(Released in September: Available for order from DLT http://dltbooks.com)
This is a fuller version of a review that may appear elsewhere.
The first edition of ‘God is Green’, by Rev Prof. Ian Bradley, has lurked in my bookcase since it irked the tutors in my training when I was inspired by the epidemic of ‘Creation Spirituality’ at that time.
That tendency itself perched on twin shoulders of the late twentieth century environmental movements and an interest in the justice and peace dimensions of what might be gleaned from the remnants of a ‘Celtic Church’, with which Ian Bradley is very familiar, and of which he has held differing opinions over time. Our movement includes plenty who bring with them a fond familiarity with all that, and they will welcome what Ian describes as a “short book” from such a stable.
Even back then, Ian Bradley offered one of the sounder, more orthodox - and therefore more deceptively radical - approaches. There is more to be said for bringing the resources of your faith with you into environmental crisis than fumbling around to cobble a new one together from scratch.
Thus, God is Green, if it introduces to a congregation, a study group (discussion points are provided after each chapter) or an online fellowship, something hitherto un-heard of, will be an enrichment, and a reinforcement, and not a threat.
Christianity, despite slings, arrows and much to be apologised for, emerges as the hero of this book. It is heartening to have such allies on board in the struggle to be the Church for these strange and threatening days.
All the more so, on those occasions when someone with rank to pull, but not having woken up to the crisis, says “you can’t say that!”.
Green preaching and worship - which our movement works to make less of an endangered species than Ian suggests it currently might be - involves a fair bit of sticking your neck out, both in congregations and in the public sphere. Although, in common with most academic writers, Ian always finds an external authority to say what he wants to say, the risks and leaps we need to make will seem less foolish and fragile with Ian beside us. He also has the confidence to say “I believe” in some conclusions. However much evidence he may have assembled to make his point, he is honest about the fragility and provsionality of all we proclaim. Though this is insufficient cause to pipe down!
Alongside dignified humility at our self-centred wrong turnings there is also grateful acknowledgement of the positive initiatives of the churches, such as EcoChurch and EcoCongregation.
Some of the quoted exemplars of past narrow-mindedness finally seem all the more crass in 2020, yet we are reminded that these attitudes remain for now, part of the landscape of our churches. There’s some considerable giant-slaying there too: Calvin, Aquinas and Newman lined up with horrendous statements on the dispensability of non-human life, and it might be good to investigate how all three can also, on occasion, be quoted in support of wonder at and appreciation of Creation. This might forestall the widespread phenomenon of ‘blaming Augustine’ for all the church’s ills, without actually having read him.
I would feel completely happy if this current edition found its way into every one of the five hundred congregations of EcoCongregation Scotland, as, like a good sermon, there is so much food for thought, so many occasions for further reflection and action. And none of it would hinder or handicap the process of ‘ecological conversion’ which Pope Francis identified as the mode of pilgrimage for faithful Christians today.
Revisiting ‘God is Green’ in this edition is a delight and an affirmation of the directions which should urgently be commending themselves to everyone in any sort of leadership role in every sort of church, and for which, so we discover, we are actually well equipped as active communities of faith. With Herbert, Hopkins and Teilhard de Chardin, it does get very cultural at times, and Ian’s wide ecumenical overview of the spectrum of environmentally aware Christianity and literature will be nourishing, though there’s not much cited more recent than ‘The Circle of Life’ from ‘The Lion King’.
The changes in tone and conclusion in this edition, especially those highlighted, with explanation, in the final chapter on the place of human beings, encourage the reader, excited by the green meaningfulness of Christianity, to continue the journey, led by the prophetic voice of the Earth, equipped with with a readiness for further guidance and insight.
The key insight of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical ‘Laudato Si’, that we recover the Biblical habit of addressing and listening to the Earth and creatures as ‘who’ rather than ‘it’, as subject rather than inert object , runs all the way through, with rich support from many theological and literary authorities.
Whilst ‘God is Green’ has not been converted into a resource of existential urgency, nor one which risks much dalliance in the ‘scarier’ apocalyptic resources of Christianity, which may be commending themselves to those in most acute situations, it is an authoritative toolbox and annotated booklist par excellence on which the day-to-day life of the churches can confidently build.
If a scribe of the Kingdom requires treasures both new and old, the strength of God is Green - some will feel, reassuringly - is in the treasuring of older, yet deep green threads which not only comprise, but hold together, the faith of Christianity.
A welcome transformative rather than additive approach to the defining festivals and ceremonies of Christianity is encouraged: who knew how ‘cosmically aware’ was Wesley in the original version of ‘Hark the Herald Angels sing? Is your church’s Christmas ‘greenery-free’, at least in the story you will tell?
Though played by Queensberry rules, this is, thank goodness, a book that pulls few punches. Ian abruptly calls back to scripture many who might be under the illusion that their anthropocentricism (humans as God’s be-all and end-all) rested precisely on that foundation. If a complacent attitude of disregard to the life and dignity of fellow creatures seems to be well-explained, you can look forward to it being knocked flat in the following paragraph.
Without neglecting the usual culprits - the ‘dominion' problem in Genesis 1:28, God is Green offers a good wide spread of Bible quotes and references, with discussion of how the consensus of their interpretation continues to evolve. Theology is a snapshot, but also like an Iona Pilgrimage: those at the front may think they’re getting there, but it only works if we take care to cherish those who move more slowly.
‘God is Green’ hasn’t become a book for ‘the last days’, yet leaves plenty of room for ‘bells to ring’ as you recognise the inherent immersion of liturgy and scripture in our partnership with Creation.