Augustine of Hippo — author of City of God
Augustine (354-430 CE)

Welcome. My name is Ian Sutton. The purpose of this site is to explore how Christians can respond to the predicaments that we face in an ‘Age of Limits’, and how to develop a theology appropriate for the very different, and rather frightening times, that we are entering.

Video

Video symbolIf you would like to see a summary of the work that we are doing here, please check out our YouTube video: A New City of God.

 

Why the “City of God”

City-of-God-1-300
The City of God

Augustine was bishop of the town of Hippo in north Africa. He lived at a time when the superpower of his time — the Roman Empire — was slowly, inexorably declining. In particular, he had a ringside seat at the sack of Rome in the year 410 CE.

He and the other church fathers responded to catastrophic events such as these by developing a theology for their times — a theology that would provide structure and organization during the coming Dark Ages. His response had three key elements,

  1. Always tell the truth — period, full stop. He said that a Christian’s duty is always to tell the truth, no matter where it takes him.
  2. Live the live you preach. It is not enough just to write books (or blog posts) — a Christian must live the life that he or she advocates.
  3. Develop a theology that fits the times that we are living in. He did this by writing his seminal work, City of God.

It seems to me that, as we face the predicaments to do with the Age of Limits, that modern-day Christians are in a similar position to those of Augustine’s time. Hence, we need to work out a theology for our times — A New City of God.

I am merely a semi-retired chemical engineer. I leave it to others who have been trained in seminaries to work out what this new theology will look like. But, by writing books, web pages and blog posts, I hope that I can at least contribute to the conversation.

The Age of Limits

Limits to Growth chart (updated)

First, we need to understand the meaning of the term ‘Age of Limits’. I suggest that it consists of four elements which, taken together, point toward a very different future from what we have come to expect. The four elements, which  interact with one another in complex and difficult-to-understand ways, are:

  • Declining resources.
    We live on a finite planet with finite resources. Once those resources are gone, they are gone.
  • Environmental degradation.
    Climate change is the poster child, but we are ruining the environment in many ways. Many of these changes are no longer reversible, at least not within the lifetimes of people living now.
  • Population.
    The number of people walking this planet continues to grow. Those who are well off wish to maintain their comfortable lifestyles, those further down the economic scale wish to have a first-world lifestyle. It’s not going to happen — there are too many of us. We would need at least three earths to provide the necessary resources.
  • Economics.
    Our models are based on the concept of supply and demand. But, when it comes to natural resources and the environment such a model is flawed. A finite earth does not provide infinite resources.

A New World View

If something cannot go on forever, it will stop

Herbert Stein

Before we can develop a theology that is appropriate for our times we first need to understand our current world view — one that, incidentally, would have been utterly incomprehensible to Augustine or to the people of the Bible.

The 300-Year Party

Party Time
Our current way of thinking is basically one of endless material progress — life will get better all the time. It is a new and unusual way of thinking, one that started to develop just 300 years ago when we learned how to exploit the energy contained in fossil fuels. First it was coal, then oil, then natural gas. These fuels became the basis of our current way of life. It’s been a great party, but it’s coming to an end.

Predicaments — Not Problems

As an engineer, I am used to solving problems. But the Age of Limits presents us not with problems but with predicaments. Problems have solutions, predicaments don’t. When faced with a predicament there is nothing that we can do to make it go away. All we can do is to respond and adapt.

Looking to the Future

Web sites such as this are all about predicting the future. But none of us can predict what is going to happen. Yet the Apostle himself said, “For now we see through a glass darkly.” It’s important to grasp that he did not say that we cannot see through the glass at all — the outlines of where we are heading are perceptible.

A Christian Perspective

I repeat what I said earlier, I am no theologian. Nevertheless, let me put forward some suggestions as to what a new theology may look like in an Age of Limits.

  • I have already talked about Augustine’s emphasis on speaking the truth. This is where modern Christians should follow his lead — we need to be clear that the time for problem-solving is long gone, we now need to learn how to respond and adapt.
  • Genesis 1:28 says,
    God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”Well, we certainly followed that commandment all too well. Now we need a theology that stresses the need to live in harmony with the earth.
  • We understand that the time of endless material progress is coming to an end. We cannot maintain infinite growth on a finite planet. Many Christian programs for addressing climate-change problems have an unwritten sub-text on the lines of, “If only we do . . . then we can return to business as usual”. It’s not going to happen. Such programs can do no more than slow down the effects of the changes that we are experiencing.
  • Christians recognize the existence of Good Friday; bad things happen, sometimes very had things. After all, the faith’s symbol is the cross. There is no promise of material comfort — just the opposite, in fact. “Take up your cross and follow me”. At the same time, there is something called Easter Sunday. There is hope, but it is a hope of a different kind.
  • The Christian community is in a position to provide leadership as we enter a new and rather frightening world.

Resources

Resources for the Age of Limits

I have listed here some additional resources that might be useful to those who wish to learn more. They are:

  • Static pages on this web site. These pages provide background to our current situation.
  • Church resources. Many churches have web pages dedicated to the issues that we discuss here.
  • Updates on the book A New City of God: Theology for an Age of Limits.

Static Pages

We have written some pages that expand on some of the issues that we discuss here.

Jevons Paradox

William Stanley Jevons (1835-1882) was living at a time of rapid industrialization. The efficiency with which industry used coal steadily improved. Yet, paradoxically, the overall consumption of coal increased.

Applying his insight to our times, we could conclude that driving more economical vehicles will lead to an overall increase in gasoline consumption

Thermodynamics

Many of the people who work on climate change issues, including church leaders, have a non-technical background. Generally their training is in liberal arts and theology.

Yet it is important to grasp the basics principles of thermodynamics, particularly the first and second laws. This knowledge will help us understand the limitations to do with actions such as “saving energy” or “sustainable growth”.

Systems Thinking

When I read the web pages and posts of many Christian organizations I am concerned that, by focusing on just one topic — typically climate change — they may be missing the larger picture and that some of their actions and responses may not have the desired effect. They may, in fact, actually make the situation worse.

As just discussed, the Age of Limits incorporates at least four separate items: resources, environment, population and economics. Tackling just one of these may create worse problems in other areas. For example, we all support electric cars, don’t we? After all, they have no tail pipe so they do not discharge carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants into the atmosphere. What’s not to like?

Well, maybe it’s not all that simple. Analysis of the overall system can make us wonder if we should, in fact, be moving toward electric cars. may demonstrate that electric cars are not as good for the environment as claimed. It is even possible that an attempt to transition our entire fleet of automobiles to electric power may make the situation worse than if we had done nothing.

Book

I am writing a book entitled A New City of God: Theology for an Age of Limits. The book is still being reviewed; we will provide publication information as available. In the meantime, you are welcome to take a look at the current Table of Contents. It is downloadable as a .pdf file here.

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