Dr Clive Ayre’s book Earth, Faith, and Mission is a wonderful example of new practical theology. Practical theology has suffered on the one hand from the early influence of European scholars who saw it primarily as an application of theological principles developed by “real” theologians. It has been plagued on the other hand by those who want to limit it to a pragmatic program of “hints and helps” for harried pastors who have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in serious theological reflection.
Clive grounds his very helpful and insightful practice framework for earthcare in robust, but yet very accessible, theological reflection. In particular, he offers the fresh notion of “theocentric biocentrism”. The genius in this concept is that it allows us on the one hand to transcend the anthropocentrism that spoils some ecological theologies, and on the other to ensure that ecological thinking is grounded in an appropriate image of God. Clive very helpfully points out that the modern tendency to separate humanity from nature is inextricably tied up with the displacement of the triune God. A critical correlation between a renewed doctrine of the Trinity and an aligned political philosophy gives us the theoretical base that we need.
Clive takes this thinking into the challenging task of developing an adequate theology for ecological mission. At the centre of his thinking is the metaphor of stewardship. However, in order to overcome the limitations associated with this metaphor for ecomission, he sets it in the context of a rich and comprehensive theological framework consisting of the imago Dei, theistic biocentrism, the Noahic covenant, panentheism and a pastoral theology broad enough to include earthcare.
The very helpful practice framework developed by Clive Ayre is necessarily tentative. These are relatively early days. His empirical research took in ecomission in both the United Kingdom and Australia. What he found is that while the British programs are well established, their scope is often quite limited. In terms of the Australian scene, we are just beginning to get off the ground.
What Clive ultimately aims to do in this very important and timely book is to inject life into ecomission in Australia. The infusion he supplies is a robust and insightful practical theology. His hope, the hope of many of us, is that those parts of the Body of Christ that are ecologically languid will be jolted into life.
Associate Professor of Practical Theology, University of Queensland