Editor’s note: In his doctoral dissertation, Pastor Pat Bailey of Telluride’s Christ Presbyterian Church claims the need for a re-visioning of the Christian church’s theology and its understanding of mission, the need for a more natural, integrative theology and for an earth-focused, contextual approach to mission. To that end, he is reviewing the theology of three contemporary theologians whose thought is very integrative of Nature and Spirit from three very different approaches.  He  first presents the thought of Sigurd Bergmann who provides a view of the Spirit that is deeply integrative with Nature, expressed in classical categories of trinity and incarnation and informed by Liberation Theology.

Another important methodology that Bergmann employs is Liberation Theology.

Bergmann extends Liberation Theology’s epistemological precedence of victims and the poor to include all creation as dialogue partners engaged in praxis or the theoretical and practical discourse regarding the development of concepts for action and behavior. That is, those engaged in dialogue regarding the human relationship to Nature and human response to the ecological crises must consider and give precedence to the suffering of creation.

Bergmann also subscribes to liberation theology’s emphasis on contextuality.  Social reality is defined by differences and conflict; so the liberation that the Spirit is enacting proceeds necessarily as a contextualized praxis in the here and now.  A contextual approach allows Bergmann to see tradition itself as a history and memory of local theologies, and he advises that theologians consider “the various attendant power interests” that can influence theological expression and “analyze the relationships of power necessarily adhering within every understanding of tradition.”

Bergmann further believes that a trinitarian, incarnational theology of the cross provides a foundation for ascribing epistemological precedence to the suffering and oppressed and that the Christian tradition carries within itself the memory of creation’s suffering.  So, Bergman sees theology not as a reflection on an ontological or universal concept of God but as a reflection on experiences of God’s liberating activity, and he sees tradition as not having its own independent existence but as providing a cultural function of informing interpretations of the current situation.  This redirects the theological focus to where God’s Spirit is present and what God’s Spirit is bringing about in the contemporary context, and whereas the tradition informs, it is the Holy Spirit, “the agent of Christian tradition,” who is at work in the world.

How might one identify the liberating activity of God’s Spirit in our experience of ecological suffering?  How do you understand the suffering of Jesus in the Christian tradition in its relation to the suffering of creation?  Do you understand tradition as something fixed or as something continuously emerging?

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