I wrote this for the May 2006 issue of Journey, the Queensland Synod Paper of the Uniting Church. The whole issue, with several other perspectives, can be downloaded from here
In 1990 the Synod agreed that we must respond to the environmental destruction around us in order to make any meaningful proclamation of faith in Jesus Christ. Fifteen years on it’s worth asking whether we missed the boat.
But it is not only the environmental crisis which we need to respond to. How many of us have really allowed the insights of evolutionary biology, for example, to penetrate our faith and allow us to develop a more meaningful, a more accurate, proclamation of faith in Jesus. Unless our telling of the Christian story makes sense in the context of the story of the evolution of life on Earth, then it makes no sense.
The early Christians, being Jewish, told the Christian story in the context of the creation stories of Genesis. If those stories still rang true, if they were true, we could continue to do the same.
Within a whole spectrum of ecotheologies (theologies trying to connect God and ecology), biocentric theology is an attempt to proclaim faith in Christ whilst accepting that humans are part of the story of God and life, not the centre of it.
Biocentric theology accepts, for example, these observations:
Whilst Genesis states that men alone are the image of God, this is because the book was written by men (many Christians these days interpret it to say that humans are the image of God, but that is not what the text actually says). Evolution shows us that humans are not a distinct species, but are related on a genetic continuum to all of life. Life is the image of God.
Genesis 1 says that humans were given dominion of Earth by God. But if Life is the image of God, we would expect Life to have dominion of Earth. That is exactly what we see- Life existed for billions of years without human assistance. Even today, it is the microbes and plants which keep Earth functioning, not humans. Some rich humans may have temporarily seized dominion, but this is not something God has arranged.
But this humbling of humanity is good news! We are not the image of God, we are not in charge, and it is not all our fault!!! Genesis says that through human activity (literal or metaphorical), pain and death entered the world. We now know that this is completely backwards! Pain and death are part of the evolutionary process through which humans evolved. Death is not our fault. Pain is not our fault. We never ruined God’s perfect world. Childbirth hurts because we are brainy bipeds, not because we are cursed. Agriculture is hard because of our farming practise, not because God cursed the Earth.
There is no such thing as original sin. The Jews have known that all along. Rather, we have evolved, inherent needs, as do all mammals, for intimate relationships (starting with our nursing mother), for autonomy (where we learn to live independently and put the skills our parents teach into practice), and for the ability to make meaning of the tension between our need for intimacy and autonomy. With our huge brains, we have more need for meaning that most.
When we have too little intimacy, or autonomy, or meaning, we act in a whole range of sinful ways, as individuals and as societies.
So our proclamation of faith in Jesus Christ in the 1990s needs to be a proclamation which addresses these needs.
Not a proclamation of a perfect sacrifice, since the Jewish sacrificial system was never something which the God who loves all life ever desired in the first place (something Jeremiah, Amos, Micah and Jesus pointed out long before the theory of evolution came along). Not a proclamation of a second Adam who fixes the stuff-ups of the first Adam (who never existed, literally or metaphorically).
What is the proclamation then?
Once we let the whole evolutionary story become our faith story, become part of our liturgy, our sacrament, our preaching, our service, we will find out.