Lately I’ve been doing some reading in preparation for a paper I will be giving at the Center for Pastor Theologians Symposium in the Chicago area in early August. In my paper, I’ll be exploring the unique contribution of 1 Tim 4:1-5 to our theology of creation.
One of the books I’ve just finished reading is Richard Bauckham’s The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation. For me, this was a paradigm-shifting work. That humans are God’s beloved creatures, called to steward or manage the rest of creation, tends to be the default view of most Christians. Bauckham’s aim is to set the notion of “stewardship” within the wider biblical vision of “the community of creation,” a phrase which stresses “our commonality with other creatures, our dependence on them as well as our significance for them, in a life in which all creatures exist for the glory of God” (preface, emphasis added). For Bauckham, our creation in the image of God and the unique dominion given to us does not abolish our fundamental community with other creatures. What is needed among humanity is “cosmic humility”; we need to recognize the fact that we are creatures within creation, not gods over creation.
One of the most illuminating parts of Bauckham’s argument is his emphasis on the cosmic choir of praise. He contends, “[T]he most profound and life-changing way in which we can recover our place in the world as creatures alongside our fellow-creatures is through the biblical theme of the worship all creation offers to God” (p. 76). Non-human creatures bring glory to God simply by being themselves and fulfilling their God-given roles in creation. Brilliantly, Bauckham points out, “It is distinctively human to bring praise to conscious expression in voice, but the creatures remind us that this distinctively human form of praise is worthless unless, like them, we live our whole lives to the glory of God” (p. 79).
Bauckham also does a fantastic job of reminding us that the future hope of believers is an “ecotopia,” a new creation in which animals and humans relate to one another in peaceable ways (e.g., Isa 11:6-9). The Bible’s grand narrative runs from creation to new creation. God is not only interested in redeeming humans but in renewing all of creation. In Bauckham’s words, when we read the Bible, we are reading “a christological eco-narrative” (p. 151). The Christ who created all things and who holds all things together is the Christ who can and does reconcile all things. In other words, Jesus’ full significance is found in his relationship, not just to humans, but to all of his creation.