Emma and I had a fascinating discussion this morning at breakfast here at Westminster College in Cambridge. The conversation partners were a delightful Sydney scientist couple visiting their daughter studying in Cambridge. As we talked he was intrigued by my NT scholarship sharing that he too is an academic working in the area of environmental science.
We also learned that he and his wife attend an evangelical church in Sydney of a popular denomination which shall remain nameless. In his ecological work he is observing and documenting first-hand the devastation of the natural life in the areas around Sydney due to climate change. He spoke of a tragedy occurring as we speak whereby these areas are becoming wastelands bereft of animal life. He was genuinely grieved. He works with others who are observing this all over Australia.
He started asking what was going on in theological thought around ecology and faith. I told him, heaps! As the church responds to the ecological challenges we face in the present by going back to the Scriptures and Christian story and consider God’s perspective on all this.
They shared about science and faith and the narrowness of the views of those in their Christian orb. He spoke of a complete disconnect from the world of science, ecology and church. I heard a couple who sensed that the gospel was way bigger than personal salvation, discipleship, worship, the church, and evangelism. But due to the failure of the teaching they have experienced, aside from their sense that “wait there’s more,” they lack any real theological understanding of the cosmic creational scope of the gospel. This is because no-one has ever taught them that there is a way of looking at the gospel that preserves the centrality of personal salvation and speaks of the fullness of the scope of what God is doing on planet earth.
We got talking about God and his creation, the possibilities of evolutionary theism, salvation as cosmic restoration, and a restorationist eschatology, i.e. that God’s ultimate purposes in Christ is to restore the whole cosmos with restored humanity at the centre of his purposes (esp. Rom 8:19–22). It was fascinating and unsurprising to hear him speak of difficulties of relationship with passionate six-day creationists. We spoke about different ways of reading Genesis and the story of the gospel. They shared that they were committed to love and unity wanting to remain in close fellowship with others who differ. Yet, they were finding this hard.
What got me was that they had never heard anyone articulate the gospel story with its full cosmic dimensions. Their experience was of moving around churches and only ever hearing a dualist spiritual-secular world-view.
They asked what theologians thought about this. I told him about movements of thought which were exploring all this, science and faith, a holistic view of the gospel, the place of ecology, justice, and more. I suggested authors, books to read, places to explore further to get him going. They were genuinely excited.
What can we glean from this? I was reminded that we as preachers must not fall prey to preaching a truncated narrow dualist gospel. While we must always preserve the importance of personal salvation, evangelism, the church and its local mission, we must preach the gospel in its fullness so it touches the questions of the day, the work our people are doing, the fullness of what God is doing on planet earth. We need to do a regular review of what we are preaching to ensure that we are not falling prey to preaching a narrow gospel. My sense is people are hungry for the full story. Let’s tell it.