On Animals: Systematic Theology

July 27, 2016 — Leave a comment

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If you know me personally, you have to be aware that I like animals. Not all animals mind you. Just pretty much all mammals, penguins, and the occasional interesting reptile. A key factor in my sports allegiance is that I like dolphins as animals. I’ve researched how to legally obtain a bear cub short of living in Russia (hint: Montana). I still chase squirrels and any other critter I come across in the wild (read: suburban Orlando).

For all this interest in animals, I haven’t done much theological reflection on their purpose. In other words, I take them as a given facet of creation but haven’t wondered why they might exist (other than for my amusement). I have a similar relationship with music, although I’ve actually done a bit of research there.

Whether one is interested or not, there are not many books or articles that give a theology of animals. Thankfully, David Clough has been doing some research to remedy that. Now in paperback (and so accessible to people who aren’t research libraries) his On Animals: Vol. 1 Systematic Theology lays a foundation that will eventually be supplemented by a volume on ethics.

The current volume is divided into three sections: Creation, Reconciliation, and Redemption. The first comprises three chapters which explore the role of animals in creation, as well as their continuity and discontinuity with humans. The second section uses two chapters to examines the relationship Christ’s incarnation and atonement have on the animal kingdom. The final section raises questions about the scope of redemption and then what our redeemed living ought to look like. This provides a nice setup for his anticipated follow up work.

I imagine you’d like some predicates to go with those subjects. In the first section, Clough argues for a stronger continuity between humans and animals as creatures of God. Discontinuity is noted, but since the received wisdom to accent that, Clough highlights ways in which that thinking can be misguided. While made in the image of God, we stand in solidarity with other creatures as a recipients of God’s address.

In the second section Clough does some historical tracing to support the idea of sin in the animal kingdom. He likewise argues for Christ’s incarnation being for creation as a whole, returning again to the idea of creaturely solidarity. Finally, he makes the interesting point that Christ’s death is often construed as an animal sacrifice, thus identifying him with the animals in some way.

In the final section Clough raises redemptive and eschatological questions when it comes to animals. Attention is drawn to how often depictions of creaturely harmony in the eternal involve animals. They are not incidental details. Likewise, returning to Christ’s death, it saved humans but it also saved a significant number of animals from death by ritual sacrifice. Just as humans longed to be redeemed from the bondage of sin and death, a significant subset of animals were condemned to die through the sacrificial system.

On the whole, I might not agree with everything here, but I’d recommend this study of a recently neglected topic. Other than Anthony Thiselton’s recent short systematic (which explicitly references Clough), I don’t think I’ve seen much reference to animals in theology. Clough’s volume draws from a history of Christian thought on the subject giving readers a good framework for beginning to think constructively on their own on this topic. Even if you don’t chase squirrels, if you’re a fan of systematic theology this is worth getting your hands on. Unlike squirrels, it won’t bite if you do.


David L. Clough, On Animals: Volume 1: Systematic TheologyNew York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, January 2014. 240 pp. Paperback, $39.95.

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Thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copy!

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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