Read an Excerpt
From the Introduction (pre-publication version):
I have written each of my books in an effort to make up for deficiencies in the last one. Life Abundant is no exception. After completing Super, Natural Christians, subtitled "How We Should Love Nature," I realized love was not enough. I realized that we middle-class North American Christians are destroying nature, not because we do not love it, but because of the way we live: our ordinary, taken-for-granted high-consumer lifestyle. I realized that the matter of loving nature was a deep, complex, tricky question involving greed, indifference, and denial.
So I have set about trying to rectify the inadequacies of my last book with yet another (inadequate) book. The thesis of this one is that we North American middle-class Christians need to live differently in order to love nature and to live differently, we need to think differently-especially about ourselves and who we are in the scheme of things. And by "think differently" I do not mean our conscious, "for publication" thoughts about ourselves, but the largely unconscious picture of who we are that is the silent partner in all our behavior and decisions. These world-pictures or worldviews are formed by many factors, one of which is the religious assumptions about human beings that operate implicitly in a culture. The current dominant American worldview, a legacy from the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, and eighteenth-century economic theory, is that we are individuals with the right to happiness, especially the happiness of the consumer-style "abundant life." The market ideology has become our way of life, almost our religion, telling us who we are(consumers) and what the goal of life is (making money). In report after report from the United Nations Development Programme and similar organizations, the grim results of this lifestyle are becoming apparent: a widening gap between the rich and the poor as well as the unraveling of the irreplaceable life systems of the planet. Is this loving nature-or our neighbor?
I don't think so. I realized that a basic deficiency in my last book was the neglect of economics (partly because I thought it was too difficult to understand). There is, however, no avoiding it-and what ordinary people need to know is not its technical side, but the assumptions and results of consumer-oriented economic theory. We do not love nature or care for two-thirds of the world's people if we who are 20% of the population use more than 80% of the world's energy. There is not enough energy on the planet for all people to live as we do (and increasingly, most want to) or for the planet to remain in working order if all try to live this way. We are on a path that is unjust to others and unsustainable to the planet. But most of us do not know (or acknowledge) this; we keep ourselves in denial because we like this way of life, and our economic system and government collude with us. We middle-class North Americans are addicted to the consumer lifestyle, even if it means depriving others and putting the planet in jeopardy.
Life Abundant is not a feel-good read, at least not initially. Reading it will probably be like writing it was. Eventually, I could imagine another abundant life, one that I found deeply satisfying. However, the route to it for folks like me and you (the presumed middle-class North American reader) involves limitation and sacrifice, a radically different view of abundance. It involves re-imagining the good life in just and sustainable ways. Why is this satisfying? I invite you to read on and discover, but most simply, for me, because I sleep better at night, thinking of another possible way to live, one in which most of the world's people would have the necessary basics and the planet could remain more or less intact.
So, this book is about imagining another way to live "abundantly" on planet Earth. The route to this other way, to what I call the ecological economic model, is a bit circuitous because I want to show how I got there. I believe that all Christians must have a working theology, one that can actually function in their personal, professional, and public lives. Gradually, over many years I have developed one and it is a theology for just and sustainable planetary living. I will share my theological journey as a possible case study for readers who might want to undertake a similar one. I decided to write the book this way in part to de-mystify theology: there is nothing special about theology-every Christian has one. The question is how good, appropriate, and functional is it?
One way to test your theology-those deeply-held, perhaps subconscious beliefs about God and the world that profoundly influence your actions-is to examine it. This is an old Christian practice, epitomized in Augustine's plea, "For Thy mercies' sake, O Lord my God, tell me what Thou art to me." One undertakes a contemplative exercise for the purpose of living with God and for neighbor more appropriately and fully. It is a way of doing theology that begins in experience and ends in a conversion to a new way of being in the world. Developing a working theology is not "doing one's thing" or finding a comfortable view of God; on the contrary, it is undergoing the discipline of the examination of conscience for the purpose of living the Christian life more deeply and fittingly in one's own time. Needless to say, if this exercise does result in a view of abundant living, it will not be the popular contemporary one. Perhaps Dorothy Day sums it up best when she wrote: "I wanted life and I wanted the abundant life. I wanted it for others too" (italics added).
This book, then, has a dual aim: to describe a Christian theology of the good life and to show how I have come to this theology. Needless to say, this is only one such theology. Whether it is helpful toward attaining a just, sustainable planet and whether it is Christian is for readers to judge. At the very least, I hope it helps you work out your own theology.