When soteriology and ecology embrace: Howard Snyder’s expansive vision

Howard Snyder
Howard Snyder

“Ecology” is one of those musty words crowded out by more trendy fare, terms like “environmentalism” and “Creation Care.” But if theologian Howard Snyder has his way, ecology will soon be on everyone’s lips.

In Salvation Means Creation Healed: The Ecology of Sin and Grace: Overcoming the Divorce Between Earth and Heaven (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2011; Kindle edition), Snyder – a theologian of mission and John Wesley scholar –  boldly challenges the Church to broaden its narrow conception of salvation to encompass the full panorama of God’s loving concern, as presented in Scripture. If the ideas championed in his book were to take hold, the mission of the Church in the world would look radically different than it has for much of the past 100 years.

John Wesley often structured his sermons in terms of “sickness/cure,” and Howard Snyder adopts a similar methodology. Following Chapter 1, a treatment of the “divorce of heaven and earth” due to a dominant neo-Platonism that prioritizes the value of spirit over matter, Snyder details a “fourfold alienation”  under the heading of the “ecology of sin” (see pp. 68-78):

1) alienation with God;

2) alienation from one another;

3) alienation from ourselves (internal division), and

4) alienation from the land.

Following a time-honored Wesleyan paradigm, Snyder treats sin as a moral disease. Because sin is fourfold in nature , the Gospel as cure must address each aspect of the condition or be incomplete. Snyder argues that evangelical soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) has indeed been grossly inadequate. While we have effectively addressed the first point (alienation from God) – preaching tirelessly about justification and sanctification – we’ve had less to say about points 2 and 3 and until recently were wholly silent on point 4. (Note: Snyder correctly points out that John Wesley himself later in life had much more to say about God’s concern for all creation, not just human beings).

For Snyder, the one biblical concept that covers all four alienations is that of healing. This healing is not a far-off, wholly spiritual prospect reserved for an ethereal “heaven.” Rather, healing is for the here-and-now, an expansive, cosmic restoration of all creation in which the Church – empowered and gifted by the Holy Spirit – actively participates. Snyder argues (p. 38):

But an agenda remains. The church spread throughout the earth but often doesn’t see the earth. The church is still far from realizing its potential to renew and heal the land. Millions of people have been reconciled to God. Yet the full promise of salvation as creation healed is yet to become real and visible worldwide.

Turning from sickness to cure, the book capably unpacks the meaning of the covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:8-15). This first covenant is both everlasting and for the “preservation of creation” (Snyder, p. 55). Importantly, it is a three-way covenant, i.e. between God, humans, and creatures. Snyder observes that it “has never been revoked, and largely defines stewardship on earth” (p. 90). In Chapter 6, “The Groans of Creation,” the reader uncovers what such stewardship means in relation to climate change, the overstressed oceans, and deforestation. At its core, taking care of the earth is a human question since it is poor people who are first and most affected by human practices that throw the earth’s systems out of kilter. Synder rightly observes: “Creation care is pro-life” (p. 83). Later, he concludes: “If we are passionate about people, we will be passionate about their world” (p. 152).

Salvation Means Creation Healed is an ambitious book, perhaps too ambitious. Chapter 11 delves into the nature of the Church, introducing material on worship styles that – while interesting – is tangential to the  main thrust of the book. That central concern is relating soteriology to ecology. Thankfully, Snyder finds his footing once again at the end of Chapter 12, speaking of how the “stigmata” ( the marks of the Church) should be practiced through four principles as related to Creation (pp. 198-200):

1) the earthkeeping principle;

2) the Sabbath principle;

3) the fruitfulness principle;

4) the fulfillment and limits principle.

These four principles provide a positive agenda for how the Church can rectify the fourth alienation, our distance from and poor stewardship of God’s good earth.

Howard Snyder adds his voice to a rising chorus of those who have concluded that the Church’s mission – particularly the modus operandi of its Evangelical branch – has been too other-worldly. His is a clarion call to rediscover the biblical Gospel, the full scope of God’s concern for all creation and our duty under God to care for the land. Since Evangelicals – including the descendants of John Wesley – have placed soteriology at the center, Snyder’s re-casting of ecology in soteriological terms is very welcome. May both his tribe and readership increase.

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Image credit: Greenville College

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So many books, so little time

booksI’m in the final stages of correcting assignments for an online missions course that I monitored for Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Once that’s done, I’ll put up a review of the two Kindle version course text books, both of which were new to me:

Hunter, George G., III. The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…AGAIN. 10th anniversary edition, revised and expanded. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 2000, 2010.

Pierson, Paul E. The Dynamics of Christian Mission: History Through a Missiological Perspective. Pasadena, CA: William Carey International Press, 2009.

Other e-books that I haven’t started, but that are beckoning to me from my iPad Kindle reader:

1) Allen, J. Bennett. The Skeptical Juror and the Trial of Byron Case. Long Beach, CA: Allen & Allen Semiotics, 2010.

This reflects my budding interest in innocence projects, which came out of following the story of Ryan Ferguson, exonerated after being wrongly imprisoned for nearly 10 years in a Missouri penitentiary for a murder he did not commit. Ferguson’s grace under fire amazed me, and his tireless advocacy for the innocent post-release is inspiring.

2) Barrett, Matthew, and Caneday, Ardel, gen. eds. Four Views on the Historical Adam. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013.

-I’ve seen very little dedicated to this topic, so hope to expand my thinking about possibilities.

3) Burden, Suzzanne, Carla Sunberg, and Jamie Wright. Reclaiming Eve: The Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God. Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 2014.

-Carla Sunberg recently spoke at the Africa Nazarene Women’s Clergy conference, and referenced this new book. It’s designed for the average lay reader.

4) Carson, D.A.  Christ and Culture Revisited. Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2008.

– I appreciate the original 5 points from H. Richard Niebuhr, and look forward to Carson’s take on it.

5) Fudge, Edward William. The Divine Rescue: The gripping drama of a lost world and of the Creator who will not let it go. Abilene, Texas: Leafwood Publishers, 2010.

– This Church of Christ biblical scholar is best known for his excellent work on hell and conditional immortality. You can read my short book on the same subject by clicking here. You may also be interested in my podcast interview with Christopher Date at the Rethinkinghell.com website, dedicated to evangelical conditionalism (aka annihilationism). Grab a cup of coffee…the interview is 90 minutes long.

6) Heurtz, Christopher L. Simple Spirituality: How to See God in a Broken World. Downer’s Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2008.

– Anything on Christian simplicity attracts my attention.

7) Keller, Timothy. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York: Dutton (Penguin), 2013.

-Rev. Brent L. White, a UMC pastor with a growing blog, highly recommends this book. Timothy Keller is pastor of the 5,000 member Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

8) McClung, Grant, ed. Azusa Street and BeyondC: Missional Commentary on the Global Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement. Revised edition. Alachua, Florida: Bridge-Logos, 2006.

– I’ve read little about Pentecostalism from an insider’s point-of-view. This was mentioned by Pierson, and should be enlightening.

9) Merrick, Britt, with Trowbridge, Allison.  Godspeed: Making Christ’s Mission Your Own. Ontario, Canada: David C. Cook, 2012.

– Honestly, I don’t remember who recommended this, but it looks like it would be a good book for an intro to missions course.

10) Metaxas, Eric. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Nashville, Dallas, Mexico City, and Rio de Janeiro: Thomas Nelson, 2010.

– My friend and advocate for those living in poverty, James Copple, is a big Bonhoeffer fan. This one’s for you, Jim!

11) Noble, T.A.  Holy Trinity: Holy People (The Historic Doctrine of Christian Perfecting). Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013.

– Dr Thomas Noble was the internal examiner for my PhD viva through the University of Manchester. He is considered one of the foremost Wesleyan theologians of our time, with an accent upon Christology.

12) Olson, Roger E. Questions To All Your Answers. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2007.Sanneh, Lamin. Disciples of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2008.

– The more I read of Roger Olsen’s blog, the more I like how he thinks. Dr Matt Price of MVNU put me on to this book.

13) Snyder, Howard A., with Scandrett, Joel. Salvation Means Creation Healed: The Ecology of Sin and Grace (Overcoming the Divorce between Earth and Heaven). Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011.

– Snyder is one of my John Wesley heroes. I’m about 10 pages in on this one, and liking how he frames ecology from a soteriological perspective. This (so far) reminds me of Michael Lodahl’s God of Nature and Of Grace.

14) Truesdale, Al, ed.  Square Peg: Why Wesleyans Aren’t Fundamentalists. Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 2012.

– Truesdale has been a gatekeeper for me in my academic career, including inviting me to write several articles for the 2013 Global Dictionary of Wesleyan Theology. I’m anxious to see what he and others have to say about what Paul Bassett has called the “fundamentalist leavening of the holiness movement.”

15) Walton, John H. The Lost World of Genesis: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. Madison, Wisconsin: IVP Academic, 2010.

– I’m an unapologetic theistic evolutionist. My Presybterian pastor friend, Chris Wiley, had good things to say about Walton’s work.

16) Wright, N.T. Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today. SPCK, 2011.

– I’m about 1/2 way done with this. It’s not as revolutionary to my own thinking as Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, but it’s making some good points.

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Photo credit: Readcwbooks.com

Howard Snyder on the kingdom

A group of theologians was discussing the Gospels. After a long exchange, one lamented: “Jesus promised us the kingdom, and instead all we got was the church!”

Many of us can identify with the frustration of our sister. She looked at the church with its divisions and failings and she desperately longed for something better.

If we ache for the full in-breaking of the kingdom of God in human history, there’s a reason. Jesus was the one who taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, NIV). The word “kingdom” appears 54 times in Matthew’s gospel alone. By comparison, the word “church” appears a mere three times. For this reason, some have called Matthew the “Gospel of the kingdom.”

For an idea so important to Christian theology, one would think that there would be unanimity about is meaning. If only life were so simple. In Models of the Kingdom: Gospel, Culture, and Mission in Biblical and Historical Perspective (Wipf and Stock, 2001), Howard Snyder investigates eight distinct ways that Christians across the centuries have interpreted the kingdom concept:

1. The kingdom as future hope;

2. The kingdom as inner spiritual experience;

3. The kingdom as mystical communion;

4. The kingdom as institutional church

5. The kingdom as countersystem;

6. The kingdom as political state;

7. The kingdom as Christianized culture;

8. The kingdom as earthly utopia.

The models evaluated

The first option only sees God’s kingdom in terms of Revelation 21, the New Jerusalem descending at God’s command. The kingdom is none of our concern; God will bring it about only as the final curtain descending on the stage of history. The second and third options allow for a present experience of the kingdom but spiritualize it. Jesus said: ” The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21, KJV). Howard Snyder (p. 41) calls this “Inner Kingdom” of the second option the most individualistic of all eight, whereas the “mystical communion” model at least has the merit of including a communal aspect. While John Wesley had some room in his thinking for other models, it is here where he placed his accent by underscoring the necessity first to save one’s own soul before turning to other tasks, such as helping others work out their own salvation or overturning the kingdom of Satan to set up the kingdom of Christ (Snyder, 62). Continue reading