God's Own Green Paradise: New Zealand Churches and the Environment

by H.H. Miskotte, pub. Shaker Publishing B.V. St. Maartenlaan 26, 6221 AX Maastricht, The Netherlands

Reviewed in Sea of Faith Network New Zealand Newsletter 25 by Rinny Westra

In 1993, Mans Miskotte, Professor of Practical Theology at the University of Amsterdam, spent six monmths in New Zealand researching the relations between "mainstream" N.Z. churches (Anglican, Presbyterian, Catholic, Methodist) and the environmental movement. He did this by conducting scores of interviews with church members, ministers, priests, and theologians, while at the same time travelling through and experiencing the full impact of N.Z.'s magnificant landscape and environment. The results of his research are gathered up in this book.
The book is, in my opinion, a "must" for all N.Z. church people, whether environmentally-inclined or not. It presents the view of an "outsider" and yet an outsider who met and conversed with numerous ordinary kiwis both inside and outside the churches. It reflects us back to ourselves both positively and critically, and raises important questions not just about our environmental commitments but also about our theology and our theological training.
Some interesting questions emerge from his research:
  • What are the theological perspectives that we bring to our environmental concerns?
  • While some (especially in the Anglican Church), operate from a Christ-centred and incarnational perspective, much theological reflection on the environment seems to start from an abstract philosophical approach and then tries to fit biblical insights into that. Should it not be the other way around?
  • Miskotte writes of "a severe underestimation of the importance of the Old Testament for all Christian theology" (p.186) in N.Z.
  • Is our theological training sufficient to enable students to come to grips with a "theology of nature"?
  • What about the role of Maori spirituality ... how do we interpret the acknowledgement of Tane Mahuta, Tangaroa, and Papatuanuku by Maori Church people?
Miskotte has written this book in English, which is not his first language. That is an amazing thing to do for someone who thinks in Dutch. The result is "Dutch English" and one needs to keep that in mind as one reads the book. But it is not a difficult book to read in fact its "Dutchness" makes it all the more authentic.
The book is a sympathetic study of where the N.Z. churches are at in relation to the environment and we do well to receive this as an unsolicited gift and challenge as we prepare to move into the third millenium.
Rinny Westra [abridged]



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