Review: Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015)

[1] I came to this book as a preacher with a fully awakened understanding that the Earth is in crisis and a partially awakened sense that the Church’s way of speaking about Creation (Dr. Schade argues for capitalizing the word) is in need of reform. What I was looking for in Schade’s book was some theological depth to backfill my sometimes thin proclamation of the cosmic Christ whose death and resurrection give hope for more than the mere salvation of sinners. I also came looking for a way to think about God-in-nature that was grounded and existential while remaining big and mysterious enough to nurture my neoorthodox roots. I was also searching for useful, concrete suggestions for reframing my regular preaching practice. And I hoped for a word of hope.

[2] Dr. Schade delivered on all these fronts and more. Drawing from contemporary thinking in ecological and feminist theology, hermeneutics, and homiletics she constructs both a rich ecofeminist theological hermeneutic and a creation-crisis/creation-care homiletic that moves beyond our burdens and guilt to include a responsible and possible resurrection hope.

[3] Four aspects of her work were particularly striking and important to me. First, she draws on the feminist hermeneutical practice of listening for the hidden and discounted voices in Scripture and extends that honor to Creation and Earth. Second, she then encourages us to give Creation a voice at the homiletical roundtable. I had been at an impasse on this front in my own preaching work. Yes, the trees and watersheds are speaking to us, but who should dare to interpret what they have to say? Schade uses Paul Santmire’s “I-Ens” construction as a foundation for preachers to exercise humble imagination. Third, she borrows Mark Wallace’s suggestion that our ethical frame must be stretch far beyond the parochial and anthropocentric to include God’s concern for life cycles and ecosystems. Finally, her homiletical hermeneutic commits to lively conversation with the Lutheran themes of law and gospel (developed here as crucifixion and resurrection) and the theology of the cross. Her adaptation of the trope of the resurrected Jesus as “trickster” is a creative application of the “constantly unfolding unknowing” that is at the heart of the theology of the cross. Resurrection is not a wooden (and anthropocentric) power over (denial of) death but the shape-shifting jester appearing in surprising places to instigate and sustain liminality, change our perspective, and discern how to subvert the status quo.

[4] Schade lays helpful groundwork by brief historical overviews of the environmental movement (including a helpful exploration of both reform environmentalism and radical ecology); ecological theology (here I discovered that my own journey puts me in the company of the “theo-cosmocentrists”); and ecofeminist theology (where she deconstructs and resets the often dismissive connection made between earth, matter, and the feminine).

[5] In all this, Schade’s tone is honest, pastoral, and respectful of difference. She shows appreciation for the fact that in the real work of preaching, woke ecotheologians must deal lovingly and fruitfully with those who have an active stake in, for example, fracking or who value individual property rights over the often hard to articulate greater good. She also acknowledges the risks even as she articulates the hope that her traditionalist colleagues can enjoy a taste for the holistic, healing, and prophetic emphases of ecofeminism while ecofeminists will be challenged to consider aspects of faith that are near and dear to parishioners.

[6] The book contains several of Dr. Schade’s sermons for which she provides backstory, annotations, and reflection. What she does not provide are performance tips! She is a lively and dramatic preacher and some of these sermons (e.g., where she speaks as earth, water, and air) demand her kind of performative power and imagination. I hope her next book includes sermons that explore nature’s voice in more prosaic ways.

[7] I also finished the book confused about whether Schade wants us to view Creation as a victim of violence to whom we should extend neighbor love and a listening ear; or as an extension of the divine, an active agent that will fulfill its resurrection long after we’ve made our little anthropocentric neighborhood uninhabitable. What I had no confusion about was that Schade communicates a strong resurrection hope that God is active and able to show up in unexpected places and to empower our Gospel proclamation even in (especially in) dire times.

Henry J. Langknecht

The Rev. Henry J. Langknecht, ThD. is the pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church, Great Falls, Virginia.