Nature Reborn: The Ecological and Cosmic Promise of Christian Theology. By H. Paul Santmire. Theology and Science Series. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000. x + 154 pp. $15.00 (paper).
After three decades of reflection on the human relationship with nature and the ways in which Christian theology can resource a renewal of that relationship, Paul Santmire has produced a book that shows a theology matured over time.
Newcomers to this area of ecological theology will be rewarded by the author's ability to summarize clearly and briefly the work of other writers in this field. He deftly summarizes, for example, much of the earlier work on the interpretation of ecologically related biblical texts, such as the often quoted and often misinterpreted first chapters of Genesis. He also rewards the reader with a clear sense of the path the theological debate in its North American form has taken over the last few decades.
Santmire begins with the premise that, along with such basic concepts as God and humanity, nature is also now a fundamental datum for theological reflection. Nature is no longer a matter of secondary or merely instrumental importance. This book is concerned, then, with a Christian vision of reality that is critically and constructively ecological and cosmic in scope.
His theological approach is what he calls revisionist. That is to say it is not reconstructionist in the sense of attempting to design a new edifice of thought from the ground up as in, for example, the approach of Matthew Fox. Nor, on the other hand, is he an apologist seeking to explain and emphasize the positive ecological elements of the Christian tradition. The revisionist approach works mainly within the milieu of classical Christian thought with a high priority on biblical thought and the ecumenical creeds, yet at the same time working towards a re-forming of that Christian tradition. Thus Santmire sees his own writing as following in the style of such recent writers as James A. Nash, John Polkinghorne, and Denis Edwards.
Consistent with this revisionist approach he describes the argumentation of the book as deliberately and self-consciously circular. It presupposes the faith of the classical Christian story at the center, sustained and proclaimed by the Church in its worship. At the same time, it follows a course that is intended to illuminate that center from several interconnected vantage points. The challenge undertaken in this book is to revise the classical Christian story in such a way as to identify and to celebrate its ecological and its cosmic promise.
Santmire's earlier book The Travail of Nature: The Ambiguous Ecological Promise of Christian Theology, written in 1985, was a significant and critical contribution to the theological debate focused on the human relationship to nature. Readers familiar with that earlier work will find in this new book less concern with the ambiguity of the Christian promise and a firmer purpose to retrieve, albeit to retrieve critically, the helpful and ecologically promising dimensions of the Christian theological tradition. In this shorter work he is more selective about the theologians he proposes for consideration. Here he draws particularly, but also critically, on the mature Augustine and on the vision of Teilhard de Chardin. But this new book does continue the analysis made earlier, particularly in terms of the contrasting metaphors of "ascent" and "fecundity," which he had previously identified as significant dimensions of the classical Christian tradition. …