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What scholars, bishops, and writers are saying about green readings of the New Testament

(Intro to a 7 part series)

You can’t trust an expert every time.  Humans make mistakes. But when it comes to our future, health, and wealth, we love to hear from the professionals.  And why shouldn’t we?  They’ve done more research than we have.  They’ve thought longer and harder about the topic at hand.  And they’ve devoted their lives to a cause.  So when we open our Bibles––turning particularly to our New Testaments––looking for green scriptures, we would do well to catch up with the experts.

That is the point of this blog series: to highlight some eco-wisdom from scholars, writers, leaders, and teachers of the New Testament.  These posts are for men and women who want to become better Christians and stewards of the earth.  But more than that, these articles are for those of us who want to avoid dead-end readings of the scriptures. We want to know what verses will change our communities and what verses are simply not about stewardship, even if we first thought so. We want to be ready for that moment when somebody uses our own scriptures to prove that God, after all, cares nothing for the earth.  We don’t want to be speechless then. In the big wide clash of ideas throughout Western culture, the jury is still out on whose version of reality we will adopt for brighter futures––will it be Buddhist, Pagan, Islamic, Christian? Don’t you want to know what Christian scholars and leaders are saying in the conversation?  Don’t you want to know where they think the real ecological gold is in the Christian scriptures? Me too.  So I’ve done some reading, and I’m going to give you a digest of their work.

To get an overview of what’s going on and what’s being said––there’s far too much out there to include in this series; I’m definitely not covering all the bases––an image might help.  (You can skip this next part if you care more about what the experts are saying than who they are).

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 I’ve made up a word image to help us keep the last few decades straight. It goes like this:

Imagine a polar bear holding a microphone.  And on top of the microphone is a spinning globe.  And on top of the globe is a party.  You can see a hundred groups up there chatting in small circles, but you notice three particular conversations.  One is a council of bishops and priests.  The other is a group of surfers.  The third is a group of academics and writers.

1960’s – The polar bear represents the fountainhead of much of our conversation: Lynn White.  His important and now famous article accused Christianity––and implicitly the New Testament––of being the problem and the source of our ecological crisis.

70’s and 80’s – The microphone represents the hundreds of people who have responded to him. Some who were happy with his conclusions; others were angrier.

90’s- The globe represents the Harvard school.  These are a group of scholars, who, in the mid-90’s, began talking about an in-breaking “ecozoic” era, one in which the world religions were now all waking up to the sacredness of the earth.  Contributors tended to favor a pantheist vision of space and time. The group produced a library of volumes, including “Christianity and Ecology.”  Built upon the shoulders of––get ready for some names you might like to know––Alfred White Northead, Teilhard de Chardin, and Thomas Berry, they worked across religious boundaries to join together this worldwide awakening.
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2000- today:  Next, the conversation on top of the globe represents the global discussion about our future.  They all wonder: whose version of reality will help us avoid total ecological destruction? The circle of bishops represents the church leaders who pull––in various ways––from Christian scriptures.  Voices include NT Wright, James Jones, Matthew Fox, Desmond Tutu, and John Chryssavgis. The second conversation includes a group of surfers––a lot of them really love surfing like some Christians really like Church––who think we should return to a type of neo-paganism, which deeply reveres the sacred earth. This, “Dark Green Religion” finds traction in a periodical called, “Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture.”  The third conversation represents the hundreds, if not thousands of scholars, writers, and thinkers who advocate one form of green-theology or another.  Three prominent voices include David Horrell (and his team who have just completed a project called “Ecological Hermeneutics”), Norm Habel (and his group who have just completed a project called, “The Earth Bible”) and a group who has published the, “Green Bible”, a green letter edition of the NRSV, which highlights eco-theological verses.  Other scholars include Richard Bauckham, Edward P. Echlin, Ellen Davis, Sigurd Bergman, Howard Snyder, and Jurgen Moltmann.  It’s not clear, in the end, who is listening to whom in the conversation.

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I’ve chosen to write on five classic texts that theologians use for making green theology.

Matthew 6.25-34:        A Lesson from the Earth

Romans 8.18-30:         We are so Connected

Mark 1.9-13:               Jesus, Animals, and Isaiah

Colossians 1.15-20:     The Cosmic Jesus

Revelation 21:             Ecotopia

In each post, I’ve made a new English paraphrase from the original Greek and tried to highlight points of conversation from those circles of experts.

One of the difficult parts about reading green theology in the New Testament, is that most of the good stuff is in the Hebrew Bible.  From the creation story, to Job’s vision of creation, to creation praising in the Psalms, to the visions of new creation in the prophets––the OT is the place to go for the green stuff.  Yes, green theology is in the New Testament.  But you just have to look a little more carefully and remember that the OT was Jesus’s Bible; a lot of the NT assumes you are super familiar with the OT as scripture.  At the end of each post, I give you three references to books, articles or articles in books for the eager reader to explore. My goal is that you would get your hands on some of the gold from the experts. I hope this series will help you see how a green reading of the New Testament is very possible and, given a little work on our part, will transform our vision of Christian spirituality.


Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life.  You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.

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