Living with Other Creatures: Book Critique

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Bauckham, Richard. Living with Other Creatures: Green Exegesis and Theology.  Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011.

Summary

     In this work, Richard Bauckham argues that man has a vertical relationship with God and a horizontal relationship with his fellow creatures.  He rejects a hierarchy in creation, a rule of creation by mankind, and a pragmatic use of creation by mankind.  Instead, he believes mankind should seek to glorify God by acknowledging his interdependence on his fellow creatures, and their unique relationship with their Creator apart from humanity.  In order to prove his thesis, Bauckham (1) exegetes pertinent texts from both the Old and New Testaments and other Jewish and Greek writings, (2) reveals God the Son Incarnate’s relationship with his fellow creatures, (3) discusses the generations of theologians who have and have not possessed a proper relationship with their fellow creatures, and (4) reveals the contemporary threat to biodiversity and suggests a proper Christian response.

Strengths

     The research and language work Bauckham carries out in this work are impressive.  The footnotes and Bibliography are worth the price of the book.  I also appreciated Bauckham’s argument that Jesus was not a vegetarian (103-104; although I think this argument undercuts his thesis since Jesus ate His fellow creatures: animals).  Finally, Bauckham persuasively argues that man’s fellow creatures have a worshipful relationship with God apart from their relationship with humanity (He, however, overstates this truth without textual warrant). 

Critique

Structure

     First, because this work is made up of a few pre-published essays and/or chapters from other works, the logical order of the book is not consistent or progressive.  The chapters needlessly repeat various arguments found elsewhere in the book.  If the book had been edited with greater care, one is reasonable to assume that a full 20 or 30 pages could have been removed, and the same arguments remain.

Hierarchy

     Second, the main concern I have against Bauckham’s work is his overemphasis on humans being other creatures among many creatures.  He neglects several realities that distinguish humans from animals.  For example, Bauckham writes, “In the praise in which we gratefully confess ourselves creatures of God there is no place for hierarchy (13),” but he does not recognize that animals are cursed based on humans and redeemed based on humans as well.  Jesus, obviously, was/is fully human and was not/is not an animal.  The blood of animals could neither redeem humans nor any other aspect of creation because the curse was brought through humans to all creation.  Humans have a greater purpose in creation than Bauckham argues.  God the Son Incarnate—fully human—proves this truth.

     Furthermore, one must note that Bauckham argues men are more valuable than animals, but not in a hierarchal way (95-96).  I do not understand how one aspect of creation can be more valuable than another and yet, there be no hierarchy.  Bauckham argues that the story of Jesus sending the demons out of the demon-possessed man into the herd of swine in Matthew 8 does not prove that animals have no value apart from humanity (97-98).  I agree in one sense, but in another sense, this story begs the validity of his thesis concerning the co-creaturely value of animals with humanity since Jesus did not have to send the demons into any animals.  There are other examples in Scripture where Christ cast out demons, but did not send the demon(s) into any animals (Matt. 9:32-33; 17:14-19).  Bauckham argues that the destruction of these pigs was preferable to the destruction of a single human personality, but if animals have a horizontal relationship, an “other creature” relationship with humanity beyond finitude, then why did Jesus send them into the swine?  (I assume there was some other reason, a teaching reason, to prove that these demons were real, and the death of the swine proved the validity of Christ’s authority over the demonic realm.  According to Matthew 8:33 the herdsman ran into the city and shared what happened.  At least this reason is one possible answer that will allow for Bauckham’s thesis, but Bauckham does not argue this.)

     Moreover, Bauckham argues that according to Psalms 148:13, “God’s name alone is exalted: there is no place for worship for the exaltation of any creature over another” (151).  He misses the reality that if man views animals as less valuable than himself, he is merely agreeing with Scripture.  Bauckham is aware of man’s greater value, but nevertheless, makes statements like the one above that blurs the clear Scriptural line between humans and animals.  The Biblical answer is for man to understand His own relationship with God, not his “creaturely” relationship with other creatures.  For, if man loves God with all His heart, soul, and mind, he will treat God’s creation with great care in humble obedience.  In other words, the answer for the ecological crisis is to exalt God not creatures.

Worship

     Third, Bauckham argues that creation always worships God based on its essence.  “The creation worships God just by being itself, as God made it, existing for God’s glory.  Only humans desist from worshipping God; other creatures, without having to think about it, do so all the time (12).”  He believes creatures worship God with their “whole lives (150).”  These sentences do not properly take into account just how the curse affected all creation.  There is a real sense where all creation worships God, bringing Him glory, since creation reflects the fingerprints of its Creator; however, there is a real sense as well where Creation no longer does what it was created to do.  For example, does creation worship God when it ends the lives of humans (even believers)?  Does a lion that attacks a local village bring glory to God in its revealing of the curse?  Sure, this lion’s great power and skilled hunting brings glory to God, but its act of rebellion against the dominion of man also reveals the curse.  The lion, like the rest of creation, cries out for a Redeemer.  This groaning is not worship, but a cry for redemption (Rom. 8:18-23).

     Additionally, I enjoyed Bauckham’s emphasis on creation helping mankind worship God as fellow creatures (12-13).  I think this is true in one sense, but in another sense, creation helps mankind know how much he needs redemption.  Bauckham misses the reality that humans worship God with creation even while in rebellion against Him.  Mankind worships God by simply existing, for we cannot deny His fingerprints in and all around us while living in dependence on His resources and living in His world.  The same goes for fallen angels.  Because God created all things, all things worship God even while in rebellion against Him.  In other words, creation cannot help but reflect the handiwork of her Creator.  This reality is not peculiar to “wild nature.”

     Furthermore, Bauckham initially seems to contradict himself in Chapter 8, arguing that the Four Living creatures in Revelation 4 and 5 represent all of creation, perfectly worshipping God until the Lamb is enthroned, and all creation is able to worship God due to being redeemed.  Bauckham blames this lack of worship of creation on sinful humans and fallen angels. Humans and angels despoil creation’s glory and muffle its praise (183-184).  Bauckham’s answer is for humans to let creation be itself.  I think this further proves that he grossly underestimates the effect of the curse on all creation (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 8:18-23).

Dominion

     Fourth, Bauckham argues that the dominion man was given over creation was to let nature be itself (228-229; Gen. 1:27), but Biblically speaking, dominion is whereby man helps nature be all it can be.  After all, God is the One who originally put man in the Garden, in the middle of “wild nature” to use Bauckham’s words.  God told man to tend and keep His Garden (Gen. 2:15).  In light of the curse, humans must help nature overcome the effects of the curse so that creation may flourish, and that we may flourish with creation as well.  The answer is godlier creation care, not leaving the cursed creation to itself.

     Furthermore, Bauckham admits there is a “natural” extinction of animal species over millions of years, but is concerned with the increased extinction rate due to man’s interference in “wild nature.”  The problem is that if animals worship God continuously by simply existing, since they always do what God created them to do, then the extinction of species should be viewed as an act of worship by creation (if one take’s Bauckham’s logic to its consistent end).  My point is that Bauckham’s theology and ecology are missing an accounting for the effect of the curse on creation.  One could easily blame the curse for such extinction (which I think is Scripturally warranted), but since Bauckham seeks to argue that creation (other than humans and fallen angels) always worship God, he must necessarily say that all that happens in the animal kingdom is by divine design, and therefore, good.  The question of how much extinction is not an act of worship then becomes some arbitrary number.  Also, if animals can kill off each other in an act of worship, and mankind is more valuable than animals, then they too should be able to kill off animals as an act of worship.  I do not believe this statement, but I think it is the consistent outworking of Bauckham’s logic.  I believe all creation is cursed, and such extinction is due to the curse; thus, mankind should seek to protect creation from itself.  Indeed, God designed all things, but the curse has negatively affected all things.  Just as God did not design sin, yet sin exists and creation lives on, God did not design animals to go extinct, but due to the curse, animals go extinct.  The creation is groaning for redemption (Rom. 8:18-23).  Christians should labor to bring about God’s will on Earth as His will is done in Heaven.  If we assume a renewed Earth similar to the original pre-Fall Creation, mankind will tend and keep God’s paradise forevermore.  We must labor to care for God’s cursed creation now.

Conclusion

     In conclusion, I think Bauckham exalts the animal kingdom to an un-cursed position.  Animals are not merely “cursed” because they live in creation with humans, for they were placed under the curse as well (Gen. 3:17-19).  Due to this exaltation of animals beyond the curse, the entire thesis for this book fails the test of Scripture.  Instead of readers adopting Bauckham’s view of mankind as fellow creatures with animals, I suggest we choose a more Biblical option.  One example is from the late Francis Schaeffer as presented in his book Pollution and the Death of Man.[1]  Schaeffer argues that God transcends all creation—mankind, animals, plants, etc.—due to His infinitude and our finiteness; however, God has a personal relationship with mankind that surpasses His relationship with the rest of physical creation: animals, plants, etc.[2]  Therefore, man is a fellow creature with the rest of creation concerning the infinite God, but mankind is an exalted creature in relationship with the personal God.[3]  Thus, instead of Bauckham’s exaltation of other creatures or the exaltation of humans as gods over creation, one should realize man is a fellow creature while also believing that mankind has a unique personal relationship with God that is greater than his fellow creatures.  If we properly understand these relationships, we will be greater stewards of our relationships with God, man, and creation.  The key is to exalt God.  The greater position God has in a community, the greater that community will labor to properly care for His creation.

This article was originally posted at my site. Only some of my articles are posted on SBC Voices. If you would like access to all of my articles, you can follow my feed here. You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.


                               [1]Francis A. Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011): 48-49.

                               [2]Ibid.

                               [3]Ibid.

Comments

  1. John Wylie says

    Thanks Jared,

    Great post, well thought out and presented. I hope this generates some discussion, because this will be an interesting subject.

  2. cb scott says

    It would be very interesting to hear a debate between Richard Bauckham and Duck Commander Phil of the Duck Dynasty.

      • cb scott says

        Jared Moore,

        It was Duckman Dale who clued me to preaching of Duck Dynasty’s Commander Phil. I was pleasantly surprised at his conservative position on the gospel and his teaching of God’s mandate that mankind has dominion of all the earth’s bounty.

        I also found out that Phil was the first string QB ahead of Terry Bradshaw at LA TECH back in the day. He had an opportunity to turn Pro as did Bradshaw do. However he made a choice to go back home, follow Jesus, marry his high school sweetheart, and care for the land. In 1972-3 he invented a Duck Call that made him a fortune.

        Needless to say, I am impressed with Duck Commander Phil.

  3. cb scott says

    It is my opinion that the Cotton-Mouth Moccasin was the species of viper in the Garden of Eden who gave Eve the sour crab apple. Therefore, I believe that all humans should seek his extinction from the planet. Or at least make him extinct around all the good catfishin’ holes.

      • cb scott says

        I would make him mad like always when I have debated a tree hugger. Normally they go to cussin’ and calling me a Neanderthal and general ingrate.

        Years ago down in Mississippi, I did get into a debate with three tree huggers on behalf of some shrimpers and oyster fishermen who were in the church I served as pastor at the time. I had a grand time. About 20 minutes into the set-to, they got mad and started cussin’ me and telling me that it was not possible that I could be a Christian pastor. I enjoyed the time I had with those guys immensely.

        My wife quarreled at me though. She said it was not good to enjoy tormenting people as much as I do. . . . She still says that now from time-to-time when she reads some of my comments on this blog. ;-)

  4. says

    The “green” theologian is always going to be upside down in his/her thinking when the proper order of creation is ignored. The biblical evidence points to man’s elevated position over creation. There is no fellowship with the other creatures. However, there is a stewardship which we must take seriously. As an outdoorsman and hunter, I take that stewardship as a personal mandate.

  5. Christiane says

    ‘on Earth as it is in Heaven’ . . .

    Christ taught us a prayer that has implications in this post. We are to pray ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven’ . . .

    We know of the promise of the ‘Peaceable Kingdom’ to come;
    we know also that in the great proclamation of the Kingdom, Our Lord announced that ‘ the Kingdom of God is at hand’ . . .

    ‘at hand’ means something more to many Christian people who understand what it means to know that ‘the Kingdom of Our Lord’ is alive and well,
    and we are a part of it, and can share its blessings with others while we are here, through our love for them, in His Name

    the animals? we have some witness in sacred Scripture:
    “Deuteronomy 22 and Exodus 23, “If you see an animal that is overburdened, you should lighten its load to help it.”

    Job 12: 7-10, “Ask the birds, ask the beasts and they will teach you.”

    and in the tradition of some Christian people, comes a prayer for the animals, asking God’s help for our understanding and our compassion for His creatures and their suffering:

    “Heavenly Father, our human ties with our friends of other species is a wonderful and special gift from You. We now ask You to grant our special animal companions your Fatherly care and healing power to take away any suffering they have. Give us, their human friends, new understanding of our responsibilities to these creatures of yours.

    They have trust in us as we have trust in You; We are on this earth together to give one another friendship, affection, and caring. Take our heartfelt prayers and fill Your ill or suffering animals with healing Light and strength to overcome whatever weakness of body they have.
    Your goodness is turned upon every living thing. . . . ”

    We must remember that it is written, this:

    “In His Hand
    is the life of every living thing
    and the breath of all mankind.”

    (from Job 12)

      • Christiane says

        Hi DALE and Merry Christmas to you and yours this morning . . .

        my comment is not an ‘argument’ . . . it’s my own ‘reflection’ on the topic

        the ‘beasts’ of the earth were not made ‘in the image of God’ as was the first human, no;
        but all life exists and is maintained in existence by God

        part of our ‘humanity’ is that we have been asked to walk humbly with our God . . . and our ‘stewardship’ of His animals is a part of that walk

        to cause needless suffering to animals is, of course, inhumane, and we see this in case after case of serial killers who report that in childhood, they tortured animals

        this suffering can also be emotional . . . the Talmud speaks of not boiling a ‘kid’ (baby goat) in the sight of its mother, which would cause unspeakable pain to the mother

        If there IS any point to my reflection, I suppose it must be to not cause undue suffering to any of God’s creatures (even the animals must rest on the Sabbath) . . . ‘clean kills’ by hunters are always preferable, as you know,
        and for those who raise animals for food consumption, conditions for the animals should not be such that they are inhumane on the part of the steward

        there is in Christianity a symbol of Christ that was used primarily by the early Christians . . . it shows up on the catacomb walls inscribed near the graves of dead children, especially:
        it shows Our Lord as the Good Shepherd, bearing a ‘lost’ lamb on His Shoulders and carrying it safely home.

        my reflection is something that will have meaning for some who see basic human compassion for the suffering of other creatures as a part of their stewardship of God’s creatures,
        and who understand that basic compassion for the suffering of other creatures is a part of a person’s humble walk with God, Who gives, and holds in existence, all life.

        hope this helps some

        have a wonderful family day, DALE

    • cb scott says

      Merry Christmas, L’s.

      On this fine Christmas morning let me give you a hunter’s hermeneutic for Exodus 23:5 and Job 12:7 that you quoted here.

      Of course, you have translated/paraphrased Exodus 23: 5 a little loosely, but I will give it a hermeneutic fitting to how you have translated it.

      “If you see an animal that is overburdened, you should lighten its load to help it.”

      Hermeneutic: If you see an animal, such as a big, thick quartered Whitetail Deer with a very large rack, make a good one-shot kill and relieve the deer of his ample edible parts and mount his rack in your den, this will certainly take away his burden and add joy to your heart for having done so and give you some good deer steaks and tender loin to boot.

      Job 12: 7, “Ask the birds, ask the beasts and they will teach you.”

      Study the habits of the birds (ducks, quail, grouse, etc.) and the beasts in the field prior to hunting season. Doing so will teach you where to find them and give you a greater harvest all season long. It will also provide meat for the Christmas and New Year’s table. Your family will sing:
      Happy, happy, joy, joy,
      Our Pa is a great hunter,
      and our table floweth,
      floweth, and floweth,
      with meat abundant.
      Yes, our Pa is a great hunter!

        • cb scott says

          If you had not made so much noise tromping around under this deer stand to ask, I would have said around 4:00 EST.

          Now you will have to wait until tomorrow. Oh, and another thing. Next time you come out in these woods, leave the Old Spice at home!

          Seriously, Chris Roberts, I wish you a God blessed Christmas Day and I trust you and all of your family are in well health and prospering in our Lord Jesus.

        • says

          Chris—

          Processing runs about $85 if you want it made into sausage, so that plus shipping and I’ll see what I can do. Season’s back in the 26-28th. If the sleet lets up, I might go back out :)

  6. Christiane says

    Merry Christmas, C.B.

    I’m not opposed to hunting for food. I do support the idea of ‘clean-kill’ hunting, and I do oppose killing animals for ‘fun’.
    I do support humane treatment for animals that are stewarded for food.

    have a wonderful family day . . . :)

    • cb scott says

      L’s,

      Quite often I have to remind you that the theological predisposition that you embrace does not reflect a biblical faith. I do so without apology, for I know your religious views and beliefs are pavers used to build a road to hell.

      However, sometimes the things you post here are just plain nuts such as the following:

      ““Heavenly Father, our human ties with our friends of other species is a wonderful and special gift from You. We now ask You to grant our special animal companions your Fatherly care and healing power to take away any suffering they have. Give us, their human friends, new understanding of our responsibilities to these creatures of yours.”

      I do not have a “special animal relationship” with wild life. Although, I do respect the game and forestry laws and always have. And, I have never had one moment of guilt for killing any animal that I chose to kill, catch or trap.

      For a person who often reveals traces of Liberation Theology in your comments and who does not oppose the murder of innocents by abortion, you are certainly a strange one to do the Dr. Dolittle dance to the tune of Kumbaya.

      • says

        Christiane, I don’t know much about your theological presuppositions, but I will say that hunting is a legacy I readily embrace. I have passed the tradition on to my sons. One hunts regularly, the other would rather play music. I would say that those of us who hunt legally and ethically do more on a regular basis for the environment than any “green” theologian ever thought about doing. Every hunter I know is an avid outdoorsman who loves God’s creation.
        I normally eat what I kill, but I support the hunting of certain “nuisance animals” such as hogs and coyotes. I also hunt animals for fur.
        I hunt because I enjoy it, not because I need to do so for my family’s diet. That being said, I also make sure that I thank God for each animal I harvest for food. To do any less would be to ignore the great gift He has given, both of the meat AND the sport.
        I would hope that those who oppose the hunting of animals would also oppose the killing of the unborn. Seems logical to me that human life would have at least the SAME value as animal life, in their minds. Sadly, such is rarely the case. That is simply ridiculous.

        • Christiane says

          Hi DALE,
          I think this:
          that the animals God has given to mankind for food and companionship are His gifts to us. If we are ‘unkind’ to the animals and cause them needless suffering, I think we will answer for it. I don’t problems with hunting for food, no. As long as the meat is needed and used, or shared, which is kind.

          I think if we see an animal in distress, we should try to help it. Why? Because we can. And because it reflects ‘compassion’, a characteristic of a human being formed in the image of God.

          You have no difficulty seeing animals as separate from humans, but have you considered WHY the animals are more to us than objects of your use for food and sport?

          Some animals have been given gifts to share with us . . . companionship, dogs for the service to the blind and handi-capped, therapy animals that comfort those in hospitals and nursing homes . . . police dogs, drug-intervention dogs, dogs that smell explosives, and on and on . . .

          Other stories you know about: the abuse of animals for ‘fun’ and ‘profit': the saga of animals used for sport in bull-fighting, cock-fighting, bear-baiting, dog-fighting, chemical company research, fur-trade, and so on . . .
          I think people involved in these pursuits have had to shut down that part of their own humanity that has compassion for the suffering of other living things . . . and in shutting this down, they have harmed something in themselves that is precious to God.

          My faith? Roman Catholic
          I could NOT vote Republican for reasons of social justice, and that has been interpreted by others in various ways, but I am not troubled in my conscience.

          The animals? And humans? What do they share which is something of great importance to people of faith?
          “In His hand
          is the life of every creature
          and the breath of all mankind.”
          (from the Book of Job)

          If God is to be respected, then so must His Creation be respected as His handiwork, and stewarded accordingly.

          We are ‘entrusted’. That is a serious thing for those who walk humbly with their God.

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