Book: A New City of God

Augustine of Hippo
The book entitled A New City of God: Theology for an Age of Limits is well on its way to completion. Publication will probably somewhere around mid-2019.

Here is an overview of what the book is about. (For more detail check out the Table of Contents.)

We have entered a time of slow-moving crisis — an Age of Limits. The Industrial Revolution, which started about 300 years ago, is hitting physical limits in many areas. We are depleting our non-renewable resources such as oil and ground water, we continue to add CO2 to the atmosphere in spite of the increasing severity of global warming problems, we create nuclear waste that we don’t know what to do with, we degrade the biosphere with our poisons and fertilizers, and our population continues to grow, thus adding more people to consume these limited resources and to make yet more pollution.

Our society needs leadership, but we do not see such leadership from our governments, corporations or even non-profits. The fundamental reason being that all of our economic and social systems are based on an assumption of never-ending growth — something that would have been incomprehensible to the people of biblical times. But infinite growth on a finite planet is an oxymoron. We need new ways of thinking, or, from a Christian perspective, a new theology.

A similar situation occurred about 1500 years ago. At that time the Roman Empire was slowly, but inexorably declining and disintegrating. One of the church fathers of that time — Augustine, bishop of Hippo — recognized that all human institutions have a sell-by date — just look at all the “failed states” in the Hebrew bible. He argued that the only permanent city was the City of God — hence the title of his most famous book. In that book he develops a theology that was to endure for centuries. And the medieval church that he helped create provided organization and structure for all of society in the coming dark years. The church was an innovative, well-managed organization — one that has been called the Silicon Valley of its time. — it was not merely reactive, as it tends to be now.

We are now in a similar situation to the one that Augustine and the other church fathers faced; our material world is in decline, so we need a theology for our times. 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 have followed that instruction all too well.

In the book we outline possible elements of a new theology. It is based on the following thoughts and assumptions.

  • The issues to do with resource limits, environmental degradation and financial overshoot are not problems, they are predicaments. Problems have solutions, predicaments do not. When faced with a predicament we can respond and adapt, but we cannot make it go away. There is no going back to the good old days. Like it or not, we are entering a time of shortages, climate chaos and social instability.
  • Christians should be willing to accept such a situation. After all, fundamental to the faith is something about a Cross: Good Friday. We do not want to face such an event, but we accept that it can happen.
  • But, following Good Friday, comes Easter Sunday. There is hope, but it is hope directed toward the spiritual world, rather than one of endless material progress.

What will the new theology look like? I suggest that it will contain the following elements:

  • Christians need always to tell the truth. , even if the truth is discouraging and arouses controversy. There is always hope (Easter Sunday) but there is no excuse for “hopium”.
  • Moving away from Genesis 1:28, we need to live in equilibrium with our environment, which means that we have to wind down our use of fossil fuels. The key word will be conservation of both resources and the environment.
  • Live the life preached.
  • As the predicaments that we face get worse, there will be many people who need help. The admonitions to help others that are to be found throughout the gospels will apply as more than ever.
  • We should develop religious communities using the parish concept where everyone within a geographical area is part of the community, no matter who they are or what their background may be.

So, instead of focusing on Genesis 1:28, maybe we should pay more attention to Ecclesiastes 1:5-7.

The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.

The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.

All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.

It’s as if we are moving from a theology of linear progress to one of living within a cycle or rhythm.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

These are heady and controversial topics which will certainly invite discussion and debate. If you would like to participate in a (courteous and civilized) discussion, please do so at this blog.


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