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Book review: From Groaning to Liberation, by Bruce Nicholls

Bruce Nicholls gives a rapid overview of the issue of climate change and then concentrates on the Christian response.

VISTA JOURNAL AUTOR 236/Evert_van_de_Poll 16 DE MAYO DE 2023 16:58 h
Cove of the book. / [link]WEA[/link]

Bruce Nicholls (2022) From Groaning to Liberation. A Christian response to creation care and climate change (WEA Global Issues Series, Vol 23). Eugene, Wipf & Stock / Bonn, VKW

In this concise and very readable publication, Bruce Nicholls, one of the founders of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance, gives a rapid overview of the issue of climate change and then concentrates on the Christian response.

The value of this book, which is clearly aimed at an Evangelical audience, is that it gives so many concrete examples of churches and Christian organisations all over the world engaging in what is nowadays called “creation care”.

Nicholls begins with the multiple causes of climate change, both human action (ch. 1) and non-human natural factors such as the rotation of the earth, earthquakes, and cycles of hot and cold climate ages (ch. 2).

He sees a direct relation between social injustice and environmental degradation.

“Ultimately, the cause of poverty and injustice is human consumerism and greed. It is people who are abusing the land, cutting down its forests, turning wetlands into farms, draining the aquifer and polluting the air. Change is needed and it must begin with moral transformation” (p. 26).

This leads him to a short description of the ‘Biblical understanding of creation care’ (ch. 3) and a ‘theology of the cosmos’ (ch. 4). There is nothing new here, other authors have dealt with this topic in more depth and detail.

Clearly, the thrust of this publication is not ecological theology but ecological action. Interestingly, Nicholls compares the reaction to the environmental problems of Asian religions and philosophies, as well as secularism. He argues that these problems are fundamentally related to people’s moral values and religious (including non-religious) convictions.

“The call to safeguard the environment begins with true and faithful worship.‘‘ Earth worship is at the heart of our ecological crisis. It is precisely the modern devotion to the cult of consumerism which is driving the horrific global scale of environmental destruction’ (quoting Michael Northcote). The idolatry of earth worship blocks the true worship of the Creator God, justice for the poor and oppressed, and the natural harmony of the created order...Ultimately the renewal of earth depends on renewing both religious and social values” (p. 10)

He gives an interesting overview of the response of Ecumenical and Evangelical institutions (WCC, WEA, Lausanne), showing the shift from absence of concern to an increasing awareness of the urgency of translating the Biblical mandate of humankind to be stewards of God’s creation, into concrete action. Nicholls insists that this also includes defending the rights of animals (p. 48ff.)!

The guiding principle should be the sustainability of nature. Faced with climate change, we have no other choice than to adapt because “from a human point of view, it is impossible to sustain our global economic growth and development and at the same time lessen climate extremes with their consequences of human suffering” (p.95).

And we can be hopeful, because from a faith point of view, “God will not allow sinful human beings to destroy his world”. Our perspective is the redemption of creation, the ultimate re-creation and harmony of all life, human and environmental” (p. 97f.)

In the section ‘How then shall we live’ Bruce Nicholls takes up the call for a simple life-style raised in the Lausanne Covenant of 1974, which at that time was related to the issue of growing disparities between rich and poor, and applies it to the ecclesiological issue and the need for creation care.

“Our starting point must be to simplify our life-style, as in the slogan ‘ to live simply so that others can simply live’. This begins with eating less, including less red meat... to refuse to eat the foods we don’t need. But to live simply also means having fewer clothes, fewer household gadgets, less unnecessary travel, and for some of us, fewer magazines and books! One of the pleasures of life is to generously support needy causes” (p.103).

“We agree that there is no one definition of a simple life-style, for people live at different social and economic levels. But we can all live more simply with a concern for love and justice for those suffering from poverty and oppression” (p.109).

He also mentions recycling and reusing material goods and resources, as well as projects of gardening, as a means to sensitise believers to “the joy and health-giving activities of growing vegetables, plants and flowers” (p. 104).

In the final analysis, and here lies the importance of Nicholls’s essay, eco-justice is intrinsically linked to social justice.

“The Gospel challenges us all to repent of our selfish lifestyles and to put our trust in God to renew the earth. We restate that Jesus’ commission is to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbours as ourselves. This means we don’t really love God if we don’t at the same time love and serve our neighbour” (p. 109).

Evert van De Poll is co-editor of Vista.

Vista is an online journal offering research-based information about mission in Europe. Founded in 2010, each themed edition covers a variety of perspectives on crucial issues for mission. Download the latest edition or read individual articles here. This article first appeared in the march 2023 edition of Vista Journal.




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