Christian Faith and the Earth Conference: Theological Reflection and Action

By Rakoczy, Susan | The Ecumenical Review, March 2013 | Go to article overview
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Christian Faith and the Earth Conference: Theological Reflection and Action


Rakoczy, Susan, The Ecumenical Review


The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God. I shall not cease reverencing matter, by which my salvation has been achieved. (1)

This quotation from St John Damascene (675-749) appropriately describes the theological focus of the Christian Faith and the Earth Conference: Respice et Prospice, which was held 6-10 August 2012 at the Sustainability Institute near Cape Town in South Africa. The fifty participants from South Africa, Australia, Canada, Ghana, Korea, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States brought a variety of theological viewpoints and contexts to the dynamics of the conference.

In his opening remarks, Professor Ernst Conradie, organizer of the conference, reviewed the history of the process that culminated in this gathering. The Christian Faith and the Earth project began in January 2007 with the aim of exploring the meaning of the Christian faith in a time of severe ecological crisis. The members of the steering committee represented a broad geographical and confessional diversity. (2) Various themes were selected and working groups were established to carry forward the work. While communication with scholars across six continents posed many challenges, the members of the groups were able to produce a number of publications, which include two edited volumes on the theme of "Creation and Salvation" published by LIT Verlag (3) and conferences in South Africa, Ghana, Australia, and the USA. In addition, a ground-breaking breaking colloquium was held on the theme "The Journey of Doing Ecotheology" at the American Academy of Religion conference in 2011, and the papers of that gathering will be published in Theology in 2013.

In a paper entitled "An Ethos for Our Time? Theological Reflection on Appropriate Ethical Concepts in the Light of the Current Global Environmental Crisis" delivered on the second day, Professor Celia-Dearie Drummond of the University of Notre Dame (USA) fittingly reminded the gathering of some of what I term the "theological signs of the times" which inform research in ecotheology today. These include the movement from anthropocentrism (now judged as inadequate) to biocentrism to theocentrism, the move from androcentrism to eco-feminism, the use of cosmic models such as the world as God's body (Sallie McFague) and Gaia (James Lovelock), recognition of the cosmic evolution of the planet from a "steady state" to flux (Thomas Berry, Heather Eaton), the shift from creation theology (Moltmann) to a new hermeneutics (Ernst Conradie, Denis Edwards), from environmental ethics to creaturely ethics, and the movement from political advocacy to public theology. These themes were woven into many of the papers presented and the lively conversations that followed.

Theological Themes

As the conference proceeded, it became evident how much theological cross-fertilization is taking place in the evolution of ecotheology. Themes such as creation, the Holy Spirit, anthropology, as well as ethical concerns of many kinds formed a theological harmony of concern and commitment. (4)

Professor Denis Edwards (Flinders University, Australia) gave the first major paper, in which he asked: "Where on Earth is God? Theological Reflection on the Identity of the Triune God in the Light of the Current Global Environmental Crisis." Focusing on trinitarian theology, he called for a "fully Trinitarian narrative of the Word and Spirit's engagement with a world of creatures, a theology of creation, incarnation and salvation, where salvation is understood to embrace not only humanity but also the rest of the natural world." He reached back into the patristic tradition to focus on the trinitarian theology of Athanasius (296-373), which he asserted is an important resource. Athanasius interprets the Trinity in biblical, economic, and narrative terms. He views the Trinity as encompassing the whole of Christian experience since creation and salvation and interprets salvation as deification in the life of the Trinity, which includes all of creation.

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