From Nature to Creation

A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World

series: Church and Postmodern Culture, The

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How does Christianity change the way we view the natural world? In this addition to a critically acclaimed series, renowned theologian Norman Wirzba engages philosophers, environmentalists, and cultural critics to show how the modern concept of nature has been deeply problematic. He explains that understanding the world as creation rather than as nature or the environment makes possible an imagination shaped by practices of responsibility and gratitude, which can help bring healing to our lands and communities. By learning to give thanks for creation as God's gift of life, Christians bear witness to the divine love that is reconciling all things to God. This book will appeal to professors and students of environmental philosophy, theology, and ethics as well as Christian readers interested in environmentalism, creation care, and agrarian ways of life.

Contents
Introduction
1. On Not Knowing Where or Who We Are
2. Idolizing Nature
3. Perceiving Creation
4. The Human Art of Creaturely Life
5. Giving Thanks
Index


Endorsements

"Norman Wirzba writes with verve, alacrity, and theological sensitivity in laying out particular arguments for bringing back the importance of creation for a theological anthropology relevant to earth ethics. Wirzba is careful to trace the history of ideas and show up their philosophical underpinnings, while illuminating our current impoverished condition. He is persuasive in noting the cultural need for a movement away from the disorientation resulting from an 'eclipse of creation' toward an orientation that is rooted in a profound understanding of creatureliness. This book will be valuable not only for individuals but also in a variety of ecclesial as well as educational settings."

Celia E. Deane-Drummond, University of Notre Dame

"With insightful analysis and lucid prose Norman Wirzba offers a winsome argument for reimagining the natural world as creation--lovingly made, sustained, and redeemed by the triune God. From Nature to Creation expertly traces how major trends in contemporary culture undermine the possibility of care for creation. Most importantly, this book not only persuasively shows how the felt absence of God and the pervasive degradation of the world are linked but also compellingly demonstrates how we may love God and embrace our creatureliness in ways that are faithful and life-giving for all of God's creatures. Few books I have read of late are as timely as this."

Steven Bouma-Prediger, professor of religion, Hope College; author of For the Beauty of the Earth

"In this, his most important book yet, Norman Wirzba asks the simple question: What difference would it make if we thought of the earth not as nature but as creation? His answer--that 'this is the world in which God delights . . . the world we are called to love'--challenges everyone. Certainly it challenges those who would reduce creation to 'natural resources.' But it also is a profound challenge to Christians who see our creaturely life as a preparation for heaven. Rather, as Wirzba concludes, creation is 'heaven's earthly life.' Drawing with magisterial and eloquent scholarship on a vast range of sources across both Christian and secular thought, Wirzba calls us to attentiveness, to rootedness--and above all, to gratitude. All we human creatures need to hear the message of this very fine book."

Loren Wilkinson, professor of interdisciplinary studies and philosophy, Regent College, Vancouver

"The very moment we humans have become the single most decisive force of nature itself is the moment that creation beloved of God has been eclipsed as the heart of our relationship with all that exists. Yet as commercialized nature and utilitarian thinking poison the planet and change the climate, what could be more important than 'creation' as the gracious way we live? No one is better than Wirzba in describing modernity's idolatrous and disastrous course and offering a Christian understanding of creation as the antidote."

Larry Rasmussen, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics, Union Theological Seminary, New York City

"This is not a book about polar bears, parakeets, or some new scheme for 'saving the earth.' It is a book about why Christians need to reclaim 'the human art of creaturely life.' Wirzba shows why creation, incarnation, and redemption are intricately bound up in bodies--our own, other creatures', and the earth's--and why if we're to care for those bodies we need to adopt an 'iconic vision of the world' that only Jesus makes possible. A deeply hopeful book written in prose both artful and lucid, this confirms Norman Wirzba's place as one of the finest theologians writing today."

Fred Bahnson, author of Soil and Sacrament; director, Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative, Wake Forest University School of Divinity

"Today, humans stand amid dirty water, inhale toxic air, and watch majestic mountains crumble to feed our energy addictions. Is this what the psalmist envisioned when he wrote that creation declares God's glory? I think not. Thankfully, Christians have resources like Norman Wirzba's From Nature to Creation to help guide us through these turbulent times. In a moment when conversations about environmental stewardship have become divisive and polarizing, Wirzba offers a level-headed 'peace; be still.' He reminds Christians that our world was created and is sustained by an intentional Craftsman who has asked us to steward it well. Wirzba's words are fertile soil, fresh air, and a bountiful harvest that will stir your passion for creation and stoke your love for the Creator. From Nature to Creation is a soon-to-be-classic text on the theology of creation, and it has come to us not a moment too soon."

Jonathan Merritt, author of Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined; senior columnist at Religion News Service

"In this wise, prophetic, and expansive book, Norman Wirzba offers us an extended meditation on creation with compelling eloquence. Here is a theology that is (literally) grounded in the gift of soil. A multidisciplinary treatise expertly engaging philosophy, theology, literature, and ecology, this book moves effortlessly from postmodern theory to agricultural policy, from biblical interpretation to gardening, from economics to a spirituality of gratitude. Wirzba invites us into a world of interdependent intimacy, sympathy, hospitality, delight, and love. This book is a generous gift that bears witness to a world characterized as gift."

Brian J. Walsh, campus minister, University of Toronto; author of Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination

"In this brief book, Norman Wirzba casts a profound vision of creaturely life, of what it means to live as creatures within an interconnected creation that embodies the love and goodness of the Creator. Standing in stark contrast to modern philosophical conceptions of nature, Wirzba's work is sure to inspire a wave of theological explorations in both the academy and the church."

C. Christopher Smith, founding editor, The Englewood Review of Books; coauthor of Slow Church

Praise for the Series:

"[This] series is not just a good idea; it is actually essential. If mission, liturgy, and pastoral care are to be effective today, then churches need a better understanding of so-called postmodern culture as something to be reckoned with and sometimes resisted. Increasingly, there is an educated interest in religion, but there is also a need to be well-informed about postmodern thought and its very complex relation both to postmodern culture (to which it is often actually hostile) and to religion. Again the need is for a critical appreciation--not dismissal and not empty adulation. This series aims to provide this in an accessible manner. I am convinced that the main ideas of postmodernism are actually not as 'difficult' as people suppose and that a clear and simple presentation of them actually assists wider cultural discussion. An additional purpose of the series is to introduce to a wider audience theologies that are already trying critically to assimilate the postmodern turn. Since some of these are intensely focused on the importance of 'church,' it is crucial that this occur. Although it is already happening, it needs to crystallize. This series may be just the thing to bring it about."

John Milbank, University of Nottingham


The Author

  1. Norman Wirzba

    Norman Wirzba

    Norman Wirzba (PhD, Loyola University, Chicago) is professor of theology and ecology at Duke University Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, Living...

    Continue reading about Norman Wirzba

Reviews

Named a "Best Theology Book of 2015," Englewood Review of Books
"Best Example of Theology in Conversation with Urgent Contemporary Concerns" for 2015, Hearts & Minds Bookstore

"From Nature to Creation is an eloquent theological exercise that contributes astutely to ongoing conversations around ecology and religion. This brief treatise draws from sources both devotional and secular to formulate timely arguments for interresponsibility. . . . Christians should appreciate the work as much for the diversity of references--from Cormac McCarthy to Athanasius, from Wendell Berry to Jacques Derrida--as for its thoughtful contemporary recommendations. . . . From Nature to Creation stands to expand and enrich ongoing conversations around the place of religious people in the natural world. Beautiful writing, frequent dashes of good humor, and practical proposals all make this book a piquing, thought-provoking addition to burgeoning theological exchanges."

Michelle Anne Schingler,

Foreword Reviews

"Wirzba's book acts as a theological wake-up call, a summons for Christians to see themselves as inhabitants of God's ongoing creation. In turn, such a renewed perception would change the way we relate to the other members of creation. . . . Wirzba issues a stirring call to re-name who we are (creatures rather than subjects), where we are (creation rather than nature), and how we see (iconically rather than idolatrously). . . . The counterpoint to this insistence on our need to name the world rightly is Wirzba's emphasis on practicing hospitality, which is a posture of radical openness to an ontological other."

Jeffrey Bilbro,

Books & Culture

"[This book] digs into Christian traditions for guidance on how to treat an ecologically fragile world, and it shows how powerful language can be."

Kristin Swenson,

Publishers Weekly

"Wirzba has given us a wonderful book that shows just what is at stake when the modern idea of nature supplants a vision of the world as God's creation. . . . The book judiciously deploys critique to highlight constructive ways to imagine and enact faithful Christian living. . . . Wirzba's book is an indispensable resource for pastors, students and laypeople concerned with Christian faithfulness under the conditions of modernity. Written for a broad, non-specialist audience, complex philosophical discussions are distilled and paired with concrete illustrations and practical examples. For these reasons, I cannot think of a better book for those who want to think through what it might mean to love this world as God's good creation."

Jonathan Lett,

Theology

"Much Christian antipathy toward environmentalism arises from a rightful aversion to nature-worship. . . . Wirzba would not have us leave the earth alone, but instead take an active part in cultivating it. . . . As God's gardeners, we're given responsibility to nurture and love, as well as preserve and conserve, his creation. . . . Wirzba is right that we need to reconsider some of our preferred methods of agriculture and environmental care. Doing so will require questioning the stereotypes that drive our conversation about creation. It will require a deeper reverence for the world God has given us--and maybe a bit of thoughtful gardening, too."

Gracy Olmstead,

Christianity Today

"The author does an excellent job of showing how what we name and narrative matters. . . . Wirzba's book succeeds in its examination of today's thought in relation to faith and practice. . . . While I think that every Christian could benefit from reading this book, it would be ideal for a congregational study group in which one chapter per week could be discussed. . . . I found the book to be a worthwhile read. . . . With over 200 footnotes, Wirzba provides abundant opportunity for further study and reflection. I would recommend it to a Christian study group as a springboard for discussion."

Bruce E. Buttler,

Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

"Wirzba casts a profound vision of creaturely life, of what it means to live as creatures within an interconnected creation that embodies the love and goodness of the Creator. Standing in stark contrast to modern philosophical conceptions of nature, Wirzba's work is sure to inspire a wave of theological explorations in both the academy and the church."

C. Christopher Smith,

Englewood Review of Books

"Living rightly in the world requires a rigorous theological vision. . . . Wirzba's slender volume is a passionate call to expand the Christian vision to include the whole world. . . . I look forward to every installment in this series, believing that each lesson will help me to address and consider current events from a different angle. Baker Academic and [series editor] James K. A. Smith are to be commended for the series. I hope they keep teaching."

Aaron Perry,

Asbury Journal

"This book deserves accolades for a number of reasons, and is significant on a number of fronts. . . . [Wirzba] does some heavy lifting for us here analyzing how Western culture's understanding of our home as God's creation shifted to 'nature' with the rise of modernity. . . . It really does help us understand how these shifts underneath the roots of Western culture have had disastrous consequences. . . . Whoever thinks history and philosophy are only for 'ivory tower' idealists or nerdy intellectuals with their head in the clouds or the books should be shown this, noting, again, how ideas have consequences and how social imaginations, often grounded in rhetorical and intellectual shifts, push us to practices and habits and ways of arranging our lives and our societies. If we want to--literally, as Wirzba shows--eat better, knowing how we have rejected our very creatureliness is part of the answer. . . . Such a book surely has to be commended, and we are happy to name it one of the most important of the year!"

Byron Borger,

Hearts & Minds blog ("Best Example of Theology in Conversation with Urgent Contemporary Concerns" for 2015)

"[Wirzba] is highly regarded among religious environmental ethicists for his expertise on this topic and his creative approach. . . . [This volume] is a fine text and conveys many ideas that are worth mulling. Wirzba's diagnosis of the problem is especially astute. . . . This is an important entry in an ongoing conversation and Wirzba's argument of the importance of understanding the essence of creation as a gift from God carries significant weight. Thus this volume has a place in the library of those seeking a deeper understanding of the contemporary issues in Christian environmental ethics."

Andrew J. Spencer,

Ethics & Culture blog


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