on 3 October 2008
'Jesus and the Earth' is four lectures given by James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool. Where most Biblical scholars turn to the Old Testament to find Christian teaching on the environment, Jones has chosen to focus on Jesus. After all, if Jesus is the embodiment of God on earth, nothing will demonstrate God's view of the earth better than Jesus' attitude to the world around him.
Among the observations here are Jesus as a consumer, his connection to the natural world, his concern for the here and now as well as the afterlife. It all adds up to a very earthy vision of Jesus.
Jones is not an expert in this field, which he admits. These lectures chart a course of study and investigation. Because of this, it is written with a sense of discovery, and Jones is really quite excited by what he's found, although he does occasionally warn the reader that theologian friends disagree with him here and there. This, and the shortness of the book, make it a thought-provoking series of reflections rather than a definitive study, but it's still well worth your time.
on 21 January 2010
In Scotland alone there are now over 200 eco-congregations. I don't know what the English figure is, but clearly many faith groups are concerned about their environmental footprint and are bending over backwards to insulate their churches, change the lightbulbs and become ethical consumers. Such actions can be more fully inspired, sustained, and given a deeper meaning if underwritten by a powerful spirituality. This little book is an excellent primer to take people on that path.
Another reviewer says that Jones admits to not being an expert in this field. In terms of academic theology that might be fair comment, but it is not what he is trying to do. It is more a work of spirituality, written for ordinary people with the right balance of information and reflection to comprise a beautiful devotional work, perfect for study groups, retreat, and individual contemplation. Each of the four chapters ends with discussion points thereby enhancing the study-group value.
Chapter 1, influenced by Walter Wink explores the humanity of Jesus as the "Son of Man." He suggests that the Earth as God's "footstool" signifies a "touching place" where the divine presence is immanent.
Chapter 2 explores Jesus and consumption - "the Son of Man comes eating and drinking." Jones explores how "the history of Christianity has been blighted by those who have denied the essential materialism of creation and the gospel." I am reminded of George Macleod's question: "What's the matter? Matter's the matter!" meaning that a spirituality that cuts off incarnation into the material world is an abstract and useless spirituality.
Chapter 3 deepens this immanent and incarnate spirituality, exploring "the earthing of Heaven". Thus, "to desecrate the earth and despoil the soilis no just a crime against humanity, it is a blasphemy."
Chapter 4 explores the Christian spirituality of personal and cosmic regeneration and recreation. But this is not abstract theology. Jones grounds it all back down into parish ministry. "A parish is a a corner of God's creation ... with people of good will we work within this boundary for the holistic transformation of the neighbourhood, for its regeneration spiritually and physically." Bearing in mind the post-Toxteth riots history of the witness of Liverpool bishops, both Catholic and Anglican, these are words with a credible track record: as he concludes, "The parish is the arena for the earthing of heaven locally."
For those who insist on practicality, Jones' discussion sectin at the end of this last chapter includes a list of things that an ecologically aware church can do - buying "A" rated electrical appliances, etc., but the strength of this little book is that it points to these things as steps on the way, but sets them in the big spiritual picture.
I have expressed this review very much through the Christian lens in which it has taken shape. But speaking as a Quaker Christian of interfaith disposition, my personal view is that there is much here that could be nourishing with other faiths too, though I'm not so sure about Dawkins!