These authors are all smart, articulate theologian-practitioners in GFES’s Christian Earthkeeping program, and when you see them together they are playful, feisty, and there is much joy-filled laughter in the room.
In my last post I reviewed the book Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology: Foundations in Scripture, Theology, History, and Praxis by Daniel L. Brunner, Jennifer L. Butler, and A.J. Swoboda. The text shows connection points between Evangelical theology (theologies), as well as offering stories from the lives of the authors and their contacts. Since I worked alongside these authors at George Fox Evangelical Seminary during the tail end of their collaboration to put this book together, I witnessed their working relationship and their love and care for one another. These authors are all smart, articulate theologian-practitioners in GFES’s Christian Earthkeeping program, and when you see them together they are playful, feisty, and there is much joy-filled laughter in the room. They are very different people, and yet it is evident that they care for one another and are doing their utmost to show respect for one another.
I wanted Christ & Cascadia readers to get to know the authors a little bit, and to hear from them about ways this book might present a theology particular to the Pacific Northwest, their understanding of the text as an ecotheology specific to Evangelicals, and their communal writing process. They each graciously agreed to answer a few questions. Below are excerpts from our conversation.
Cherice Bock: Since Christ & Cascadia is about the Pacific Northwest and faith, do you think there are ways that your book is particularly Cascadian? Are there ways that living in the Pacific Northwest has influenced your ecotheology?
A.J. Swoboda: I do think the book is Cascadian in the sense that we are Cascadian. It certainly takes into account the sensibilities of most Cascadians, that is, the desire for sustainability, justice, and a “green” way of life. Living in the Pacific Northwest has caused us to be much more sympathetic to environmental issues. But, I wholeheartedly believe the issues we discuss in our text are keenly important for everyone.
Jen Butler: If any part of our book is particularly Cascadian it is the cultural Cascadian value of being more earth-conscious than other parts of the country. It’s part of the hipster vibe to be green, so I think it is much, much easier to have this conversation here and to find communities that already have a vocabulary for engaging it.
Dan Brunner: While many of the stories come from Mozambique and our friend, Nathan, others of them arise from our experiences here in the Cascadia bioregion. As authors, this is our home and the primary place where we have experienced our environment.
Bock: What, in your opinion, makes this an Evangelical ecotheology, rather than simply a Christian ecotheology?
Brunner: The Bebbington quadrilateral is a broadly recognized description of evangelicalism and has been so for 25 years. The three of us are by no means unified in how we practice or experience our evangelicalism.
Butler: We use Bebbington’s framework to talk about our understanding of evangelical as marked by conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism, and we work through those distinctive marks in the text. The text is distinctly evangelical in that we did our best to root it in the Good News of Jesus Christ. For us, that is expressed through both hope and a call to action (active hope).
Second, I write as an Evangelical because I wholeheartedly believe that the good news, the gospel, is our greatest hope in the environmental catastrophe we find ourselves in.
Swoboda: For me, it is particularly Evangelical for two reasons. First, we are, broadly speaking, Evangelicals. Certainly we are Evangelicals in different ways. But, we are Evangelicals in history, theology, and orientation. Second, I write as an Evangelical because I wholeheartedly believe that the good news, the gospel, is our greatest hope in the environmental catastrophe we find ourselves in. Christ changes the human heart, leading to a changed world. Healed people, healed world.
Bock: Why did you choose to write this book together, rather than tackling this (or another) book subject on your own?
Brunner: A.J. had the initial idea for the book. We sketched it out. We invited Jen to join the project. I had a sabbatical coming. And to top it off we got a significant collaborative grant from Association of Theological Schools. Those are the “details” I suppose. But the book comes out of relationship. It models what we believe to be the way forward on issues like these: people won’t usually change their minds or opinions through logic. What matters is relationship. We really had significant disagreements along the way in the writing of the book, but our commitment to our relationships carried us through.
Swoboda: As the token conservative in the group (and I am theologically quite conservative), I believe that writing this book was a way to learn from my friends who are more moderate and more progressive. And, to that end, I did learn a great deal. Jen and Dan have taught me so much. But, secondly, like Dan, I wanted our relationship to model the open-handed, generous, and gracious theology we present in the text. The body of Christ is big, and it is important to listen to the other parts.
Butler: My own experience leaves me straddling the gray space between the more conservative, evangelical theology and communities of my childhood and the more liberal, mainline theology and community I’ve chosen as an adult. Rather than abandon my “church of origin” I have a deep commitment to maintaining those relationships and the best of the theology I learned there. Too often I find myself in spaces where progressive Christians are unwilling to hold relationship with conservative Christians and vice versa. I am simply unwilling to perpetuate that kind of hostility. Our writing attempts to parallel how we want to live — with generosity, hospitality, and compassion that trumps any need to be “right.”
Bock: Thank you for all your good work to write this book, and to work through all the “tension points” together. You write graciously to the Evangelical audience, inviting us all to a more holistic relationship with one another, God, and our world. I appreciate that the text itself came out of that struggle to speak your piece, but also to maintain relationship.