G. P. Wagenfuhr serves as Theology Coordinator for ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. Plundering Eden (2020) is a follow-up to his earlier book, Plundering Egypt: A Subversive Christian Ethic of Economy (2016). The subtitles for both books describe them as “subversive.” Even a casual reading of Plundering Eden reveals this description to be an understatement. “Climate change is not a dragon to be slain. Weare” (p. 185). “Humans are chaos monsters, parasites, the earth’s most successful invasive mammal” (p. 186). This is not your father’s creation care.
Plundering Eden is nothing if not provocative. Wagenfuhr argues that most ecological movements err in that they view environmental challenges primarily as ethical concerns about harmful activities and bad behaviors. Ameliorating detrimental activities does not get to the root of the problem. The problem is that humans relate to the environment in a fundamentally antagonistic manner. Basically, humanity is parasitical—a virus killing its host. “Calling humanity a parasite is incredibly offensive,” Wagenfuhr acknowledges, but “humanity isn’t like a lion eating an antelope, specifically choosing which one to hunt. Rather, humanity is like a worm that sucks its host dry” (pp. xi–xii).
Wagenfuhr also challenges most Christian models of creation care, claiming that even current thinking in ecotheology runs the risk of viewing the world as a resource to be exploited. Christians have failed to grasp just how radical the biblical message really is. Scripture teaches that agriculture is the curse; that the city is the chief source of ecological disaster; and that humanity should return to the hunter-gatherer way of life. Rejecting the notion of stewardship as unbiblical and inherently deistic, Wagenfuhr calls for a sweeping reimagining of what Scripture means when it says that God is reconciling the world to himself through Jesus Christ.
Wagenfuhr argues that most ecological movements err in that they view environmental challenges primarily as ethical concerns about harmful activities and bad behaviors.Wagenfuhr describes Plundering Eden as his “Creation Manifesto,” and it is indeed a call for a radical—even revolutionary—reordering of civilization. He acknowledges his dependence on Jacques Ellul, and similar to Ellul he seems to advocate a version of Christian anarchism. Rather than offering a Christian ethic, Wagenfuhr offers the reverse because, he explains, “A Christian ecology will need to begin with the opposite—a disorienting or disintegrational movement” (p. 147). He contends that the time has come for Christians to give up their livelihoods, homes and homelands in order to be “ambassadors bringing chaos to an orderly and self-enclosed world” (p. 157).
Plundering Eden calls for “rewilding,” the undoing of domestication. Wagenfuhr explains, “We must learn to love [animals] enough to restore them to full freedom in their habitats. True rewilding cannot be monitored. For much of creation, the best way we can love and serve it is by simply removing ourselves and our impacts from it” (p. 157). Only in this way can we truly follow Jesus: “The problem with Jesus is that he is an uncivilized man, a savage” (p. 158). Wagenfuhr calls on the Church to embrace what the Sermon on the Mount really teaches:
Jesus tells his hearers to imitate the birds. They do not practice agriculture. They do not worry. God provides for them and he will provide for us. Within this simple teaching is the condemnation of all civilization, based as it is in agricultural surpluses. Could it be that Jesus is advocating a hunter-gatherer existence, much like birds, or like the Israelites eating manna, or receiving a promised land with harvests they did not plant, or Adam and Eve eating only of the trees of the garden (p. 158)?
Wagenfuhr claims that he is not advocating the rejection of civilization per se, but rather the transcending of it. He concedes that rejection of civilization would “of course, require massive depopulations” (p. 184). He explains that what he means by “transcending civilization” is “dismantling it in a wise fashion.” So while Wagenfuhr states, “The solution is not to return to primitive ways, nor destroy technology,” he also concludes, “Much of our technē must be left behind. Our economic imaginaries and their systems must die. . . . And we must abandon our cities, both in imagination and in reality” (p. 189). To many readers, Wagenfuhr’s “transcending” will sound a lot like “destroying.”
Wagenfuhr’s tendency to make broad, sweeping assertions (often with little or no substantiation) must be noted, but Plundering Eden makes for engaging reading. He certainly takes no prisoners. Plundering Eden is a manifesto, a polemic, and it has to be read as such.
The issue at hand is the proper understanding of vocation. At one end of the spectrum is the view that Genesis 1:26–28 gives humanity the license to subdue creation. In Novum Organum Scientiarum, Francis Bacon argued that the purpose of science was to enable humans to “conquer nature.” The current typical evangelical position takes a more mediating approach, calling for the careful management of that which God has entrusted to us. Wagenfuhr rejects both approaches, the first for its rapacious violence and the second for its lack of nerve. He argues that, not only did Bacon misinterpret the cultural mandate, but actually the message of Scripture is thoroughly anti-Baconian.
Humans make things, they create tools and they utilize whatever they find at hand. Are these industrious acts reflections of the divine image? Or are these violent and idolatrous acts?Wagenfuhr asks us to consider the possibility that the above understanding of the Kingdom is wrong. Is farming a wise and prudent use of resources? Or is it an act of parasitic exploitation? Is the city an expression of community and security? Or is it an expression of rebellion against God?
Wagenfuhr presents a reimagining of creation that calls for a reevaluation of sin, redemption and the gospel. Christians typically understand the cultural mandate, vocation and the desire to promote human flourishing to be good gifts that have been tragically marred by the Fall and those activities are now twisted to destructive ends. And Christians have typically understood Christ’s work to have redeemed all aspects of human endeavor, and that the answer to the human condition is the proper ordering of all things under the Lordship of Christ. Variations of this vision of the Kingdom have been advocated throughout the history of the Church from Augustine to Abraham Kuyper.
Wagenfuhr asks us to consider the possibility that the above understanding of the Kingdom is wrong. What if Jesus’ message was more radical than that? What if the effects of sin are more destructive and the necessity of God’s grace is more absolute than we’ve ever allowed ourselves to imagine? What if the present ecological crisis is the result of this failure of imagination? These questions are the topics of Plundering Eden, and thus the subjects of this symposium.