
Stephen Fowl, “Theological and Ideological Strategies of Biblical Interpretation,” in Michael J. Gorman, editor,
Scripture: An Ecumenical Introduction to the Bible and Its Interpretation (pre-publication edition, 2004), 10.2, 10.4.
14
Nineteenth- century post-enlightenment period in Europe and America where people turned to science and
technical progress as their religion; belief in knowledge as certain, objective, and good (Fowl, 10.4).
11
witnessed the Nazi regime in Germany using historical criticism to interpret Scripture in a manner that
rationalized their pogrom against the Jews. In the 1950’s and early 60’s Liberation theologians in South
and Latin America called the Catholic Church to task for endorsing Scriptural interpretations that were
used by governments there to subjugate the poor in those countries. Also, in 1967, Lynn White, Jr.
published the highly influential “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” in Science that accused
Christianity as being the culprit in man’s destruction of the very conditions for planetary survival, which
revealed ignorance of theological history on White’s part but called to task then current interpretative
practices.15

In response to the demise of modernity and abuses of the historical critical method of Scriptural
interpretation, the medieval method of reading scripture for transformation was re-appropriated, along
with using advances in modern historical critical biblical scholarship. Interpretation now involves: (1)
the historical – a sound translation understood in its historical context; (2) literary context – an analysis
of the text as narrative; (3) theological – understanding the theological agenda of the author; and (4)
spirituality – answering, “What possibilities for transformation does this text open for the reader?”16

From a post-modern, theological perspective, Scripture is the normative standard for the faith (The Rule
of Faith17) that defines the practice and worship of Christian communities (‘the canon’), tells the story of
God calling forth a community through the Word who lives in concert with nature, where both humanity
and God will dwell. Such communities of committed Disciples of Christ are both the presupposition and
the goal of interpreting scripture.18 Both the Old and New Testaments are necessary to comprehend the
crucified and exulted Christ.”19 The OT is often interpreted figuratively.20 [For Roman Catholics and
Orthodox Christianity, the apocryphal books21 are also canonical texts.22]

15
Sallie McFague, “An Ecological Christianity: Does Christianity Have It?” in Christianity and Ecology, edited by
Dieter T. Hessel and Rosemary Radford Ruether (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2002), 29.
16
Sandra M. Schneiders, Written That You May Believe: Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (New Your:
Crossroads, 1999), 18-22.
17
The Rule of Faith was first developed by Irenaeus in his dispute with the Gnostic Valentinus to describe how
Scripture “provides the framework within which the diversity of Scripture can be rightly ordered so that it can be directed
towards advancing the apostolic faith (a faith that is formally represented in the creed) in the life, teaching and worship of the
Church (Against Heresies 1.10.1-3).
18
“No reading of Scripture can be legitimate, then, if it fails to shape the readers into a community that embodies the
love of God as shown forth in Christ….True interpretation of Scripture leads us into unqualified giving of our lives in service
within the community whose vocation is to reenact the obedience of the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us.”
See Stephen E. Fowl & L. Gregory Jones, Reading in Communion: Scripture and Ethics in Christian Life (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1991), 19, 33, 64.
19
Craig R. Koester, Hebrews (Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 2001), 125, 198.
20
Figural interpretation begins with the premise that “the health and shape of our spirits depends absolutely upon
seeking and finding Christ in all the Scriptures….reading Scripture as a figured text of Christ….changes the heart.” See
Ephraim Radner, Hope among the Fragments: The Broken Church and its Engagement of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Brazos
Press, 2004), 92-3, 95-6. “The primary importance of figural reading comes from the fact that there will be times when the
literal sense of Scripture may not offer…sufficiently sharp vision to account for the world in which we live” (Fowl, 10.8).
21
Apocrypha (Gk: concealed/hidden) – additional Septuagint books written in Gk. not included in the Jewish Bible:
Tobit; Judith; +Esther; Wisdom; Sirach (Eccesiasticus); Baruch; 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras; Letter of Jeremiah; Prayer of Azariah;
Song of the Three Jews; Susanna; Bel and the Dragon; 1 Maccabees; 2 Maccabees; 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees; Prayer of
Manasseh.
12
Three naïveté’s concerning biblical authority (auctoritas): (1) prooftexting; applying select passages
as ‘universal moral truths’ (prooftexting has been used to justify: slavery, ethnic cleansing, racism,
violence towards POW’s, massacre of non-combatants, wholesale destruction of the environment,
revenge, capital punishment, oppression of women, and exclusion of homosexuals23); (2) the mentality
that Scripture “no longer has unique authority for Western man,” it is but an “archaic monument in our
midst” (Gordon Kaufman, theology professor, Harvard Divinity School, 1971); (3) continuing to
separate history from nature when interpreting Scripture, which leads to an anthropomorphic (man-
centered), hierarchal (usually paternalistic) understanding of God as primarily transcendent rather than a
biocentric (creation-centered), immanent and transcendent understanding of God.24

Scripture as a whole witnesses to the divine word (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Luther) spoken through the
prophets and God’s Son, and this witness will be clear when the scriptures are read as a whole. Scripture
is regula fidei (‘the rule of faith’). Scripture contains the visionary (self-revelatory) presence of the
Christian kerygma (proclamation; ‘myth to live by’ in communion with each other and God’s creation)
for the community as a means to establish its particularity and identity as an intentional counter-
community to the “circumscribed limiting world of imperial administration.”25 Faithfulness to this story
is called into being through the word of God and is the standard by which the apostles exchanged “the
right hand of fellowship” (Gal. 2:9).

Sola scriptura – Scripture alone is the center and norm of our tradition (Thomas Aquinas, Martin
Luther). “Through Scripture God invites us into God’s heart.” The engagement God offers is appellatory
(‘power to influence action, opinion, or belief’), rather than coercive (‘power to enforce obedience’).
The authority of Scripture lies “in its invitation to enter into a relationship and share a life” However, the
ability to hear Scripture rightly and act on God’s Word requires interpretation within communities
faithfully living a Spirit-empowered, Christ-centered life;26 to be transformed, to: “(1) worship; (2) pray;
(3) trust/believe; (4) witness, even by giving up one’s life; and (5) obey.”27

Roman Catholic and Protestant Scripture interpretation differ somewhat:

22
Stephen Langton (d. 1228), archbishop of Canterbury, divided the Bible into chapters. In 1551, Robert Estienne
(Stephanus) published an edition of the Bible with Langton’s chapters and numbered verses.
23
Christopher Bryan, And God Spoke: The Authority of the Bible for the Church Today (Cambridge, MA: Cowley,
2002), 8, 10.
24
Elizabeth A. Johnson, “Losing and Finding Creation in the Christian Tradition,” in Hessel and Ruether, 3- 21.
25
Walter Brueggemann, “Ecumenism as the Shared Practice of a Peculiar Identity,” in William P. Brown, editor,
Character & Scripture: Moral Formation, Community, and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2002), 238.
26
Bryan, 13, 19, 29, 31-9, 41, 87, 90, 108, 138.
27
Ben Witherington III, Revelation (New Cambridge Bible Commentary; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2003), 258.
13
Roman Catholicism: (a) the magisterium (the teaching authority of the Church) is the authoritative
interpreter of scripture;28 (b) tradition of the Church has equal authority with Scripture as the combined
source of Revelation (Dei Verbum, Vatican Council II); (c) “Catholic biblical interpretation always
recognizes deeper senses of Scripture beyond but not contradictory to the literal sense”29; (d) “Catholic
biblical interpretation gives special but not exclusive precedence to patristic (e.g. Augustine)
interpretations.”30

Protestant: (a) the focus of Scripture is not the state (e.g. America), but the kingdom of God; (b)
Scripture must be interpreted as the ongoing work of the Spirit, in communion with communities of
faith, it is not a private, individualistic matter; (c) it is an appropriate hermeneutic (interpretative vision)
to read Scripture from the “perspective of the marginalized and oppressed” ‘other’ or ‘stranger’
(advocacy and liberationist exegesis); (d) a ‘hermeneutic of trust’ (rather than suspicion) “invites the text
to speak afresh in new situations”; (e) communities of the faithful interpret Scripture for transformation,
not information (move from historical critical [diachronic] interpretation to literary [synchronic] and
theological interpretation of Scripture); (f) the objective is engagement with the text “as God’s word, as
divine address to the Church, re-introducing a Medieval exegetical process31 (rather than excavation of
the text).”32

“Scripture can be rightly interpreted only within the practices of a body of people constituted by the
unity found in the Eucharist.”33 “The authority of Scripture derives its intelligibility from the existence
of a community that knows its life depends on faithful remembering of God’s care of his creation
through calling of Israel and the life of Jesus….the narratives of Scripture were not meant to describe
our world…but to change the world, including the one in which we now live….”34

28
“The task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted
exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This
teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly,
guarding it scrupulously, and explaining it faithfully by divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit.” See
“Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation,” in Documents of Vatican II (New York: Guild Press, 1966), 117-18.
29
“Literal sense” is “the meaning that Christians conventionally ascribe to a passage in their ongoing struggles to
live and worship faithfully before the Triune God….it will be the basis and norm for all subsequent ways of interpreting the
text” (Fowl, 10.7).
30
Ronald D. Witherup, S.S., “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Roman Catholic Church,” in Gorman, 12.1-10.
31
E.g. Medieval exegesis was an expansion of Origen’s and Augustine’s threefold exegetical methodology of
interpretation of Scripture (1) the historical (or literal), (2) the tropological (or moral), (3) the allegorical (passages are seen to
have a hidden, spiritual meaning beyond the literal meaning of the text) to a fourfold exegesis by adding (4) the anagogical
(describes the afterlife). See Carole Burnett, “The Interpretation of the Bible Before the Modern Period,” in Gorman, 8.6.
32
Michael J. Gorman, “The Interpretation of the Bible in Protestant Churches” in Gorman, 11.7-13.
33
Hauerwas 1993, 23.
34
Stanley Hauerwas, The Moral Authority of Scripture,” in Wayne G. Boulton, et. al. editors, From Christ to the
World: Introductory Readings in Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1994), 34-5.
14
For Christians, “Jesus reveals who God is, he also reveals who human beings are” in relation to creation
(nature), each other, and the Divine – indeed, “human identity can only be understood by asking who a
person [and community] is in relation to God.”35

35
Craig Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community, 2nd Edition (Minneapolis,
Fortress Press, 2003), 76.
15
THE THEOLOGY of KARL BARTH and NEO-ORTHODOXY (“theology of the Word of God”)

Barth’s (Bart) Theology of the Cross: “In the cross of Christ…God makes himself vulnerable to his enemies. In the giving
of his only Son, God gives ‘nothing more or less than himself’….In giving him and giving himself – he exposes him – and
himself – to the greatest danger. He sets at stake his own existence as God.” Through his act of self giving in Jesus Christ,
God offers and endangers his life for the sake of the world (IV/1, p.72). “The Christian message is the message of this act of
God….It is this radical sense that according to the Christian message God loved first…not merely before we loved him, but
while we were yet sinners, while we were yet enemies (Rom 5:8, 10). (IV/1, p. 72, rev.). The cross of Christ therefore
“invalidates the whole friend-foe relationship” between one human being and another (IV/2, p. 550).36

Barth on the Politics of Liberation: The Christian community cannot allow itself to “participate in the great self-deception”
of capitalism concerning its supposed benefits, necessity, or even legitimacy as a system….[where] “the only choice which
employees often have is between starvation and doing work which does not benefit the cause of humanity, is detrimental to it,
or is completely alienated, being performed in a sinister and heartless and perpetually ambiguous idol” – namely mammon in
the guise of “capital.”37

Barth, Barman, and the Confessing Church: Karl Barth was convinced that our political outlook ought to be dictated by
our loyalty to Jesus Christ. Properly understood, the Barman declaration (written by Karl Barth at the height of Nazi power in
Germany) lays a foundation for political resistance by the church (e.g. Article I. “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy
Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.”). No
other voice can carry this authority, for no other voice is the Word of God.38

Koinonia (fellowship) w/ One Another in Christ: As the Spirit incorporates us into Christ, and so into communion w/ the
Holy Trinity, we also become members one of another. In Christ the individual presupposes the community, even as the
community comes to fruition in each member. “There cannot be one w/o the other.” What makes this community distinctive
is that its members uphold one another in fellowship instead of causing one another to fall (IV/2, pp. 816-17). The koinonia
established by the Spirit equips the community in freedom for solidarity (though not conformity) w/ the world (IV/3, pp. 762-
95).39

Baptized into Christ’s Death: “Christians are people to whom the irrevocable and irreversible thing has happened, namely,
that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ has become a present event for them.”40

36
Quoted in George Hunsinger, Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 35, 38. Karl
Barth insisted that theology’s subject was revelation, the word of God – and nothing else.
37
Quoted in Hunsinger, 46-7.
38
Hunsinger, 79.
39
Hunsinger 171-3.
40
Quoted in Hunsinger, 271.
16
It is not so much the suffering41 as the senselessness of it that is unendurable. – Nietzsche

A Question of theodicy (divine justice): “Where is God?”42 Why do the righteous suffer? Why do the
wicked prosper?43 How can God allow a “world fascinated with idolatry, drunk with power, bloated
with arrogance”44 that produces such profound suffering? If God was just he would not let these bad
things happen. Why me? What did I do to deserve such suffering? Is my suffering a result of my sins
(mipnei khata’einu – “because of our sins”)45?

Types of suffering: (1) natural suffering assumes that suffering is as natural as death;46 (2) self-caused
suffering assumes that suffering results from unhealthful or destructive actions by the person or afflicted
on the person by their surroundings;47 (3) suffering caused by human sin understands suffering as a
punishment for human sin;48 (4) suffering of the innocent (i.e. the Book of Job) is what creates the

41
“Human suffering” – the experiencing of psychological, spiritual, or physical pain, distress, loss, disturbing change,
misfortune, injury, disability or death by a person or group of persons. Valerie Gray Hardcastle in her The Myth of Pain
(Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 1999) argues persuasively that “all pains are physical and localizable [in the human person]
and that all are created equal.”
42
“I heard a voice in myself answer: ‘Where is he? He is here. He is hanging on the gallows…’” Elie Wiesel describing a
discussion between inmates of Auschwitz as they watch while a young boy dies in agony. See Elie Wiesel, Night (1969), 75-
76 quoted in Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian
Theology trans. R.A. Wilson and John Bowden (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), 273-74. In a more recent context: “Lord,
you who are everywhere, have you been in Villa Grimalde too?” Villa Grimalde was the most notorious of Chile’s
clandestine torture centers under Pinochet. Quoted in William T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist (Challenges in
Contemporary Theology; Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 1.
43
Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all those who are treacherous thrive? (Jer. 12:1-2).
44
Abraham Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1962), 183.
45
“Mipnei khata’einu – ‘because of our sins’ became the general explanation for all disasters of Jewish history” as revealed
by the prophets of the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament). In the face of the northern kingdom of Israel being
conquered by Tiglath-pilester III of Assyria in 722 BCE and the destruction of the Temple and deportations from the
southern kingdom of Judah to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in 587/6 BCE, the prophets gave the Israelites hope by declaring
that this was, after all, God’s will for their sins and all the Israelites needed to do to reclaim their land was to repent and
follow YHWH’s torah (instruction, teachings). “God has hidden his face (hester panim) as punishment” for the sins of the
Jews. See Mark S. Smith, The Memoirs of God: History, Memory, and Experience of the Divine in Ancient Israel
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 36; Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001),
192.
46
Why is my pain unceasing, My wound incurable, Refusing to be healed, (Jer. 15:18). Suffering was an expected aspect of
life in the ancient world: for all our days are full of pain, and our work is a vexation, even in the night our mind does not rest
(Ecclesiastes 2:23).
47
This particular ancient view of suffering has been demystified and its primacy established through modern psycho-social
explanations based on Enlightenment propositions that human behavior can be ‘scientifically’ studied and explained and
medically ‘treated.’ For example, in the U.S., persistent pain costs “somewhere between $40 and $100 billion annually in
medical services, loss of productivity, and compensation payments….It is the second most frequent illness [emphasis
mine]…and affects about four-fifths of all people (Hardcastle, 9).
48
See footnote #4. The assumption is that “Ultimately there is only one will by which history is shaped – the will of God; and
there is only one factor upon which the shape of history depends: the moral conduct of the nations [and its peoples]”
(Heschel, 174). I will punish the world for its evil, And the wicked for their inequity; I will put and end to the pride of the
17
problem – if the innocent suffer, then God’s goodness is called into question.49 For Job, the question of
theodicy is replaced or sidestepped by satisfaction in a deep, personal relationship w/ God.50

However, the Holocaust51 calls Job’s solution into question for there can be no possible divine
permission that allowed the Nazis to engage in Holocaust.52 The divine Lord of history, the gracious
One, the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob who delivered the people of Israel from their oppressors in
Egypt, was nowhere to be found at Auschwitz.53 Is God dead?54 Has he hidden his face (hester panim)
as punishment to humanity? Has God voluntarily removed himself (tzimtzum) from the universe,
becoming the God who runs away (deus absconditus)?55 Is God powerless to prevent such evil?56 Is God

arrogant, And humble the haughtiness of the tyrants….For the ruthless shall come to naught, The scoffer shall vanish, And
all who watch to do evil shall be cut off (Isaiah 13:11; 29:20).
49
The most extreme form of this type of suffering is torture, especially as used as part of an overall strategy of political
repression intended to alter a person’s identity, degrade him and strip him of human solidarity, but in most cases not to kill
him. Torture destroys the victim “ as a potential actor through the fragmentation of the ego. The feeling and reality of
powerlessness in torture is so extreme that the subject is no longer subject, but mere object.” The State uses torture not only
to destroy the “political project, if any, in which the person is involved, but also the entire network of psychic processes that
bind the person to others” For example, both Hitler and Mussolini used torture to depoliticize the citizens of their respective
state’s leading up to WWII, to prevent the mobilization of the majority of citizens in their countries who did not support their
policies leading to war (Cavanaugh, 38-40).
50
I had heard You with my ears, But now I see You with my eyes; Therefore I recant and relent, Being but dust and ashes
(Job 42:5-6, NJPS); By hearsay I have heard you. But now my eye has seen you, Thus I am poured out and smitten, And am
become dust and ashes (Marvin Pope, Job [AB Vol. 15; New York: Doubleday, 1973], 349).
51
Here Holocaust is differentiated from genocide: Genocide (coined by Raphael Lemkin, a refugee Polish-Jewish lawyer in
the U.S. in late 1942) being the partial destruction of a national, ethnical, or religious group; holocaust being the planned total
annihilation of an entire national, ethnical, or religious group. What was unique about the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis,
for example, was their planned worldwide murder of all Jews everywhere and “the actual murder of all Jews the murders
could lay their hands on” (Bauer, 1-13, 264).
52
For example, why the one million Jewish children under the age of thirteen “were killed is the most bothersome question of
all….If the answer is that we can never understand God’s intensions, the obvious and trite – but arguably true – reply is that
we have no wish to know God’s intensions or reasons, whether we understand them or not, because any divine or human
reason for not preventing the murder of a million children….can be judged evil” (Bauer, 211).
53
The existential question asked in Elie Wiesel’s Night, for example, is: “Does God’s transforming power through which
God acts in history entail suffering?” In Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55), “the prophet’s message insists that suffering is not to
be understood exclusively in terms of the sufferer’s own situation….Israel’s suffering is not a penalty, but a privilege, a
sacrifice, its endurance a ritual, its meaning to be disclosed to all in the hour of Israel’s redemption….Her suffering and
agony are the birth-pangs of salvation” (Heschel, 149).
54
“…Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Vietnam has inscribed deeply into contemporary consciousness both awareness of the
appalling malignancy and destructiveness of evil in human life and also man’s utter aloneness in combating the powers of
evil in the world.” See Gordon Kaufman, God the Problem (1972), 171. The most horrible thing about the Holocaust, for
example, is not the fact that the Nazis were inhuman, but that “they were indeed human, just as human as you and I are
(Bauer, 264). For example, “The horror of torture is magnified by the realization that this is being done to me by another
human being. It is a perversion and destruction of the very idea of human relationship” (Cavanaugh, 43). Woe to those who
call evil good And good evil, Who put darkness for light And Light for darkness (Isa. 5:20).
55
Tzimtzum (contraction) posits that God removed himself from History to permit the world to exist. “God withdrew himself
so that human free will could exert itself, for good or evil” (Bauer, 189). However, “By choosing to be absent, he may be
held responsible for the evil he permits, and we can call it evil by setting it against the moral standards” set in Scripture
(Bauer, 190-1).
18
using this evil thing for good?57 Existentialism’s answer is that there is no answer to suffering – it just is
– there is no incompatibility between the physical suffering of the innocent and the existing of a loving
and just, all-powerful God.58

Christian solution to suffering includes four primary beliefs: (1) neither suffering nor sin is a part of
God’s creation, nor are they willed by God; (2) both the Hebrew prophetic hope59 and the assertion of
Christian faith that evil, sin, and death will in the end be overthrown (Christus Victor);60 (3) belief in an
afterlife is a central part in the Christian resolution of the problem of suffering;61 (4) God is totally
involved in history and nature of this world calling creation into being and continuing to march before it
with a persistent call.62

56
The problem with this perspective is that it postulates a weak God, a God no one really needs. For what can he do
anyways? Our prayers will go unanswered because God has no power to grant them (Bauer, 190-1).
57
“Jewish religious tradition holds that everything, evil as well as good, comes from God, is designed by God. So evil is also
part of God’s plan, whose ultimate goal is always the good, which means that evil, misfortune, horrors – all of these are only
seemingly bad, and they ultimately lead to good” (Bauer, 188).
58
For the existentialist, History is a nightmare, the world is drenched in blood: The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants,
For they have transgressed the laws, Violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant (Isaiah 24:1, 4-6). Thus, the task
of the prophet is to “rend the veil that lies between life and pain” (Heschel, 179). Albert Camus, in his The Plague (1947)
symbolized the evils of National Socialist Germany’s Third Reich (kingdom), which cost the lives of 49 million people, most
of whom were civilians, including the extermination of six million Jews and the murdering or enslaving of hundreds of
thousands of Poles, homosexuals, Soviet prisoners, Gypsies (Romas) and handicapped German nationals, by comparing the
Nazis to a random outbreak of bubonic plague (Bauer, 262).
59
“The darkness of history…conceals a light. Beyond the mystery is meaning. And the meaning is destined to be discovered”
(Heschel, 179). Though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, Yet your Teacher will not hide
Himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher (Isaiah 30:20-21).
60
God is involved in suffering: For a long time I have kept silent, I have kept still and restrained Myself; Now I will cry out
like a woman in travail, I will gasp and pant (Isaiah 42:14). As sufferers, Christians know themselves to suffer not alone but
together w/ Christ; not in despair, but in hope. Christian suffering is productive. This freedom to suffer becomes the good
news of the NT when those who endure suffering offer it to God (as Christ did on the cross!) so that it may be the means by
which God’s grace can work (for resurrection in our lives). God’s power is not the power of invulnerability, but of solidarity
with the world in its pain. God is with us through our suffering: Because you are precious in My eyes, And honored, and I
love you….For the mountains may depart And the hills be removed But My steadfast love shall not depart from you, And My
covenant of peace shall not be removed, Says the Lord, Who has compassion on you (Isaiah 43:4; 54:7-8; 49:15; 54:10
[Heschel, 153-4]).
61
Heaven is a symbol for the possibility of transformation for all things. While maintaining its own nature, this age passes
into the next and is transformed in it, just as the earthly body of our Lord Jesus Christ was transformed in the resurrection.
Through Jesus Christ, w/ the power of the Spirit of transforming love, we are called to participate with God in the hope of
redeeming the world’s thlipsis (suffering), stenochoria (distress), and diōgmos (persecution).

62
“Crying out to God and running to God without waiting for a reply, is an act of hope and faith. It is the driving force of the
human spirit that informs religious experience. We cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and he heard our cry and saw
our affliction, our toil and our oppression. He brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm
(Deuteronomy 26:7). Had God not responded, theology would not exist.” See Jean Donovan, “Diving into Darkness: The
Religious Experience of Women Survivors Of Domestic Violence,” Religious Experience and Contemporary Theological
Epistemology, 4th International Leuven Encounters in Systematic Theology Conference, Leuven, Nov. 5-8, 2003, available
at http://www.theo.kuleuven.ac.be/ogtpc/lest4/seniors#Marie%20BAIRD (accessed 02/04/05).

19
Human reality involves brokenness and suffering.63 How could God’s presence then only be discerned
where all is good and beautiful? God must also be present in, not beyond, where things go terribly,
horribly wrong – places where we are broken and suffering.64 A God who cannot suffer is not God.

The cross is the preeminent place where God shows his engagement, his radical involvement and identity
with human beings and their history, including our brokenness and suffering to the point of death.65
God’s gracious, loving solidarity and communion with the depths of human pain and suffering, of
lostness and brokenness in the death of Christ on the cross illuminates our Christian ministry to also be
in solidarity with others in their suffering.

Solidarity with the ‘other’ begins with accusatio sui, an alienation from self, an emptying that results in
metanoia, a turning away from one’s former path,66 a conversion to a new way that “is seen as a taking
of the cross, standing where Christ once stood…. This is the essence of Christian humility, the
recognition of one’s total poverty [dependence on God], the ‘emptying out’ of human wisdom and
human righteousness.” It is a true coming together with the ‘other’ in that it “unveils the truth” of our
dependence on a God who reveals himself only in weakness, our inter-dependence with others, and our
common suffering.67 “If God is free to act and to be present in all the diverse conditions of human life
[even those times of human suffering], men and women are free to go find him there.” 68

63
For example, in the theology of Rabbi Irving Greenberg, a contemporary Jewish thinker, with the exile and destruction of
the Temple (in 587-6 BCE, the Spirit of God (shekhina) has also been exiled from the people of God. “In effect, the world
itself is broken” and it is the task of the faithful – those who obey the Torah in Judaism and Christ in Christianity and Allah
in Islam– to bring light into this brokenness in the midst of their common suffering. This involves working in partnership
with God in bringing good to the world (Bauer, 191-2).
64
This view contrasts sharply from a theology of divine impassibility that posits an uninvolved God, “resting in sublime self-
enjoyment of the divine goodness and glory” of creation. See Jane Linahan, “Experiencing God in Brokenness: the Self-
emptying of the Holy Spirit in Moltmann's Pneumatology” Religious Experience and Contemporary Theological
Epistemology, 4th International Leuven Encounters in Systematic Theology Conference, Leuven, Nov. 5-8, 2003, available
at http://www.theo.kuleuven.ac.be /ogtpc/lest4/seniors#Marie%20BAIRD (accessed 02/04/05), 5.
65
This is Martin Luther’s theologia cruces (“theology of the cross”), developed in 1518, which posits that, “God displays
himself ‘visibly’ publicly and historically, only as the humiliated and tortured Jesus.” Thus, it is useless to “consider the
transcendence of God, ‘His glory and majesty,’ independently of the human encounter with him in the godlessness of the
cross…. God himself…shatters all our images [of Him] by addressing us in the cross of Jesus.” See Rowan Williams, The
Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New testament to Saint John of the Cross (Cambridge, MA.: Cowley
Publications, 1990), 157-8.
66
“Metanoia” is a physical movement and new engagement with the world, not just a change of attitude or intension. “The
thrust of the Spirit does not end with the discovery of the battered victim lying in the ditch. It drives us, to make a
commitment to that victim to enter actively upon his or her pathway, to make a commitment to his or her liberation.” See
Roberto Oliveras Maguero, “History of the Theology of Liberation,” in Mysterium Liberationis: Fundamental Concepts of
Liberation Theology, eds. Ignacio Ellacuria and Jon Sobrino (Maryknoll, NY” Orbis Books, 1993), 9 quoted in Daniel M.
Bell, Jr., Liberation Theology after the End of History: The Refusal to Cease Suffering (London: Routledge, 2001), 177-8.
67
For example, a close reading of New Testament Scripture reveals that “Jesus is not naïve, he does not ask us to be passive
[in the face of suffering], he does not require us to give up fighting against evil – but he shows us that equivalence in evil,
even in the name of justice, does not transform human society. What is required is an attitude that is not determined by what
has already been done, an innovative, a creative gesture. Otherwise enclosure within a repetitive logic is inevitable, and the
20
From this vantage point, one might argue that the “ultimate cause of poverty, injustice, and oppression
[as sources of human suffering is the] breach of friendship with God and others.”69 The dream of God
may be that through suffering and our willingness to forgive in the face of this suffering, we may be
reconciled to the ‘other’ and to God. For “Like a tireless, and long-suffering parent, our God is there for
us when we are ready to hear His still, small voice in our lives.”70 This is the same God that is in the
‘other’ who may be the cause of our unjust suffering. For the Church, a moral social order “is based not
on defeat of enemies but on identification with victims through participation in Christ’s reconciling
sacrifice.”71

term of this logic is the exclusion or death of at least one of the parties. It is forgiveness that represents this innovative
gesture: it creates a space in which the logic inherent in legal equivalences [i.e. counter-violence] no longer runs.” See
Christian Duquoc, “The Forgiveness of God,” Concilium 184 (1986): 39 quoted in Bell, 149. In this forgiveness of God and
our fellow human, the endless cycle of violence and counter-violence as the response to human suffering is interrupted and
“holds out the promise of a peace [e.g. the cessation of suffering] that is more than the uneasy truce of adversaries” (Bell,
150).
68
(Williams 1990, 158-160, 163). William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536) in his Obedience of a Christian Man builds on and
extends Luther’s theologia cruces by describing why the solidarity with others is a requirement of our God-given freedom.
Rowan Williams summarizes Tyndale’s thinking: “We are delivered by Christ from slavery into freedom; and that freedom is
experienced and expressed as indebtedness – not to God, but to each other….God’s service to us in Christ is both the model
and the motive force for our relation to our neighbor” (Lev. 19:18; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; James
2:8). See Rowan Williams, Anglican Identities (Cambridge, MA.: Cowley Publications, 2003), 11-13.
69
Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, rev. ed. Ed. Trans. Caridad Inda and John Eagleson (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis
Books, 1988), 24 quoted in Bell, 151. The basis for this friendship is forgiveness. For through forgiveness, “The victim is
freed from the enmity that is borne of a violation that cannot be undone; the victimizer is freed from the guilt and loathing
that comes from never being able to undo the violation. Forgiveness places them both in a position to risk a new relationship.
Ultimately forgiveness is an act of hope that denies the destructiveness of injustice [i.e. the suffering of the innocent] the final
word, instead insisting that something else is always possible” (Bell, 152-3).
70
At its foundation as God’s good creation, “this is a moral universe, which means that, despite all the evidence that seems to
be to the contrary [in a world where the innocent suffer], there is no way that evil and injustice and oppression and lies can
have the last word. God is a God who cares about right and wrong. God cares about justice and injustice. God is in charge.”
See Desmond Tutu, God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time ( New York: Doubleday, 2004), 2, 11.
71
For example, we can no longer account ‘virtue’ as that which is won through the defeat of the ‘other’ (Cavanaugh, 9-10,
11). If habits of mind are “not so much something you see as something through which you see everything,” then the habit of
mind Christians are being called to cultivate is a new vision that embraces the other in our thinking. From this perspective
“Christian ethics is more fundamentally about habits, and thus about producing certain kinds of people, then about decisions,
or producing certain kinds of consequences.” See Michael Hanby, “Interceding: Giving Grief to Management,” in Stanley
Hauerwas), 238.
21
Classical View (e.g. Thomas Aquinas)72 Process Theology73

Creation takes place ex nihilo by a free act God is the first and preeminent instance of
of will. There is no necessary reason for creativity. The Kosmos74 does not depend
anything other than God existing. Creation on any action of God for its existence, but
depends on God’s decision to create; God its ‘creative advance’ is dependent on
could have decided not to create anything. God’s responsive care and influence. God
indwells and is at work in all creation
(incarnational presence) rendering it good.
God has the subjective freedom to become
God has the power to do anything that God what she decides to be and knows the ideal
wills to do; provided that a logical way for every other being to fit into a
contradiction is not involved (e.g. God comprehensive, harmonious plan of the
cannot create a square triangle). whole. God’s power is not absolute, but is
limited. God’s sovereignty is both the
capacity to lure each being toward the good
and to redesign the divine plan for harmony
when necessary.
God is the only being in the process of the
God is incorporeal, and is radically distinct universe that is able to feel the impact of all
from other created order. the particular events as they happen. The
unexhausted divine self (God’s providence)
ever energizes in nature and history. The
world is to be seen as the body of God.
God stands outside time, and is not God is involved in the temporal order. God
involved in the temporal order. It is is continually achieving richer synthesis of
therefore inappropriate to think of God experience through this involvement.
“changing” or being affected by any Order, harmony, and beauty exist in the
involvement in or experience of the world universe because God exercises his
(God’s impassability). influence over the process.
At any point in time, God is more perfect
God exists in a state of absolute perfection, than any other agent in the world.
and cannot be conceived to exist in a state However, God is capable of higher levels
of higher perfection. of perfection at a later stage of
development on account of God’s
involvement with the world (God evolves).

72
Chart idea is from Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction 3rd Edition (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers,
2001), 289.
73
The basic category of reality is process or becoming. From Charles Hartshorne’s (1897-2000) Man’s Vision of God (1941)
who taught at Harvard with Whitehead.
74
“Kosmos” – a term introduced by Pythagoreans to include processes encompassing all domains of existence: the physical
universe (the cosmos), life (the biosphere), and mind and spirit (the noosphere). See Ken Wilber, A Brief History of
Everything, rev. ed. (Boston: Shambhala, 2000), 16.
22
• Process theology75 redefines God’s omnipotence in terms of influence within the overall world-
process. God can only act w/in a persuasive manner, within the limits of the process itself. God
“plays by the rules” of the universe’s emergent processes.76

• God can be identified with the existing background of order, which is seen as an organizing
principle essential to emergent growth of the universe and all living things.

• God is an entity (‘occasion’ or ‘holon’) like all other entities that have the freedom to develop
and be influenced by their surroundings, except that unlike other entities, God is imperishable.

• God is immanent in history and nature. And God’s transcendence is evident everywhere in the
emergent nature of the Kosmos itself that exhibits self-transcendent evolution in overcoming
pure chance existence.77

• Jesus Christ shows the meaning of God’s immanence in all creation (the Word became flesh and
dwelt among us) and God’s eternally vigilant, compassionate presence with us in the face of
suffering. God is a loving God who is willing to participate to the death in our suffering. Evil
does not have the last word in this struggle. God is our “great companion” as he was Abba to
Jesus; a fellow sufferer who understands – our sufferings, sorrows, failures, triumphs, joy.

75
“The ultimate metaphysical ground is the creative advance into novelty” from Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947),
Process and Reality (1929) who conceived reality as a process made up of ‘actual entities’ or ‘actual occasions’ (today
referred to as “holons,” to refer to entities that are themselves wholes and simultaneously parts of some other whole – coined
by Arthur Koestler) [Wilber, 17, 22]. In the scheme of reality God is a logical necessity for emergent order to exist. However,
this is a somewhat different God than the God of traditional theology in that this God is not bounded by humankind’s
understanding of God as revealed in Scripture and this is an ever-evolving and transcending God who is immanent and
present in the emergent Kosmos. For example, calculations by prominent scientists consistently indicate that even twelve
billion years (the estimated age of the universe) is insufficient time to produce even one enzyme by chance; something other
than chance mutation is pushing the evolution of the universe (Wilber, 23).
76
“Emergence” means that the laws of the more complex system or holon are not readily derivable from the laws of the
simpler, lower-level systems or holons making up the higher-order holon. That is, at each successive level (“holarchy”) of
organization, novelty appears that is ‘unexpected’ based on the characteristics of the lower-level holon or system –
characteristics that ‘transcend’ what came before. An example are living cells that are made up of molecules. There is no way
that the characteristics that define cells can be derived from understanding molecules.This contrasts w/ “reductionism” that
posits that the whole can be understood merely by an understanding of the parts. Reductionism as a means for understanding
complex systems ranging from life to the workings of galaxies has been severely challenged in recent years due to a growing
appreciation of the emergent nature of many complex systems in the Kosmos.
77
Wilber, 23.
23
THE HERMENEUTICS OF LIBERATION THEOLOGY

“History has been written by a white hand, a male hand from the dominating social class. The
perspective of the defeated in history is different.”78 Christianity is a religion which started w/ the
liberation of slaves in the Exodus, which looks for salvation to a Christ executed by a colonialist state,
and which celebrates the creation at Pentecost of a Spirit-filled community in which there is ‘no longer
slave or free,…male or female’ (Gal. 3:28). Scripture contains the narrative history of this oppressed
people; a project of freedom in history and hope where “fellowship with God is the beginning and the
end of human liberation.” “Liberation is knowledge of self; it is a vocation to affirm who I am created to
be….authentic liberation of self is attainable only in the context of an oppressed community in the
struggle of freedom….There can be no freedom for God in isolation from the humiliated and abused.”79
The work of liberation ultimately has the power to free the oppressor as well as the oppressed. Faith to
be authentic, must have content – a commitment to liberation – which acknowledges God’s mercy and
gift of human freedom.

The emergence of the liberation theologies (Latin American, Black, Feminist, Womanist [black
feminist], mujerista [Latin American feminist], African, Third World, Ecofeminist) is of the greatest
importance for Christian faith. While some Christians may still be willing to abide by exploitation of the
poor and marginalized of this world and even to rationalize the plight of the unfortunate, they are no
longer able to justify it as an expression of Christian faith and tradition (concientizacion). The liberation
theologies are an incarnational theology80 that takes seriously God’s indwelling presence in each
individual member of humanity and raises a passionate protest against modernity’s identification of
religion with only what goes on inside our minds and hearts by making explicit that God’s intention is to
save the whole person in his/her full materiality. What begins w/ transformation of the self, these
theologies argue, has not truly taken form until it embraces the transformation of the social, economic,
and political world around us.81 Only with this existential commitment to the whole human being does
theology have real meaning.

Liberation theology calls Christians to name the powers82 that oppress people and hold them captive; the
institutional or structural consequences of human thought, activity, and organization that instead of

78
Gustavo Gutierrez, “Where Hunger Is, God Is Not,” The Witness (April 1976) 6. Liberation theology is always done from
the point-of-view of “non-persons” (the marginalized in history), where theology’s mission is to confront any elements that
threaten human existence and freedom. The good news of Jesus Christ is the biblical basis of liberation theology. As
Christians, we can either use our freedom on behalf of the oppressed or on behalf of the oppressors. There is no middle
ground.
79
James H. Cone, Black Theology…(New York: Seabury Press, 1972).
80
God become human (incarnate) specifically one person at a specific point in time.
81
Liberation movements share common conviction that oppression is not often intended as it is necessitated by economic and
political structures. Industrialized states must keep the rest of the world under their control in order to obtain raw materials
and ensure dependable markets for commerce. Instead of asking, “What should the church say about this?” liberation
theology insists the proper question is: “What should the church do?”

24
serving God’s will and sustaining human life in society, make idols of themselves and place their own
desires above God’s purposes for humanity and creation.83 The narratives of Scripture describe the
process through which God is ending the ‘known world’ of the established order and inviting us to a
new world of obedience and praise; the kingdom comes through an imagination that subverts the
conventional readings of reality and the dominant arrangements of power. Resurrection faith is a hopeful
faith for the liberating work of God; where the unexpected can in-break into history at any time.84

82
Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the
cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).
83
The powers fundamental concern is their survival. Everything else is expendable: human beings, compassion, humanity,
the environment – everything. See Charles L. Campbell, The Word Before the Powers: An Ethic of Preaching (Louisville:
Westminster John Knox, 2002), 7, 21, 24-5.
84
Walter Brueggemann, Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Exile (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), 4-5, 27.
25
THE HERMENEUTICS OF CHRISTIAN FEMINIST THEOLOGY85

Philosophical Underpinnings: Feminist Theory offers new, postmodern models86 to think about
reality – to elicit a new way of understanding the world and how we come to know it (an alternate
epistemology not dominated by androcentric, paternalistic ways of knowing and explaining reality).87 It
is also a Deconstructionist project88 to name and address the injustices of oppression of women89 where
texts are read ‘against the grain’ to discover interpretations left out by the ‘dominant interpretation.’90
“Feminists argue that one must listen to the emotions, pain, and often inchoate speech of the oppressed –
for it is here that one meets oppression face to face, in all its brokenness and loss.”91

85
Notes are taken primarily from Serene Jones, Feminist Theory and Christian Theology: Cartographies of Grace, Guides to
Theological Inquiry (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000).
86
Modernism is a representational paradigm for discovering truth that evolved from the Enlightenment’s notion that reality
could be known entirely through empirical means discovered by an observer mapping a pre-given world ‘out there’ from an
Archimedes Point outside the system of investigation. Postmodernism rejects this paradigm for understanding the world as
hopelessly naïve. Neither the world nor the observer are pre-given but exist together in contexts that have a history, and
whose history is evolving over time. There is no Archimedes Point outside the system of investigation from which the
observer can look into the system and discover the truth. Thus, all truth is context-bound; the hermeneutic approach we
choose to interpret reality determines the portion of reality we see. Postmodern thinkers include Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger,
Foucault, and Derrida. See Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything, rev. ed. (Boston: Shambhala, 2000), 54-5, 89.
87
Ivone Gebara, Longing for Running Water: Ecofeminism and Liberation, Biblical Reflections on Ministry (Minneapolis:
Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1999), 22.
88
Deconstructionists posit that meaning is contextually determined and that contexts are infinitely extendable (boundless). In
order to derive meaning from a text, we must always be sensitive to background contexts. Thus, all texts must be interpreted.
And the hermeneutic approach we choose to interpret text is important. For not all interpretations of text are valid. The
validity of our interpretation must always be checked within a community of interpreters who are more knowledgeable than
we are about the text in question. Deconstructionist thinkers include Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault (Wilber, 89).
89
The five faces of oppression include: (1) exploitation (women reproduce, raise, and care for the workers that capitalism
needs, but the system never pays them for doing this work); (2) marginalization (marginals are the people the system of labor
cannot or will not use) ; (3) powerlessness (women as a group generally have less ‘voice’ in determining their work than men
and earn 20 to 50 percent less than men’s in 27 of 39 countries surveyed in 2002, both OECD and developing countries); (4)
cultural imperialism (a more powerful group universalizes its standards and imposes them on less powerful persons); and (5)
violence (this violence is systemic and structural: e.g. three out of five women in our culture have been sexually assaulted, be
it by incest, rape, or some form of sexual harassment in the workplace; young women comprise 75 percent of those between
the ages of 15 to 24 who are infected with HIV globally) [Jones, 79-93].
90
Scripture was written by a male hand from the perspective of a paternalistic culture (the Hellenistic social system
maintained the sovereignty of male heads of households; wives, children, slaves and all other dependent persons had no legal
rights as citizens, restricted property rights, and dramatically constrained social power [Jones, 78]). The perspective of
women interpreting Scripture is different. Feminist theory asserts that one must address the power dynamics that shapes the
social worlds women live in. These power dynamics are ubiquitous, permeating all aspects of our interpersonal interactions
and institutional relations (Jones, 72).
91
Jones, 75. Three alternative ‘readings’ from a feminist perspective are: (1) essentialism – views women’s identity as
comprised of ‘essential traits’ that define a woman’s identity and are often framed as supplemental and in relation to the
masculine norm (e.g. Helene Cixous “The Laugh of the Medusa”) [Jones, 88]; (2) constructivism – views women’s identity
as “lived imaginative constructs” that are culturally determined and are acted out as ‘performances’ or roles. “Imaginative
cultural constructs” of gender are shaped by concrete relations of power and material interests that oppress women” (e.g.
Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity) [Jones, 59]; (3) strategic essentialism – views
women’s identity as a combination of essential characteristics and cultural conditioning (e.g. Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the
Other Woman; the woman’s health guide, Our Bodies Ourselves) [Jones, 42-8].

26
Christian Feminist Theology is a form of theological interpretation92 done from the perspective of
eschatological essentialism (Christian form of strategic essentialism [see footnote #7]): (1) God-
relatedness is a “determinant feature of our being” and (2) “God wills that women (along with all
people) flourish, and that as people of faith, Christians are called to follow God’s will and seek out
conditions for that flourishing, all the while recognizing the limits of sin and the need for the Holy
Spirit….[affirming] the power of grace, the reality of hope, and the possibility of conversion” in a world
that is ‘already/not yet’ the world as it “might be.”93 Other categories of feminist theology include
Womanist (black feminist), Mujerista (Latin American feminist), and Ecofeminist (ecology and feminist
theory) feminist theology.

Example #1: Traditionally, Justification (Luther) describes what God does to redeem humanity in
Jesus Christ: (1) the crime of humanity is turning away from God and arrogantly conforming life to
destructive human desires rather than the divine will manifest in the law (bondage of the will); (2) God
shows divine mercy to an otherwise unrighteous humanity (imputation of righteousness); (3) the sinner
hears the divine verdict of forgiveness and comes to faith and knows he is saved by a grace not earned
but imputed through Christ. The justified sinner then enters into a lifelong process empowered by the
Holy Spirit for service to neighbor and faithful obedience to God (Sanctification, regeneration; Calvin)
where God initiates real, internal transformation and the believer’s life is materially (not just judicially)
remade to “imitate” Christ.

Feminist Theory begins by positing that women suffer from an illness different from Luther’s classical
sinner: the source of her alienation from God is her lack of self-definition; she enters the courtroom as a
de-centered subject undone by falsely inscribed relations of power and whose lack of self is her prison.
Feminist Theology would say that to narrate conversion in woman’s lives more meaningfully, the story
of God’s judgment and mercy should be reversed – starting w/ sanctification and its language of
building-up instead of justification and its language of undoing.

The feminist theologian proclaims, from a Christian perspective, that “God desires to empower and
liberate women rather than to break what little self-confidence they have” as “sanctification provides
doctrinal grounds for a logic of identity that counters views of woman’s nature that undermine her
agency.” Instead, she is an embodied “agent shaped by her mission to love God and live in relation to

92
Theological interpretation was the standard form of Scriptural interpretation prior to the 18th century Enlightenment and the
introduction of historical-critical interpretation. With theological interpretation, one uses “Scripture as a way of ordering and
comprehending the world, rather than using the world as a way of comprehending Scripture” as the historical critical method
of interpreting Scripture does. See Stephen Fowl, “Theological and Ideological Strategies of Biblical Interpretation,” in
Michael J. Gorman, editor, Scripture: An Ecumenical Introduction to the Bible and Its Interpretation (pre-publication edition,
2004), 10.6.
93
Jones, 51-5, 93. Feminist theology is a theology of resistance and hope.

27
neighbor” fully present and inhabiting her world. “Justification means forgiving the sins of constructions
that bind us, so that, through God’s mercy, we may be open to the crafting work of the Holy Spirit. For
women formed by restrictive conceptions of gender, this act of person-crafting forgiveness signifies new
life….Conversion to faith is when one is forgiven because of God’s imputation of an alien
righteousness, a performance conversion in which we receive a new role, one that calls us to live as
those loved by God. One effect of this new vision: we begin to see that the usual way of doing things is
itself a series of performances that, in sin, we have raised to the status of essential truths. God challenges
the ‘as usual’ quality of the roles we had previously played in our brokenness…and offers a new
performance, one in which women become performers of Christ’s imputed righteousness….The wonder
she knows in receiving God’s grace in justification opens her to neighbor and God”94

Example #2: The dominant interpretation of Sin is that it is an inherited (Augustine), pervasive
condition of falling short, missing-the-mark, unfaithfulness to the will of God affecting the interiority of
humans and exhibited in a variety of primary forms: pride (Calvin); sloth (Barth); concupiscence (Tillich
and Niebuhr). Applying a deconstructionist reading of the text, Feminist Theory begins by positing that
women suffer from sin differently than the classical view of sin: the source of her alienation from God is
her oppression by falsely inscribed relations of power, and her resulting lack of self-relatedness
separates her from God.

Thus, feminist theology suggests instead of exclusively focusing on sin as an interior state of fallenness,
sin might be also characterized as a relational process whereby we subject the ‘other’ to oppression, and
if we are being oppressed by the ‘other’, we acquiesce and do not resist this oppression.95 Since God-
relatedness is a “determinant feature of our being” and “God wills that women (along with all people)
flourish”96 sin is the constructions that bind us, so that, we are separated from God’s mercy and grace,
closed off from the crafting work of the Holy Spirit and thus fall short of our mission to love God and
live in relation to neighbor. The advantage of this ‘reading’ of sin is that it directly addresses the
oppression women experience and does not contribute to ways of understanding humanity’s relationship
with God that are then used to keep women from flourishing.

History/Feminist Theologians. Mary Wollstonecroft wrote the first feminist treatise, Vindication of the
Rights of Women (1792). The Bible contains both revelation and the culturally conditioned responses to
it that people made in the past (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Woman’s Bible, 1895). Scripture and
tradition must be rethought to overcome deeply embedded sexism (Mary Daily, The Church and the
Second Sex, 1968). A more inclusive language is needed when women are excluded linguistically by so
many practices (Letty Russell, Human Liberation in a Feminist Perspective, 1974). We need to recover

94
Jones, 62, 65, 66-8.
95
Jones, 94-125, 194.
96
Jones, 51-5, 93.

28
traces of the feminine in language pointing to God (Phyllis Tribble, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality,
1978). The dominant language of the church has become idolatrous and irrelevant by succumbing to the
hegemony of masculine images for God (Sallie McFague, Metaphorical Theology, 1982).

What is needed is a historically convincing picture of how Christianity in its origins was not a
patriarchal religion, but one that gave place to women in its vision of salvation as full and equal partners
(Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her, 1983). The healing and liberating Word of God can
emerge from the Christian tradition only when it has been freed of distorted consciousness (Rosemary
Radford Ruether, Women and Redemption: A Theological History, 1998).

The feminist critique of church and society calls for the ordination of women, equal opportunity for
employment, equal property and legal rights, and a liturgy able to celebrate female and male alike (e.g
New Zealand Book of Common Prayer’s revision of Eucharist liturgy). Acceptance of feminist theory
and Christian feminist theology has been neither uncritical nor universal in the Roman Catholic,
Orthodox, or Protestant Churches.

29
ECOLOGICAL THEOLOGY and ECOFEMINISM (“theology of the environment”)

All human activity is a cry for forgiveness.97Who shall absolve us from the guilt of the Holocaust? Colonialism?...a nuclear
catastrophe? 98 The extinction of even one species?

Theological Context: Two inextricable and unstoppable forces are causing a rethinking of cherished
religious and cultural values, as well as the emergence of new theological paradigms. These forces
which are causing unprecedented and unsustainable stresses on the global environment are (1) the
increase in the world’s population from ~6.5 billion today to an estimated 9.1 billion in 2050,99 a
40% increase; and (2) the new world economy that is driven by globalization where both positive
and negative influences flow between the developed and the Third World100 and technological
innovation that causes much good, but in many cases, much harm to the environment.101

What the best scientific, economic, and cultural evidence we presently possess indicates is that:102
• At an accelerating rate we are destroying natural, existing habitats – the forests, grasslands,
wetlands, and deserts or converting them to man-made habitats (cities, villages, farmlands,
pastures, roads, golf courses).103 For example, through unsustainable land practices, burning,
logging, and acid rain from industrial activities we are destroying many of the earth’s old-growth
forests. These forests are necessary to produce the oxygen and purify the air we breathe

• While two billion of today’s population currently depend on the world’s fisheries for protein, the
majority of the world’s fisheries have been seriously degraded or have already collapsed;104

• We are rapidly decreasing a significant fraction of wild species and populations of the world’s
flora and fauna and loosing their genetic information through habitat destruction, the
97
Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns (London: Oxford University Press, 1933), 97-7.
98
Rowan Williams, A Ray of Darkness: Sermons and Reflections (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1995), 4.
99
Population Division, United Nations report, February 24, 2005. Virtually all the additional growth in population will occur
in less developed countries from 5.3 billion today to 7.8 billion in 2050. The population of developed countries is expected to
remain at today’s level of ~1.2 billion over the same period.
100
For example, the First World exports its toxins to the Third World (e.g. Inuit have the highest concentration of mercury
and pesticides in their tissues of any living humans, far exceeding levels considered safe for humans in the First World) and
the Third World exports its diseases and problems to the First World (e.g. AIDS, SARS, cholera, West Nile virus, illegal
immigrants, terrorists, debt, etc.). See Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York:
Viking, 2005), 517.
101
“Because we are rapidly advancing along this non sustainable course, the world’s environmental problems will get
resolved, in one way or another, within the lifetimes of the children and young adults alive today….The only question is
whether they will become resolved in pleasant ways of our own choosing, or in unpleasant ways not of our choice, such as
warfare, genocide, starvation, disease epidemics, and collapses of societies” (Diamond, 498).
102
Adapted from Elizabeth A. Johnson, Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit: 1993 Madeleva Lecture in Spirituality (Mahwah,
NJ: Paulist Press, 1993), 507. A solid appraisal of the global environmental situation is Stuart L. Pimm, The World According
to Pimm: A Scientist Audits the Earth (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001).
103
Diamond, 487.
104
Diamond, 488.

30
introduction of toxins into the environment and unsustainable land management practices. Once
a species is extinct, we cannot bring them back;

• Through unsustainable land use practices we are causing soil erosion at rates 10 to 40 times the
rates of soil formation, salinization of once productive cropland, loss of soil fertility, and soil
acidification and alkalinization;105

• The world’s economies are almost entirely dependant on carbon-based fuels for energy; fuel
sources which are finite and limited;106

• The world’s freshwater resources are finite and rapidly shrinking as more crops need to be
irrigated and world population increases;107

• Even the amount of solar energy available from the earth’s sun is a finite, fixed amount per acre,
limited by the earth’s orbit around the sun, the geometry of living plants, and the biochemistry of
photosynthesis.108

• We are releasing toxins into the earth’s atmosphere that act as poisons of the earth’s life-support
systems. Some toxins that are in the ecosphere cannot be recaptured. We are slowly making parts
of the earth unfit for life;

• Alien species introduced inadvertently and sometimes deliberately by man are causing huge
economic losses worldwide. For example, alien species costs the U.S. $135 billion annually in
economic losses.

• Through the chemicals we discharge into the air, we have torn a hole in the earth’s ozone layer
that protects us from the ultraviolet radiation from the sun and caused global warming;109
105
Diamond, 489-90.
106
Diamond, 490.
107
Diamond, 490.
108
Diamond, 491.
109
Global warming is evolving much faster than most would have imagined even ten years ago. Despite significant dollars
spent to convince us that (a) global warming is not happening; or (b) it is happening, but it is so inconsequential as to be
negligible; or (c) global warming is good for us; or (d) global warming is too big a problem for us to do anything about; or (e)
it is already ‘too late’ to do anything about it; global warming is undeniably due to human activities, its existence is not
controversial among the vast majority of experts and international business leaders, and the best understanding by virtually
all world governments other than the U.S. is that there are responsible policies that can prevent the most serious
environmental, economic, and health consequences from global warming. Today, the concentration of CO2 in the earth’s
atmosphere is ~376ppm, the highest level in the past 420,000 years and already climate change is the primary factor in an
estimated 150,000 deaths per year (World Health Organization data). CO2 from burning carbon based fuels comprises ~half
of the greenhouse gases released annually into the earth’s atmosphere and 90% of the greenhouse gases produced by the U.S.
economy. See James Gustave Speth, “Climate Change after the Elections: What we can do in America” (December 2004)
available at http://www.redskyatmorning.com/ downloads/afterword_paperback_ 010505.pdf (accessed 01/24/05), 3, 9.
There is now solid scientific evidence that suffocating global warming, not an asteroid, is to blame for the worst mass-
extinction on Earth (the “Great Dying”) 250 million years ago (Science, 01/21/05). Long-term warming caused by continuous
volcanic eruptions in Siberia are believed to have dramatically reduced oxygen and nutrients in the ocean and on the land
producing a devastating effect. Life suffocated (hypoxia) or starved. As Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC; appointed to this post in 2001 at the request of the Bush Administration)
told an international conference in Mauritius in January: “Climate change is for real. We have just a small window of
opportunity and it is closing rapidly. There is not a moment to lose….[We have] already reached the level of dangerous
31
• The per capita impact for the world’s population is continuing to rise, it is not decreasing. For
example, a First World citizen presently consumes 32 times more resources than a Thirst World
citizen and produces 32 times more waste than do Third World citizens.110

• Environmental stresses are creating the conditions for outbreaks of new disease organisms and
pandemics in certain areas of the world.

• Governments’ focus on preparation for war by stockpiling nuclear weapons and other CBRN
weapons of mass destruction111 threatens the biological integrity of all natural systems that are
the precondition for life on earth.112

Ecological Theology asks if Christians, by their inaction and disengagement, are promoting
ecocide,113 the degradation of God’s ‘good creation.’114 Ecological Theology posits that traditional
Christian theology as it has been conceived since the Enlightenment is ecologically bankrupt.

concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” See Geoffry Lean, “Global Warming Approaching Point of No Return,
Warns Leading Climate Expert” (Sunday, January 23, 2005), The Financial Times (London England), at
http://www.commondreams.org/cgi-bin/print.cgi?file=/ headlines05/ 0123-01.htm (accessed 02/08/05).
110
Diamond, 495.
111
C = Chemical; B = biological; R = radiological; N = nuclear.
112
“Countries pursuing their parochial self-interest are unlikely to fully account for….managing environmental spillover
[externalities]….Neither the costs of environmental degradation not the benefits of environmental protection” are typically
accounted for in national income accounts and the timing separation of costs and benefits creates perverse incentives to defer
into the future necessary changes to economic and environmental policy. See Charles S. Pearson, Economics and the Global
Environment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 341; Lamont C. Hempel, “Climate Policy on the installment
Plan” in Norman J. Vig and Michael E. Kraft, Environmental Policy: New Directions for the Twenty-First Century, 5th
Edition (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2003), 321..
113
As used here, “ecocide” means the inattention to environmental issues that can singly or when combined cause collapse of
natural and man-made systems that humans depend upon to sustain life and culture. Some of these environmental issues
include: (1) deforestation and habitat destruction; (2) soil problems (erosion, salinization, and soil fertility); (3) water
management problems; (4) over-hunting; (5) over-fishing; (6) the effects of introduced species on native species; (7) human
population growth; and (8) the increased per capita impact of human activity on their local environment (Diamond, 6).
114
Not all agree that ecocide is occurring. In his controversial book, The Skeptical Environmentalist (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2001) Danish statistician Bjørn Lomborg lists the broad litany of environmental problems: "forests are
shrinking, water tables are falling, soils are eroding, wetlands are disappearing, fisheries are collapsing, rangelands are
deteriorating, rivers are running dry, temperatures are rising, coral reefs are dying, and plant and animal species are
disappearing." Lomborg claims to refute all the evidence that environmental degradation is occurring. He accuses scientists
and environmental organizations of making false and exaggerated claims about the world’s environmental problems. He
concludes that population growth is not a problem, that there is plenty of freshwater around, that deforestation rates and
species extinctions are grossly exaggerated, that the pollution battle has been largely won, and that global warming is too
expensive to fix. He claims that his reanalysis of environmental data measures "the real state of the world." However, the
third UN report on the Global Environmental Outlook found "indisputable evidence of continuing and widespread
environmental degradation". It said policy measures have not been able to counter the pressures of unsustainable
consumption levels in rich countries and increasing numbers of desperately poor people in the developing world. It
specifically noted problems of water stress, species extinction, depletion of fish stocks, land degradation, forest loss, urban air
pollution in developing countries and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. That is the depressing picture that comes from
scientific analysis, supported by virtually all scientific communities in countries around the world, including the U.S.
Lomborg’s analysis itself suffers from a fatal fallacy that economists call “misplaced concreteness.” This involves abstracting
truth from over-generalized numerical analysis of particular instances – in this case, applying a theory of value based only on
individualistic maximization of subjective satisfaction, as well as imagining that creation has only economic value attributed
32
Traditional Christian Theology positions history against nature, and science against religion.115 It
conceives of God’s imago Dei as humankind alone, with human agency to dominate nature, and man to
dominate woman. Thus, its view of reality is hierarchal, paternalistic, and reductionist and has led to
“the exploitation of nature, unchecked commercial and industrial expansion and subordination of
women.”116 It preferences piety over engagement, and offers salvation as an ethereal realm unrelated to
physical reality of the creation of this world and God’s enfleshment in nature. It offers sacraments of
baptism and the Eucharist that are disconnected with the community of life and God’s sovereignty in the
life of human community. It is wholly deficient in addressing the real world within which over five
billion of the earth’s human population know they are living117 and the world in which one billion
humans118 pretend that they are living as they deny that environmental degradation is real and enact
policies for economies based entirely on waste and destruction of the natural world.119

according to present utility. Lomborg’s argument essentially boils down to the best and only way to clean-up the environment
is through “economic growth.” However, no amount of wealth will bring back extinct species, adjust CO2 levels in the
atmosphere beyond a certain point so that we won’t suffocate, or restore saline land on any human time scale. Some
environmental problems happen in areas that are fragile (susceptible to damage) or lack resilience (potential for recovery
from damage) and are irreversible beyond a tipping point.

I have thought about why otherwise intelligent people can not ‘see’ that environmental degradation is happening around
them, even as they interpret a common set of data available to everyone to arrive at ‘facts’ that support their viewpoint.
Maybe what we are seeing is a phenomenon similar to that experienced by many tsunami victims this December in South
Asia who passively watched the wave approach. The magnitude of the reality was just too large, too different from normal
experienced reality, to process the data in front of their own eyes. They could not really ‘see’ the tsunami, thus could not get
out of its destructive path.
115
Except for the ‘science’ of economics which is organized around ‘Gossen’s golden rule’ (Herman Gossen, The Laws of
Human Relations [1854]): “Organize your actions for your own benefit” for “God implanted self-interest in the human breast
as the motive force of progress.” Thus, “the concern for justice, fairness, or well-being of the community as a whole” is
misplaced. What is prime most is “the unlimited quest for personal gain.” Such a view is another case of ‘misplaced
concreteness’ in defining Homo economicus as a creature of God without Christian character values or ethics. See Herman
Daly & John B. Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a
Sustainable Future (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994), 89.
116
Karen J. Warren, “Introduction” in Michael E. Zimmerman, J. Baird Callicott, George Sessions, Karen J. Warren, and
John Clark (Eds.), Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall,
1993), 253-267.
117
Approximately three billion of the earth’s population “live on less than $2 a day; with some 1.2 billion living in extreme
poverty on less than $1 a day.” Of the 2 billion additional people (we will be going from ~6 billion to ~8 billion total
population) who will inhabit the earth in the next twenty years, approximately 95% will live in developing countries. See J. F.
Rischard, High Noon: 20 Global Problems; 20 Years to Solve Them (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 6, 8.
118
Today, 20% of the world’s population living in 30 or so of the wealthiest countries, consume 85% of the total annual
output of the world’s production of goods and services (Rischard, 8).
119
For Jews, “the well-being of the land and the quality of Israel’s life are causally linked, and both are predicated on Israel’s
observance of God’s will….The covenant between Israel and God implied specific laws intended to protect God’s land and
ensure its continued vitality.” See Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, ed., “Introduction: Judaism and the Natural World ” in Judaism
and Ecology (Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School: Religions of the World and Ecology Series,
2002) available at http://environment.harvard.edu/religion/publications/books/book_series/cswr/judaismintr.html (accessed
01/31/05). Environmental degradation for Muslims “is merely a symptom of the broader…calamity that human societies are
not living in accordance with God’s will. A just society, one in which humans relate to each other and to God as they should,
will be one in which environmental problems simply will not exist.” See Richard Foltz, “Introduction” in Islam and Ecology
(Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School: Religions of the World and Ecology Series, 2003)
available at http://environment.harvard.edu/religion/publications/books/book_series/cswr/islamint.html (accessed 01/31/05).

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For these reasons, Christian theologians, especially Liberation120 and Feminist theologians121, influenced
by Process theology,122 ecology,123 Aldo Leopold’s land ethic,124 character (virtue) ethics125 and
ecocentrist philosophy126 are presently working on An Ecological Theology that repositions Christianity
from a focus on interiority spirituality based on an andocentric127 and anthropomorphic128 conception of
God to Christianity’s ancient cosmological context where God interpenetrates all things129 and the
“renewal of creation, the salvation of the individual, and the liberation of the people are all seen as
necessary components of the work of God in Christ.”130 Rather than a transcendent, anthropomorphic
God of Genesis 1, there is an attempt to recapture an incarnational, imminent and ecocentric God where
day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge of God’s immanence in all of
creation (Ps.19:2)131 and Christ is the enfleshment of Sophia/Wisdom through whom all things came

120
See notes for EFM.4.26 on Liberation theology
121
See notes for EFM 4.27 on Feminist theology.
122
See notes for EFM.4.25 on Process theology.
123
Ecology is essentially a profound new way of perceiving and cognitively organizing the reality of the natural world by
understanding the interactions of natural systems. See J. Baird Callicott, In Defense of the Land Ethic: Essays in
Environmental Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), 5; Eugene Odum and Gary W. Barrett.
Fundamentals of Ecology, 5th edition (Brooks Cole, 2004).
124
The two most revolutionary features of Aldo Leopold’s land ethic (Leopold was a forester and naturalist who believed that
we should apply Christian ethics from the perspective of the land) are: (1) the shift in emphasis from the individual to the
community of life, and (2) the shift in emphasis from human beings to nature (anthropocentrism to ecocentrism). See
Callicott, 8; Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968). [In economics, ‘land’ is the
inclusive term for nature, creation, the world, the environment, or the earth.]
125
Alisdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theology has been most influential. “Without the virtues we cannot
protect ourselves and each other against neglect, defective sympathies, stupidity, acquisitiveness, and malice.” See Alisdair
MacIntyre, Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues (Chicago: Open Court, 1999), 98.
126
Ecocentrists advocate a shift from the individual (either human beings or higher animals such as dolphins, whales, and
primates) to terrestrial nature – the ecosystem as a whole (Callicott, 3-4).
127
Centered on, emphasizing or dominated by males or masculine interests.
128
Conception or understanding of the world as existing entirely for humankind; interpreting reality only from a purely
human point-of-view; focusing exclusively on human welfare and the intrinsic value of human beings. The environment
enters into theology only as an area of human agency to be acted on, with no intrinsic value other than to serve humankind
(Callicott, 2).
129
God’s incarnational presence in History, as manifest in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. See Jürgen Moltman, In the
End – The Beginning: The Life of Hope (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 158. “God penetrates the world in the same way
as honey in the comb” (Tertullian, Adv. Herm. 44.1).
130
“The cosmological context – the assertion that the Redeemer is the creator – is deeply rooted in Hebrew faith and surfaces
in John’s incarnational Christology, Paul’s cosmic Christ, Irenaeus’ notion of Christ recapitulating all of creation, as well as
in the sacramental motifs of Augustine and Thomas.” See Sallie McFague, “An Ecological Christology: Does Christianity
Have It? in Christianity and Ecology, edited by Dieter T. Hessel and Rosemary Radford Ruether (Athens: University of
Georgia Press, 2002), 29.
131
“God has been speaking to us from all eternity through everything that exists.” See Douglass Burton-Christie, “Word
beneath the Water: Logos, Cosmos, and the Spirit of Place” in Hessel and Ruether, 318.

34
into being through her…in her was life, and the life was the light of all creation that shines in the
darkness of chaos. (John 1:3-5).132

From this perspective it is appropriate to re-imagine metaphors that describe the earth as the “body of
God;”133 where the beauty and sacredness of the world reawakens us from “autism with regard to the
natural cosmos…; [where] Christ is God’s categorical affirmation and assumption of the whole world”
(John 1:9) 134 and the Spirit is the breath of all life “experienced in a God-centered life lived in
communion….of mutual love, of mutual giving and receiving, of being with one another [and all of
creation] in ecstatic shared life.”135

This theological perspective echoes the countercultural claims of the first Pauline Christian churches
that resisted the imperial mentality of an economic system “based on the exploitation of power, the
exhaustion of natural resources, the misuse of people, and the waste of products.”136 It appeals to the
wounded Spirit as the basis for hope137as, like Jeremiah (31:31-34) in his day, we look to a
reconstruction of Christianity in a mode of glad obedience to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who
liberated the Israelites from captivity in Egypt and who created the world and everything in it.138

132
“The Word is apprehended in and through the world” (Burton-Christie, 319).
133
See Sallie McFague, The Body of God: An Ecological Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993). For example, in
Process theology God is the only being in the process of the universe that is able to feel the impact of all the particular events
as they happen. The unexhausted divine self ever energizes in nature and history (God’s providence). The world is to be seen
as the body of God.
134
John Chryssavgis, “The World of the Icon and Creation: An Orthodox Perspective on Ecology and Pneumatology” in
Hessel and Ruether, 83, 89. Christ “is Himself the Word of God…who in His invisible form pervades us universally in the
whole world, and encompasses it length and breadth and height and depth” (Irenaeus) quoted in Burton-Christie, 321.
135
“Light cannot be separated from what makes visible, and it is impossible for you to recognize Christ, the Image of the
invisible God, unless the Spirit enlightens you. Once you see the Image, you cannot ignore the Light….when we see
Christ…it is always through the illumination of the Spirit” (Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit, 26.64 in St. Basil the Great
on the Holy Spirit, trans. David Anderson (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladamir’s Seminary Press, 1980), 97 quoted in Denis
Edwards, Breath of Life: A Theology of the Creator Spirit (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), 29-30.
136
Wendell Berry, “Racism and the Economy,” in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry,
edited and introduced by Norman Wirzba (Washington, DC: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2002), 53. “The imperial power of Rome
[was based] on a system of ‘political tyranny and economic exploitation,’ founded on conquest and maintained by violence
and oppression.” See Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and
Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 296.
137
The Spirit is understood “not as a metaphysical entity but as a healing life-force which engenders human flourishing as
well as the welfare of the planet.” See Mark I. Wallace, “The Wounded Spirit as the Basis for Hope in an Age of Radical
Ecology,” in Hessel and Ruether, 53.
138
Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination (Louisville: John
Knox Press, 2003), 189. The Orthodoxy in Jeremiah’s day was: (1) We are YHWH’s chosen people, enjoying the blessings
of our covenant relationship w/ YHWH forged at Sinai; (2) YHWH has granted land to our ancestors and we are the
inheritors of that land grant; (3) YHWH has promised a perpetual dynastic reign of the house of David; (4) God would not let
Jerusalem fall because that is where YHWH’s temple stood. Jeremiah’s radical critique of this Orthodoxy was: (1) It is true
that YHWH and the people are covenantal partners, but the people are not living up to their side of the covenant; (2) Israel’s
failure to obey God also forfeits their rights to the land granted by God; (3) Judah’s leaders have blatantly broken God’s laws
35
Just as in Jeremiah’s day, today’s Christians are called to embody the alternative consciousness of Christ
in the face of the denying King and his royal consciousness which refuses to see the “indifferent
affluence, cynical oppression, and presumptive religion” that so grossly violates God’s freedom of
creation.139

As Christians, we have a ministry of grief; to share the anguish of the Earth and the groaning of all
creation (Rom. 8:22), not anger, as we attempt to construct an alternative community to the prevailing
royal consciousness. Our task is to remember for I am with you – declares YHWH – to deliver you (Jer.
1:19b, NJPS). We must not “succumb to denial, cynicism, or assimilation” but to re-imagine an
alternative world, the kingdom of God, where God’s Spirit indwells in all creation (Rom 8:23). Our
enemies are the maintainers of the status-quo who deceive not only themselves but others that there is no
illness or suffering (Rom 8:18). What is at issue is whether our grief “can be audible and visible
enough…to permit God’s newness” to be revealed in His creation and His History.140

The task of theology today is “to bring to public expression those very hopes and yearnings [for God’s
creation and the liberation of all humankind] that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply
that we no longer know that they are there.” Most importantly, it is in the Christian’s “public expression
of hope as a way of subverting the dominant royal embrace of despair” 141 that our human community
will find the imagination to ensure the survival of the planet Earth. For “there is no way in which the
human project can succeed if the Earth project fails….That this is not understood by…the Christian
community…is the challenge before us.”142

Ecological theology and “ecofeminist critiques of classical theology143 reveal a theological system
rooted in a desire to flee the actual conditions of life – vulnerability, finitude, and mortality – and a
theological structure based on a perceived need to dominate, exploit, and conquer in order to escape

and instead of ruling faithfully to protect the poor and downtrodden are “oppressors, perpetrators of violence and bloodshed;”
(4) Because of the abominations committed in the Temple, it has become polluted and YHWH is abandoning the Temple and
will no longer protect Jerusalem. See Katheryn Pfisterer Darr, “The Book of Ezekiel,” New Interpreters Bible Vol. VI
(Louisville, Abingdon, 2001), 1082-4.
139
Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd Ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 47.
140
Walter Brueggemann, Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Exile (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 14, 42.
141
Brueggemann 1986, 65.
142
Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988), 127.
143
“Women must see that there can be no liberation for them and no solution to the ecological crisis within a society whose
fundamental model of relationships continues to be one of domination. They must unite the demands of the women's
movement with those of the ecological movement to envision a radical reshaping of the basic socioeconomic relations and
the underlying values of this society.” See Rosemary Radford Ruether, New Woman, New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and
Human Liberation (New York: Seabury Press, 1975), 204.

36
these conditions.”144 “The basic problem before us is how to recover a sense of a sacred universe. We
cannot save ourselves without saving the world in which we live….[the] urgency is to save the beauty
and wonder of a gracious world designed as a place suitable for the Divine indwelling, a place where the
meeting of the Divine and the human”145are open to transformation – the in-breaking of “cosmological
moments of grace”; of “God’s sacramental offering” that includes not only humankind, but all of life,
the Earth itself, and all of God’s good creation. At its very core, Ecofeminism offers new models for us
to use to think about reality – to elicit a new way of understanding the world and how we come to know
it (an alternate epistemology not dominated by hierarchal, paternalistic ways of knowing and explaining
reality).146

For example, “the justice which Christ will bring about for all and everything is not the justice that
establishes what is good and evil, and the retributive justice which rewards the good and punishes the
wicked. It is God’s creative justice, which brings the victims’ justice and puts the perpetrator’s right.”147
God’s creative justice applies for all of creation, not only for the “healing of the sick, the feeding of the
hungry, the care of the neglected and despised, and the forgiveness of sins.”148

For the liberated, “the power of truth is a power different from the power of Caesar….The instrument of
this power is not violence, but witness….to point to the truth, not to produce the truth” (i.e. manufacture
the truth through instruments of power).149 Ecofeminism offers a new perspective; a stance of liberation
that resists the powers and principalities; “essentially a decision not to be passive, not to be a victim, but
equally not to avoid passivity by simply reproducing the violence” being done to God’s creation.150

What witness is called for? To begin, we need to witness to a new environmental ethics for how we live
on Earth: (1) not only do we have duties and responsibilities to future generations, but (2) we also have
duties to other species and to all of God’s creation.151 It is time to develop ecological virtues in ourselves
and in our children.152 The confessing Church’s vocation, in response, is to help us read Scripture
144
Heather Eaton, “Response to Rosemary Radford Ruether: Ecofeminism and Theology – Challenges, Confrontations, and
Recommendations,” in Hessel and Ruether, 113.
145
Thomas Berry, “Christianity’s Role in the Earth Project,” in Hessel and Ruether, 131, 133, 134.
146
Ivone Gebara, Longing for Running Water: Ecofeminism and Liberation, Biblical Reflections on Ministry (Minneapolis:
Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1999), 22.
147
Molmann 2004, 193.
148
Lisa Sowle Cahill, Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994),
37.
149
Volf, 267.
150
Rowan Williams, Writing in the Dust: After September 11th (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 25.
151
James Gustave Speth, Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2004).

37
anew153 so that we may see the depth of God’s love within every aspect of Creation and learn to give
ourselves over to the in-breaking of the Spirit in our lives so that we can be a witness again for Christ in
the world.154

Some Principles of Ecological Theology

1. God is the creator of all of creation and loves the world (John 3:16). This means that her creation
is ‘good’ and that “all things are consistent, justly ordered, and have integrity,” whether apparent
to humankind or not, and “intrinsic worth apart from their utility.”155

2. “Neither the creation, nor any of her creatures belong to human beings, but to their Creator, who
cares for all of it….they must be treated with respect and cared for.”156

3. Because humankind is part of God’s creation, we do not stand apart and separate from ‘the
environment’ but are part of God’s wholeness, along with the biosphere and the Earth. “The
Lord God took humankind (adam) and put us in the garden of Eden (‘the Earth’) to con-serve it
(ábad) and to keep it (shamar)” in all its vitality, energy and beauty (Gen. 2:15). As God keeps
us, so should we keep God’s Earth.157

4. Human beings are worthy creatures and as God’s imago Dei, “have a special honor of imaging
God’s love for the world.” Just as “every creature reflects back something of the love God pours
out through all creation” humankind’s job is to con-serve and keep the Earth.158
152
See chart on “The Ecological Virtues.”
153
The discipline of figural reading, the whole Scripture read as "wholly figuring Christ,” may be a help. Given the variety,
depth, and tensions within Scripture, two elements are built into such a discipline: first, a self-correcting accountability for
interpretation is encouraged as all Scripture is read in relation to other parts of Scripture, allowing even the most repugnant or
uninteresting or peripheral to be potentially revealing; and second is that in reading Scripture always with “Christ's
fundamental life as referent and explicator, the very character of Christ himself is constantly reordered to human
understanding.” This was the form of reading of Scripture Karl Barth did, for example, which enabled him to ‘see’ the reality
of the abusive powers during his day and have the courage to witness (as Christ did in his day) as to the truth in his Barman
Declaration (Ephraim Radner, personal correspondence 01/21/05).
154
Ephraim Radner, Hope among the Fragments: The Broken Church and its Engagement of Scripture (Grand Rapids:
Brazos Press, 2004), 67. The ekklesia is a community called into being by God’s grace; as such, it belongs to God, and it is
called to obey God’s will as set forth through apostolic teaching and example. This community is the primary addressee of
God. The primary sphere of moral concern is not the character of the individual but the corporate obedience of the church.
The church is a countercultural community of discipleship; a community in which people can find security and can act w/
moral confidence. See Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996).
155
Calvin B. Dewitt, “Behemoth and Batrachians in the Eye of God: Responsibility to Other Kinds in Biblical Perspective” in
Hessel and Ruether, 306.
156
Ibid, 306.
157
Ibid, 301-3, 307.
158
Ibid 307.
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5. “The whole creation gives testimony to God’s divinity and everlasting power” (Ps. 19).159 But
God is not merely acting in history. He has a purpose: to establish the kingdom of God here on
Earth.160

6. “True freedom [for humankind] is not the ‘torment of choice’ with its doubts and threats; it is
simple, undivided joy in” God’s good creation.161 The truth is to “look beyond, and through, the
dark horizon” of today’s sufferings (Rom. 8:18) “into the daybreak of God’s new day, his
kingdom come – here on Earth.162

7. There are four ways in which the crucified Christ challenges the perpetrators of the violence of
Ecocide:
a. “The cross breaks the cycle of violence….By suffering violence as an innocent victim, he
took upon himself the aggression of the persecutors. He broke the vicious cycle of
violence by absorbing it….and sought to overcome evil by doing good.”163

b. “The cross lays bare the mechanism of scapegoating….his innocence, his truthfulness
and his justice – was reason enough for hatred.”164 How much do we hate the earth as we
engage in ecocide, the willful degrading of God’s good creation? Is the Earth merely our
latest scapegoat for something much deeper going on in the heart of humanity?

c. “The cross is part of Jesus’ struggle for God’s truth and justice” against an opposing
imperial mentality attempting to preserve the status quo. “It takes the struggle against
deception and oppression to transform nonviolence from barren negativity into creative
possibility.”165 Just as Jesus did in his day, Christians today are being called to witness to
the truth concerning God’s good creation.

d. “The cross is a divine embrace of the deceitful and the unjust…an act of
forgiveness…meant to…create a new world…a world without deception and

159
Ibid 309.
160
Moltmann 2004, 153-4.
161
Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God (San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981),
55.
162
Moltmann 2004, 153-4.
163
Volf, 291-2.
164
Ibid 291-2.
165
Ibid 291-2.
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injustice….There can be no redemption unless the truth about the world is told and
justice is done.”166

Jesus’ death on the cross is the paradigm for faithfulness to God in the world. To be Jesus’ disciple is to
obey his call to bear the cross; to be like him. Thus, our actions are not to be judged in their ability to
produce results the world recognizes, but in their correspondence to Jesus’ example. The community as
a whole is called to follow in the way of Jesus’ suffering. This includes a call to those who possess
power and privilege to surrender it for the sake of the weak.167

Ultimately, to participate in the kingdom of God means accepting that God’s compassion (chen) toward
us is the source of our hope; consequently, compassion must be the foundation of our behavior.168
Compassion will lead us to care about the least in our community and the Earth that Jesus died on the
cross to redeem. The compassion we sow is the evidence of the love that Jesus spoke about as the
greatest commandment of the Law.169 And, the call to repentance (Lk. 24.47; Acts 2.38) includes
precisely the call to reform individual lives and community practices in accordance with the prophetic
vision of justice – as set forth in the Torah and that stands as the foundation of Jesus’ kerygma of the
kingdom of God.170 This justice includes justice for the oppressed and unfortunate – of humans,
otherkind (non-human life),171 and the Earth – all part of God’s body and ‘good’ creation.

Be the change you want to see in the world – Mahatma Gandhi


(Jesus Christ certainly was that!)

166
Ibid 294.
167
Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996).
168
“Living in the kingdom of heaven means changing our desires so that we willingly locate ourselves where the poor and
oppressed are.” See Ellen F. Davis, “Preserving Virtues: Renewing the Tradition of the Sages” in William P. Brown, editor,
Character & Scripture: Moral Formation, Community, and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2002), 194.
169
Love is the “essential eschatological reality” (Carl Holladay) “where the impression of the cross is continually manifested
in Word, sacrament, and deed” in human communion with life, God, and the other.
See Alexandria R. Brown, “Character Formation or Character Transformation? The Challenge of Cruciform Exegesis for
Character Ethics in Paul” in William P. Brown, 288-9.
170
“Kingdom of God” was a politically charged saying in 1st Century Judaism: it would have been heard as declaring the
restoration of Israel’s freedom from outside domination. The church’s role in this vision is transformation – turning the world
upside down – not through armed rebellion but through formation of a counter-cultural community which provides an
alternative witness to the status quo. The Holy Spirit empowers this work and witness of the church. When the Spirit is at
work, liberation is underway. The Holy Spirit provides not only God’s continuing presence w/in the community, but also a
source of continuing revelation.
171
“Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the
question whether still higher “standard of living” is worth the cost in things natural, wild and free. For us of the minority, the
opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as
free speech” (Leopold, vii).
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