Reformed theology, modernity and the environment crisis

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The prospect of global ecological disaster fundamental challenge to modernity as the poses a dominant contemporary socio-cultural matrix. This challenge can only be responded to through a radical socio-cultural transformation which favours those, human and otherkind, who have been marginalised and oppressed by modernity. This will include a change of human consciousness, and. the development of an alternative vision of society in which all humans live in community with each other and with otherkind. It thus has a profoundly religious character. The thesis argues that the central truth claims of the Christian gospel, particularly as they have been understood in the Reformed tradition, require the church to commit itself to working for such a socio-cultural transformation. However, the Reformed tradition can only contribute to this transformation once it is recognised that it has been deeply intertwined with modernity since its emergence, and has contributed to the legitimation of a culture which has degraded the environment. The thesis provides a self-critical exposition of the tradition in the light of the environmental crisis; in dialogue with other Christian traditions, and making use of insights from contemporary biblical scholarship. First, the socio-historical relationship between the Reformed tradition and the rise of modernity is examined. It is argued that, under particular social and economic conditions, the influence of the Reformed tradition accelerated the emergence of modernity. In this interaction with early modernity important components of the tradition were suppressed. Second, the tradition is re-examined to develop a Reformed ecotheology centred on the motifs of the Trinity, the covenant and the glory of God. This ecotheology makes a critical use of the theologies of important figures in the Reformed tradition, including John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Abraham Kuyper and Karl Barth. Third, a proposal is developed as to how this ecotheology can contribute to socio-cultural transformation. It does so by using insights gained from the role played by the South African church in the struggle against Apartheid. It argues that the environmental crisis ought to be understood as a kairos for the earth which must lead to a new way of being the church in the contemporary world.

Bibliography: p. 307-341.