Hope for the Earth

Hope for the Earth


368 Pages


'Hope for the Earth' explores the viability of an eschatological approach to an ecological theology, spirituality, and praxis in the South African context. The basic intuition of such an eschatological approach is that an environmental praxis can only be empowered on the basis of an adequate understanding of Christian hope. Despair in the face of environmental destruction will inevitably lead to a spirit of resignation. Where, then, can a vision of hope that includes hope for the earth be found?
The author proposes a "road map" for eschatology based on the observation that eschatology has traditionally responded to three aspects of the human predicament, namely 1) the evil effects of sin; 2) the problem of finitude and transience; and 3) the limitations of human power and knowledge in space (Part A). This analysis is used to fathom the depths of despair as a result of environmental destruction (Part B).
The Biblical roots and subsequent history of Christian eschatology are discussed briefly (Part C). Recent contributions in Christian eschatology, ecological theology, cosmology, and South African expressions of hope are explored in depth in search of a vision of hope that includes hope for the earth itself (Part D).
The eschatological road map is used to develop a vision of hope for the earth on the basis of a theology of life: life amidst death and destruction, life beyond death and eternal life in the presence of God (Part E). Finally the implications of this vision for an ecological ethos, spirituality, and praxis in the South African context are indicated (Part F).



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Published 18 May 2005
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Hope for the earth
Vistas on a new century
Ernst M. Conradie
Wipf and Stock Publishers 199 W 8th Ave, Suite 3 Eugene, OR 97401
Hope for the Earth Vistas for a New Century By Conradie, Ernst M. Copyright©2000 by Conradie, Ernst M. ISBN: 1-59752-209-0 Publication date 5/18/2005 Previously published by University of the Western Cape, South Africa, 2000.
Preface to the 2005 edition
Part A: The need for a clear vision of hope
1. Hope at the dawn of a new century
2. Three human predicaments
3. Christian hope and the three predicaments
4. An eschatological road map
Part B: Images of despair
5. The ecological impact of evil
6. Ecological dimensions of finitude
7. The absence of God on earth
8. (South) African dimensions of despair
Part C: The trajectories of Christian hope
9. Hope in the First Testament
10. Hope in the New Testament
11. Hope in history of Christianity
12. Manifestations of hope in modernity
Part D: Contemporary manifestations of hope
13. Hope in twentieth century Christian theology
14. The cosmic dimensions of hope
15. South African manifestations of hope
Part E: A vision of hope for the earth
16. A vision of life amidst the threats of death
17. A vision of life beyond death
v 1 13 13 17 26 36
41 42 53 65 83
87 90 97 104 111
117 118 185 218
243 244 263
18. A vision of eternal life with God
Part F: To live in the hope
19. The social impact of Christian hope
20. Stories of hope for the earth
315 315 338 347
Preface to the 2005 edition
Hope for the earth: Vistas on a new century was first published in 2000 through the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. It appeared as the eighth volume in the series “Text and Context”. The new edition of this publication throughWipf and Stockallows for a wider distribution since the UWC edition was quite limited in this regard. The Wipf and Stock edition contains some minor changes compared to the previous edition. These changes pertain to the page layout and formatting of the manuscript and some minor corrections. This also implies that the page numbering of the two editions are not the same. This edition should not be understood as a revised edition though. Such a revised edition would have to take into account a large corpus of publications on Christian eschatology which appeared since 1999, especially around the turn of the millennium. These publications include a number of important new contributions within the context of ongoing dialogues between Christian theology and the various sciences. A revised edition would therefore require a significant updating especially of Chapter 14. In addition, there has been a steady stream of new publications in the field of ecological theology. I have given an account of the state of the debate in this regard in two publications published at the University of the Western Cape in 2001, name-lyEcological theology: An indexed bibliographyandEcological theology: A guide for further research.I have also offered a future agenda for ecological theology in an article entitled “An agenda for ecological theology: Some reformed perspectives from the South African context” (published inInterface7/1, 14-29). Since the publication ofHope for the EarthI registered a long-term, coopera-tive research project at the University of the Western Cape entitled “Ecology and constructive theology: Reflections on Christian doctrine”. The purpose of this larger project is to engage in a series of full-length academic studies on particular aspects of Christian doctrine in the light of the emergence of ecological theology as a distinct mode of theological discourse. The hope is that such theological reflec-tions will help to support an environmental praxis, ethos and spirituality in Christ-ian communities in the Southern African context.Hope for the earth may now be understood as the first major study within the context of this larger project. I have now also completed a project on anthropology which was published by Ashgate (Aldershot, UK) in 2005 under the titleAn ecological Christian anthropology: At home on earth?My friend and research associate David Field is working on a similar project in the field of ecclesiology. Several others have contributed similar studies on specific aspects of Christian doctrine from within different contexts and theological traditions. One example is the excellent recent study entitledBreath of Life: A theology of the Creator Spiritby Denis Edwards (Orbis Books, 2004). Sadly, since 1999 some of the projects described in Chapter 20 have lost their impetus. For similar stories and a guide for Christian earthkeeping in the South African context, see also the bookA rainbow over the Land: A South African guide
of the church and environmental justicebyErnst Conradie & David Field (published by the Western Cape Provincial Council of Churches, 2000). An impor-tant new development in 2002 saw the emergence of the Network of Earthkeeping Christian Communities in South Africa (NECCSA) with the aim of collecting further examples of stories of earthkeeping in a Christian context. It serves as a network between Christians already engaged in earthkeeping. These stories are available from the NECCSA website atwww.neccsa.org.za. There has also been a steady stream of new publications on Christianity and the environment from within the African context by authors such as Marthinus Daneel, David Field, Mary Getui, Samson Gitau., and Jesse Mugambi. An important document was published by the Ecumenical Foundation of Southern Africa under the titleThe land is crying for justice: A discussion document on Christianity and environmental justice in South Africa(2002).The publication of this document coincided with the World Summit on Sustainable Development which was held in Johannesburg in August 2002. See also the edition of theBulletin for Contextual theology in Africaon “Church, environment and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD)” (Volume 8, No. 2-3, 2002) which contains several similar statements and a number of excellent articles. Despite these considerations, I maintain that the main argument ofHope for the earthand the analysis of the structure of eschatological discourse (see Chapter 1-4) remain valid. What has become slightly dated is the situatedness of the discourse within the context of the new century that was dawning when the book was first published. The desperate need for a message of hope for the whole earth has certainly not become dated.
Ernst Conradie April 2005
Introduction A few introductory comments are necessary on the contexts from which this study onHope for the earthemerged and within which it is rooted. 1. This study is the product of a research project registered at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa and entitledHope for the earth? Eschatology, cosmo-logy, and ecology.The aim of this research project is to explore the viability of an eschatological approach to an ecological theology, spirituality and praxis in the South African context. The basic intuition of an eschatological approach is that a Christian environ-mental praxis can only be empowered on the basis of an adequate understanding of Christian hope. It is hardly possible to motivate ourselves to care for the earth unless we are convinced that there is indeed a future for ourselves and for the 1 earth. Despair in the face of environmental destruction will inevitably lead to a 2 spirit of resignation. Without any hope, without any vision of a future for the earth itself, an environmental praxis will soon lose its impetus. It will consciously be fighting a loosing battle. If life becomes a struggle for basic survival, as is often the case in Africa, it will be increasingly difficult to resist environmental destruction. 3 Only where there is hope, can life become meaningful. The notion of an eschatological approach to ecological theology is based on a 4 very helpful typology suggested by John Haught. He identified three major approaches to ecological theology, namely an apologetic, a sacramental and an 5 eschatological approach. Let us look briefly at this typology. a) Anapologetic approach relates to an attempt to retrieve the notion of a more harmonious relationship between humanity and nature from the Biblical roots and the subsequent history of Christianity. It is apologetic in the sense that it defends the value of the Bible and the Christian faith for an environmental praxis against 1  See Haught (1995:196). 2  Haught (1993:24) may well ask: “If this final wreck and absolute extinction is the last word about the universe, then why seek now to preserve it against the inevitable void that seems to be its destiny?” 3  Images of the future have long been recognized as the one of the crucial building blocks of comprehensive worldviews. In portraying the place of human beings in the world, religious cosmologies not only describe the origins of the universe but also its destiny. These images of the future express that which has ultimate significance for people and form the basis of values and attitudes and the choices people make. Images of hope for the future are crucial for the kind of choice orientated behavior needed for environ-mental praxis. See Olivier (1989:29). 4  Haught (1993). 5  See my more detailed discussion (Conradie 1998) of the typologies of Haught and others.
Hope for the earth
the famous criticism of Lynn White and others that Christianity bears a “huge 6 burden of guilt” for the ecological crisis. The thrust of this model is to move beyond a theology of dominion understood as domination towards a theology of 7 stewardship. Human beings should be regarded as the stewards, caretakers, 8 priests, custodians or guardians of creation who have the task of “tending the 9 garden” with wisdom and respect. Haught comments that the vast majority of Christian theologians follow such an apologetic approach. This theology of stewardship has often come under criticism. The notion of stewardship is regarded as a too managerial and androcentric concept to support the ecological ethos and vision of the place of humanity in creation which is 10 11 needed today. The managerial steward is a sanctified version of the technocrat! According to the metaphor of stewardship, God seems to be viewed as an absentee 12 landlord who has put human beings in charge of the master’s property. Alterna-tively, this task to govern and order nature wisely is modeled on that of a bene-volent monarch or patriarch. Furthermore, it assumes human supremacy among the species. Even though the emphasis is on responsibility instead of domination, the management model assumes that we as (male) human beings know best. The theo-logy of dominion or stewardship fails to accentuate that we belong to the earth more than it belongs to us, that we are more dependent on it than it is on us, that 13 we areofthe earth and not livingonOr, in the words of Thomas Berry,the earth. “The human is less a being on earth or in the universe than a dimension of the earth 14 and indeed the universe itself.” The history of humanity is nothing but an episode in the larger history of the cosmos. Despite this criticism, the value of the notion of stewardship should not be denied. Nash insists that an ecological commitment is far more important than 15 verbal purity. Rasmussen also senses that there is at least a shared consensus in the debates on the motif of stewardship that 1) human beings do not own the earth 16 and 2) that “the earth is the Lord’s.” b) Asacramental approachthe inter-relatedness of human beings and explores 6  See White (1967). 7  See, especially Hall (1990), Wilkinson (1991). 8  See Osborn (1994). 9  Granberg-Michaelson (1987). 10  Granberg-Michaelson (1990:12). 11  See Hall (1990:234f) who acknowledges this danger of overestimating our managerial skills. Hall argues that the symbol of stewardship is nevertheless more appropriate than any other available metaphors. 12  McDonagh (1994:130). 13  Haught (1993:101). 14  Berry (1988:195). 15  Nash (1991:107). 16  Rasmussen (1996:236).
nature. Whereas the apologetic approach would emphasize the relationship between human beings and nature, the sacramental approach sacralizes the unity of humanity with nature. It regards nature as something sacred, a place where the 17 presence of the divine may be experienced (thus sacramental). Human beings are called to respect and celebrate this sacredness. Haught cites the creation spirituality of Thomas Berry and Matthew Fox, various expressions of ecofeminism, indige-nous theologies and deep ecology as examples of such a sacramental approach. Although this sacramental approach to ecological theology is theologically often quite radical, its environmental ethos remains curiously conservative. Its main thrust is to retrieve and to return to a sacralization of nature. This seems to be regarded as the last best hope for the preservation of ecosystems amidst the onslaught of the late capitalist industrial economic order. Haught also points out that societies, for whom nature was or still is sacred, have nonetheless destroyed their natural habitation throughout the centuries. In this sense a sacramental approach can be somewhat naive and perhaps too romantic. According to Haught, a purely sacramental approach cannot easily accommodate the shadow side of nature (including the sins of humanity as a particular part of 18 nature). The model of sacramentalism may mask the unequal and corrupted relations of power within ecosystems. c) Haught proposes aneschatological approachto ecological theology. Instead of a retrieval of ecological wisdom from former cultures, he calls for a transformation of an ecological vision towards the future. Any adequate ecological theology must be future orientated. An environmental ethos is not so much aimed at the preser-vation of the created order, but inspired by a vision of creation as the prototype of 19 the new creation. Haught cites the theology of Jürgen Moltmann, the evolution-ary cosmology of Teilhard de Chardin and (his own notion of) process theology as examples of such an eschatological approach to ecological theology. One may argue that, despite the (valid) criticisms that could be raised against the apologetic and sacramental approaches, these three approaches to ecological theology may be compatible with one another. All three these models provide a distinct theological rationale for caring for the earth, but the temporal focus of each approach is different. The sacramental approach emphasizes that the earth is a sacred gift from God (in thepast) which should therefore be treated with due 17  Pannenberg (1994:138) comments that this terminology is too general and imprecise. He adds that the notion of a sacramental universe generally omits the eschatological dimen-sion that is decisive for understanding nature according to Romans 8:19f. 18  Haught (1993:111). McFague (1993:71) and Ruether (1992:242) argue from an eco-feminist point of view that the creation spirituality of Berry and Fox cannot do justice to the sense of oppression and injustice that is part of the awesome mystery of life on earth. There is an ungrounded evolutionary optimism which is perhaps due to the attempt to replace the hegemony of a fall / redemption theology by an emphasis on creation theo-logy (only). Nevertheless, creation spirituality presents a utopian, eschatological vision not of how things are but how they should be. 19  Bridger (1990:291).
Hope for the earth
respect. The eschatological approach emphasizes a vision of thefutureof the earth in God’s presence. This vision serves as an inspiration for an environmental praxis in thepresent. Such an environmental praxis is guided by the conviction that “the earth is the Lord’s” and may be described with concepts like stewardship, gardening or earthkeeping. This study will nevertheless focus, in terms of Haught’s typology, on the value of an eschatological approach to an ecological theology, spirituality and praxis. One of the results of the environmental crisis is that it has led to a widespread sense of despair. David Hallman comments that, “The problems of ecological destruction and global poverty are certainly of a magnitude and intractability to 20 elicit unmitigated despair.” Indeed, “Hopelessness is the greatest killer – of joy, of initiative, of loving concern, of social and ecological responsibility, even of phy-21 sical life”. Despair can certainly become a “sickness unto death” (Kierkegaard). Furthermore, despair becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when it leads people to 22 think that action is futile. Only a persistent hope that can continue to care for the earth amidst environmental degradation can therefore energize an environmental praxis. Hope is indeed a precious commodity. The question therefore seems to be: Where can a vision of hope amidst such a sense of environmental despair be found? In what way could this hope include a sense of hope for the earth itself? Is the Christian hope one of salvation for human beingsfrom the earth or does it 23 include some vision of hopeforHow could a vision of hope for athe earth itself? new earth be made intelligible within the parameters of modern cosmology that indicates the radical finitude of the earth itself? And how can such a vision of Christian hope inform and empower an environmental praxis and spirituality -especially on the African continent? 2. These questions set the agenda that this study seeks to address. It has to do so by integrating the concerns of eschatology, cosmology and ecology (the subtitle of the above mentioned research project). It investigates the viability of such an eschato-logical approach to an ecological theology in more detail. More specifically, it explores the value of such an eschatological approach to an environmental spirit-uality and praxis in the South African context. This specification raises the thorny issue of Christian eschatology in an African context.
20  Hallman (1994:8). He immediately adds that what emerges from literature on the environment is often not resignation but an astonishing conviction, vision, celebration, humor and hope. For one example of such a vibrant sense of hope in a context of poverty and misery, see Ortega (1989). 21  Nürnberger (1994:148). 22  Barbour (1993:266). 23  See Moltmann (1996:259): “Christian eschatology must be broadened out into cosmic eschatology, for otherwise it becomes a Gnostic doctrine of redemption, and is bound to teach, no longer the redemption of the world but a redemption from the world, no longer the redemption of the body but a deliverance of the soul from the body.”