Considering animals in relationship to God is not something extra or foreign to Christianity. In my opinion, a serious doctrine of Creation cannot ignore the rest of the living world and the Creation as a whole and finally be Christian. Even rocks glorify God. And frankly, neither can a complete doctrine of Redemption or Sanctification. Indeed, to set up one’s “serious” theology in such a way that one can ignore, dismiss, or deride creatures great and small, organic and inorganic, is a sign of the Fall and the effects of sin, alienation and division. The rest of Creation pays dearly and regularly for our lack of relational recognition and failures in thankfulness.
Maybe this is just special pleading on my part, but I think he’s absolutely right. In fact, I’m not sure Christian theology, much less Christian practice, has even begun to move from a thoroughly anthropocentric perspective to one that is more properly theocentric. Even churches that pay lip service (or more than lip service) to “the environment” remain steadfastly human-centered in their concerns. To some extent this is inevitable, but I wonder if we end up pushing a very thin gospel that essentially addresses only human concerns, and that often in a very therapuetic individualist way. And, if so, isn’t this a denial of the Lordship of Christ over all creation?
What would theology and practice look like if they genuinely incorporated the cosmic aspect of the biblical story that we so frequently downplay? My sense is that we in the mainline ignore this cosmic dimension out of embarassment. After all, a faith that is confined to fostering psychological well-being or political action is much more respectable than one that talks about the redemption of all creation. We have very little idea, I think, of what that would even look like.
If mainliners want to criticize fundamentalists for believing that we’re about to be whisked away in the Rapture, leaving the earth a smoldering cinder, maybe the proper response is to have a counter-story about the destiny of creation. Not to mention a counter-story to the post-Enlightenment industrial view of nature as a vast repository of resources for our exploitation. After all, isn’t there ample biblical and theological warrant for saying that creation – including our animal cousins – has a destiny in God’s kingdom? And doesn’t that imply that it matters now what happens to creation, since those aspects of the present age that serve God’s purposes will be preserved and transfigured (in ways we can scarcely being to imagine) in the age to come?
I actually am not sure how far we can push the de-anthropocentricizing (is that a word?) of Christian theology; this strikes me as still relatively unexplored territory. Some eco-theologians have tried it in ways that seem to me to sacrifice too much of traditional Christian belief. On the other hand, someone like Andrew Linzey is doing it in a way that builds on traditional orthdox trinitarian theology. I think this is the more promising route for a variety of reasons, maybe most importantly because traditional doctrines of creation and incarnation provides what I think is the strongest foundation for taking the created world to have permanent value for God.