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 the upcoming ‘Age of Limits’, and how we an develop a theology appropriate for the very different times that we are entering.
If 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”
I have based the title of this site on the book City of God, written by Augustine of Hippo, early in the 5th century CE. Augustine lived at a time when the superpower of his time — the Roman Empire — was slowly, inexorably declining. During his lifetime the City of Rome — the eternal city — was sacked 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,
- 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. This message comes from his book De Mendacio (On Lying).
- 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. This message comes from his book Confessions.
- Develop a theology that fits the times that we are living in. He did this by writing his seminal work, City of God. He recognized that all cities of men fail, only the City of God is permanent, so what is the constitution of that city? In other words, what was the appropriate theology for his times?
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Many churches are responding to the challenges that we face. Here is a list of a few of them.
- The Episcopal Church: Episcopal Climate News.
- The United Methodist Church: Social Principles: The Natural World.
- The Presbyterian Church: Presbyterian Environmental Ministries.
- Virginia Interfaith Power & Light.
- Interfaith Alliance for Climate Justice.
- St. James’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, VA. Stewards of the Earth.
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. The chapter headings are:
Section A: Inconvenient Truths — De Mendacio
Chapter 1 — For the Christian in a Hurry: The 300-Year Party
Chapter 2 — Through a Glass Darkly
Chapter 3 — A Personal Journey
Chapter 4 — World Views
Chapter 5 — Physical Limits
Chapter 6 — The Age of Limits
Chapter 7 — Pilate’s Question
Chapter 8 — Possible Solutions
Section B: Actions — Confessions
Chapter 9 — Systems
Chapter 10 — Responses
Chapter 11 — The Church’s Response
Section C: Where is God in All This? — The City of God
Chapter 12 — Theology