Posted by: rogermitchell | July 12, 2012

Kenarchy and the created world

More time has elapsed than I had originally intended since we commenced this process of collaboration over the content of the coming Kenarchy Course. So as we proceed it may help to remind ourselves of the three main segments that we are working with. These are, what kenarchy means for our understanding of God and the created world, what it means for our personal life and identity and finally its practical implications for social and political life. Before moving on to the second main aspect of what kenarchy means for our personal life and identity, we need to give some more attention to what it means for our understanding of the created world. Taking the testimony of Jesus as our starting point, this has two main aspects, the connection between kenarchy and the very substance of the creation, and the relationship between the human race and the rest of the created world of which they are a part.

1) God’s kenotic love or kenarchy is the very substance of the creation, that is to say that creation is ex theou not ex nihilo. The creation is not God, but it his work, his art, the outworking of his substance. It is not from nothing, but from the manifestation of his love. It is the context for God’s overreach, his fulness, the marvellous making of human beings in the ‘own image’ of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Seen like this the creation is the outworking and habitat of the eternal love relationship between the trinity and the human race. The gospel narratives have the creation responding to the needs of humanity, not to its detriment but to its fulness. As Paul sums it up, The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed (Rom 8:19). John’s gospel spells it out clearly from the start in terms of the role of the Word in the creation of the world: “all things were made by him and without him was not anything made that was made” (Jn 1:3). That this Word is fully expressed in the incarnation of the kenotic, loving Jesus is utterly clear to the writer: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).

2) From this testimony it follows that the dominion spoken of in the Genesis story must be read in Jesus’ terms. That is to say it is the complete opposite of the domination it has been interpreted as in consequence of the partnership with empire that followed the fall of the human race, and subsequently of the church. Instead, true dominion submits all to love and works by love. Far from regarding the creation as being there for us to exploit it sees it as waiting for us to live kenarchic lives and recognises that the creation has the intrinsic ability to respond to love. This is emphatically not to say that we don’t need to bother to work for the recovery, healing and conservation of the environment, but that without the reinsertion of the love dynamic necessary to the health and sustenance of the created order all our efforts to restore the environment will be futile. But it follows that if we steward the creation in the ethos of life-laying-down love then it will increasingly provide for the economic and cultural needs of the human race. It is this correlation between the creation and kenarchy that makes the reinstatement of this kind of gospel loving so vital to the task of the contemporary ecclesia and its partners.


  1. Well, it is difficult not to think about the environment and creation right now, especially as it is screaming out for our attention – heat waves, droughts, monumental rains, storms, flooding. And hey, in terms of climate change, we’ve only begun. There is much more to come if we continue down this path.

    I read a book awhile ago by a guy named Mark Lynas. He focuses on the 9 planetary boundaries that scientists now say are critical to the health of the planet (and of us). We have crossed 3 of those boundaries, We are close to crossing another 3. We don’t know where we are on the other 3 because we have yet to understand how to measure them. So, not a good scenario at all. But Lynas makes a critical point. He contends that since we are able to literally shift the climate and other planetary systems that we own this place, we have dominion over it. And the real question is not do we rule it, but how. Up to now we have chosen to exercise dominion in exploitative and destructive ways and the planet is now showing the signs of trauma from all this abuse. Lynas, of course, promotes the radical notion that since we own it, and rule it, we had better take that seriously and start doing a better job at it.

    When you look at the dual mandate in Genesis, to have dominion over creation (which I take as to love it like Jesus does) and to reproduce then we have to consider how we have approached and fulfilled both mandates. I suggest that we have accomplished the second one. I say that not only in terms of the total world population – 7 billion and rising, ever rising. But instead in the sense that there is no place left on the planet, land, air, or water, that has not been impacted by human activity. Even the places we set apart as wild (rarely are they actually left alone anyway) are impacted by our managerial choices (yes, we will leave this plot of land for the rhinos and take that plot for us), and by the incredible amounts of toxins we insist on inserting into the planetary systems. And in the oceans, we not only add toxic elements but through our insistence on the burning of fossil fuels have actually changed the PH level so that it is becoming more acidic and less able to support life (including our own). So I think we did it. Yes!!!! We did it. We have filled the earth with our presence. Job well done.

    But we have failed dismally when it comes to how we have managed the planet we were given. And so now the pinch comes. Lots of folks, lots of needs, lots of hunger and thirst, with a planet less able to provide.

    I was listening to Bill McKibben last week. He said there are 2 mandates now. 1. adapt to that which you cannot prevent, and 2. prevent that to which you cannot adapt. Sensible advice in a time of crisis. So are going to do it? Lay down our lives in love for the planet (and all the species on it)? Are we? What does that look like? What kind of individual decisions do we each make to do that (lose the car, dry clothes outside when possible, conserve water, grow food at home, recycle, consume less etc.) and collectively (buying coops for solar panels, community gardens, green our cities, influence gov policies). I think that is the question that we all face right now, especially those of us in the richer western nations who consume more resources. If we, the richer ones, are going to love the planet back into health then we, the richer ones, are likely looking at major lifestyle changes. After all, we live as the greedy ones consuming the resources wantonly and with disregard for the impact on the planet and other people. So what does that look like? Maybe it is time we all really did ask WWJD in relation to his creation, and then followed him.

    I did have a thought about that verse where Paul notes that creation is waiting for the revelation of the sons of glory. Maybe the sons of glory are not all those folks who say the right words and become Christians but instead the very folks, no matter what their professed religion is, who actually live in care for creation (and thus honor the creator). And yes, creation sure is anxious to see more of those folks. Just thinking.


  2. Thanks Cheryl. I think your final reflection over who are the ones that the whole of creation is groaning to see emerge is crucial. And I think it applies across all the priorities of kenarchy. This is, I assume, exactly what Jesus was getting at in the challenging statement: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Mtt 7:21).

    • pretty radical thinking there Roger. Everyone must be on holidays or I would expect some strong conversation and pushback on that one. c.

      • Perhaps some struggle with creation morality because they are inherently pretty legalistic about sexual & personal morality and it’s as much as they can sustain being unable to live up to it. Subconsciously they realise that to be consistent they would have to be the same way over creational and corporate sin but can’t face it. We need to reconfigure discipleship as a mixture of responsible compromise and the transcendent grace necessary to live and work progressively towards a genuinely incarnational life.

      • Did someone say something controversial? Must have missed it while I was out walking with Cyrus. I know it’s not a real comment, but if I hadn’t been so overwhelmed in our battle with corporate sin, this is what would have made me too busy to chat.

        The lead artists are close friends. Supernature is an Olympic arts project in woodland in Stoke Park, Guildford. A series of six metre high pillars of light made from porcelain insects, leaves, birds etc, supported by a sound installation of resounding bells. The guys have done amazingly well with all the complexities of setting up a large scale public work. And I have contributed absolutely nothing except goodwill!

        Ah well, there will be other projects.

  3. You know, to be serious here, the sheer perversity of our situation is amazing. Here is a link to an article in Alternet today.

    It is a review of an article by Bill McKibbens in Rolling Stone. The McKibben’s article can be access through this one and might be one of the most important things you can read at this time. This review follows the article and then goes beyond to look at impacts on the poor as we (someday, maybe, hopefully) shift away from a carbon based economy to something (better, less catastrophic?) else.

    This reminds me of two parables in Luke, 12:13 to 21, the parable of the rich fool and 16:19-31, Lazarus and the rich man. There is Lazarus left at the gate to suffer while the rich man amasses more and more wealth, through greed. We have a situation today where a few fossil fuel corporations have amassed huge amounts of wealth in terms of stored carbon in the earth which they could and will someday extract as coal, natural gas, oil and tar sands. So their barns are full. And many other people in the world lay in hope of shared wealth. But here is the perverse aspect. The stuff in the barn is toxic. Sure it might feed us for a bit but the very act of using that wealth will destroy human civilization as it alters the planet’s systems. So all that stored wealth meant to enrich a few (who also control many of the political systems in many places) cannot be shared. And when it is shared in whatever small amounts, it makes all the rest of us complicit in our own demise. What we have deemed as riches are actually a form of poison to us and every other species on earth and in the oceans and yet we, having deemed it wealth, must partake in it and depend upon it for our survival. So the greed of a few in amassing these carbon stores threatens to destroy the many and yet we cannot say no to it. And since corporations can always replace the people who run them the actual person (as in the rich man and Lazarus) does not matter much. The corporation (now legally deemed a person with free speech in the American system of law) will just continue on, with a new head person. We have created our own monsters and given them the means to destroy us. Amazing eh!

    So what is the kenarchic response here? How does theopolitical thinking and acting respond to this perversity?

  4. I’ve been trying to get my head around Kenarchy today, and it is leaving me somewhat perplexed. If I may summarise my understanding, it is essentially the message of jesus wishing his disciples feet, and saying: What does that look like in every aspect of our lives? I know that probably does not do justice to it, and I may not have caught it right.

    Now, my real issues is where are all the discussions going? We seem to be trading one theology for another, but everything seems fairly abstract still. I loved a podcast I listened to recently from Heidi Baker. The message was simple: Love looks like something. We can use all worst of nice words, but love, real love, is not nice words, it looks like something. In Mozambique, it mainly looks like chicken.

    So, I like the general idea. It certainly resonates for me. I love the fact that it is being rooted in Jesus and the Gospels. For my money, the old testament is the context for the Gospels, and the Epistles are there as commentary. So this is ticking the right boxes for me.

    My problem is that at the moment it doesn’t look like anything (to misquote Heidi Baker). It looks like theology. It looks like ideas. That worries me.

    Someone (Oz Guiness, I think) made the observation that man starts by understanding something, once he has the understanding he uses it to control, and then he uses the control to exploit and dominate.

    So I worry if all we are trying to do is understand something, because it already feels like a step on the slippery path to domination.

    I am not arguing that we should not understand things, but that understanding should (in my view) be in service to something. Something that looks like an expression of Jesus. Judging by odd allusions made, I am pretty sure you are wanting this to look like something. My difficulty is, I am missing what it is.

  5. It’s good to hear from you again Ken. With that name it’s important to get your head and behaviour around kenarchy (joke, sorry). But seriously, it implies much more than washing feet, although I believe that narrative has some pretty deep stuff in it that does relate to kenarchy. The core is the claim that the rule and power of God is revealed by emptying himself out in love, not lifting himself up in domination. It is rooted in the whole demeanor and tenor of the incarnation and culminates in the cross where God emptied himself out completely and the resurrection proved the eternal and indestructible power of this kind of loving. It is no way just a matter of words, and has huge implications for every area of life. It assumes that this kind of authority needs affirming and exercising in each corner of behaviour and in every sphere of society. Which is why kenarchy is so relevant to the current economic and political crisis of the West, the fate of the poor and the future of the people of God. If you like, it is an attempt to configure a practical, applied theology that makes sense of exactly those kinds of Holy Spirit activity that folks like Heidi Baker make obvious.

  6. Thanks Roger. I’m getting the general drift, but I’ve still some catching up to do. Give it time…

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