The intention of this book is to awaken the readers to the seriousness of a problem already made aware and to provide a brief summary of how the problem of global warming might be controlled. Sallie McFague approaches the problem (and its solution) from a purely theological perspective, willing readers to altar their fundamental philosophies on life and community.
In this book, Sally McFague is writing to a particular geographical and socio-economic audience - middle-class Americans. This is stated explicitly in the introduction, as is an indication that the book is written for fellow theologians: "If theologians ... allow false, inappropriate, unhelpful, and dangerous notions of God and ourselves to continue as our society's assumptions, we are not doing our job." (emphasis added). Apart from this indication in the introduction, however, McFague's writing seems to be more oriented toward the educated layperson or casual theologian. Her "models of God" (ch. 4) assume the reader has placed little, if any, thought toward a proper articulation of theism. And yet, the linguistic style throughout the book implies a certain level of education.
A New Climate for Theology is written from the perspective of a concerned and educated theologian trying to argue a case already in the forefront of the public sphere. Global warming is certainly not a new topic and McFague makes no attempts to present it as such. Rather instead, she acknowledges its establishment and attempts to end debate on the issue through the reformulation of theology in terms of ecology. Rather than deal extensively with particular forms of action, McFague argues from a moral and theological perspective that we simply have a duty to act, and leaves the subtleties of such action to the creative minds of her readers.
Limits and Critiques:
Overall, McFague presents an interesting and compelling case for the transformation of human thought and action with regard to life within the ecological community abroad. However, her intentions for the book come up short in several areas. Throughout the book, it seems as though McFague is attempting to create a paradigm shift within the culture of western nations. However, her writing introduces several subtle (and perhaps unintentional) limitations to her audience that undermine this intention. For instance, early on in the book, in Chapter 2, she casually makes the statement "I would venture that many of us want such regulation," referring to governmental regulation of ecological standards. This stated assumption, though, is not universally held among peoples of the western nations, and would likely exclude the very groups whose thought she is trying to transform. Those who fall within the conservative camps of the United States (both from a political and theological perspective) rarely embrace increased regulation, and generally work hard to prevent it. Thus, this statement, combined with her express favoritism toward controversial theological camps such as ecofeminists and process theologians , creates the danger of limiting the audience to a group that already agrees with her basic argument.
Another limitation of her writing is seen through the casual reference to esoteric words. For instance, in Chapter 3 she refers to "biocracy" without definition or explanation. Certainly the roots to this word lend to a generalized understanding of McFague's intention in the minds of the readers; yet the book would be improved with a simple explanation. This is further evidenced when, throughout the book, she uses the word ecumenicity. Although this term is within the English language, it is rarely used and thus esoteric in nature. Yet, McFague employs its use four times in her writing, with the implied assumption that her readers are familiar with the word and it's definition. This assumed educational level of the reader serves to further limit her audience and thus helps undermine the basis for her argument.
Finally, McFague makes, in my opinion, a critical error in her argument through the contradictory use of logic. In Part III of the book she spends a great deal of real estate criticizing the study of theology, implying that thought exercises about God prevent us from acts of social and ecological justice. However, this discussion comes after an extensive, 3-chapter discourse on the theology of her argument. In fact, rarely does the book offer tangible forms of justice for the readers, other than the call to elect someone else to do the job. As a reader, I am left wondering how much of her day McFague spends thinking about these issues compared to actually doing something. If she lives up to what she preaches, it would be nice to read some of that in the book.
Affirmation and recommendation for use:
Despite these limitations, though, A New Climate for Theology is a well-written and well-argued book. Even those who disagree with her proposed "world as God's body" model will agree that the book makes a compelling case for an increased care and respect of creation and life. Her references to outside agencies and reports are both reputable and authoritative. Already I have used parts of this book in a sermon preached to my own congregation, and I would recommend its use for both fellow pastors and concerned laypeople.