Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

A Creature among Creatures or Lord of Creation? the Vocation of Dominion in Christian Theology

Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

A Creature among Creatures or Lord of Creation? the Vocation of Dominion in Christian Theology

Article excerpt

The apologetic context of the doctrine of creation in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century is the supposed ecological crisis of modern civilization. (1) Lynn White Jr. articulated the classic critique of Christianity as the driving force behind the modern ecological crisis, saying that Christianity bears "a huge burden of guilt." (2) White linked the rise of ecologically destructive science and technology to the values of Christianity.

The basic argument linking tyranny over and exploitation of nature with Christianity may be identified as the "mastery hypothesis." (3) The argument is generally made along three major lines: (1) Christianity is said to have killed off humanity's wonder and awe of nature by desacralizing nature; (2) it promotes an anthropocentrism that legitimates human rule and dominion over nature; and (3) it relegates the physical world to a lower status and value than that which is spirit. (4) Our concern shall be with the second of these charges--the "dominion mandate."

The environmental movement of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries has almost uniformly seen human impact on nature as negative. For some, humanity is a "cancer of the earth," which, if left unchecked, will consume and kill the naturally healthy organism that is the terrestrial biosphere. (5) Unlike other animals, which establish a natural equilibrium with their environments, many environmentalists see humanity as a virus in the body of Mother Earth. (6) The natural solution to which this imagery points is the eradication of the disease.

For others, the problem is not so much the existence of humanity per se but the dominion project that humanity has, particularly in the Western world, undertaken. Their assertion is that if the goal of human dominion over nature can be rejected, then humanity can take its place as part of a healthy whole. Deep ecology attempts to undercut the concept of dominion by denying a unique, hierarchically superior position for humanity. It affirms an "ecosphere egalitarianism" in which everything, including humanity, is interrelated and has "equal intrinsic value." (7) Jurgen Moltmann has taken up this theme in his understanding of humanity and creation. For Moltmann, humanity must first be understood as part of creation, within nature, as imago mundi, the image of the world. (8) To be a human being is first and foremost to be "a creature in the fellowship of creation." As the image of the world, the human person is a microcosm of the world and can only exist and be understood within that community. Moltmann insists that the central teaching of the Old Testament account of the creation of humanity is that the human being is a creature within creation. (9)

The Doctrine of Dominion

Scripture, however, teaches that humanity has a special, hierarchically superior place in creation. As the imago Dei, humanity has been called to exercise dominion over creation as a gift of God (Gen. 1:26-30; 9:1-7). Despite man's apparent frailty, God has given humanity supremacy in creation (Ps. 8:3-8). Acknowledging humanity's kingly role and how it has been perverted is critical to understanding the value of humanity as the imago Dei and the vocation of humanity in creation.

God Has Granted Humanity Dominion over Nonhuman Creation

Against the view that man is merely a creature among creatures, the Scripture teaches that God has granted humanity dominion over God's nonhuman creation. God granted "rule" over nature to humanity and called upon man to "subdue" the earth (Gen. 1:26, 28). Ruling is the function of royalty (cf. 1 Kings 4:24; Ps. 8:5-6; 72:8; 110:2; Isa. 14:2; Ezek. 34:4) and yields a definition of dominion that has traditionally been understood to entail authority and the right to command obedience. The first-century Epistle of Barnabas affirms: "'And let them increase and multiply and rule over the fishes.' Who is it who is now able to rule over the beasts or fishes or the birds of heaven? …

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