Editor’s note: In his doctoral dissertation, Pastor Pat Bailey of Telluride’s Christ Presbyterian Church is claiming 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 reviewed the theology of three contemporary theologians whose thought is very integrative of Nature and Spirit from three very different approaches. Below Pat Bailey begins to reveal his own theory.

Pastor Pat Bailey in front his church

Pastor Pat Bailey

If Nature is to be an essential paradigm and starting place for theology and the spiritual life, then what will proceed are a natural theology and a spirituality deeply engaged in Nature. Starting with Nature will result in a theology that comes at the question of God from the question of Nature and a spirituality that seeks an expanded experience within Nature.

Recognizing Nature as the overarching context within which human perspectives are constructed retrieves humanity’s embodiment and Spirit’s in-earthment. Revelation, then, can be seen as a complex process of emerging perspectives seeking to better understand the mysteries, the Others, that are Nature and Spirit and the history and evolution of human reflection on experiences of them.

Inter-dwelling is the term I have chosen to describe the interpenetration of Nature and Spirit and of human experiencing within both Nature and Spirit. Inter-dwelling is not an ontological or foundationalist claim, rather a perspective reflecting the experience and need of seeing the world as an integration of Nature and Spirit rather than as a clash or even as a separate inclusion of Nature and Spirit. In inter-dwelling, Nature and Spirit are oriented toward rather than against one another.

I might just as well have called what I am describing interdependence, co-arising, reciprocity, integration, or codependence. Inter-dwelling intends all those perspectives and more, with the added suggestion that Nature and Spirit have their home in one another and that humanity and all other entities and environments have their home in both.

Inter-dwelling implies an intersubjective intercourse of perspectives eternally emerging within both Nature and Spirit. Whatever God is in God’s being, human experiencing of God takes place within this common dwelling, this inter-dwelling of Nature and Spirit.

Reclaimed in the term inter-dwelling is the relational emphasis in Christian tradition.

Inte-rdwelling can engage Gregory of Nazianzus’ relational panentheism in which all things participate in God and God participates in all things without accepting Gregory’s literalized cosmology and history of salvation.

One can easily see both a harmony of interconnections as well as a communion of differences that include all experience within the inter-dwelling of Nature and Spirit. Furthermore, in realizing the relationality of the whole, the possibility emerges for human beings to see themselves as one species among others on a shared and codependent evolutionary journey within Nature and Spirit.

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