Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Augsburg Fortress Publishers
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Title Page, Copyright Page
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Sallie McFague has spent the entirety of her long teaching and publishing career exploring the relationship between God and the world, showing us that theology indeed matters. This is, as she says, what theologians do. Yet, in McFague’s case, it has led her to explore how God and the world are inseparable from one another: how God is implicated as we seek to understand the world...
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Prologue: A Religious Autobiography
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For many years I have taught a course on religious autobiography; it was the first course I taught, and I am still teaching it. Why? Because I am very interested in people who try to live their faith, who have what I would call a “working theology,” a set of deeply held beliefs that actually function in their personal and public lives. Augustine, John Woolman, Sojourner Truth, Dietrich...
Part I. The Language of Theology: Parables, Metaphors, and Models
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1. A Trial Run: Parable, Poem, and Autobiographical Story
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A trial run is a worthwhile enterprise. Many books use the first five chapters to give historical background, then refute other views, and only in the final chapter (usually called “Prolegomena to Some Theological Directions”) is there a clue given to what the author has been up to. I would rather attempt a trial run, which, full of holes and unsubstantiated assertions, nevertheless gives the...
2. Parables as Metaphors
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Parables have not always, or usually, been viewed as metaphors. Historical criticism tended to focus on “what a parable meant” in its historical context (C. H. Dodd and Joachim Jeremias). This approach is perhaps an advance over Jülicher, whose “one-point” interpretation tended to reduce the parables to their ideational possibilities, evidencing little if any appreciation for them...
3. Creeds: Models or Dogmas
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The Apostles’ Creed (and to a lesser extent, the Nicene Creed) is probably recited by more Christians with greater frequency than any other confession of faith. Sunday after Sunday it is repeated by Christians around the world, many of whom have little comprehension of its momentous assertions, let alone its power or its oddity. It is a majestic statement summing up the central beliefs...
4. God as Mother, Lover, and Friend
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Our task is to suggest an imaginative picture of the relationship between God and the world that will express the saving presence of God in our present. That saving presence we have interpreted as a destabilizing, inclusive, nonhierarchical vision of fulfillment for all of creation. If what is sought is a likely account of the relationship between God and world, is there value...
5. A Meditation on Exodus 33:23b
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When Moses in an audacious moment asks of God, “Show me your glory,” God replies that “no one can see me and live,” but he does allow Moses a glimpse of the divine body—not the face but the back (Exod. 33:20-23). The passage is a wonderful mix of the outrageous (God has a backside?!) and the awesome (the display of divine glory too dazzling for human eyes). The passage unites...
Part II. Theology and Spirituality: Metaphorical, Ecological, and Kenotic Approaches
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6. Metaphorical Theology
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If modernity were the only criterion, our task would be relatively easy. But such is never the case in theology. Christian theology is always an interpretation of the “gospel’’ in a particular time and place. So the other task of equal importance is to show that a metaphorical theology is indigenous to Christianity, not just in the sense that it is permitted but is called for. And this I believe is the...
7. Metaphors, Models, and Concepts
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Dennis Nineham, in the epilogue to The Myth of God Incarnate, writes that it is “at the level of the imagination that contemporary Christianity is most weak.” He goes on to say that people
find it hard to believe in God because they do not have available to them any lively imaginative picture of the way God and the world as they know it are related. What they need most is a story, a picture, a...
8. Theology of Nature: Remythologizing Christian Doctrine
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While the attempt to see continuity between the Christian story of redemption and the cosmic story of the evolution of the universe is one that all Christians must support, it may be that a retrospective perspective—which is very ancient—is still the best one. That is, faith seeking understanding sees traces of divine purpose, love, and care in our cosmic story, as Christians have in other...
9. Consider the Lilies of the Field
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Should Christians love nature? Most have not over the last two thousand years and many today still don’t. In some circles, loving nature is pagan or what Goddess worshipers do. Of course, Christians should respect nature, use it carefully, and even protect it, but isn’t loving it a bit extreme? Should we love nature? My answer is a resounding Yes. Christians should because the Christian...
10. The Ecological Model and Christian Spirituality
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A Christian nature spirituality is Christian praxis extended to nature. It is treating the natural world in the same way we treat, or should treat, God and other people—as subjects, not objects. But, we have to admit, we seldom act this way. Only the saints seem able to do it: recall Francis of Assisi who let things be what they are—wind is wind, death is death—and as they were he both loved...
11. How Shall We Live? Christianity and Planetary Economics
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We have looked at who we are and decided that an ecological anthropology is necessary for our contemporary context of global warming. It is also commensurate with Christian faith. We have looked at who God is and suggested that the model of the world as God’s body might be a persuasive contemporary and Christian expression for the God-world relationship in our...
12. A Spirituality for the Whole Planet / Kenotic Theology
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The current fascination with “spirituality” versus “religion,” with spirituality seen as inner and personal, while religion is institutional and traditional, is yet another indication of the narcissism of our culture. However, a 1977 definition of spirituality by the Scottish Churches Council claims it is “an exploration into what is involved in becoming human,” and “becoming human is “an attempt...
Part III. Constructing Theology: God, Humans, and the World
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13. The Christian Paradigm
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The material norm of Christian faith involves a specification of what distinguishes this faith. It involves risking an interpretation of what, most basically, Christian faith is about. Such interpretation is, of course, not done in general or for all time; it is always a partial, limited account of the contours of the salvific power of God in a particular time in light of the paradigmatic...
14. Sin: The Refusal to Accept Our Place
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The common creation story gives us a functional, working cosmology. It gives us a way of understanding where we fit.1 It tells us that we belong and where we belong: it is both a welcoming word celebrating our grandeur as the most developed, complex creatures on our planet to date and a cautionary word reminding us that we belong in a place, not all places, on the earth. In...
15. Human Existence in the Spirit
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“Christians believe the world is hidden in God.”1 This is the same as saying that human existence takes place within God’s Spirit. The world does not have a separate existence for Christians. Ontologically, we live from, toward, and with God. I did not used to believe this; in fact, I fought it. I wanted the world to stand on its own; I feared that otherwise it would be sucked up...
16. Christ and the Ecological Economic Worldview
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Aye, here’s the rub: how can we live a different abundant life? The ecological economic worldview gives few instructions and even less hope. We have suggested that an ecological economic Christology not only fits with this worldview but goes beyond it. How is this the case? How can Christology help us live a different abundant life? As a dramatic and concrete way of answering...
17. God and the World
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So, where should we begin—with God, with Christ, or with ourselves? Where can we start finding out what it means to live in reality as defined by love? John Calvin put the issue bluntly when he noted that we could start with either God or ourselves, but we had best start with God lest by beginning with ourselves, we overestimate our importance. Not bad advice. If reality is...
18. “The Dearest Freshness Deep Down Things”: The Holy Spirit and Climate Change
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Twenty-five years ago, a conversation about the Holy Ghost rescued me from an embarrassing social event. I was sitting across from the wife of Italy’s ambassador to England at a high table dinner at an Oxford college. I was definitely out of my comfort zone and wondered how I could manage over the next several hours of elaborate cuisine, copious wine, and clever conversation. The...
19. Who Are We Human Beings?
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We come, then, to the other crucial question of Christian theology: If God (reality) is kenotic love and creation is the pulling back of the divine to give others the chance to live and practice kenoticism in all its many forms, including the minimal ones of evolution, then who are we in the scheme of things? Again, I do not ask this question in general or “from above,” but only...
20. Falling in Love with God and the World: Some Reflections on the Doctrine of God
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I have been asked to write an essay on the doctrine of God and ecology. It is a monumental task; it is also one that could be done in a number of different ways. But since I am almost eighty years old and my horizon is shrinking, I have decided to use my own story as the context of how the standard doctrine of God has changed into an ecological one over the last seventy or so years. My...
Index of Names and Subjects
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Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2013