God’s Good World (a review sketch)
Hanging above the town of Canmore, Alberta is Ha Ling peak. Looking down from the mountain’s shoulder is a reminder of natural beauty of the world. It too is a reminder of the sometimes devastating clash of ‘nature’ and the built environment. Last summer a flood ripped apart bridges, roads and walking paths up and down the Bow Valley. The beauty of the place though remains fully in tact, and the title of Jonathan Wilson’s newest book still gets the larger situation right: God’s Good World. The book’s subtitle, Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation, points to the theological repair work that has long needed to be done. Wilson’s book isn’t specifically about Alberta’s summer flood. His starting point is the observation that the church simply hasn’t said enough about the doctrine, especially in the last few hundred years. The smoke of skirmishes related to ecology, evolution, even the implications of being creatures with bodies, is a symptom of this failure.
Wilson is right, and his book is needed. He is right too in saying that the lack of theological work on the doctrine of creation has had a number of deleterious effects. Beyond the obvious running battles, one thinks more technically of the still unclarified relationship of theology and the natural sciences. The current rush to write theologies of environmental stewardship has not met this need. On that measure, Wilson’s book is successful simply because he has written o
n the subject with care and passion. But he does other things well: The synthetic character of the book’s constructive theology is helpful. Some Christians who have tried to write on the topic have succumbed to the temptation of being ‘biblical’ in a flat sense, i.e. quoting a fistful of verses. Wilson’s work is biblical, but in a richer, more developed way. Wilson’s careful deployment of theological vocabulary is a welcome example of intellectual patience.
There are some frustrating points. The book’s third section, focused on practice and application, moves quickly–too quickly, I think–skipping from one topic to another without sustained engagement. This is most obvious in the final chapter on worship. The chapter is set up as the point where the book’s various strands would be knotted together, yet the threads are released after just eight pages. This and a few other challenges notwithstanding, Wilson has done us a service. God’s Good World will help readers recalibrate their approach to related issues. The book is written for a Christian audience of course, and this is appropriate since Christianity itself has been blamed for environmental oversights that some have linked events like our summer floods. Wilson charts a course that avoids both the denial of creation’s goodness and promethean assumptions that humans can run things. The world is indeed good, and Wilson provides a grammar for affirming that with the nuance necessary to mate ancient wisdom with contemporary challenges. That is, after all, what theologians are supposed to be doing.