Amending the Christian Story: The Natural Sciences as a Window into Grounded Faith and Sustainable Living by Ron Rude

[1] Years ago, I was speaking with a professor of Church history, when he asked, what if 10,000 years from now Christians are looking back on this period as the early Church? The question immediately challenged the way I had imagined Church history. And the new perspective stuck with me. Reframing is a powerful tool in creating perspective and stretching one’s imagination. If my perspective shifted slightly from that Church historian’s modest suggestion, Ron Rude’s Amending the Christian Story is a seismic upheaval of a much greater order of magnitude. And it, too, will stick with the reader.

[2] A love letter to the cosmos and Christian community, Rude’s Amending the Christian Story is a deeply personal and intellectually stimulating plea emerging from the author’s decades-long engagement with the intersection of Christian theology and the natural sciences. Somehow part memoir and faith-statement, part introduction to natural science textbook, and part constructive theology, Amending the Christian Story rings with the voice of its author.

[3] Carefully re-contextualizing the place of the human species and the Christian faith within the timeline of the Universe, Rude compellingly calls readers to reject the primacy of the human species within God’s (very long) story. Through the development of parallel narratives rooted in Cain and Abel, Rude diagnoses and demarcates two strikingly divergent understandings of Christianity and humanity. Through this analysis what Rude proposes is an account of following Jesus freed from anthropocentrism, the idolatry that humans rule.

[4] In the first of four parts, Rude provides a sweeping, yet concise, survey of current cosmological chronology, putting humanity in its place. The Universe has been around for a long time (13,800,000,000 years); humans are late to the party only showing up relatively recently (300,000 years ago). The whole Earth, solar system, galaxy, etc. that God created is tov (i.e. good). And for most of the story of creation, the Earth has functioned as the creator intended, including minor and major upheavals, running the gamut from death to volcanos to extinction- level events. In Rude’s assessment, these events are features rather than bugs. They are part of the natural order of God’s tov Universe. Rude asserts that creating and sustaining this Universe is God’s primary mission and that creation itself constitutes God’s first scripture.

[5] Rude hypothesizes, in the second part, that Judaism and Christianity (and their scriptures) may emerge as a response to a paradigm shift within the human species. After nearly 300,000 years of living in relative harmony with the rest of the Earth, sometime around 10,000 years ago, our species began to live in dissonance with the natural world. A novel worldview emerged within our species that humans have primacy, that humans rule. With this narrative shift humans began to view themselves as separate from and above the ecosystems of which they were a part, “intrinsically and ontologically superior”[1] to other ecosystems and species. In Rude’s view, this is tantamount to going to war with God and God’s tov creation. Rude reasons that the Bible is focused on the human species not because humans are exceptional in any way except one: that humans are exceptional in their capacity to be “at odds with God and with what God holds dear.”[2]

[6] Relying on the work of Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael[3], Rude proposes that this humans-rule narrative is typified by Cain, “the murdering brother and cocky wunderkind-represent[ing] all the human ideologies, industries, and deeds of I-centeredness that daily wage war against all that the Deity holds dear,”[4] whereas Abel represents a radically alternative narrative, representing the possibility of a Christianity and humanity living fully within the grain of the Universe God created.

[7] What Rude coins as “God’s Secondary Mission,” is God’s active response to the emergence of Cain-ism. Developed in the book’s third part, Rude explores how God will act to save the inter-connected ecosystems of the Universe in response to this human assault. As humanity is part of God’s tov creation, God rejects the possibility of eradicating the human species. Instead, seeking to “restore a lost and fractious species to God’s larger and more joyful purpose.”[5] God establishes Israel, a wilderness people, but even this chosen people are twisted into the perspective of Cain-ism. The evil of Cain-ism keeps materializing.

[8] Yet, God is persistent in this work. Through Jesus the Christ of God becomes incarnate in a “micro-colonized, warm-blooded, hairy, placental, backboned, and mortal mammal of the species Homo sapien.[6] Through this incarnation God forgives this wayward species for their war against God and God’s creation and invites them to follow God into a different way of being in the world. For Rude, forgiveness itself is not the goal; rather, the goal is the healing of species for the sake of the Earth. Christianity, however, is not immune to Cain-ism either. Indeed, Rude argues, that this humans-rule perspective is now the dominant narrative for our species, including Christians.

[9] The final chapter of the book’s third part specifically reassesses the historical doctrines of Original Sin and Atonement. I found Rude’s work with sin throughout the text especially insightful and well-argued. For Rude, sin, far from being rooted in origins (original), is a relatively recent emergence both within the story of the Universe and within our species. Yet, in Rude’s thorough account, sin is no less pervasive or pernicious than in Augustine, Luther, or Calvin. Sin is idolatry (i.e. Humans Rule). If there is a “fall” it is from eco-centrism to egocentrism.[7] Sin then is the human desire to conquer and subdue their environment—to rule over. Although this domination narrative is dominant, Rude argues, it need not be ultimately determinative.[8] Humans are tov just as the rest of creation. Sin is not a necessary or natural facet of human nature.[9]  Moreover, phenomena like earthquakes, disease, and mosquitoes are not signs of brokenness attributable to human rebellion. Again, they are mere facets of God’s tov creation.

[10] Rude’s survey of atonement theories doesn’t break much new ground, echoing many contemporary progressive critiques of historical atonement theories rooted in non-violence and critiques of domination systems.[10] I found his distinction between “death” and “perishing” in this chapter to be a nice nuance. Perishing, rather than naming biological death, names for Rude, “what happens when people break sacred relationships with neighbor, with Nature, with our inner spirits/souls/selves, and with God.”[11]

[11] Finally, in the fourth part of the book Rude, gestures toward an articulation of Abel Christianity in opposition to Cain-ism. Yet he defines Abel-ism largely in negative terms, expressing what it is not, concluding that the narrative of Cain-ism must change. What is clear is that, for Rude, an engagement with the natural sciences is necessary in fleshing out such a perspective. Rude seem to note that this is a sketch, telling the reader, “I intended initially to title this final chapter ‘What Next?’…I decided these steps are premature.”[12] Yet, in his concluding paragraph this sketch gains it clearest expression.

[12] An unflinching diagnosis of the impact of human sinfulness on the natural world, Amending the Christian Story is a valuable contribution in the needed work to rethink the ways in which Christian theology has promulgated an anthropocentric narrative to the detriment of the Earth. It also serves as a critique of the ways in which such Cain-Christianity theologies distort our understanding of God in Jesus Christ. This text’s greatest potency is in the way it reframes, inviting a reader to set the narratives of Jewish and Christian scriptures into a much grander context. Rude’s work on human sin threaded throughout this text is a high point, challenging readers to examine themselves and the systems of which they are a part, and inviting them to imagine a version of the Christian faith founded on the premise of an inter-connected ecosystem created by God in which humans are not special, primary, or wise but are, with the rest of creation, tov.


[1] Ron Rude, Amending the Christian Story: The Natural Sciences as a Window into Grounded Faith and Sustainable Living (Eugene: Resource, 2021), 45.

[2] Ibid, 56.

[3] Daniel Quinn, Ishmael: A Novel (New York, Bantam, 1995).

[4] Rude, 58.

[5] Ibid, 68.

[6] Ibid, 90.

[7] Ibid, 42.

[8] Rude does note in his final chapter that “we have mostly lost the capacity for a more intuitive and visceral access [to nature/creator] possessed by other species” p. 115. This is an important point that names a kind of atrophy or de-evolution within the species. As it stands, perhaps biologically, humanity—at least—has an actual condition, a brokenness, that creates a propensity toward Cain-ism.

[9] I don’t necessarily see this as an amendment so much as a clarification. Many understandings of original sin are not at odds with the affirmation that humanity is “good” as a consequence of being created “good.” A colleague of mine often critiques the phase, “I’m only human,” as missing the point of original sin. He argues that the issue is not being human at all, as if it is natural for humans to be sinners. Rather, he suggests it would be more appropriate to say, “I am a sinner,” which is a privation of human goodness requiring forgiveness and repentance. Nevertheless, Rude gets at the popular understandings of this doctrine and the way in which original sin has become a sweeping dismissal of terrible human behavior as a function of “sin.”

[10] I’m thinking here especially of the work of Walter Wink, whose influence on Rude is apparent. See Walter Wink, The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium (New York, Harmony, 1999).

[11] Rude, 105.

[12] Ibid, 118.

Adam White

Rev. Dr. Adam White serves as Campus Pastor at The Lutheran Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Throughout his tenure in Lincoln, White has also served as adjunct faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies and at Luther Seminary in Homiletics.