(Re)Considering Christianity: An Expedition of Faith Joining Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Sustainability

Blending an eye for science and a heart for ministry, Ron Rude has given us a fresh, timely, and deeply necessary new perspective on the Christian story as good news for a hurting world. To borrow language from a beloved hymn, Rude reframes the old, old story into a new, new song that celebrates the stunning breadth and diversity of God’s creation, puts humanity in its rightful place within it, and summons its readers to repent of anthropocentric thinking and behavior in order to journey toward a future marked by wonder, humility, grateful contentment, and sustainability.

Intelligent yet accessible, Rude’s book begins by widening our view beyond human history to a much broader vision of God’s great mission of life. Rude next zeroes in on what he argues is a relatively recent and unique threat to that mission: the overreach of acquisitive human beings. He presents Scripture and tradition as records of God’s multiple, loving attempts to communicate a new sensibility to a wayward humanity. These divine efforts climax in the person of Jesus as a new Abel, come to little planet earth to teach headstrong humans the way of God’s intentions for all creatures blessed with the gift of life.

Along the way, Rude’s observations about commonly held notions of Christianity are critical in every sense of the word: well-reasoned and scholarly; appropriately judgmental of harmful tendencies; urgent and essential. (His thoughtful treatment of atonement theories and the meaning of the cross are alone worth the price of the book.) Thankfully, he does not stop with a diagnosis of present problems, but he also sketches a positive vision for future faith: following Jesus, the new Abel, in the ongoing work of respecting, protecting, and restoring life rather than continuing to wound creation with selfish consumption and exploitation. Rude does not propose practical suggestions or policy solutions, instead choosing to keep the spotlight on the importance of the big picture and the powerful influence of how it is viewed and communicated. He does offer some grist for detail seekers in his footnotes and recommendations for further reading.

For pastors and teachers in the church, (Re)considering Christianity is a valuable resource for helping people to identify longstanding, often overlooked assumptions, to question them, and to sharpen their theological vision in a time of ecological peril. The book is more skeleton than flesh, so those who want to delve deeply into Rude’s ideas will need to supplement its thin framework with other resources. Moreover, some of the author’s more challenging observations are bluntly stated, so they should be sifted and presented to the faithful with pastoral sensitivity. Still, this book can serve well as the focus of a small group study or a congregational Lenten journey, but however it is used, it is worthy of being read and discussed.

Reviewed by Brian Hiortdahl, pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church, Chicago, Illinois

Abel Emerging: A Reconsideration of the Christian Story for a Sustainable

There are many reasons to commend Abel Emerging: A Reconsideration of the Christian Story for a Sustainable World by Lutheran Campus Pastor Ron Rude (University of Arizona, Tucson). For those looking for a thoughtful re-framing of the difficult ­even daunting ecological challenges facing our planet, here’s a fresh approach to ponder. For those who desire a way that science and spirituality can meet and engage each other, this work proves the possibility of that endeavor. For ministers and educators who seek a provocative starting-point with which to facilitate conversation and motivate action among parishioners, campus ministry communities, book groups, and “green teams,” this volume might just be what you’re been looking for.

Using the familiar ­but sometimes forgotten­ narrative of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4), the author analyzes the profound environmental issues we face today. He acknowledges it’s a metaphorical not exegetical­ template upon which he builds the thesis of his book. As such it serves as a memorable way for the reader to draw upon theology, biology, physics, anthropology, sociology, and other disciplines in a cohesive prophetic witness against a
dominating, exclusivist pattern of human superiority over-and-against the rest of the world. With abundant examples, he shows the condition of our age and names ways the church has been inadequate to offer real transformation, hope or healing. In fact, he argues that the church is not just an impotent force but a significant contributor to the problems faced by the entire “Tree of Life.” He argues from the perspective of faith and science in favor of an interconnected, mutually dependent, resilient-yet-fragile creation that must urgently be restored to a sustainable, just, and balanced way of life.

”…[I]n the context of the multitude of profound [ecological] crises currently confronting our world, coupled with a sense that there is something inadequate, even amiss, about the Christian message…,” (page 4) the book insists that reframing and transformation is needed now more than ever if Christianity is to be an agent of healing or hope. This is the premise it explores from many perspectives.
I especially appreciated the author’s extensive use of footnotes throughout the book which are easy to read and relevant to the passages they reference. These notes assist the reader to understand background materials that support the book’s thesis. Discussion questions at the end of the book provide a quick, adaptable framework for serious conversation in small
groups and classrooms. An extensive bibliography helps the reader who’s motivated become conversant in a wide array of disciplines related to the book’s central aims. And section summaries make the book’s line of argument readily accessible.

If there is a lack in this book it is the absence of a thoroughgoing biblical exegesis of the Genesis texts from which the book’s conclusions emerge. The whole work would benefit from critical textual analysis of the Cain and Abel narrative along with the larger story of Adam and Eve. Yet this omission does not prevent the reader from gaining much, thinking deeply, pondering with the author, and drawing conclusions for much-needed action in behalf of nature that groans in travail (Romans 8).

Long ago Joseph Sittler challenged campus ministers to share with church and society its gifts of intellectual curiosity, theological depth and passion for justice. Here is one example of bringing this challenge to the public square for discussion, debate, and action.

Review by James L. Norlie Lutheran Campus Pastor at Oregon State University in Corvallis